Published in 2011, the following document is Inner Architect’s in depth Twitter case study titled “Leveraging Twitter as a Prospecting Machine: Increasing Direct to Consumer Sales Through Targeting, Tracking, and Measuring.” The brainchild of Susan Hanshaw, Principal & Chief Marketing Strategist of Inner Architect, the study was compiled from two years of campaign management data, strategies, testing, and measuring for one of the major winery brands in the Napa Valley.  This was the first Twitter case study that outlines how a winery could utilize Twitter to generate leads, increase sales, and measure the data produced by each campaign.

Table of Contents include: Executive Summary, Why Twitter Makes Sense as a Direct Marketing Channel, Setting the Stage for Strategy: Understanding Twitter’s Culture, Applying Key Direct Marketing Elements, Changing the Mindset on Scaling, Benefits of 1:1 Marketing,  Direct Marketing Study: Twitter Streams, Leveraging Twitter Search, Qualifying Prospects, Reaching Out to Prospects, Utilizing Contact Management Tools, Refining the Contact Strategy, Considering Skills Required.

Copyright © 2011 by Inner Architect. All rights reserved.
No part of this paper may be reproduced without written permission.

Twitter Case Study Executive Summary

Getting new customers into a retail location and maintaining those relationships after the customers leave are the keys to success for every brick and mortar brand that sells direct to consumer. Achieving these objectives depends on the ability of a brand’s marketing team to execute prospecting and customer contact strategies that effectively deliver results. Despite advances in technology that have created opportunities to reach consumers in new marketing channels such as Twitter, marketers often find themselves behind the wheel of Twitter, driving the vehicle without clear directions and the right tools to reach their destination efficiently. This paper discusses the key elements for an effective Twitter prospecting program, suggestions for creating systems to overcome the challenges presented by ineffective technology solutions for Twitter direct marketing, and best practices for adopting new strategies to increase retail location traffic and maintain ongoing contact with customers, thereby increasing direct to consumer sales revenue.

Why Twitter Makes Sense as a Direct Marketing Channel

Although Facebook offers a larger potential reach in terms of numbers, its architecture and culture do not provide a landscape which enables brands to engage with customers and prospects directly in a way that adheres to Facebook rules of use. Brands with a business “page” presence can only engage with fans from the “wall” or on the walls of other brands. This is akin to posting messages to a bulletin board and responding publicly to replies; it’s not a direct method. Some brands use Facebook personal profiles to promote their products or services, and while personal profiles enable direct contact, promoting a business from a personal profile is against the Facebook rules for use. A personal profile for a business decreases the credibility of the Facebook presence and active users of the platform will tend to respond to activity against the rules as poor etiquette.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter provides the essential components of direct marketing. Included in Twitter’s features are capabilities to message directly, build and segment lists. Twitter offers brands the opportunity to develop personal relationships with customers and prospects through its @Mentions and Message features. The psychological impact of an @Mention in particular is far richer than an email or postal effort. The recipient of an @Mention recognizes that they have been manually singled out and publicly acknowledged by the brand. Unfortunately, many Twitter users have adopted the practice of generating automatic replies to anyone who follows their account. This is received as spam in the Twitter culture and has created a perception that much of Twitter Messages are spam.

Used with the right tools, Twitter marketers can execute segmented direct marketing campaigns and measure their results. Although Twitter can be a very effective direct marketing vehicle, the frustrations of not knowing how and not having the right tools hamper the ability of most direct marketers to leverage Twitter’s power

Setting the Stage for Strategy: Understanding Twitter’s Culture

While the ultimate goal with Twitter is to drive sales, its first goal is to create and maintain strong customer relationships. In order to be successful social marketers, brands must understand and adopt the culture and etiquette of social networking.

In order to be considered a valued “citizen” in the Twitter culture, brands must first understand the critical role perception plays within this social network. Often when users are deciding which users to follow, a user will review the Following vs. Follower ratio, the number of users the brand follows vs. the number of users following the brand.

Any brand that follows hundreds or thousands of users, and has just a fraction of that number of users following them, is perceived as an automated account spamming users with hard-sell messages entirely about their products or services. On the other hand, brands that only follow a small number of users in relation to their followers create an elitist perception and deliver the message that they don’t care about engaging with their followers. Most damaging is the perception that the brand does not participate within the network and simply streams automated messages into the system via Facebook or another third party application. Ultimately the fact that no engagement or collaboration takes place between the brand and users makes the brand a non-factor.

