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How Small-Town (Local) Businesses can Benefit from Twitter

This is a guest post by Greg Elwell of Zephyr Marketing LLC located in Benicia, CA. Greg blogs on topics involving personal branding and how local businesses can use social media to become more visible, credible and remarkable. He’s @gregelwell and @ZephyrMarketing on Twitter.

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Twitter is a big deal. The Global Language Monitor declared “Twitter” the most popular English word of 2009.  With 75 million users as of January 2010, the 140 character micro-blogging and communications platform has proven its popularity among the followers of big brands like @zappos, personal brands like @APlusK (Ashton Kutcher), and media stalwarts the likes of @CNN.

If you’re a local business in a small town none of the above matters too much. But if you could use Twitter to engage with the 100 to 200 or more Twitter users in and around your marketplace in a way that translates into business value, well that just might get you tweeting.

You may, for example be able to generate greater awareness and find ways to better serve your customers which in turn can lead to increased business by effectively using Twitter.

That’s exactly what a modest, Houston, TX based independent coffee shop called Coffee Groundz did. After trying print ads, radio spots and other forms of traditional advertising (and finding nothing seemed to work), J.R. Cohen, managing partner of the coffee shop started using Twitter in an informal way to interact with friends and customers.

One tweet led to another and it wasn’t terribly long before the word spread and the local @coffeegroundz business was “taking their orders (via Twitter), posting tweets about the local music scene and giving tips on how to make better coffee at home,” according to a Twitter success story published by MarketingProfs.

As of this writing, the @coffegroundz Twitter account has over 9,700 followers and J.R. reported business had increased 20 to 30 percent since using Twitter. The Coffee Groundz case study story is also available online in a free guide provided by Twitter: The Twitter 101 Guide for Business. Also check out the Teusner Wines case study along with others that will give you more insights and ideas on how you can benefit from Twitter.

Taking the example of the Coffee Groundz successful use of Twitter to benefit their business, there are several key ways you too can use Twitter to benefit your local, small-town business:

1. Get connected with local people. When Cohen first started using Twitter he connected with friends and current customers. This shouldn’t be hard for you to do. There are free online tools like TweepSearch (http://tweepsearch.com) or TwitSeeker (http://twitseeker.com) you can use that will search bio’s and location profile settings of users in your city and state. Click to follow them and there’s a good chance they’ll follow you back. Also, be sure to fill out your Twitter profile completely and enter your city and state in the location field – this will aid in helping you be found and followed by others in your vicinity.

 Do a Google search on “find local twitter users” and you’ll find a ton of ideas and tools to help you build your local following. Here’s one from the Mashable site called, “Local Tweets: 9 Ways to Find Twitter Users in Your Town.” 

Tell everyone who does business with you you’re on Twitter and ask them to follow you. Put your Twitter handle (@username) on give-away items, on your business cards and other collateral – just as you do your address and phone number. Put a link to your Twitter page in your email signature. Add a “Follow me on Twitter” link to your website or blog that will take folks to your Twitter page. 

Also, log in to your Twitter account, go to the “Profile” tab and be sure to add the URL to your website or blog. Now, when Twitter users check out your Twitter page they may click the “Web” link to visit your site and check out what you have going on. Consider having a custom landing page on your website or blog that links from the Web URL on your Twitter profile page. Then, when people click on your Twitter Web link they are taken to your landing page and presented with more info about you and what you may offer them through your Twitter activity.

2. Engage with your followers. Please note, I didn’t say, “Start spreading the word about your business deals!” This is the biggest mistake I see twitterers’ doing: A constant barrage of tweets broadcasting information about their business – and little or nothing else.  Start tweeting like you’d chat with others at a cocktail party or networking event. You can’t overly promote yourself – that’s viewed as being rude and self-serving. Instead, share a mix of personal stuff with interesting and helpful information your followers would find interesting and useful.  

Cohen, for example, shared insights on the local music scene and tips on how to make a great cup of coffee at home. Your local followers must get to know, like and trust you before they’ll be receptive to your business info. Remember, Twitter is a “social networking” tool. It’s not a broadcast advertising platform.

Part of engagement is to first listen. Recently, I heard the Maestro of the Vallejo Symphony, David Ramadanoff say, “The first job of the director is to listen.” And here we thought it was all about waving that wand all around! Get on Twitter, spend some time there, and scan the tweets as a conductor would his sheet of music. Listen to what’s being played out in the Twitter stream and then jump in to engage someone in friendly conversation. 

And, as you do listen and engage, like J.R. Cohen at the Coffee Groundz, you’ll discover more ways to meet the needs of your customers than you can possibly imagine. As an example, one of the things Cohen started doing was to take orders via Twitter’s Direct Message feature for people who were running late, or were sitting outside the shop with their dog. “I’ll even bring my customer’s dog a bowl of water,” remarked Cohen. 

3. Use reverse-marketing techniques. By this I mean when you do tweet information about your business, some promotion, special deal, discount, 2-for, or exclusive offer, make it seem like it’s not a direct, in your face marketing pitch. Instead, make it fun, make a game out of it, do it in a soft-sell way.

 Check out the Twitter for Business 101 Guide. Under “best practices” it says, “Think about Twitter as a place to build relationships…Instead of approaching Twitter as a place to broadcast information about your company, think of it as a place to build relationships.”  

Market like Sprinkles Cupcakes (@sprinkles). Every day they send out a tweet something like this: “Super rich! The first 25 people to whisper ‘ganache’ at each Sprinkles receive a free triple chocolate cupcake!” (Granted, they’re not really doing step 2, engaging with their followers in conversation, but they’re connecting with them in a way that is fun and meaningful.) The big idea here is to be creative, experiment, have fun with it and keep the focus on benefiting your followers – not you!

 “My advice to businesses (using Twitter) is to just be yourself. That will take you farther than you could ever imagine.” – J.R. Cohen, Coffee Groundz 

4. Attend or organize a Tweetup. Tweetups are a gathering of people in a local community using Twitter. The common ground is a desire to network offline with others who believe in the power of Twitter to build community and as a social media marketing tool.

 Cohen started hosting tweetups at the Coffee Groundz too. His biggest event was the Obama inauguration organized just 24 hours before the event. According to the MarketingProfs case study: “More than 250 people showed up to drink coffee, nosh on sandwiches and watch history being made.”  

Be on the lookout for a Tweetup coming to your town soon! You can use a free service like MeetUp to find or start a MeetUp/TweetUp event near you. And, here’s information on “HOW TO: Organize a Successful Tweetup” on Mashable.  

So, there are 4 keys to get you and your local business better engaged with using Twitter. Used thoughtfully, Twitter can help build relationships, generate awareness and become a big deal for local businesses, even in a small town.

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