Twitter: A viable marketing tool for SMEs?

by Lee on February 20, 2011

Marius and Suzana Bulearca have paved the way for a study into the way SMEs are using Twitter as a marketing tool.

As a pilot of their proposed larger-scale research project, they interviewed a Marketing Account Executive of a London-based fundraising, marketing and communications agency whose employees and management team are heavy users of social media and social networking technology, although the organisation itself is outside of the stated remit of the research as it is classified as a ‘micro’ business by EU definitions (i.e. less than 10 employees).

In a Skype chat which last nearly three hours and included a temporary loss of the internet (duration not stated), twelve initial questions were asked in a semi-structured interview process, allowing for further investigation and discussion (as long as the interviewee’s patience and time freedom held out).

Appendix A – Initial Questions

  1. Do you use twitter in your marketing strategy? Since when have you been using it?
  2. Do you use any other social networks/ which?
  3. Why did you start using twitter?
  4. How do you use twitter (purposes, relation to other media forms)?
  5. What have you put in place for incorporating twitter into your marketing strategy (costs, time, people, other resources)?
  6. What have been the results of using twitter? How do you measure them?
  7. What challenges do you face with twitter/ are there major drawbacks?
  8. What do you think are the offsets for other companies not adopting twitter?
  9. What is your perception of twitter, compared to other social networks?
  10. Have the results obtained using twitter as a marketing tool changed your opinions about it?
  11. What future plans do you have for twitter as part of your marketing strategy?
  12. What improvements would you need from a twitter model in order to consider it a more strategic part of your marketing (if any)? Why would you like these improvements?

 

NETWORKING AND RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING

In a finding that wouldn’t surprise long-time social media practitioners, ‘networking and relationship-building’ was a key theme that emerged from the data. However, and interestingly, because the agency interviewed was a B2B service company, servicing its clients via Twitter was perceived as unsuitable for reasons of client confidentiality:

“None of them want to run the risk of putting out confidential info for the world to see.”

Twitter provided, instead, the possibility for exploratory networking with like-minded people, for finding/speaking to potential clients and for maintaining conversations with existing customers and “engaging with supporters.”

 

E-WOM
The second theme that emerged from the data was electronic Word of Mouth (e-WOM). Twitter serves as both a reflection of current standing in the social media sphere and as a crisis communications tool.

“Tweets about us are usually how nice we are and that we know our stuff”

“whether you’re on Twitter or not, people are already saying things about your company (…) Twitter is only one more online space they can talk about you. Being Twitter will at least give you the opportunity to have your say about what other people are saying about you.”

The latter quote supports a model of online reputation risk management (‘RRISC’) that this author is currently drafting for publication – more details of this model will be forthcoming shortly, but see the image below.

RRISC-model (Hopkins & Magee, 2009)

 

AMENDED QUESTION SET
The comments by the interviewee on the questions asked have led to a further, refined, question set proposed for future research:

Appendix C – Amended Questions

  1. Could you please tell me a bit about your company? (Prompting: profile, size, activity area, people in the marketing department)
  2. What is your role within the company?
  3. Do you use twitter in your marketing strategy? Since when have you been using it?
  4. Do you use any other social networks/ which?
  5. Why did you start using twitter? (Prompting: personal initiative, recommended, required)
  6. What did you first think of Twitter as a marketing tool? (Prompting: useful, promising, useless)
  7. How do you use twitter (purposes, relation to other media forms)? (Prompting: WOM – spread information or commercial messages, get leads, relationship marketing, networking, customer service, prove expertise, build confidence in customers/potential customers, put a human side to the company, crisis management tool)
  8. What have you put in place for incorporating twitter into your marketing strategy (Prompting: costs, time, people, other resources)?
  9. How did you find out what you needed to do in order to effectively use Twitter?
  10. What have been the results of using twitter? How do you measure them?
  11. How did you find out about these measurement tools? (Prompting: facilitated by Twitter for businesses, through third party applications, was it easy/difficult)
  12. How flexible is your company culture/management team in relation to using Twitter as a marketing tool? (Prompting: difficult/easy to get management buy-in, tight/loose control of tweets, commitment/non-commitment to Twitter, flexibility/ rigidity in using/measuring, pressure/no-pressure in demonstrating ROI)
  13. What challenges do you face with twitter/ are there major drawbacks?
  14. What do you think are the offsets for other companies not adopting twitter?
  15. What is your perception of twitter, compared to other social networks?
  16. Have the results obtained using twitter as a marketing tool changed your opinions about it?
  17. (if it is another marketing company) Could you please tell me about a situation where you did not recommend Twitter to your clients for use in their marketing strategy, if any? Why did you not recommend it?
  18. What future plans do you have for twitter as part of your marketing strategy? (Prompting: use it more/less, use it differently, make it more central in the company’s communications mix)
  19. Do you/would you use Twitter as an internal communications tool/ (like an Intranet) Why/ why not?
  20. What improvements would you need from a twitter model in order to consider it a more strategic part of your marketing (if any)? Why would you like these improvements?

These questions can be adjusted to suit any social media/social networking channel/set of channels, not just Twitter, which is what makes them useful.

I shall certainly be using several of the questions above for my own non-academic case study research into companies who are using social media.


SMEs: (defined by the European Union as enterprises with less than 250 employees and a turnover of less than €50 million, but greater 10 employees and a turnover greater than €2 million)


Bulearca, M & Bulearca, S 2010. Twitter: a Viable Marketing Tool for SMEs? Global Business & Management Research, Vol 2, No. 4, pp. 296-309

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