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5 New Ways Smart People Use Twitter

A funny thing happened to Twitter on the way to its latest growth spurt. A Pew research study released last week found that Twitter's usage among online adults in the U.S. leapt from 8% to 13% in the last six months alone. But not all of these new users are actually tweeting.

In fact, Twitter has now taken to billing itself as "an information network," because searches have overtaken tweets as the most common use of the service. A billion tweets are posted every six days, but Twitter searches are happening at 10 times that rate, or 1.6 billion queries every single day. So, perhaps it's not surprising that on its own "About" page, Twitter explains that "You don't have to tweet to get value from Twitter."

The New Way of Using Twitter
How, then, can businesses use Twitter beyond the ways we commonly think of: posting on an account, sharing news, and chatting with others online?

I recently had the chance to put that question to a number of senior marketers, from media, tech, and financial services brands, as well as global agencies. All of them were using Twitter both personally and professionally, but many said it was for "pure consumption," and not tweeting. We talked about the business benefits of tapping into Twitter purely as a real-time information network.

Tweets vs. Twitter Searches
Here are some of the ways they told me they were getting value out of Twitter for their business:

1. Learning in real-time. Twitter can provide any business leader with an unparalleled real-time information source. By compiling a list of relevant major news media (from The Wall Street Journal to The Economist), it can provide an extremely efficient news aggregator, with instant updates throughout the day. For deeper knowledge on what's happening in your industry, or insights into emerging customer or societal trends, marketers can create a curated Twitter list of thought leaders in their field who blog or write regularly. And when news is breaking or a hot topic is on every customer's lips, there's no quicker measure of the moment than a Twitter search on that topic. As Twitter continues to refine its search and list functions, it is becoming "the new Bloomberg terminal": where you plug in to hear business news first.

2. Monitoring brands. One of the most important marketing uses of Twitter is to monitor your brand. In addition to basic search tools to track all tweets containing a keyword (e.g. your company name), there are advanced visualization tools available for measuring brand sentiment and associations. If your brand is frequently mentioned in social media by customers, what are the most common words associated with it? And how are those changing over time? Customer insight can also be gleaned by listening in on customer complaints. One exec told me, "People don't have time to call our company to complain if they're unhappy, but they do have time to tweet it." Knowing what's making a customer unhappy is the first step to improving customer service.

3. Identifying influencers. It used to be that blogger rankings were a primary source of identifying those "influencers" in your industry who you want to reach out to when you have news to share (e.g. new product launch, market entry, or stock offering). Now, many P.R. managers are turning to Twitter to identify these influencers. When a story breaks about your business, they may check to find out what people an important journalist is "following" on Twitter, knowing that reaching that their influence may help you put out your point of view, and help steer your story in the mainstream news.

4. Measuring marketing impact. Twitter can actually be very effective in measuring the results of non-digital marketing efforts as well, from event marketing, to ad campaigns. One executive told me how they tracked Twitter after their biggest sales event of the year, to see whether their marketing team's key messages had gotten absorbed and picked up in their customer's conversations. After launching an ad campaign aimed at persuading Americans to fill out their census forms, the 2010 Census mined the data in social media to measure changes in "intent to fill out census forms" among citizens who had seen the advertising.

5. Capturing a moment. From international sports matches, to political scandals, to royal weddings, when a singular event happens, the world turns to Twitter to share and see what others are saying. This is because Twitter is the social medium that most naturally captures the conversation around publicly shared moments. Marketers are now recognizing the potential this offers them to listen, participate, or in some cases host that conversation. As seen during recent Super Bowl and World Cup events, brands are starting to sponsor not just the half-time shows, but special online tools that allow fans to connect with each other and the athletes or celebrities they admire. For smaller businesses, local and customer events can provide a similar opportunity to spark valuable conversations on Twitter.

The first wave of Twitter's business adopters have shown how posting, sharing, and conversing with customers there can help sustain relationships with existing customers and even acquire new ones (here are a few strategies). But for other marketers, jumping into Twitter has been more daunting. If you've been holding off on Twitter because you weren't sure what to tweet, you don't need to wait any longer. There's a world of conversation to be discovered.


David Rogers examines Twitter, and other emerging media, as part of the five core strategies of successful digital businesses in his new book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at
image courtesy of flickr user, Rosaura Ochoa
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