The online network Twitter is not just for banalities; it allows consumers to spread the word about brands

Alistair Darling has missed a trick. Balancing the books might have been a lot less of a headache if he had thought about introducing a Twitter tax, or perhaps even a “talking about Twitter” tax.

It seems that you can’t open a paper or switch on the news at the moment without being bombarded with news about the super growth of this social networking site. If you are not updating your tweets, gathering followers or following the famous you can be sure that you are being made to feel you are missing out.

So what is this phenomenon and what opportunities does it offer retailers?

For the uninitiated, Twitter allows you to communicate in real time with a group of friends or “followers” via updates. It is not just filled with a banal stream of details of people’s daily habits, but also an extraordinarily effective way to get an answer to a question, read views on areas that interest you or watch news unfold.

Embracing Twitter

Unlike some commentators, I think Twitter is here to stay – particularly as there are so many different applications that it could incorporate in the future. With this in mind, I think that any effective marketing strategy needs to have a splash of this site. Companies as diverse as Nike, Channel 4, and my own business Lucky Voice have all set up a presence. Twitter is a complex beast and brands are still learning and testing different ways of using this unique channel.

To me, new technologies are exciting because there are no hard and fast rules, and even if there were, they would change all the time. But one thing I am sure of is that retailers, more than many other types of businesses, are well placed to reach new customers and build on relationships with existing ones through these technologies.

The immediacy of Twitter, and to a degree other social networks, matches the immediacy of retail and allows
you to talk about special offers, new products and exciting changes as they happen, rather than relying on more old-fashioned time frames.

The other advantage retailers have is the talkability of their brands – people want to swap views, share stories and make suggestions. If retailers let their followers on the web start the conversations about them rather than forcing them in a particular direction, they will gain credibility and trust. So a customer could be updating Twitter from their iPhone while standing in a store – rewarding that customer for helping tell you about the length of queues and the friendliness of staff must surely be an enlightened strategy.

And to think that this is just the beginning – imagine, as I saw being tested this week, when electronic chips are implanted in the brain that allow you to update your Twitter feeds just by thinking…

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