Applying Key Direct Marketing Elements

Many retail brands are increasingly adopting social media and the landscape which provides for real-time, two-way, personal communication rather than strictly push marketing sales messaging. To remain competitive and achieve sales goals, the time is ripe to leverage this new world for direct marketing.

In recent decades email, postal and telemarketing have been the most utilized direct marketing channels. For each of these channels, one of the key elements driving their effectiveness is the ability to deliver messages that have a high likelihood of reaching the customer, provided the customer or prospect list has been maintained with best hygiene practices.

The email message is received through the customer’s inbox. The postal effort arrives in the customer’s mailbox. A ringing telephone provides the opening for the telemarketing communication. One feature these channels all share is that their delivery systems contain a point where the customer routinely picks up messages. In the Twitter environment, the direct delivery point is the @Mentions feature.

Another key element of direct marketing is the delivery of an offer to take a desired call-to-action. The most effective offers include some kind of incentive such as discounts, free shipping or added value gifts.

Twitter Case Study: Changing the Mindset on Scaling

Many direct marketers who have experienced success in the email and postal channels are reluctant to experiment with direct social marketing because it doesn’t yet scale to the volumes that these “traditional” direct marketing channels typically push out. Marketers must remember that it’s not the size of the push that matters, rather the extent of the results.

Inner Architect recently published an article on a case study where a direct marketing approach to Twitter was used to drive traffic to a Napa Valley winery tasting room. The net conversion rate from offers to visits was 10%. At an average of 3.4 people per visit, the gross conversion rate from offers to visit was 32%. These statistics, multiple times greater than standard email and postal results, speak to the power of 1:1 marketing.

Benefits of 1:1 Marketing

1:1 marketing is a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy whose focus is on personalized interactions with customers or prospects. The personalization of interactions is thought to foster greater customer loyalty and better long-term return on marketing investment.

Brands have the opportunity to measure the long-term influence of Twitter customer relationships by adding a field to the customer database which flags the customer as a Twitter follower. This data can be used to segment Twitter customers for lifetime value analysis and as a means to personalize any customer communication. By acknowledging the Twitter relationship, you make the communication relevant to the customer, leverage the potential for the Twitter relationship to influence sales, and strengthen both the social and sales relationships.

Direct Marketing Study: Twitter Streams

Inner Architect studied the Twitter streams of 90 wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys whose accounts have been active since April 2010 or earlier.  These wineries range from small producers to big name, high production brands. The goal was to learn how this niche is currently leveraging Twitter as a direct marketing channel. The findings uncovered that the majority of brands have not yet incorporated the key direct marketing elements of direct delivery and offers into their Twitter efforts.

The study reviewed the tweets generated from February 1, 2011 through February 28, 2011. Total numbers of tweets, @Mentions tweets and offer tweets were tabulated.

Figure 1: Total number of tweets for 28-day period

As shown in Figure 1, the number of tweets ranged from 0 for an account that was active at the end of January to a high of 195 tweets for the 28-day period. The average number of tweets per account was 33, with a mean of 19. This variance between the average and mean reflects a minority of accounts producing a much higher volume of tweets than the majority. On average, each account was producing roughly 1.2 tweets per day, with 60% tweeting less than one time a day.

Figure 2: Number of tweets delivered using @Mentions

Figure 2 illustrates the use of the @Mention feature for the accounts studied. Because the intent of this study was evaluate direct to consumer marketing efforts, the tabulation process did not count the @Mentions between the wine trade and media.

The average and mean were at 3 and 2 @Mentions for the 28-day period, or .1 @Mention tweets per day. 91% of the accounts had tweeted directly to a consumer less than once a day. These results indicate that the majority of wineries studied are using Twitter as a mass broadcasting vehicle and not leveraging it as a direct marketing or direct relationship building channel.

As discussed in the previous section, the most effective technique for achieving goals which involve a customer to take a desired action is to offer an incentive. In the Inner Architect tasting room case study, a complimentary tasting for 2 offer was made directly to each prospect. This offer acted as an invitation to visit and provided an incentive for a prospect to consider stopping at one winery over another.

Figure 3: Number of incentive offers tweeted

Figure 3 illustrates the use of incentive offers for the accounts studied. For the whole group of 90 accounts, only 78 incentive offers were delivered during the study period. That averages to .03, less than 1 offer per winery for the entire 28 days.

