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:

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.