Twitter… Does It Work For Small Business?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard or read about a new website called Twitter.

Although Twitter is a relatively new service, it has been receiving some great press and is starting to be used by many small businesses and large companies around the world – including some major media companies, marketing companies and computer companies…

In fact, ABC has its own Twitter feed, which they reference at the end of some of their shows.

So a few months ago I decided to see for myself what this Twitter thing was all about…

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a “microblog”. Think of it like a blog, only smaller… in fact you only have 140 characters (not words, characters) to communicate a message, so what you say has to be short, concise and of interest.

Twitter is simply a means to communicate with an audience of people who want to hear what you have to say.

How Does Twitter Work?

Using Twitter is very easy – you sign up for a Twitter account and then start posting the 140 character messages, known as ‘tweets’, immediately. Once you’ve posted a tweet, it goes into your Twitter feed. Anybody who is following your tweets will then see your update within their own Twitter account – similar to how a blog’s RSS feed communicates with RSS readers.

Of course, if your ‘followers’ are subscribed to hundreds of people, you may only have exposure on the main page of their account for just a few seconds, which is one of the reasons that people Twitter so much – so they can stay top of mind.

By default, Twitter feeds are set to public. This means that you can search for anybody who uses Twitter and see all of their past tweets.

Does Twitter Work For Small Business Marketing Purposes?

Facebook, in its early stages, received alot of positive press in the media about what it would mean for the future of marketing. Many companies were joining Facebook, and nearly everybody I knew personally had joined as well.

Facebook was, as we were led to believe, the next big thing…

And while it still has some time to perform, Facebook hasn’t yet become the marketing channel we were hoping it to be… in fact, it hasn’t even turned a profit yet!

Sure, you can run some paid advertising to Facebook users, but it hasn’t (at least in our experience) provided a channel for consistent and reliable sales and revenue.

Twitter, at this stage, is very similar…

It can work, and I’ve seen some examples of it working well, but not for the average small business owner who doesn’t yet have a large email database.

The Challenge With Twitter

One of the main challenges with Twitter, like any form of Social Marketing, is that it requires a very long-term perspective that cannot be implemented without some form of short-term revenue producing activities.

The companies that are achieving success with Twitter are those who are already well known. They already have a very large database of prospects and/or clients who know who they are, and may well have already purchased from them in the past. For them, Twitter is another method of communicating a message.

Twitter is not a replacement for email marketing, SEO, PPC or banner advertising. Instead, it should be used as another method to communicate with your database so they can learn more about you in order to feel more comfortable in spending money with you.

An example of a company using Twitter successfully is Dell, who uses Twitter to release very limited special offers to their database, ahead of email marketing and direct mail campaigns. They are one of the biggest success stories I have heard about to date, generating $1m in revenue using Twitter in 2008.

But if a multi-billion dollar company can only generate $1m in revenue (not profit) from Twitter, what hope does the small business owner have?

Is Twitter Worth Your Time?

I started experimenting with Twitter around four months ago to see how it can be used for small business marketing.

While it is fun to use and following other people is interesting, I haven’t seen the practical applications yet… I haven’t seen a proven strategy that can be used across various industries to earn a consistent and reliable profit.

If you are going to experiment with Twitter you need to remember that it is social marketing, not direct marketing. If you are to be successful online you first need to refine other elements your strategy first. If you haven’t yet implemented all of the steps outlined in How To Grow a Business Online then don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter… your time will be utilised far better by implementing those points first.

Of course once this is accomplished and you are maximising all of those areas, Twitter can be used as another method to reach your audience.

The major benefit of marketing with Twitter is the fact that you can do it from your mobile phone. And because you don’t need to be in front of your computer you can tweet when out shopping, when waiting in line, when you’re bored, anywhere…

This means you’re not encroaching on other elements of your marketing campaign, because using your phone to Twitter is not causing any opportunity costs in you not working on a higher value marketing activity. Of course, if you are spending the time on Twitter instead of email marketing or preparing blog content, then it’s probably not the best use of your time.

How To Get Started With Twitter

If you are ready to give Twitter a go and see what it’s all about, here’s a quick start guide for how to get the most out of Twitter.

