Small Businesses Take On the Twittersphere

There should be a catchier phrase for Twitter quitters. "Twiquitters," perhaps? With or without a nickname, the number of Twitter users who abandon their accounts shortly after creation is remarkably high -- more than 60 percent of new United States users fail to return the following month, according to Nielsen Online. And the superficiality of the accounts is another matter: More than half of Twitter users aren't following anyone, half have never posted a tweet, and half have no followers at all, according to research by the creators of Twitter Grader and inbound marketing company HubSpot.

Mike Volpe, HubSpot's vice president, suggests that people signing up for Twitter have a misconception that they will see value right away. They wrongly think the value comes from Twitter itself, instead of the people they could be following. "Twitter itself is not a useful service without followers," he says. 

HubSpot, a marketing provider geared toward small businesses, released the first part of its "State of the Twittersphere" report toward the end of 2008. The statistics were put together based on the data HubSpot collected from Twitter Grader -- a tool that measures the relative power or influence of a given twitterer. From Twitter Grader, the company claims to have information on more than 4.5 million Twitter accounts. The 2008 research that HubSpot assembled indicated massive growth, Volpe says. The June 2009 research, however, points to a relatively shakier growth rate and fickle adoption by users. The report provides the following statistics on twitterers:

  • 80 percent fail to provide a homepage URL in their Twitter account biographies;
  • 76 percent of users have not entered a biography in their profile at all;
  • 69 percent have not specified a location;
  • 56 percent are not following anyone;
  • 55 percent have never twittered; and
  • 53 percent have no followers.

In addition to its Twitter analysis, HubSpot provides free whitepapers and Webinars on marketing topics for small-business owners and executives. "It's a great time to be a small business today," Volpe says, adding that small businesses are at an advantage when it comes to social media initiatives. For one, he says, they are more accustomed to networking for lead generation.

For many big businesses, adjusting to social networking -- joining conversations rather than dictating messages -- can come as more of a challenge. Small businesses are often more willing -- and more able -- to try new projects. The problem is knowing where to start and what paths to take. In a whitepaper entitled "How to Use Twitter for Business," the HubSpot team provides the following recommendations for companies wanting to market through the Twitter channel:

  1. Use Twitter to drive people to your company's Web site: HubSpot recommends twittering about posts and resources on your Web site. Linking to your own sites enables the likelihood that your followers will direct their friends to your site, as well. 
  2. Monitor with Twitter Search: The paper states, "If you find someone tweeting about your products or a person who is looking for a solution that your product provides, let them know!"
  3. Accumulate customer testimonials via the "Favorites" feature: When you "star" a post, it gets added to your Favorites Tab. Start collecting positive comments about your company from followers.
  4. Promote events: Form or join Tweetups to get to know your Twitter community. Don't forget to establish hash tags in advance. 
  5. Promote new tools on Twitter: HubSpot recommends making results of tools as easy to Tweet as possible. 
  6. Become a thought leader in your industry: Tweet useful resources that followers will want to Retweet.  

After delving into Twitter marketing, it's time to consider measuring your efforts. HubSpot recommends using the following metrics:

  • Reach: Total number of followers. 
  • Response Rate: Average number of @replies per tweet. 
  • Branding and Awareness: How often people reference your company or products on Twitter? 
  • Twitter Grade: Consult http://twitter.grader.com to score your influence on the site. (http://twittergrader.com -- without the dot in the middle -- also works.)
  • Sales Funnel: (This one might be a bit trickier) Number of visitors from Twitter who visit your company website that convert to leads.

In addition to schooling businesspeople on social media marketing, HubSpot recently announced a new component to its inbound marketing solution -- social media monitoring. Volpe says the shift toward the listening end is logical for the company. The social media monitoring tool -- which is sold as part of the HubSpot marketing subscription, rather than an add-on -- tracks a small business's activity on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. It monitors the company's brand and also clues the company into relevant industry news and trends and activity of competitors, as well. Since a company's marketing campaigns are also within HubSpot, users can see how many leads they are getting from social media participation. 

The key to the HubSpot solution, Volpe maintains, is keeping it easy for small businesses and having multiple tools in one place. He notes that whereas a large organization might use a monitoring tool such as Visible Technologies or Radian6 and integrate that with its CRM and content management and possibly its blogging platform, a small business doesn't have the means to enable such integration. Volpe admits there are no customization capabilities with its solution -- it's fairly straightforward. Realistically, he says, that's what small businesses want and need. "You can get started in literally minutes tracking conversations, he says."You can't program in your own dashboard, but that's not necessary for small businesses. They want to get the most benefit out of the limited amount of time they have." Volpe goes on to say that whereas a big business might have a person or team dedicated to social media management, a small business does not. 

"All these small companies want to measure social media and blogs and 'get found online' and attract leads, but it's really hard because they couldn't afford a lot of the solutions out there," Volpe says. Plus, they struggle to get them to work together in a simple, easy way.

Forrester analyst Suresh Vittal, who researches the listening platforms space in depth, calls HubSpot an "innovative company." He adds that HubSpot, with the small-to-midsize business set as its target, helps organizations grow and maintain healthy pipelines through cutting-edge social media and CRM technologies. 

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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