In the test, I observed six first or second-time Twitter users as they accessed and tried to use the site. All of these subjects were recruited from a local JobSeekers group. All of them were unemployed and actively looking for work. Four out of the six had joined Twitter because a local expert in finding a job had told them that they should. Several of them joined as a result of getting an invitation from this gentleman, Paul, and another joined Twitter and then searched for him and followed him.
Yet, all of the subjects ended up asking, essentially, “What good is this? How can this help me find a job?”
It really struck me. These people were motivated to use whatever tools they were offered to find a job. But they didn’t understand Twitter, and they didn’t understand how it could help them. They saw Paul’s tweets, but that wasn’t enough. These subjects were very clear that they wouldn’t come back to Twitter just to see his tweets.
That was the inspiration for TwitterPackage.com. It occurred to me that what Paul, and other business users needed, was to offer their customers more than just themselves. After all, are you inclined to follow someone you know is just trying to sell you something? Probably not. What Paul needed was to offer his customers a Twitter solution to their problem. Via a Twitter Package, that’s what he’ll be able to do. (That is, when we hit phase II, unless Paul accepts my offer to be a beta user, in which case he can create his own packages now.)
As we worked on Twitter Package, I thought more about the value of Twitter to businesses. So many businesses try to maintain a relationship with their customers through email or by getting them to come to the business website. But, we’ve all gotten good at blocking or ignoring sales-related emails. And most people aren’t inclined to go out to a salesperson’s site regularly. We might go to a realtor’s site when we’re actively looking at buying or selling a home, but not after the deal’s done. Yet, it’s in the realtor’s best interest to maintain some contact with clients, so she’s top of mind when that client is ready to buy and sell next time.
Social networks are great for maintaining this kind of contact. But most, like Facebook, have restricted access. Twitter is more open than many other social networks, by default allowing anyone to follow anyone.
The 140 character nature of the messages is also a benefit in many ways. They are made for scanning, and for delivering headlines. The very nature of a 140 character message necessitates brevity and light interaction, which is something of a blessing when your main goal is simply to keep in touch with a large number of customers, without spending all day doing it. If customers are using Twitter, like they already use email, there’s a ready avenue for businesses to connect and stay connected with them.
But that’s the key. They have to be using it, and not just once a month. Preferably not just once a week. But daily. The nature of the Twitter stream means that tweets disappear and retweeting messages is a balancing act, as you don’t want to annoy those who are checking more frequently or using a tool that keeps tweets more visible. So, for a business to get value, its customers need to check Twitter fairly regularly.
There are other factors that affect the willingness of people to keep using Twitter. Some of these are usability issues and understanding the Twitter model. I hope that Twitter will address those issues and lower the barrier for users.
But the value proposition is one factor that business can affect. My suggestion is that if Twitter is good for business, than business needs to be good to Twitter.
Overcoming Twitter’s retention issue and helping Twitter grow by gaining and keeping new users just makes it more valuable to businesses. Businesses can help addresss these issues by making sure they are providing good value to customers. That means thinking of Twitter as more than just a place to spam and sell and send sales messages. It means thinking of the customers’ needs and tweeting information that addresses those needs. Of course, we’re talking about information as it relates to one’s business; customers’ needs as they overlap with your own business. But it does mean thinking more broadly about customer information needs–information is what Twitter conveys best–and using Twitter first to provide information value to your customers, second to build and maintain a relationship with them, and third to sell.
(Because I think it’s so important for Twitter and business community, and because I think it’s the best way for most businesses to get value out of Twitter, I’ve come up with a step-by-step process to develop a Tweet Plan. I’ll provide that process in an upcoming post.)
If every business user provided a high level of value, through the currency of tweets, to its customers, I’m betting the retention rate of users invited through businesses would rise. That, in turn, would give better word of mouth and media for Twitter, growing the user base. Together, Twitter and the business community can build Twitter into an even stronger platform for business and a better tool for all of us to keep abreast of the latest and most interesting information on the web.
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