By Jennifer James

A few months ago my colleague, Jill McCubbin blogged about Twitter – the micro-blogging site that asks users “what are you doing now?” However, it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood what Jill was saying and realized that Twitter is a great tool for anyone with something to say – including companies and marketers.

At the time of her post I was an infrequent user of Twitter. I had an account and understood why so many people liked it (because it allows people to have conversations in real time, sharing thoughts and ideas). I got it. I just didn’t get how I could apply Twitter in a business context.

Lately I’ve been dabbling more and more with Twitter and I’m beginning to see great potential for it beyond simply connecting with friends and sharing tidbits in 140 characters or less.

My first “Oh-I-get-it” moment happened a few weeks ago while using MailChimp – a software-as-a-service site that helps companies create, store and distributes html newsletters. MailChimp was undergoing some major maintenance upgrades, but instead of leaving users in the dark about the status of the updates, MailChimp set up a Twitter account and Chimps were twittering to provide minute-by-minute updates – frequency that could never be achieved with email send-outs. Twitter provided a way for MailChimp to potentially avoid a flood of calls to customer support while also keeping everyone well informed with site maintenance progress. Win-win.

MailChimp got me interested in Twitter again. If MailChimp was twittering, what other brands were using it? Turns out that MailChimp isn’t the only one taking advantage of Twitter:

  • News providers, such as Reuters, bloggers, such as Robert Scoble, and websites, such as Engadget, are all using Twitter to notify followers when new content is available
  • Presidential candidates, John Edwards and Barack Obama, both use Twitter to build and engage their community of supporters, notifying people of their locations as they travel across The United States
  • Retail chains, like Amazon, are using twitter to announce deals and sales

These examples prove that Twitter isn’t just for social chatter – tweets can engage customers, clients and communities in thoughtful and relevant ways, similarly to other social media tools such as blogs and podcasts.

Twitters popularity is growing everyday. In February 2008 there were 907 884 users and as of July 3, 2008 there are 2 049 451 registered Twitter users, according to Twitder – a twitter directory. These numbers are comparable to Facebook’s growth by 50% in six months - between summer 2007 and winter 2008.

As the number of users grows, so do the opportunities for marketers and companies to use Twitter to promote products, brands and personalities. Need ideas to successfully use Twitter and other social media tools? Contact market2world communications.

(Jennifer James is a Communications Strategist with market2world communications inc., Ottawa, Canada's tech PR and product marketing agency.)

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