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5 Twitter Facts SMBs Need To Know

Here's expert advice on how and why to pay attention to Twitter followers who are already customers.

10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
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What's the value to a brand of a Twitter follower? More than you might think, particularly if that follower is already a customer.

That's one of the key takeaways from new market research conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey, which broke down the Twitter habits of nearly 1,500 consumers ages 18 and up. They did so at the behest of Constant Contact, an online marketing firm that focuses exclusively on smaller businesses. Constant Contact published the top 10 conclusions it drew from the data on the company's Social Media Quickstarter site, a free crash course in social for small businesses.

As with their recent Facebook findings, I mixed and matched to come up with my top five for small and midsize businesses--brevity is a virtue, right? Then I asked Mark Schmulen, Constant Contact's GM for social media, for his thoughts.

1. Brand followers are selective and loyal. Similar to Facebook, the notion that a follow is "cheap" would appear untrue when it comes to branded Twitter feeds. Nearly 80% of users follow fewer than 10 brands--and they tend to stick with them: three out of four users have never unfollowed a brand.

[ Be careful on Twitter and other social sites. Read Social Media Can Hurt You In A Lawsuit. ]

"People aren't just following brands willy-nilly," Schmulen said in an interview. "They're pretty selective about who they follow."

2. Followers more likely to recommend and buy. Twitter users have typically shunned schmaltzy sales tweets. Yet 60% of users are more likely to recommend brands they follow, and half are more likely to make a purchase. That points to the particular strength of branded Twitter feeds as a means to connect with current customers rather than go after new ones; in fact, "I am a customer of the company" was the top reason that users identified (64%) for following a business on Twitter in the first place. Schmulen said the most successful kind of new customer acquisition on Twitter and other social sites is the organic result of current customers sharing content and recommendations with their networks.

"Don't focus on acquiring new customers; focus on retaining your existing customers," Schmulen said. That's in part because current customers tend to spend more. "More importantly, those happy existing customers tell their friends about you."

3. Followers want to be in the know. The current customer emphasis ties to another finding: Users don't just want promotions and deals from the brands they follow. They want information. "To be the first to know information about the brand" was the second most common reason (61%) consumers follow a brand after "I'm a customer." That led "to receive promotions and discounts"--at 48%--by a healthy margin.

"A lot of people think people follow a brand on Twitter just to receive discounts," Schmulen said. "That's a reason, but it's not the reason."

4. Followers much more likely to read--rather than tweet--about brands. Just because a company's followers aren't tweeting and retweeting them, doesn't mean their presence doesn't matter: 84% of followers read tweets posted by the brand, while just 23% tweet about the brand. In other words: Content is still critical.

"They consume the information," Schmulen said. "Twitter is still very much about broadcasting content. That's not a big surprise."

5. Followers are interacting with brands more. While most users might be in read-only mode, there appears to be increasing interaction with brands on Twitter, with one in three interacting more with the brands they follow this year than last year. Schmulen attributes that to Twitter's relative youth as a platform and the corresponding inexperience of its user base. The Chadwick Martin Bailey data showed, for example, that just under half of consumers included have been using Twitter for less than a year.

"People have started to overcome the Twitter learning curve," Schmulen said. "It takes a little bit of time for people to embed Twitter into their routine."

In particular, he said as users get more comfortable social monitoring tools, lists, and other methods for filtering out the noise and finding value, they'll become more interactive with the brands they choose to follow. "Twitter is so simple and easy to use, but until you figure out how to integrate it into your life it can be too much," Schmulen said.

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