You know Twitter - the social networking and microblogging service that allows people to keep in touch through "tweets" - short snippets of text sent to cell phones, BlackBerrys and PCs.
Businesses are making use of the Web format for marketing, research and customer services. Computer maker Dell sends coupons to its Twitter users. Whole Foods Market offers $25 gift cards as prizes for people who submit the catchiest messages promoting Whole Foods. Other companies send messages to foster community and build loyalty to stores and products.
Uncle Sam is a player, too. The Food and Drug Administration uses Twitter to help get out the word about product recalls.
Because most Twitter messages are searchable on the Web, businesses can also use it to track customer comments and answer complaints - even offer immediate help or advice. Among firms closely tuned in to what customers are saying are Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Comcast and many others.
Rock stars use twitter to help promote their albums and concers, even Lebron James uses it!
Quick, helpful responses via Twitter can go a long way to changing customers' opinions about a firm, even turning detractors into company promoters.
Keep messages informal and conversational. Being boring is the worst thing you can do, keep it simple and short and don't Spam! Business tweets should be personalized; you may want to designate one or more employees to twitter on behalf of the company. Keep in mind that Twitter messages - limited to 140 characters each - are seen by people who choose to become "followers" of a business or an individual.
Twitter is a good tool to use at trade shows, helping to draw attendees to exhibitors' booths as well as press conferences and receptions hosted by a company or trade group. The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, for example, puts out messages about its Schmooza Palooza networking party and trade show before, during and after the event in hopes of spreading buzz about it. Results are good; attendance has grown dramatically.
Twitter is great for small businesses, too, because it's easy and doesn't add any expense. The only cost is the employee time it takes to write and follow others' messages.
Consider registering your company's name with Twitter, even if you don't expect to use it. It'll help prevent misuse by someone else. You can check out my profile at www.twitter.com/danchapman Go to www.twitter.com.