How to Use Twitter to Drive Sales

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Linda Bolg

While it’s certainly nice to use Twitter for thought leadership and to build brand awareness, all these things are useless if it doesn’t help your bottom line. In fact, companies have seen tremendous success in utilizing the platform to drive sales, whether it’s ecommerce orders, app downloads, or increased foot traffic at offline stores.

Linda Bolg has witnessed many of these successful campaigns firsthand. Bolg is the head of marketing at SocialBro, an end to end campaign management platform that allows you to discover and analyze Twitter data — within your own community and the wider Twittersphere — then act on that intelligence to maximize the potential of Twitter as a revenue generating channel. We discussed what kind of products are best for promoting on Twitter and how to track the success of a Twitter campaign.

In terms of actually driving sales, is there a particular type of product that Twitter is better at promoting? Like is it better at promoting an ecommerce product as opposed to trying to drive foot traffic to offline stores?

I’ve been asked this question often by brands and by potential customers themselves. I actually think that Twitter is really good for driving leads and sales for both B2B and B2C brands, whether it’s service or product based. I think what we’re seeing is the entertainment industry has probably been the fastest to use social and Twitter really well. And then we have had other industries like retail, technology, and travel that have been really good at adopting some of the practices that the entertainment industry has been doing. And now we’re seeing a lot of the B2B companies looking to B2C for what they are doing, and trying to mimic them. I think what we’re seeing are industries that are more mature coming to use Twitter and social in general, and because they’re more mature, they’ve been better at driving revenue, at driving website traffic and leads, but it doesn’t mean from my perspective that Twitter isn’t suitable to drive sales and leads for other industries, it’s just that they’re not that mature. They’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to see it.

So part of the problem is just trying to get people on board with Twitter promotion. Like they might be more inclined to go with a safer bet, or what they perceive to be a safer bet like Facebook or Google because they don’t use Twitter themselves.

Yeah, you’re so right. I think part of the problem is they don’t know what they can do with Twitter. Just to give you an example, in comparison with Facebook, Twitter is open, so it allows users to target new prospects but using Twitter analytics to do really deep segmentation that allows you to not only analyze your own following but also analyze the entire Twittersphere to see what people are saying, combining hashtags, mentions, demographic data, and creating these really detailed and focused target audience lists that you can use for both your organic campaigns and your paid, and you can marry them up with your offline campaigns. You just can’t do that with Facebook. Facebook is great within your own community, but the moment you want to reach beyond that, you’re going to have to do paid, and you’re not going to see who is part of the lists when you’re doing paid promotion. They don’t tell you exactly who’s in your target list until people start engaging with your campaign. So there’s a big difference here.

So you’re saying Twitter is better for organic strategy than Facebook.

Well, yeah. I’d say Twitter is perfect for both. And one of the things I love, one of the things most brands don’t know, is that you can marry up Twitter contacts with your email database. You can enrich the information you hold about your database. So I do think Twitter is better for organic, but I also think Twitter is fantastic for paid because you can use tailored audiences. You can use a tool like SocialBro to do really advanced segmentation, look at the mentions, the hashtags, anything you want to search for, and create this really neat, tailored audience-based list. And then you just plug them into your Twitter ad campaign and you’re good to go. So I think Twitter is really flexible. It’s the ultimate flexible network. The only time where I would say where it doesn’t work is when your audience isn’t on the network.

You mentioned the option of uploading your email list and then promoting tweets to users on that list. How effective of an approach is that?

Well, there are two elements. One of the things we do ourselves is we plug our email list into SocialBro, we marry it up with our Twitter list, and then we extract information and put it back in our database. But the other thing is if we wanted to, we could look at our database and see if we have people who are not following us on Twitter yet but they’re subscribing to our newsletter. If we wanted to we can target them with a Twitter ad promotion. But that’s not normally what we’d tend to do. We will engage with them on email and most of them will follow us on Twitter anyway. We’re more interested in things like looking at a core competitor and looking at a particular campaign they’ve been doing in a geographical region and see who engaged with that. How influential were those users? Are any of those people you would want to engage yourself? Are any of them users you’d like to turn into a brand ambassador? There’s really intelligent data analysis you can do and that wealth of data, that’s what makes Twitter so powerful, but you need that granular segmentation to apply to your marketing strategy.

How does a Twitter strategy, especially in terms of driving sales, differ from another strategy on a platform like Facebook?

I think there are certain things you can’t do with Facebook. For instance if you use the example of B2B brands, one of the things you’d do on top of offering great content and having a tailored audience, is that you’d also leverage social selling. So you’d work together with your sales team and you would target the same people. So you create your list with a tool like SocialBro, and your sales team will try to connect with them and speak to them on a one-to-one basis. That one-to-one interaction can’t be done on Facebook. It can be done to a certain extent from LinkedIn, it’s just not what Facebook is for. It would be very odd for a salesperson to connect with a user on Facebook, whereas that works really well on Twitter. So I think Twitter is stronger. LinkedIn is great, but you need to be connected to a person if you want to speak to them, but with Twitter you can speak to anyone who has a public profile.

So let’s say a brand approaches you and wants to do a sales-oriented campaign on Twitter. What are some questions you’re asking them and what kind of initial research is involved?

I can give you some examples. One is the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They’re currently using DM campaigns…

And when you say DM campaigns you mean direct messaging?

Yes. So Twitter direct messaging campaigns, but they’re doing it in very, very clever ways. They have a bunch of automated rules and workflows that automatically put their new followers and their existing followers in lists they set up. So they’re very personalized DM campaigns. They won’t use generic wording. They use automated rules to drive ticket sales for local UFC events. They have an enormous follower basis. If it were a small brand, that would be simple to do manually. But they have millions, so it’s really hard. They have a really clever way of driving ticket sales for regional events. And that’s all done through Twitter DM campaigns and can be tracked.