Leveraging Twitter Search

Twitter’s real-time search feature provides powerful opportunities to identify new prospects. The first step to leveraging any search-based lead generation opportunity is to identify targeted keywords. Since the Twitter search feature is built around conversations that are taking place in the stream, brands must identify words that are used in conversations that indicate an individual is a prime prospect.

In the Inner Architect tasting room case study mentioned earlier in this paper, conversational keywords about Napa and @Mentions using Twitter usernames of nearby wineries were used. Check-ins from FourSquare that were shared on Twitter were also used to identify prospects.

Brands wishing to drive traffic to retail locations that are not in destination locations that generate a heavy volume of conversations can utilize Advanced Twitter Search (http://search.twitter.com/advanced). Adding a geographic filter to targeted words or phrases will bring up only prospects that meet the geographic criteria.

Figure 4: Twitter Advanced Search

For retail brands with internet marketing programs, the geographic filter becomes less vital. Twitter can be an especially effective prospecting vehicle for niche and specialty retailers as people love to Tweet about their passions and interests.

Niche and specialty brands can leverage Twitter search one step further through the use of hashtags. Hashtags for any particular topic can be identified by doing a keyword search and mining the stream to discover what hashtags are being used. Another way is to place the # symbol in front of what seems like a natural keyword into Twitter search and see if there is a volume of recent Tweets attached. For example, #winetasting, #Cabernet, and #wine are examples of hashtags included in tweets by wine enthusiasts.

Qualifying Prospects

Just like other channels, not every individual that rises to the surface through Twitter search is going to be a viable prospect. In order to maximize ROI, brands should make an effort to qualify individuals as best as possible prior to investing time in engagement. Following are check points that should be used for qualification.

Activity patterns:  Prime prospects are Twitter users who are on their accounts regularly, have demonstrated that they engage in conversations and have a propensity to retweet content. A review of the timeline in a user’s account will show a pattern in their frequency of tweets as well as a snapshot of how they use Twitter. Many Twitter accounts are automated and/or used simply as one-way broadcast vehicles with no engagement. Timelines with a number of @Mentions and retweets (RTs) are good indicators of engagement.

Profile:  The Twitter profile provides location for users who wish to provide this information publicly. With only 77 characters allowed, a bio typically describes what is most important to a user or how they wish to be perceived. This area of the account combined with the content of the timeline will provide good indicators for whether the user fits a brand’s prospect profile.

During the qualification process activity patterns of a user and their location are vital points in determining whether a user is a possible prospect. In the process of reaching out and contacting a prospect, brands must first determine the time frame in which a potential visit may take place.

Day Tripper: In the Inner Architect tasting room case study, day trippers were defined as users who live within a few hours drive of the Napa Valley, able to visit the area frequently, and consistently tweet about their experiences while visiting the region.

Day Trippers must be regarded as high priority prospects because:

  • The opportunity for the visit is happening now
  • There is a high likelihood for return visits
  • Duration of visits to the region tend to be short
  • The opportunity to engage about trip plans, weather conditions, venue and food recommendations, or special offers is high

Vacationers:  Vacationers provide brands with more time to engage and drive prospects to the tasting room. Identifying prospects tweeting about their plans before their trip or catching vacationers early in their trip allows brands to schedule visits days, weeks, or months in advance.

Reaching Out to Prospects

Welcome Visitors: One of the best first steps brands can take in reaching out to a prospect is to welcome them to the area with a personalized tweet that includes the user’s first name if available in the bio. For example:  “Welcome to Napa Valley @prospectusername Joan we have (describe offer) for you & guests.  .  .”

Common Neighbors: Another approach brands can take to reach out to a prospect is to compliment them on their current activities with neighboring venues, which might include other wineries or retail locations, restaurants, hotels and resorts, and other tourist destinations.  This approach validates the prospect’s taste in activities, positions the brand as a consultative resource, and provides the brand with the opportunity to publicly compliment its neighbors in the process. For example, “We hope you enjoy @neighborusername @prospectusername Steve we’ve an (deliver offer).”

Recognition: Brands must understand that the most important aspect to reaching out to a prospect is recognition. People love to be appreciated for their business and recognized repeatedly when they patronize an establishment. Brands that connect most deeply with prospects are those that provide personalized communication. The most powerful prospecting effort is one where an owner, brand superstar, or retail location staffer provides their name to a prospect along with an offer to visit. Like that great little neighborhood restaurant that recognizes everyone that walks through the door, the best way to reach out to people is to make them feel they know you and you them.

