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Eavesdropping Strategy: Twitter

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It is easy to dismiss social media  as a bunch of individuals who generally chat about things as mundane as their kids’ soccer games and swapping cute cat videos. The problem with social media is that the connection is not obvious as to how it relates to street-level retail. But, to dismiss it because you don’t understand how it can help grow your business would be a mistake.

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This series of articles in Tire Review is called “Ensanity,” a truncation of the words “entrepreneurial insanity” which is the title of a book I wrote specifically for the tire industry. The core thesis is that systems allow an owner to be less important to the daily operation of his or her business, which consequently increases its value as a stand-alone asset.

My research suggests that social media – specifically Twitter – is precisely such a system that allows greater freedom and growth for an owner. This article is designed to increase your awareness of a very useful phenomenon that is going on around you – one with little participation at the independent shop level.

Certainly, larger corporations with the economic resources to focus on social media marketing have their Twitter strategy well in hand. You might say that the “little guy” who may only own six bays or six stores simply does not have time to worry about such things. Besides, it would require learning something new, perhaps something you haven’t had much interest in or use for – until now.

Full disclosure: I am one of you. I don’t fawn over Twitter and my wife usually has to tell me to look at something on Facebook in which I am named or pictured. But I am committed to changing that – not because it’s suddenly thrilled me, but because it’s going to be absolutely necessary for me to do my job well going forward.

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Why is Twitter so Important?

Imagine you are in a crowded mall where you stopped to grab a quick lunch. You are standing near the food court where you happen to be close enough to hear a group of three women discussing their shopping experiences. One of them mentions that she must stop by a tire shop on the way home because of “something funny” about her right front tire. She casually asks one of her friends for help regarding what tire shop she would recommend, as she’s looking for a place that won’t take advantage of her.

At that moment, it would be appropriate for you to casually interrupt the conversation, introduce yourself and offer some helpful advice. You might even mention that your tire store is on the mall property just opposite the anchor department store and you’ll be back at work in 30 minutes and would be happy to help her personally.Twitter webpage on the browser

While you might not randomly walk up and down the mall, interrupting people, asking if they need auto services (which reminds me of doing an email blast), the casual interjection in the conversation is considered neither rude nor inappropriate. You were not “selling,” rather, you were offering some help from your unique perspective with the ability to deliver it conveniently.

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That is precisely the opportunity a Twitter conversation provides. It creates a public, multi-person setting making your inclusion in the conversation seem natural. And, while the person speaking was not talking to you directly, by overhearing the conversation you are in a ideal position to offer assistance (and make a sale in the process) without appearing to be rude by interrupting.

While Twitter is full of mundane conversations, it is often a place where people comment on purchase intent – and seek the counsel of those they interact with online. It is perfectly OK to “eavesdrop” on those conversations and initiate what could end up being a business relationship. The mall conversation could very easily be typed in a Twitter exchange where a participant is asking for advice.

To come on with a strong sales pitch would likely not work well in the mall. It doesn’t work on Twitter either, but to offer gentle encouragement, advice or assistance could be well received.

How Does it Work?

The key to this tapping into conversations across Twitter starts with knowing where to listen. Twitter actually makes it very easy to do, which is a huge time-saver. The queries to help you zone in on the right conversations come in many categories, but for brevity, I will include a few of those most appropriate for the retail tire business.

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Keywords: These are the words or phrases that when overheard would make your ears perk up, as the people tweeting them have a higher likelihood of  being potential customers. Obvious topics include “tires,” “tire shop,” “brakes,” “oil changed” or “car repair.” And, there are the buying signals such as “anyone recommend” or “any advice on.”

You may select from various configurations of words, such as the exact word or phrase or any of these words. You can even put a minus sign in front of a word to specifically eliminate it and exclude it from results.

Of course, you’ll want to track comments about your own business by entering your company name in the search box. Probably the box for “any of these words” will give you the broadest possibility of capturing shortened or modified terms referring to, for example, Smith’s Auto Service and Tires.  In that case you might include the words, Smith, Smith’s, Auto, “Auto Service,” Tires, “Smith’s Auto Service,” “Smith’s Tires,”  etc.

In multi-word phrases, the quote marks will search on the exact words in the exact order to trigger a hit. Without the quotes, you would receive possibly irrelevant results where the words “auto” or “service” might appear, but might not have anything to do with “auto service.”

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Twitter supports Boolean logic, but does not require the use of operators like “and” or “or.” You can just type together multiple keywords into your query and Twitter will deliver tweets that include those terms. That being said, you may want to find tweets that include one keyword or another, in which case Twitter would deliver tweets that mention either or.

Locations:  Perhaps most useful to any retailer would be the ability to tell Twitter exactly where to listen for tweets based on specific places or areas. It does little good to discover a conversation about needing tires in Kansas City if your business is in San Diego. To limit the search, click the search box in the upper right corner and put the query “near: [location name]”. (Please note that the colon or “:” is important.) The location can be the name of a city or (better yet) a ZIP code. Twitter will show you a list of tweets than have originated within that area. By default, Twitter sets a 15-mile radius; however, you can set that distance to be anything you want by using functionality in the address bar.

Attitudes: You can also direct Twitter to display people who convey positive attitudes or negative attitudes in their tweets, which is particularly useful if you are monitoring what is being said about your business online. This also helps you discover prospects who are unhappy with competitors in your trading area. This is a great opportunity to pick up a client currently dissatisfied with a current business relationship, who may have shared a negative experience online.

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Date Ranges: Setting up date ranges will help limit tweets to a specific date range, allowing you to avoid tweets from weeks or months ago when the window of opportunity is well past. This feature is a great time saver, especially if you don’t want to do this every day. You can filter your search results to a particular time period by adding the “since:” and “until:” options into your search query.

Saved Searches:  Once you have developed search criteria that works well for you and pulls up valuable conversations, you can save the search under “More Options” to quickly and easily use it again.

Twitter Avoidance

If you have been avoiding Twitter to this point because it seemed irrelevant to your business, it may be time to reconsider. Certainly, using these techniques is something that can be assigned to a staff person, but it is always good to be familiar with what you are asking him or her to do for you. It makes you look more aware – maybe even cool.

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