Friday, May. 29, 2009

Hyper-Local Marketing

Twitter is currently being used as a marketing tool for small businesses. At the same time, the local outlets of some of the largest retailers in the world, which are often competing with local vendors, are turning to Twitter as well. As an example, Twitter users can follow the local pizzeria or the store's owner. Since Twitter is still mostly a person-to-person service and not a business-to-business service, it is likely that the Twitter relationships will be with the owners of small shops. With access to customers' Twitter addresses, these small-shop owners can send them news about special offerings, sales, new merchandise, store hours and events. International companies operating through thousands of locations are beginning to use the same methods to gather their own lists of Twitter names. Recently, Starbucks launched a multimillion-dollar marketing program in which it put up advertising posters in six major cities in an attempt, said the company, to "harness the power of online social-networking sites by challenging people to hunt for the posters on Tuesday and be the first to post a photo of one using Twitter." The project seemed like a good way to get the company's brand in front of a large number of people online and encourage them to search for ad messages in their cities. (Read "Twittering in Church, with the Pastor's O.K.")

One of the by-products of Starbucks' marketing foray into the world of Twitter illustrates how social media can be used against a company. According to, filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who has done a short video critical of how Starbucks treats its employees, entered the Twitter contest as a way to get out news about his new film.

Twitter has the potential to drive substantial amounts of business to retailers as diverse as the local clothing store or the Gap (GPS), the local car-repair shop or the Jiffy Lube franchise, and the local deli or McDonald's (MCD) — even though there may be adverse publicity from unhappy customers or disgruntled employees. The time may come when multinational oil companies with local gas stations can tweet people who want to save money on gas when the price at the pump drops a few cents, since Twitter users can follow local businesses and companies closely by zip code. The hyper-local marketing aspects of Twitter have the potential to move billions of dollars of business to and from retailers based on targeted marketing.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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