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Media Zone: Micro-Blogging's Big Promise Sets Us Atwitter

1 Nov, 2008 By: Response Contributor Response

Remember life without Google? You should. It only turned 10 this September (though I believe that makes it 70 in tech years). I raise this fact to provide context for Twitter, the "micro-blogging" service that recently turned two. According to many who gaze into tech's crystal blogosphere, Twitter, like Google, could one day be a verb.

Timothy R. Hawthorne
Timothy R. Hawthorne

According to TwitDir (, Twitter surpassed 3 million users in September. The more users it attracts, the more uses crop up. From a global perspective, this is no fluke. India's GupShup ( small messaging service platform has more than 7 million users spending time mini-messaging. Back home, Current TV spiced up its presidential debate coverage by scrolling Twitter-sent "Tweets" as instant commentary. In direct response shops, our ideas are a bit more ... direct. There's really just one simple question: "How do we make money from this?"

Several firms already are trying. Twitter Japan has experimented with users' profile page ads, and TwitAds is testing it stateside. Problematically, most Twitter users set up alternative ways to read Tweets, bypassing the pages on which ads appear. tweets its followers with daily product offers. But the consensus so far is that Twitter is less suited to product advertising than to brand building. The CEOs of Popeye's Chicken and online shoe retailer Zappos have received high praise for infusing their Tweets with real personality, endearing these brands to their followers.

Because those of us tempted to play "Brand Personality" risk Twittering away half our days, I've been thinking about ways we can use micro-blogging to boost our direct response efforts. Though still theoretical, I'd like to propose three:

> Customer service. Too often in our business, we consider the job done when operators process the credit card. But Twitter offers a means to enhance customer service. Dell and Comcast have both set up feeds to field customer questions. With only 140 characters available, Twittered queries get straight to the issue — and equally constrained responders efficiently answer more questions more quickly. Do you need a dedicated Twitter-er today? I doubt it. But two years from now, who knows?

> Informal focus groups. After establishing a feed and attracting enough followers, you can informally solicit opinion. Response data indicates whether creatives are working. It isn't always obvious why. Here's how we might use Twitter to change that: announce an upcoming infomercial that's airing on national cable and invite your geographically-diverse followers to Tweet back what they most liked or hated. Those 140 characters ensure feedback as direct as it gets.

> A new sales channel. Twitter offers a brand new way to feed upsell offers to customers. If E-mail inboxes are riddled with spam, SMS Tweets still might get through via cell phone. Yes ... the mobile grail. For years we've waited in vain for ad applications to explode across mobile devices. Admittedly, SMS texting isn't nearly as cool as full sight, sound and motion, but it's a way to sell cheaply on cell phones right now. That should be a prospect to send every direct marketer atwitter.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is founder, chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV, print, mail and digital ad agency founded in 1986. A 34-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.

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