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Twitter's Business Boost

Monday, 12 Apr 2010 | 3:26 PM ET
Twitter
Twitter

Twitter is taking its time putting the final touch on its business model, but major companies have been cashing in on Twitter for years.

The very fact that nearly every Fortune 500 company and seemingly infinite small businesses have a presence on Twitter is a testament to the microblogging site's power.

As we await Twitter's business model, other companies take advantage of the fact that Twitter allows them to communicate directly with consumers in an unprecedented way.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Twitter has revolutionized customer service. If someone complains to the Twittersphere about mediocre service or poor quality, companies can send a direct message to that dissatisfied person to try to fix the problem. It's a hassle for consumers to wait on hold then waste time plugging through a phone tree before they can get some help, so many companies have shifted customer service efforts online.

Best Buy "Twelpforce" consists of 2,531 employees who help answer consumer questions (and complaints) that flood the company's Twitter profile every day. The electronics retailer tells us it's answered 25,786 questions on Twitter since the service launched last July, that's an average of 732 responses per week. It's not just keeping customers happy, it has driven nearly 60,000 Twitter users back to the Best Buy site, which inevitably means more Best Buy purchases.

DIRECT MARKETING

Twitter users follow the companies they love. So what better way for companies to sell directly to fans than by offering deals to followers on the microblogging site. It's easy to click through to an e-tail site to make a purchase. Companies can take advantage of the real-time nature of Twitter to promote limited offers or one-time deals, to encourage consumers to buy RIGHT NOW.

Dell has done a great job with this; it has some 80 official Twitter profiles, and its Dell outlet promotes special deals on computers. Dell has generated $6.5 million in sales through Twitter alone in less than three years. Other than the cost of staffing the Twitter profiles, this is a free way for Dell to quickly offload excess inventory. Jet Blue has also started tweeting about deals, which seems like a great way to fill a plane.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMER

People use Twitter to vent, complain to their friends, and raise hell when they're really frustrated. If they're pleased with a company or a product, they'll rave about great service and give glowing recommendations. This is seriously powerful word-of-mouth marketing that companies cannot pay for, no matter how deep their pockets. But companies can dedicate a handful of employees to monitor Twitter, to come to understand the meme and figure out how to tackle problems and capitalize on successes.

JetBlue joined Twitter to track what people were saying about the brand. When people complained about delays, they saw just how much they could learn about perceptions of their brand. They can figure out what delays frustrated fliers the most, and how they could help. The company even tells of a time that they held a plane for 30 schoolchildren stuck in traffic en route to the airport. Jet Blue picked up extra demand for flights to Austin during the South By Southwest music festival, and could adjust its flight plan accordingly. Sending direct responses to complaints on Twitter helps with customer loyalty, and that should help with growth.

ENGAGE WITH CRITICS AND FANS

Marketers always tell me that consumers are more likely to buy a product or go to a movie if it's top of mind. What better way to stay in consumers consciousness than send them useful, relevant updates that direct to your store or website, and make them feel part of your community.

Whole Foods keeps customers abreast about what's new and what's fresh. It asks followers about what kinds of products they want, and it floats new ideas for stores. Consumers respond, asking for things and giving suggestions that would never make it to the idea box in stores. And going to the grocery store is a very localized experience, so the grocery chain encourages each of its stores to establish its own Twitter profile and communicate directly with consumers. It allows shoppers to feel like they're engaging with a local vendor rather than a corporate behemoth.

Twitter's Business Boost
As Twitter readies to announce its business plan, it may be the last company to capitalize on its own platform, with CNBC's Julia Boorstin.

And then there are the companies that capitalize on helping companies profit from Twitter. Salesforce.com, the customer service relationship management company incorporates Twitter into its service. When customers complain on Twitter it creates a support request, allowing employees to directly respond on Twitter, monitoring the complaint. San Francisco startup CoTweet.com is designed just to help companies make the most of Twitter. Its customers including Ford and Coca-Cola rely on CoTweet to help manage Twitter accounts, tracking conversations about the company, allowing multiple employees respond.

All of this big business flocking to Twitter speaks to its potential. I can't wait to hear what Twitter announces about its plans to profit on this interest.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.