Follow-up:  Persistent follow-up is required to maximize conversion rates. The tasting room case study analysis uncovered that the average span from the first tweet to a prospect to the date of their visit was 8 days. The mean was 2 days. The span ranged from visits which occurred the same day as the first tweet to 48 days after the first tweet. 40% of the visits took place more than one week after the initial tweet. This speaks to the importance of a “next outreach date” in a CRM system and a disciplined process for following up.

Utilizing Contact Management Tools

In order to maximize results, brands need a system to manage their prospects, contact strategy and conversational content. Most of the platforms that are positioned as social CRM solutions are focused on managing lists of contacts and monitoring conversations rather than initiating targeted efforts, keeping track of conversations and measuring results.

Productivity features that have been added to streamline tasks such as future message scheduling on the top social network management platforms are designed for mass broadcast unless the user manually types the @ sign followed by Twitter ID (@Mention) to direct a message to one or more individuals at a time. Although these systems support the use of Twitter lists, the list segmentation feature is simply for organizing the incoming message stream. Most systems offer no ability to direct a message to some or all individuals in a list.

Measurement features on most management platforms also hamper direct marketing strategies. Most measure reach by the total number of clicks on a link attached to a message. There are no global features that track who responded to any given message, a core need for measuring the responsiveness of each individual to determine how much time and effort to invest in reaching out to them.

Brands can meet the challenges faced with current solutions by using a cloud based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system such as Salesforce or one of its simpler counterparts in tandem with Twitter or one of the current popular social network management tools such as HootSuite and Tweetdeck.

A CRM system should be customized to manage customer and prospect contact data and demographics, track dates of outreach efforts and who has responded at the individual record level, record content of conversations, segment individuals for campaigns, and create reports to measure ROI. Beyond the basic contact and demographic data fields that come standard in most CRM products, several additional custom fields are needed to equip your CRM system as a direct marketing tool:

  • Twitter ID
  • Bio notes
  • Fields to hold dates for outreach tweet efforts
  • Fields to hold dates for responses to tweet efforts
  • Note field to record conversation content
  • Field to manage next outreach date
  • Fields to track dates of key actions customer or prospect has taken

Refining the Contact Strategy

Along with managing the outreach process, the CRM tool enables brands to evaluate the results of the strategy and identify potential opportunities to maximize ROI.

Figure 5: Prospecting Effort Analysis

For example, the results analysis from the tasting room case study uncovered a key indicator that pointed to whether a prospect is likely to convert to a visitor. All of the outreach efforts and the responses to those efforts were recorded in the CRM tool. When the response rates of the visitor group were compared to the non-visitor group, a significant indicator was discovered. 84% of the visitor group responded to the first outreach effort versus only 26% of the non-visitor group. This insight suggested that an increase in ROI might be achieved by only investing in prospects who respond to the first effort.

Considering Skills Required

A shift from ad hoc tweeting to targeted prospecting campaigns requires brands to commit to a systematic and disciplined process that goes well beyond front line engaging. Planning, scheduling, tracking and analyzing results are all tasks that are necessary to maximize the ROI of a direct marketing program in any channel.

Whether a brand assigns Twitter direct marketing responsibilities to internal staff or external consultants, hiring managers should consider the skills required to effectively manage and execute strategic Twitter direct marketing. Unlike email and postal marketing where a technical understanding of direct marketing techniques, ROI measurement, Excel acumen and database management are the key skills which influence success, Twitter marketing adds another critical component to the mix. Twitter marketers who are driving the frontline engagement must be strong and enthusiastic conversationalists who are skilled in keeping the dialog going with all types of personalities.

Technical expertise and social expertise must be considered equally important roles to maximize the return on Twitter direct marketing. Brands that are unable to identify one individual who is strong in both roles should consider assigning responsibilities for the technical and social aspects to different individuals or an outsource partner.

About Inner Architect

With a background in direct marketing, sales and business development, Inner Architect began its work in social media marketing in Q1 2007 and has grown to be one of the few firms that take a direct marketing approach to social media.  Inner Architect provides social marketing management, consulting, training and content development services to retail brands that wish to maximize sales and service companies that want to develop more business.  Inner Architect is a privately held company based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Copyright © 2011 by Inner Architect. All rights reserved.
No part of this paper may be reproduced without written permission.