Anytime someone asks how a business can use Twitter effectively, most people point to the twitter accounts of big brands like Comcast and Zappos.

While both companies are definitely standout examples of how you can use Twitter for business, you probably aren’t marketing a household name and have a hard time seeing how your small merchant site or information site can use Twitter effectively. And by now, you’re probably sick of the “top ways” people guess or hypothesize that a commercial website could use Twitter to their advantage.

Luckily for us all, I’m not going to guess or suggest, but rather show you a specific example (a step by step guide and Twitter case study all rolled into one if you will) of a non “big brand”, commercial website utilizing Twitter to further its brand, get traffic and gain backlinks. I wouldn’t call it the “ultimate guide” because Twitter is too new a medium for anyone to be an “expert” at it. But, hopefully it helps people see the potential of Twitter as more than a time waster.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter has likely figured out by now that my company owns a BlackBerry related website. BBGeeks has had a Twitter account for around eight months now and has grown from zero to over 500 followers in that time. Not bad for a website targeting a very niche market in less than eight months. So how did we do it? And what has it gotten us?

The Fumbled Beginning:

We weren’t really sure what to do for a commercial account when we first signed up for Twitter in December 2007. We changed the background to match out site colors and put up our basic logo (which was a poor dimension to use as a twitter background we later found).

We followed a few of our personal friends and put a link in the sidebar of our website along with some other social profile links. We made a few tweets of conversation here and there. I also tweeted about the @bbgeeks account on my personal account since I have a four figure following. We added our Twitter account to the “first time visitor” plug-in we use on the site. We utilized the TwitterTools plug-in to “auto tweet” our posts on the site to Twitter as they published (and unfortunately, as we later found out, were edited).

We gained about 100 followers in the first month, with very little purpose, use or direction, and we sat there status quo for about four more months. Some may have dubbed Twitter a time waster for a small brand commercial site. But I decided to do a little research, talk to a few friends and try again.

The Second Coming:

Our second attempt was a bit more organized and began in April of 2008.

  1. One of the staff was assigned to become the voice of @bbgeeks on Twitter.
  2. We decided that our goal should be for him to become a BlackBerry trouble shooter (.i.e. help people) first, promotional evangelist (i.e. drop links) for second.
  3. We pimped the background with a more Twitter friendly design
  4. We decided not to have our posts auto tweet and instead decided to take the same approach with dropping links into Twitter that we did years ago with link requests – make it obvious that we were taking the time to do it personally.
  5. Thanks to a tip from @graywolf, we learned about Summize (which was later bought by Twitter) and used it to find BlackBerry users (we’d search for “BlackBerry”, “8330” etc.). We’d follow those users and hope that they’d visit our Twitter homepage, see what a great resource we were, and follow us back. And even if they didn’t follow us back on first glance, we hoped we would catch their BlackBerry related questions by following them and earn their following if we could help solve it with an @reply.
  6. The employee running @bbgeeks (to be clear, he is not dedicated to Twitter and spends about 30 minutes a day on it) was encouraged to also post off topic here and there and to join in the conversation with our followers and people we were following even if it wasn’t always BlackBerry related (i.e. we wanted him to get involved).
  7. We participated in a group effort to post and cross promote guides on Twitter related tools and created a guide to TwitterBerry (the Twitter application for BlackBerry users).
  8. Completely of his own idea, the employee running @bbgeeks started doing small giveaways here and there of branded T-shirts and stickers to followers (note: I recommend you get your boss’s permission BEFORE doing this). ;-)
  9. We run occasional “twitter only” discounts at our software and accessories store

Our second attempt proved to be a bit more successful. Over the next three+ months, we were able to increase our following by 400 people and find some actual uses and benefits from our time Twittering.

What the Results Were:

When talking about the benefits of commercial Twittering, here is what we have seen in regards to the @bbgeeks account specifically:

  1. We have 500+ people who want to hear what we have to say listening on Twitter – and they may not have found our site had it not been for that Twitter account and efforts.
  2. We receive several hundred visits to our site each month from Twitter that adds to our traffic and page views in regards to CPM ads.
  3. Those several hundred visits a month add to the toolbar data Google gobbles up that shows that people actually visit and spend time on our site.
  4. We have 500+ people, who we know are interested in our site topic, that we can promote social media stories too (such as Digg attempts, Stumble attempts, etc) and get help in getting not only votes, but viral spread of great stories.
  5. Our site receives free brand exposure on Twitter by our followers who pass around our links and tell friends with BlackBerry issues to hit up our site or Twitter account to find an answer.
  6. We’re able to get instant feedback from our followers by using informal Twitter polls and keep our site going in the direction our readers want it to continue heading.
  7. We get tons of content ideas from the various questions and problems we see our followers and the people we are following experiencing.
  8. We have made friends via the @bbgeeks Twitter account that have resulted in things like us getting into exclusive press conferences during our CTIA conference coverage (Thanks @mobilediner) and have also received promotion of things like our podcast as a result of people responding to guest requests on Twitter (a thanks to @shoemoney). And these are simply two of many potential examples we have of content and links we’ve received as a direct result of our Twitter usage.

For the website, Twitter has been a valuable tool – both from a branding standpoint, a content development standpoint, a traffic standpoint (we hope to see it continue to increase), a revenue generation standpoint (people purchasing as a direct result special Twitter sales and/or discounts) and a backlink generation and promotional standpoint.

Twitter won’t be productive for every site, but for many sites, ignoring Twitter as a B2C or even a B2B tool, especially if a competitor isn’t, could make your website miss out on some of the benefits of branding with Twitter that we’ve experienced above.

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