Expert says Twitter can be a "goldmine" for marketers

As a business-to-business marketing platform, Twitter has legs. About 56% of Twitter users say they use the online social communication site for business purposes, according to Rodney Rumford, a social media guru and one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural Gravity Summit on Social Media in Los Angeles.

The statistic, based on a survey of 700 Twitter users, suggests the service's value as a business-to-business marketing platform, alongside its emerging utility for consumer marketing.

"Twitter is a goldmine," Rumford said, adding that a number of big consumer brands are already on the site--including Starbucks, which currently boasts about 6 million followers.

Rumford also noted that small businesses are using Twitter to advertise, citing the example of a gourmet Korean taco truck business in Los Angeles which since its launch in November has built a following through Twitter: "The driver tweets where the truck will be 20 minutes ahead of time, and literally hundreds of people show up," one conference attendee confirmed.

Marketers can use Twitter actively or passively, Rumford says--in the first case by reaching out with promotional messages, and in the second by setting up a "listening engine" that allows them to track consumer sentiment in public postings on the site. Any active marketing must be handled carefully to avoid alienating consumers with the appearance of dishonesty or inauthentic, impersonal messages: "It's not a campaign, it's a conversation," he said.

Companies are still mishandling this kind of functionality, however: Rumford cited the example of Motrin, which reacted slowly to widespread criticism on Twitter of an ad about pregnant women that was perceived as misogynist. Rumford added that efforts to drive people to particular online destinations can be tracked and measured by Google Analytics; Google also crawls and indexes all the conversation streams on the site.

Justin Goldsborough, social media manager for Sprint, said the company uses Twitter to track consumer sentiment as well as for customer service.  Meanwhile, politicians are also on Twitter. According to conference organizer Beverly Macy, the Republican Party is using the site to hold discussions about re-branding the party.

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