In a recent HBS blog post we gave small-business owners some tips on successfully using Facebook as a marketing tool. Because Internet users view it as an entertainment destination, Facebook is a great platform for videos, photographs, and other engaging materials that help to tell the story of your business. Using Twitter, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest social-networking companies, can also be a valuable way to engage with current customers and acquire new ones.
In order to build your Twitter following you’ll want to follow some of the same practices that you do with your company’s Facebook page—like starting out by getting friends and family to follow you, sending out regular updates, and asking for and responding to feedback—but Twitter’s unique format requires a special approach to connect with your audience.
Twitter users broadcast short messages—called tweets—of 140 characters or less to their followers, who typically receive them on their mobile phones. So you have to be brief, and enticing, in order to craft winning tweets.
Because your tweets reach your followers instantaneously and while they have an Internet-connected mobile device in their hands, Twitter is an ideal tool for conducting flash sales—time-sensitive promotions broadcast only to those who follow your tweets. A typical Twitter flash sale lasts about 24 hours and offers customers a significant discount on one or more products or services.
If you’re going to hold a flash sale, you’ll increase your likelihood for success by promoting the sale for a few days before it goes live. Luckily, this is as easy as sending out a daily tweet along the lines of: “Just three days to go before our once-a-year half-off sale!”. Teasing the special offer in this fashion helps to get your followers excited—and ready to hit the buy button when the sale starts.
In addition to helping you sell merchandise that you may be looking to get rid of, flash sales also offer your business an opportunity to increase its social-media reach. Once you’ve conducted a successful flash sale or two, you might consider requiring users to pass on, or “retweet”, your message in order to gain access to the special deal. This requires your followers to take an extra step, albeit an extremely easy one, in order to realize the savings, so you probably want to wait to try it until you’ve built a loyal group of Twitter followers. But once you have, this can be an effective tool for getting new followers and driving greater uptake of flash sales.
Like Facebook, Twitter offers entrepreneurs the ability to promote their companies free of charge—tweeting about your business and using Twitter to promote flash sales won’t cost you a thing. And, as you might expect, Twitter is now following Facebook’s lead in the world of paid advertising: On March 26, the company announced details of its advertising platform for small businesses. While it will only be available to a limited number of businesses initially, Twitter plans to steadily grow the offering in the near future. If you want to keep up with the latest details, you might consider following Twitter Advertising.