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While large companies have been tweeting their way to social media success for years now, too many small and medium businesses have been late to the Twitter party.

Whether this reluctance stems from confusion over Twitter parlance and conventions (“what is a retweet??”) or a nagging suspicion that what works for the likes of Amazon and Microsoft couldn’t possibly work for them, small and medium businesses miss tremendous opportunities to extend their reach and deepen their brand loyalty when they leave Twitter to the large companies, local teenagers, and celebrities of the world.

twitter graduatesWhy does this constitute such a crucial missed opportunity? The evidence in favor of smaller businesses integrating Twitter into their social media strategies is overwhelming.

Consider the following:

  • The 2011 Social Media Marketing Report indicates that small businesses see the greatest results from using Twitter.
  • A Twitter-sponsored study by Datalogix suggests that Twitter’s Promoted Tweets program can boost offline sales by as much as 29%. (We’ll discuss Promoted Tweets below.)
  • A recent survey reports that an impressive 72 percent of Twitter followers indicate that they are likely to buy from a small or local business that they follow on Twitter. (This is great news on both the engagement and the sales front.)

Now that we have you convinced that you need Twitter in your life, we’ll take a look at some of the ways that four small and medium businesses just like yours have used Twitter to bolster sales, increase engagement, and build loyal followings, both on and offline.


Brooklyn-based clothing retailer Alter was already a Twitter presence, sometimes tweeting up to five times daily. They had exciting and relevant content, but felt that their reach still wasn’t what it should be. Since the company was using Twitter quite a bit already, the solution wasn’t simply to begin tweeting. Instead, they had to tweet differently. For Alter, the solution arrived in the form of Promoted Tweets.

Twitter tastes good

Above: Twitter tastes good

Image Credit: Mixy/Flickr

Promoted Tweets allowed @Alter’s tweets to show up in the Twitter feeds of people beyond their group of loyal followers. In order to avoid alienating these potential new followers, the Promoted Tweets all offered something — a sneak preview of a new shoe, or an announcement of an upcoming sale. Alter co-owner Roy Caires raves, “I saw our number of followers grow quite rapidly, which is amazing … we tweet a picture of a particular shoe, and then four people visit the store and ask directly about that shoe.”

Putting it to Work:

Engage with followers via twitter: Your Promoted Tweets should spark a conversation and/or offer followers something. Frame your Tweets as a question, announce a contest, solicit photos. Do anything except simply announce yourself. Twitter is about starting relationships, not just getting your product in front of someone.

Monterey County

Beautiful Monterey, CA is known for its miles of rugged coast, sunsets, and adorable otters. While Monterey was already a popular sightseeing and tourist destination, Monterey County administrators struggled to find a way to integrate all of the positive buzz that the area received into a cohesive marketing strategy: People would visit, rave about their trip to friends and on social media, and then … nothing.

Monterey County wanted to use the glowing recommendations of visitors to attract new and repeat visitors. To do this, they used Twitter to run a contest that asked people to share their favorite Monterey moments for the chance to win a trip to Carmel. The response was overwhelming, garnering over 1,000 contest entries and 2,000 new Twitter followers. A huge added bonus to this campaign is that when Tweeters posted their Monterey memories to @SeeMonterey, the posts appeared in the newsfeeds of their Twitter followers. As marketing manager Nicole Gustas points out “Generally, travelers and consumers alike are more receptive to messages from people they know. Twitter is the perfect solution for that because users become our advocates by tweeting and Retweeting our messages to their friends and family.”

Putting it to Work:

Use testimonials to broaden your influence. This is a great way to attract new followers — while the Twittersphere may be vast, a recommendation from a friend or family member via Twitter is worth a lot. So, set-up a contest, offer a freebie for the first three people who Retweet your content, etc. Again, Twitter is ideal for reaching out to people for conversations and relationships. One of the best ways to do this is to reach new followers through the people who influence them.


Rock/Creek sells upmarket outdoor gear both online and in five brick and mortar stores. The company was planning a sale for Black Friday but knew that they would be competing with much larger retail outfits in the weeks leading up to the annual shopping extravaganza. Their solution was to get out in front of their competitors by advertising their sales early and creating a sense of urgency with a countdown. To do this, Rock/Creek relied on Twitter to get the word out to likely followers. (In this case, people who were interested in kayaking, camping, rock climbing, etc.) The result was a 172% increase in followers and the company’s best single shopping day of 2012. Not bad for a few well-timed 140 character messages!

Putting it to Work for You:

Create a sense of urgency: Tweets are immediate and have the potential to make followers and potential followers feel that they must act or run the risk of missing out. Consider running a countdown, reminding followers that there are only 10 sets of tickets left, or telling them how many other people have already taken advantage of your amazing deal. This is a surefire strategy that will make followers take notice — nobody likes being left in the dust, even if it is virtual dust.

Whipped Bakeshop

Whipped is a purveyor of fine and fancy cookies, cakes, and cupcakes in Philadelphia. The small brand wanted to extend their reach, but really wanted to focus on quality of followers rather than quantity. Because Whipped is a local business, their focus was on attracting local customers who would turn into repeat customers — folks who were of the sweet-toothed foodie persuasion and not just looking for a one time deal cupcakes.

They used Promoted Tweets to gain new followers in the Philadelphia area, and tweaked their content to match the audience. Rather than blasting Philly Tweeters with bland information about upcoming sales, they sent out pictures of what was fresh out of the oven, and made sure that when a follower RT’d a post, they engaged with him or her by saying thanks or otherwise commenting. In this way, this local business built up a 5% follower growth and managed to reach hundreds of valuable local followers, which was high on their wish list.

Putting it to Work for You:

Engage local followers to become brand evangelists. If you are a local business with strong ties to your community, then the followers who matter most to you are the followers who are right in your back yard. You can use Promoted Tweets to find them, or you can launch a more grassroots campaign and find relevant followers yourself. To do this, consider using Followerwonk to identify likely targets in your area. You can start following people, strike up (relevant) conversations, and in no time, you’ll likely have some new followers. Twellow is another handy tool that will help you to find new followers segmented by interests and expertise.

The Takeaway: With so much evidence suggesting that Twitter can be a boon to small and medium businesses of all stripes, it is imperative that business owners and marketing professionals embrace the power of the Tweet. For the uninitiated, the Twitterverse can at first seem intimidating. There are conventions and mystifying characters (@, #) that can be off-putting.

Savvy business owners needn’t fear though — with the help of a trusty small business guide to Twitter and the belief in your brand that informs all that you do, Twitter success is just around the corner. #getonit!

Infographic via Simply Business (click image to view the full interactive version)

Click image to open interactive version (via Simply Business)

Britt Klontz is a Digital Content Strategist at Distilled, an online marketing company. Say “hi” and give her a shout @Britt_Klontz, she’s always up for having a conversation about digital marketing tactics and social networking in general. 

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