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Dell is one of the most prominent brands leveraging the popular microblogging service to interact with customers and potential customers and has a whole portfolio of Twitter accounts that are managed by real Dell employees who have names and personalities.

According to Dell, its use of Twitter has led to more than $1m in revenue. While that's a miniscule amount for a company that does billions in revenue every year, Dell has embraced social media like few other companies and deserves a lot of credit for making a real effort.

Thus far, Dell's sales efforts have included posting tweets alerting users to products and sales.

Now it wants to take that one step further by essentially turning Twitter into a loyalty marketing platform. In exchange for following Dell Outlet's Twitter account (or at least lurking), tweeters in the United States will soon get access to exclusive deals not available outside of the Twittersphere.

To my knowledge, Dell is the first major company to try something like this and it is emblematic of the evolution of the types of experimentation we're seeing with social media. That evolution seems to point towards the hope that conversations can be turned into conversions.

But will they?

Maybe. Loyalty marketing isn't new and there are plenty of existing online and offline platforms that enable brands to run various types of loyalty marketing programs. For Dell, the question that will obviously have to be answered is whether or not Twitter can deliver the sales.

Of course, Dell retains the ability to offer different 'exclusives' elsewhere and can still leverage its internal assets (such as customer email lists) so it's not like it's betting the house on Twitter. But by using Twitter in a more aggressive sales-oriented fashion, Dell should be able to gain some valuable insights as to how potent Twitter might be as a tool for getting users of social media websites to open up their wallets, something everybody has thus far struggled with.

Will the more than 13,000 delloutlet followers eat Dell's exclusive offers up, helping Dell grow that $1m in Twitter revenue exponentially? Or will Twitter prove to be a weak medium for driving more significant sales?

Certainly that's a question worth answering and given how easy (and cheap) it is for Dell to add this type of program to its social media mix, there's no reason it shouldn't see if Twitter can be turned into a loyalty marketing platform.

Perhaps even more interesting than the possibility that Dell just might stumble upon a useful, dead simple Twitter marketing strategy is the fact that Dell is (apparently) doing this without paying Twitter a cent. This highlights the Twitter conundrum: Twitter has built a service that people love and that more brands are seeing potential value in but it is going to have an awfully hard time extracting revenue out of the individual-brand relationships that it facilitates.

Unless Twitter implements a new policy around business accounts (which would not be a popular move), there's nothing stopping any brand from using Twitter in the same fashion Dell is - at no real cost for the provision of 'promotion' itself. With little more than a free Twitter account and a means to append tracking IDs to offer links (dirt easy), Dell will be able to not only market to Twitter users but accurately quantify the results.

That's potentially powerful stuff but Twitter is shut out of the equation revenue-wise.

That's problematic and if Dell proves successful with its latest Twitteriment, Twitter will need to look at ways it can insert itself into that equation.

Interested in tweeting up your business? Be sure to check out our 10 tips for Twitter and suggestions for using Twitter for customer service.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 February, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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