The 28 varieties of tweet used by retailersI had a conversation the other day with a retailer who was interested in social media, but who didn’t know what to make of Twitter. It went a little bit like this:

She: “Isn’t it just another way of pushing out offers?”

Me: “Yes.”

She: “What else can we tweet about?”

Me: “You’d be surprised…”

So by way of a more detailed answer I thought I’d compile a list of the different types of tweet posted by retailers. There is a lot more to Twitter than simply firing out offers. Retailers use Twitter in lots of different ways, rather than simply tweeting about product promotions and hoping for the best.

I’ll outline the various types of tweet in this article, but first, a word to the wise…

Putting the ‘me’ into social media

Twitter, and social media generally, should be viewed as a two-way communication platform rather than a one-way outbound messaging system. It’s a more personal way of doing business. It’s one-on-one. This is a mantra that merits repetition until your boss finally gets it. So sure, you can push out your message to the masses, but:

  1. Be sure to listen for feedback
  2. Be sure to respond personally, and promptly
  3. Be prepared to respond in public

Once you’ve bought into that, you need to assign some staff to Twitter. You could have one Twitterlord, but it works best when distributed among key staff (they really are your best asset when it comes to social media). Companies like Zappos and ASOS have multiple Twitter accounts operated by multiple people which helps them to spread the workload and push appropriate inbound tweets at appropriate people. It also helps these retailers to add some personality to their tweets.

There is a bit of a problem though. While Twitter can (and should) be used to answer questions directly, it leaves a lot to be desired as a customer service platform. The limitations of Twitter are there for all to see: 140 characters to explain things, and hey, nobody likes doing their dirty washing in public. What’s even more unfortunate is this growing trend of shoppers complaining in public, not that you can blame them. Consumers simply find it easier to start bitching and hollering in public because customer service is broken. Take it from me: I do almost everything in my power to avoid telephoning a call centre. 

However I think there is a real opportunity here. By answering questions in public you’re showing all of your followers – and anybody else who checks out your Twitter profile – that you care about customer satisfaction. Although it’s one-on-one, others are tuning in. And to care about satisfaction and service is to futureproof your business. Companies that offer brilliant levels of service stand out from the crowd, and receive a lot of love and goodwill from their customers (aka their fans). If you can delight your customers and surpass their expectations then you’re going to do pretty well on Twitter and beyond.

The 27 varieties of tweet used by retailers

Ok, so we’ve established that you can use Twitter simply to promote products (best seen via the Twitter account operated by one-product a day business Woot), and to extend and improve the customer service channel. But what else is there? You’d be surprised at the sheer variety of tweets used by retailers. Some of these are covered under the broad umbrellas of ‘sales’ or ‘service’ but the detail shows the scope of what can be tweeted about. Note too that there are at least another 10 types of tweet that I can think of on top of these examples…

  1. Time-limited offers (@threadless): Happy 9/9/09! ALL THREADLESS TEES ARE $9! No joke! (Pls RT for the chance to win a $99 gift code)
  2. Announcing free shipping for returns (@asos): You wanted free returns, we’ve listened & guess what? There’s now FREE RETURNS for UK customers Who’s happy?!! Xx
  3. Helping people to buy design classics (@conran_shop): UK Sale now on: 20% off Design Classics like the Noguchi and Eames Eiffel DSR in all colours:
  4. Driving awareness of other social media profiles (@playcom): FREE Jamie. T gig in London tonight – are giving away tix – go to to enter – but before 3pm!
  5. Retweeting shopper testimonials (@firebox): RT @drlawson: @firebox I’ve never been so excited by a pepper mill before.One day after ordering! Sweeties too!Yey.
  6. Promoting ‘pick of the week’ products (@officeshoes): This weeks ‘Hot Pick’ is Something Risque – Skyscraper platform heels from Office shoes –
  7. New ranges and pre-order alerts (@urbanoutfitters): Exclusive: Get the first look & pre-order new fall styles
  8. Coupons: won a soccer game last night. So how about a coupon for 30% off the item of your choice >
  9. Doing the multichannel thing (@americanapparel): American Apparel is hosting a factory flea market sale in Las Vegas tomorrow at UNLV from 9-8pm!
  10. Driving high value in-store visits (@debenhams): We’ve still got two personal shopper appointments available at 6pm and 7pm in Oxford Street, if you’re interested let me know. #debenhams
  11. Surveys (@ethicalstore): Survey time! Who… 1.) Has a Paypal account and 2.) Prefers to use it to a credit/debit card when shopping online?
  12. Dealing with the PR disaster (@habitatuk): We’ve been listening and we know 140 characters aren’t enough for a full apology, please follow this link
  13. Communicating downtime (@bookdepository): We upgraded our infrastructure at 4am and our site came back online at 8am BST. Apologies for inconvenience, but site should be faster now!
  14. Promoting new website features (@etsy): Just launched: Rearrange your Etsy shop items
  15. Announcing the mother of all sales (@zappos): Big day! Email I just sent to Zappos employees today about the Amazon acquisition –…
  16. Recruitment (@petsmarttic): Collegeville, PA: Looking for a job? Come work at the new PetSmart store opening in October.
  17. Responding to aggrieved neighbours (@tjmaxx): @leannahamill Our apologizes for the loud music. In order to address this for u we need the store location, please call us at 18009266299
  18. Explaining payment limitations (@threadless): @swissmiss Sorry, but PayPal is not supported by our merchant account and also does not offer the level of fraud protection we require!
  19. Showing love to the blogosphere (@figleaveshome): @lingerieblog Hi guys. Love the blog. Keep up the good work x
  20. Casting for adverts (@frenchconn39): Want to feature in our SS10 Denim Campaign? Come and see us at James Street store in London (16th – 18th 2pm – 7pm, 19th-20th 12pm – 5pm)
  21. Sharing videos (@hellobabydirect): I uploaded a YouTube video — 3 Brother Max bowls
  22. Birthday giveaways (@nakedwines): Heads up! We’re giving away 6 bottles of Chateau D’Yquem to celebrate our 1st birthday…
  23. Announcing a pop-up store (@luxury_fashion): – This Saturday (Sept 12), for 1 day only, we’re teaming up with to launch a pop-up style station in …
  24. Linking to articles about your brand in the media (@americanapparel): The Guardian’s great article on American Apparel and immigration
  25. The greater good (@ocadouk): We’re supporting the launch of 10:10 at London’s Tate Modern from 4pm today. Join us and take the first step to solving climate change.
  26. Networking with influencers / former members of The Fall (@topshop_tweets): @Brixsmithstart There are so many lovely bits in your shop … must be something fab
  27. Proactively converting interest to sales (@shirtsmyway): @davenaff If there is anything we can help with please let us know. We would be happy to help.

As mentioned there are plenty of other tweet types out there, but for now this should help answer the ‘but what will we tweet about?’ question sometimes asked by retailers. By all means flag up some others…

[Image by Craftsquatch via Etsy. Craftsquatch sells a charming range of social media cushions. Go see!)