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    Tweet to the beat: Twitter business success stories

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver July 7-13, 2009; issue 1028

    High Tech Office column

    In May this column looked at Twitter. The micro-blogging online service has grown dramatically with more than 10 million sharing 140-character responses to “What are you doing?”

    In that column, I wasn’t sure if I got it.

    Apparently I’m not alone in my Twitter-ambivalence. A recent Harvard study suggested that many people sign on to Twitter, “tweet” just once and never return, while 10% of the service’s users generate 90% of the content. An earlier Nielsen study claimed 60% of U.S. Twitter users hadn’t returned to the service a month later.

    Despite these statistics, some businesses are using Twitter to boost sales. Computer-maker Dell, an early Twitter adopter, offers its “followers” easily tracked Twitter-only discounts. These have generated US$3 million in sales, $1 million in the past six months.
    My column ended with a challenge to readers: “Any Twitter business-usefulness success stories out there?”

    Among the replies:

    •Blair Hirtle, sales co-ordinator for Fairmont Hotels, noted that the Fairmont Empress offered a special discounted room rate on Twitter. The result was “increased occupancy. Much more successful than any traditional ad buy and it cost minimal time and labour.” Now seven Fairmont hotels have Twitter accounts.

    •Betsy Cooper, of Vancouver PR firm B*co Communications, said “Twitter has been a valuable tool.” With it, she has met business contacts and colleagues and “reached out to media for client opportunities.” Following up on a question posted by a Globe and Mail reporter resulted in coverage for her company that has led to additional clients.

    •Author Erica Pinsky has been using Twitter to help promote her new book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit. She hasn’t directly sold any books or got any speaking or consulting engagements as a result. However, her postings are frequently “re-tweeted,” going out, for example, to members of the U.S.-based Society for Human Resources Management. She has started to see sales from this secondhand Tweeting. Perhaps more importantly, she noted: “Now I have almost 600 people who are aware of me and my work. I am now connected to individuals all over the world. And it does not cost me anything except my time.”

    •Describing herself as an “online marketing wizard,” Tamara Brooks posted a tweet when she was looking for a bookkeeper. One of her Twitter followers sent her a list of five candidates that he had interviewed. She has received several speaking engagements by following up on Twitter conversations. She has recently begun giving Twitter tutorials to businesses looking to use the service to interact with customers.

    •Gary Yurkovich is active with BC Social Venture Partners, a group of businesspeople who support “the local non-profit community.” While resisting the temptation to tweet about what he had for breakfast, he sees the potential power of Twitter to “simply let people know what you are about and let people join you or know you as they see fit.” His tweets have brought at least one new person on as a partner in BCSVP.

    •Rebecca Bollwitt used Twitter last February to organize the local version of the worldwide Twestival charity event, bringing 250 people out to a fundraiser at the Opus Hotel. Online as Miss604, she has posted resources introducing Twitter for business. Worth checking out:, which includes examples of Vancouver business-Twitter users.

    A common thread: for business success, connect Twitter to other online and real-world resources. The Fairmont Empress promotion was a success after being picked up by blogs and newspapers. B*co gained clients when a Twitter reply led to an article in the Globe. And Miss604 notes that Twitter can be a great tool for finding people but that it remains important to followup face to face to convert tweets to sales.

    There may not be a direct correlation between having a Twitter presence and increased sales volume. But Pinsky answered my challenge: “If the criteria for success is widening my sphere of influence, of increasing the number of individuals that know about me and my work, then the answer is yes.” •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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