  1. Create a free Twitter account – which takes just a couple of minutes.
  2. Search for people you know and who you want to follow and then hit the “follow” button underneath their thumbnails to follow their tweets.
  3. Start to tweet about yourself. Remember, you’ve got 140 characters to say something, so it needs to be short, concise, punchy and interesting.
  4. You’re not Dell (yet) so use Twitter to speak about yourself, your life and information of interest to your followers. The aim is to build a relationship with your customer so they feel more comfortable spending money with you. This could be tweeting about family, holidays, articles on news sites, articles on blogs and so on. It’s all about building relationships within 140 characters or less.
  5. Of course, if you release a new product or if you have a special discounted offer then you can tweet about it… but like any form of relationship building it, you want to have a higher ratio of information-rich content to sales messages.
  6. Take note of how other successful companies are using Twitter. Follow Dell, and some of the other larger companies, and see how they use it. Take note of what appeals to you and what you respond to and try to implement that yourself.
  7. Once you have some Twitter history, send out an email to your database giving them a reason to follow you on Twitter, such as offering limited time discounts for Twitter uses, or posting content unique to the Twitter
  8. And get advanced notice of new articles and ebooks by subscribing to my Twitter feed.

What To Avoid

There are some things that you should avoid, as these can hinder rather than help you and your followers.

  1. Avoid automated software programs that manage your followers and automatically respond to them. This may seem a good idea at the outset, but automation is hardly ever a good thing with social marketing, and Twitter is all about building relationships.
  2. Avoid following everybody who follows you. If you’re following 100,000 people, there’s no way you will be able to find the tweets of the people you actually know. So only follow the people you want to actually learn about and hear what they have to say.
  3. Try not to follow people you don’t know, except when you want to know them or do business with them. At the end of the day, you want to enjoy logging in and seeing what other people are doing.

When I first started using Twitter I was allured into using automated software programs, and was told to follow everybody that was following me. What ended up happening was that I stopped using Twitter altogether because everytime I logged in there was a list of tweets from people I didn’t know, and I couldn’t see any of the Tweets from the people I actually wanted to hear from.

Twitter provides another method of building a relationship with your clients. But its practical application for the average small business owner is yet to be confirmed and as such it should not be a major component of your marketing strategy.

Hopefully Twitter will release a better monetisation strategy for small businesses this year.

Please share your thoughts below.

Alex Cleanthous

Alex Cleanthous

Chief Innovation Officer at Web Profits

Alex Cleanthous is Chief Innovation Officer at Web Profits. With more than 10 years experience in online marketing, Alex is always on the lookout for smarter, faster and more scalable ways to achieve maximum growth with minimum spend.


  1. Printing – Ready Steady Print says:

    good post.

    i too was allured into using the software and have been frustrated by it ever since.

    May 22nd, 2009 at 4:12 pm

  2. Gentlerain Marketing says:

    Nice Article!!!!!
    I came to know about use of twitter from your information…
    Your information is useful to know how to use twitter..
    Newbie of twitter can learn how to use twitter from your information.
    Twitter gives you a fragmented experience of opinions, events, news, ideas and feedback largely because its structured to accommodate non-contextual usability.

    July 4th, 2009 at 6:46 pm

  3. Laura says:

    Thanks for confirming what I am starting to realize…I’m a small business who just jumped into the social marketing arena with a Twitter and Facebook account. I’ve had both for a month now and so far, find them tedious and laborious to update. The people following me on Twitter also follow thousands of other people, reminding me of that bad high school popularity contest I got away from all those years ago! What is the point of doing this kind of marketing if my clients don’t follow me here? I have a much better relationship with my clients through my email marketing campaign. I’ll give it a few more weeks and I’ll try following some of the big guns as you suggest to see if it grows my business.

    January 16th, 2010 at 11:13 am

  4. Raul Quiroga says:

    Building a community in social media like Twitter or Facebook is not about the platform but the relationships that you build with your readers. By establishing connections with your followers, you become an authority and a go-to area to link to. This will provide you an idea of what your market needs.

    February 18th, 2010 at 11:52 pm