And when you say DM campaigns, DM to me means something specific, which is to send a private message through Twitter.

That’s what they’re doing.

And it doesn’t show up in the stream it shows up as a direct message?

Yep. And I can give you another example. It’s Universal Music. They have a Twitter campaign for George Harrison, the Beatles player. Obviously he’s not still alive but they still sell his music and he has a lot of fans. So with the Harrison Twitter account, they did a DM campaign where they had a special offer, and they had 71 percent click-through rates to that special offer. I don’t think it was a commercial, it was more like a giveaway thing that then led to a follow-up campaign that was a commercial. We’ve done internal testing as well with Twitter DM campaigns, and the click-through rates are 300 percent higher than the average email campaign click rates. So when you start thinking about those figures, it becomes really attractive. I think the whole key to getting that right is having super targeted communication. If you get that targeting wrong, you’re going to end up annoying the person you’re sending this to, and they’re going to unfollow you. To get it right you’re going to need to use super advanced segmentation.

How much emphasis would you place on promoted tweets and Twitter advertising as opposed to a more organic strategy?

I love both. It depends on the company and what you’re trying to achieve. I would test playing around with different amounts for your campaigns and seeing what works best. If you’re B2B you might find that you want to have it 50/50. If you’ve just launched a new product, you might find it beneficial to put in a lot of money toward a paid campaign but back it up with having an integrated campaign by having a microsite where you’re aggregating all the social content. I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong.

What are some of the best tactics for driving offline sales and the best way to measure ROI on that?

I do think companies that aren’t ecommerce-based have to focus on tracking the right things. If you look at the social media awards all around the world, the success metrics have been based on shares, favorites, and all those things, and I think we need to move beyond that. A lot of brands are starting to. We have to marry up our systems and we have to be more clever with what we’re doing, whether it’s in our CRM or our payment system. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ecommerce business or a traditional offline business, you can use social really well, you just need to track what you can do until you prove it.

How important does content play a role? Is Twitter better for broader thought leadership and branding?

I think generally Twitter works brilliantly for both. But it depends if you think of it as this massive prospecting database or a marketing channel. Because if you’re using it as a marketing channel, you basically need to use the same rigor that you would apply to other channels. The things that people think are different about Twitter, these are the same things that are affecting other channels too. You’re less likely to get a click on a Twitter ad unless you’re offering something of true value to the person you’re targeting. That goes the same for other channels too. The creative focus is more shareable, entertaining content, but this is the same for other things. Think about TV advertising, the kind of TV advertising where you have shampoo ads where women are swishing their hair. I think they’re starting to come to look really old fashioned, and a lot of consumers just tune out. I think consumers are increasingly picky in terms of what they respond to. The thing about social is the feedback is immediate and in your face. And the customer’s voice is very audible. And some people don’t like that. But I think you’re kidding yourself if you think the judgement you’re getting on social wouldn’t apply to your previous marketing efforts, whether it’s TV or radio advertising, it still would have been there, you just wouldn’t have seen it. I think marketing just used to be about pushing your message into the homes of people, but now with social it basically brings their voices back to you. One of the great things is that because it’s so immediate, we can use Twitter and apply that feedback across the business as a whole.

We hear a lot about how brands shouldn’t spend all their time talking about themselves. Is there a risk of being too spammy if the focus is too much on direct sales?

Yeah, I don’t believe in that approach at all. If you’re in B2B, you’re a technology company, and you have a fairly long buying process, you want to be focusing on really tailored good content that’s going to help your target audience move to the next stage. And you can have really good targeted paid content that solves their challenges. So I think regardless if you’re B2B, B2C or you’re a services industry, you need to solve your target audience’s pain points. I’m not for social yelling, which is what I tend to call it. It’s about being helpful.

What are some of the best ways to measure return on investment with Twitter?

All your links need to be tracked so you can follow where the user goes using Google Analytics or whatever marketing platform you use. And I think it needs to be married up with your accounting system, like Salesforce. It’s marrying your systems, your Twitter analytics, your Google analytics, and your Salesforce. As a marketing professional you need to collaborate with your salespeople to get that. You can very much see with paid promotion, you can see it instantaneously by adding goals to the backend.

I guess it depends on whether you’re doing direct sales or branding. With branding, things like number of followers and retweets are more important whereas direct sales it’s how many people followed this tagged link and through the content funnel ended up making a purchase.

I think Twitter has now reached a stage where it’s a mature channel. It’s not something we’re just playing around with anymore. And because of that, board of directors and C management are asking for more substantial ROI figures. They’re being tougher with marketing to prove ROI. I think even when it comes to the branding, they still want to see the value to sales, that leads are being generated. I think we’re going to see more discussion around measuring ROI definitely throughout the next 12 months.

Is the advice to start dipping your toes in and spending small amounts of money on test campaigns?

Absolutely. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money at all. The feedback is instant, and you can tweak something in a few seconds. By running tests, you’ll figure out very quickly what works for you. One of the things I always recommend, if you’re running paid Twitter ads, take advantage of all the cards that Twitter offers, whether it’s the website card, the lead generation card, and there are loads of cards for rich media.

And I’m guessing that before you spend a penny on Twitter that you should make sure that everything having to do with your brand has responsive design and is mobile ready since Twitter’s userbase is so heavily mobile-focused.

You do have the option to only do Twitter ads to desktop users, but I think personally that’s a mistake. If I’m running an ad I’d definitely go with the mobile uses and make sure that my site is mobile-optimized, that my landing page is, otherwise I think you’re going to see a lower ROI.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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Tech and media journalist. Email me: simonowens@gmail.com

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