The growing popularity of Twitter has led thousands of businesses to launch profiles, and there is no surer way for a company to be seen as ‘not getting it’ as to not be tweeting.
In March the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that 700,000 businesses in the UK had active accounts. and across the blogosphere and in company boardrooms the platform is being breathlessly talked up as the future of online customer communication.
But, hyperbole aside, how well does Twitter work as a channel for reaching customers and generating sales?
Is Twitter driving sales?
With one or two exceptions (most notably Dell, which has claimed several million dollars in revenue from Twitter), few businesses have used Twitter to drive significant sales. Studying the Twitter profiles of some major UK online retailers and analysing available data suggests that, as far as business is concerned,Twitter is yet to live up to its hype.
The ‘wrong kind’ of followers, low follower numbers and a general disinterest in e-commerce sites on Twitter has meant that so far Twitter is far from proven as an effective tool for business.
The ‘wrong kind’ of followers
Examination of the Twitter followers of some of the big consumer facing businesses in the UK (Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Carphone Warehouse), shows that 20 to 30% of their followers are not consumers, but either other businesses, or spammers.
In addition, an estimated 60% of users quit in the first month. A large proportion of people following most businesses in Twitter are therefore the wrong sort of the 10 main types of Twitter user and overall, it is safe to say that the majority of people following businesses aren’t that interested.
Not enough followers
Although some businesses such as Topshop and ASOS have tens of thousands of followers, many household names with a presence on Twitter have a tiny number of followers given the size of their customer base. For example:
- Marks and Spencer: 7,000 followers
- Carphone Warehouse: Several accounts but probably less that 5000 in total
- Debenhams: 2400 followers
- Littlewoods: 700 followers
- Dixons: 900 followers
Given that the majority of these followers are probably not ‘following’ in any meaningful sense it can only be concluded that these Twitter presences must be driving a negligible amount of traffic and sales to the websites in question and barely advancing customer engagement.
It could be argued that these low figures are in part due to a lack of promotion on behalf of the above as, for example, none of them advertise their Twitter profile on their homepage. Whilst this half-heartedness may be undeniable, the lack of followers is also probably symptomatic of a more general lack of interest of consumers in following businesses on Twitter.
Tweeters don’t visit e-commerce and business sites
Statistics from Hitwise shows that Twitter sends 55% of its traffic to other content driven media sites, such as social media, blogs, news and entertainment websites with only 9.5% going to transactional websites.
As there is no shortage of businesses on Twitter then either Tweeters are not interested following businesses or they are reluctant to click on commerce Tweets. By contrast, Google sends 30.7% to transactional sites and Facebook 14.7%. During May 2009 Google sent 365 times more traffic to transactional sites than Twitter.
Implications for businesses and Twitter
As businesses flock to the platform, Twitter is in danger of becoming like a bad networking event, full of sellers but few buyers. Thousands of businesses are broadcasting their news but scarce, often of poor quality followers means that few people are listening. Twitter may be where a lot of current and potential customers are, but on the whole they don’t come to Twitter to interact with businesses.
The implications of this state of affairs are serious for both businesses and Twitter. If Twitter is not working for the majority of business account holders, then the platform will have difficulties with any future plans to charge businesses for a presence on the platform.
Businesses need to see through the hype and consider the resources which they devote to Twitter with regards to other marketing channels. Tried and tested marketing techniques such as search engine optimisation, whilst much less sexy, have the potential to drive many times more traffic and sales than Twitter.