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Use Twitter to talk to customers — including hamsters

19 July 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Would your company let employees spend time talking to a cat?

If you are Natalie Davis’ boss, you would. Davis, director of e-commerce for the pet supply company Petco, sometimes talks to animals via their owners.

In one conversation that took place on Twitter, “Brian’s cat” wanted Davis’ cat Leo to come out to play. Here’s an excerpt:

Brians_cat: Do you let your cats tweet every now and then?

NatalieatPETCO: I would gladly let my cat Leo tweet every now and then, but I’m not sure he wants to. He hasn’t quite figured out twitter yet.

Brians_cat: I’m sure Leo will get the hang of it, once he gets past all this “human keyboard” nonsense : )

NatalieatPETCO: Maybe so. Leo has a lot of attitude for a cat and probably just thinks he is ‘above’ twitter right now. he’ll get over it.

For Davis, tweeting with “animals” is just par for the course at work. She has also talked to ChloeWaterDog, Max the cat, and Ralf the Hamster, who shared about things like spinning in his wheel, needing more water and why his owner wouldn’t change the bedding in his cage.

Davis was part of a speaker panel held Tuesday in downtown San Diego discussing effective social media strategies. The panel featured Jamie Dicken, the sales vice president of Brickfish.com, as well as two social media strategists from Red Door Interactive, a San Diego-based social media management company that organized the event. Reid Carr, president of Red Door Interactive, served as moderator.

Manage conversations

Social media acts as a powerful marketing tool that enables companies to “manage the conversation” that customers are having about them anyway,” said Cosby Noricks, a Red Door strategist. “You can take the conversations that are already happening and turn those into messages that extend and are relevant and worthwhile to the customer.”

These tools include: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other sites or technologies that allow people to communicate with each other online.

Social media is becoming the primary form of marketing, as more people get their information online and build virtual communities they trust. The fastest-growing demographics are 35-to-49-year-olds on Twitter, and women ages 55 and up on Facebook, said Brickfish’s Dicken.

Research shows that when people get information from a friend, 78 percent are more likely to believe it. An online “brand evangelist” – a loyal customer who spreads a company’s brand message to others – can typically influence 150 people, said Dicken.

“So that power of getting that network started and tracking that conversation is really powerful,” said Dicken.

Gain customer insight

Social media also enables companies to gain insight into their customers and build brand loyalty, the experts said.

Red Door’s Noricks told of one marketing campaign she managed for Souplantation restaurants to promote a lemon menu. The company invited customers to submit photos and videos of their best “puckerfaces” – which yielded images of children, couples and grandparents.

“Demographics is not just a chart on a page,” said Noricks . “You can actually see their faces.”

Twittering for cash

Can all this activity turn into cash? Petco’s Davis, who previously ran one segment of the social media department at Dell computers, said one Twitter account they had brought in $1 million revenue while she was there. The account @DellOutlet offers special deals to its 600,000 Twitter followers.

But it took time to build the customer base, said Davis.

“You have to build a fan base and gain trust,” she said. “You can’t promote deals until people know who you are.”

Dicken said that one client built up enough trust that each customer spent 14 minutes with the brand, which is a long time online. By using social media, “You start learning who your audience is,” she said. “What drives a purchase and truly motivates your consumers.”

Set clear goals

The experts emphasized that businesses also need to be clear about their purpose and goals for using social media.

Since success can be measured in so many ways, marketing managers should set clear targets. For some, that might be to attract 1000 Twitter followers in a month. Another goal might be to collect addresses from followers. Another might be to have followers go to a URL link. Still another might be to download something at a Web site.

“You need to know your strategy and decide the value,” said Morgan Witt, a senior strategist at Red Door Interactive who spoke. “Set your metrics up front.”

Social media needs to be part of an overall marketing strategy that integrates other marketing tactics, such as press releases, blogs, Web sites and traditional media, said the panelists. It also requires long-term, ongoing commitment.

Dicken said her company focuses on helping clients place content where the consumers might be, not the other way around. For instance, they created a content module for one client that could be easily shared among Facebook users.

“It’s about distribution,” said Dicken, “not destination.”

Passionate topics

For Petco’s Davis, part of the goal is to engage consumers with topics they are passionate about. In one conversation, they asked followers which they liked better: cats or dogs. The conversation went crazy. Between all that, Davis’ team also shares company news and gives away $25 gift certificates.

“We try to have conversations with people,” Davis said. “We’re getting people to engage with our brand and talk about something they are passionate about with Petco.”

Follow Helen on Twitter @helenchang.

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