by: John Caddell

Twitter continues to fascinate. As this general-purpose tool becomes more widespread, lots of ways for business to use it are emerging. Most businesses use some combination of these five archetypal strategies:

1. Promote. This goes without saying and is the easiest way to use Twitter. “Hey, we have a new product coming out! (link)” “Don’t forget to watch our Super Bowl ad (link).” etc. The jury is out as to whether this type of promotion is useful or simply washed away in the mass of Twitter noise–although if you have a strong following, the right product at the right moment, and can get the right people to tweet about you, it’s a beautiful thing. Examples: everybody.

2. Sell. I happened to get into a discussion on Twitter about sleep apnea. Right away a guy chimed in with a couple of questions. When I mentioned that I would love a particular type of product to help my condition, he let me know that such a product existed, how to find out more information on it, and (of course) how to order it. I bought the product pretty soon thereafter, through his referral. If you can identify users for your product by searching for tweets about it, you can find customers. Examples: The Sleep Apnea guy, Dell.

3. Care. If people are having trouble with your product and services, and they tweet about it, you can locate those tweets, intervene and solve the problem. If you’re lucky, the customer will tweet about how well you solved her issue. This strategy surprised me when it emerged–now I am surprised that it is still so rarely practiced. Examples: Comcast, EasyJet.

4. Converse. “User-centered innovation” may be more theory than reality today, but some companies are using Twitter to engage in real dialogues about what products they should feature or how their services should operate. The polling capability of Twitter is excellent for this purpose. Example: Best Buy. [Note: a great use of polling on Twitter is Andrew McAfee's "andyasks" project; here are some #andyasks results.]

5. Expose. Some companies are deciding that they can differentiate by humanizing themselves–and this means becoming more transparent. If people know that people–not just information systems, buildings and capital structures–work there, customers will want to buy from them. Twitter is a great way to open up your company; because it is inherently an individual medium, the personalities of the individuals who tweet come through. Be careful, though: if your tweeters are not representative of your company’s true culture, the disconnect will be apparent. Example: Zappos.

I need your help here. Are there other primary strategies? Are there other good examples for each? Please weigh in by leaving a comment.

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