Search marketers are starting to get savvy about using Twitter search to promote their websites and brands, according to experts at the Search Engine Expo in Seattle.
They aren't simply searching Twitter for users that mention their company and then responding to them. "That's easy to do and very effective," but it misses out on some greater opportunities, said Danny Sullivan, editor of the blog Search Engine Land.
The smart way to use Twitter is to search for more generic words or phrases, he said. For instance, a company such as Domino's could search for "anyone know pizza" and find queries from people asking their friends for pizza recommendations in their area. The company could reply to that customer with a nearby shop and include a coupon code, potentially winning a new customer.
Sullivan conducted a small experiment and found that people respond well to such replies on Twitter. He searched for people who were asking questions about Google and Bing. Using a new Twitter account rather than his "dannysullivan" account, he responded with links to articles on his blog that could address their questions.
He answered 42 questions. "Not a single person complained. Ten came back to say thanks," he said. "Can you imagine someone coming to you from Google and saying thank you when they clicked on your ad?"
That process doesn't have to be totally manual. A new service called Replyz, still in beta, aims to make it easy for marketers to find relevant questions that Twitter users are asking. With Replyz, a company doesn't have to think of the exact questions that people might be asking, Sullivan said.
Marketers can use other tools as well, said Chris Silver Smith, director of optimisation strategy at Key Relevance. Using Twitter APIs (application programming interfaces), marketers can build tools to monitor Twitter queries and automatically send direct responses to people, he said. "A human doesn't have to have a hand in it, but it's still a good idea to monitor it in case someone sends back a question," he said.
There are other ways to leverage Twitter search too. Mint.com, a personal finance service, constantly monitors trending topics, looking for matches with keywords important to the company, said Stew Langille, vice president of marketing at Mint.com.
For instance, it recently found the term "one trillion" trending up. "We're not out there saying 'Oh, well, one trillion is trending, let's go out and tweet about it,'" he said. "But we'll go out and make great content about it and put it out there, and the community grabs it and becomes an advocate for us."
"One trillion" was trending up because of news coverage about the government bailouts. Mint.com developed articles and a video using the term "one trillion" and posted them to its finance publication. The content drove several thousand visitors to its site over a couple months, he said.
Twitter search offers a unique opportunity for marketers, Sullivan said. "You know exactly who's asking," he said. That's compared to search engines. "Imagine if everyone who clicked on a link, you got a picture of them and their name as well. That doesn't happen on Google but it happens all the time on Twitter."
While it's hard to quantify how important it is to target Twitter, Sullivan says marketers should pay attention to it. Twitter recently reported that it fields 18 billion searches per month. "That's a huge market you should pay attention to," he said, although he noted that a significant portion of those searches could be automated or done by people monitoring retweets. "My advice remains that you should participate on Twitter and build a reputation, and that should pay off for you as relevancy starts to change down the line," he said.