February 19, 2009

A “Tweet” About Meat

Lately, the blogosphere has been abuzz about the fast growing social site Twitter (www.twitter.com). Twitter is a micro-blogging site that has experienced a phenomenal growth rate of 900% in the past year, bringing its unique user base up to approximately 6 million people.  You may have recently come across, or heard about, Twitter in relation to the plane crash of US Airways flight 1549. After the crash a nearby observer “tweeted” the picture of the plane in water to twitpic.com before any established media outlets were even aware of the incident. The photograph received over 40,000 hits in the first few hours of the plane crash!  This example of rapidly spreading information/news only helped to reinforce the rise of social media’s prominent role alongside (and even upstaging in this case) traditional media.  What few people may realize is that now Twitter ranks only behind Facebook and Myspace in terms of monthly web traffic for social networking sites; the web analytics firm Compete estimates 54 million monthly visits to Twitter.

While Twitter continues to experience robust growth and adds high profile clients such as Cisco Systems, IBM, Jet Blue and Whole Foods Market, the fundamental question for businesses about how can they monetize their efforts using Twitter is still unanswered.  As a new form of media many people may be asking themselves:

  • What value, as a contact channel, does Twitter provide to marketing departments?
  • Why should any firm’s marketing strategy include Twitter instead of focusing more resources on proven channels such as direct mail and e-mail?
  • What is the Return On Investment from setting up a Twitter profile and sending out “tweets” to followers?
  • How does a company attract and maintain followers via Twitter?

For the time being, no one seems to have solid, agreed upon set of answers to these questions. I venture that the marketing community was at the same type of crossroads around 15-20 years ago when companies first started to register domain names and create websites. A big question then had to have been, “Why does my company need a website?”  Now, like then, the answers we receive about new and upcoming marketing technologies can be very unsatisfying.  Although, in the case of websites, as the online business world matured the picture surrounding the usefulness of a website came into focus. In fact, many of the companies that understood how to use this new business model and were the first to market, such as Amazon.com or eBay, remain the winners almost two business cycles later.

While some are still looking for answers about how to incorporate Twitter’s capabilities in their marketing, others have already found a way to sucessfully leverage its functionality.  Let me tell you about a young entrepreneur who has successfully harnessed the power of Twitter and made a meaningful impact on his organization. Kogi Korean BBQ started off as a simple idea, putting Korean BBQ on a taco. Founder Mark Manguera started the venture, but to distinguish himself from all the other taco trucks, he started blogging, branding and twittering away about Kogi BBQ. Once people were hooked on the food, Kogi would “tweet” (@kogibbq on Twitter) exactly when and where they were going to be and soon crowds of 300-800 people started showing up at the pre-ordained time, often waiting in line for hours to buy Kogi tacos. By embracing social media, Kogi has established a large customer base who is excited to buy his product. This is a far cry from the conventional image of a taco truck that lazily parks day after the day in the same location, waiting for its customers to find it.

While the early adoption strategy has paid dividends for Kogi, the main question facing any firm still remains: “Why does my company need to use Twitter?”  The blue chips mentioned above have signed on looking for yet one more way to communicate with their customers, but only those who map out and properly answer the questions above can hope to be successful Twitters.