Marketing & Sales Management

Twitter: Overrated Social Media Hype or Killer Sales Tool?

Twitter is overrated. Since Edison Research and Arbitron published their latest research on online, offline and social media habits, there’s been a cascading echo of online voices claiming that Twitter is overhyped. The most provocative stats in the research focus on Media Platform Usage, which ranks Media & Device “Reach” (i.e., the percent of research respondents who use or own the media platform). Watching television – – aka breathing – – comes in at 98%. Facebook ranks #5 at 51%, meaning that half of the respondents claim to use the social network. Where’s Twitter? Look to the bottom of the list, past YouTube, past Pandora, past even MySpace. It comes in at only 8%.

Facebook and Twitter have developed a comparable caché and level of notoriety. The two brands seem to always get uttered together in any sentence about social media. So these usage stats would seem to dampen Twitter’s glow relative to Facebook.

Jay Baer posted a thoughtful piece on this issue, comparing the different use cases for Facebook and Twitter, particularly in B2B vs. B2C contexts. I particularly liked the following analogy: “Facebook is now de facto. It is vanilla ice cream. Twitter is like IPA beer. Nobody just ‘likes’ IPA. If you like it, you love it. Beer geeks crave IPA the way marketing geeks crave Twitter.”

Since the Edison/Arbitron research was based on consumers (a B2C lens), we decided to investigate the real impact of Twitter in B2B, particularly for sales professionals. Could sales reps use Twitter for sales intelligence? Should they use Twitter to accelerate sales growth? If the answer is yes, what exactly should they do?

Even without looking at hard numbers, Twitter has some inherent strengths for a salesperson looking to learn more about her customers and prospects and the relevant decision-makers and influencers:

Companies and individuals can set up Twitter handles. So, in theory, there is an opportunity to do homework on both the account and the contact.
Posting on Twitter is easy and informal. This means that companies (or individuals) are more likely to post more often (vs. the corporate website) and are more likely to post juicy tidbits that may not be important enough or respectable enough for formal, website consumption.
Twitter is an open network. I can follow your posts even if you don’t follow mine. This is a big advantage relative to Facebook and LinkedIn. Mentions (i.e., @username) even allow me to engage with a company or decision-maker in a non-intrusive manner.
With these points in-mind, let’s proceed to our own research:

Question 1: Are companies on Twitter?

Given the 8% usage stats above, this is a legitimate question. To answer this question for B2B, we took a random sample of companies with 100-250 employees. This is the middle market: it’s not IBM; it’s not the corner deli. We found that 49% of these companies had a Twitter handle, significantly above the 8% figure in the consumer research. If you are a salesperson covering mid-size companies, half your targets have a presence on Twitter.

Question 2: Do companies on Twitter use Twitter?

It’s one thing to create a Twitter handle (at least 5 minutes of effort). It’s another thing to keep Tweeting on an ongoing basis. Does the novelty wear off? We found that 85% of the companies on Twitter were using Twitter, and had not abandoned it after their initial trial period. That didn’t mean that the companies were Tweeting on a daily basis. The median company with a Twitter handle Tweeted just 1.7x per week. That’s not a massive quantity of Tweetage, but it eclipses the frequency of News updates on the typical corporate website.

Question 3: Are the tweets relevant for a B2B sales person?

To test this hypothesis, we evaluated the last 200 tweets for each company in the sample. We looked for a set of keywords that might interest a salesperson (e.g., award, winner, finalist, launch, joined) and would help them communicate to decision makers with the right context. For example, it would be helpful to know that Company XYZ just won a prestigious “award” or that Frank Smith just “joined” XYZ as the new CFO. Surprisingly, all the companies had at least one of the 19 words show up at least once! In fact, 29% of the companies used one of the keywords at least 25x in their Tweets. We then did a manual review of the tweets and found that they were indeed relevant and useful over 70% of the time (i.e., the keywords were used in a different or personal context for the remaining 30%). Here’s a list of some nuggets of sales intelligence we came through:

Awards won
Exhibitions at conferences
New senior hires
Product launches
New customer wins
Customer recommendations
How Can Sales People Use Twitter For Sales Intelligence and Sales Growth

Based even on our limited research, there is compelling evidence that Twitter should be a component of a B2B sales person’s tool kit. Here are some easy steps you can take to boost sales growth using Twitter:

Create a Twitter account.
Identify the Twitter handles of your customers and prospects. The easiest methods are to look for the Twitter symbol on the website or to run the following search: Company Name on Twitter.
Create a Twitter List of your target handles. This will enable you to isolate the tweets from your targets (vs. those form your family and friends).
Use various Twitter search tools (e.g., and simple Twitter API calls (e.g., using Heroku) to collect batch tweets from your handles, export the results to Excel/Word to find specific keywords (e.g., award).
Are you using Twitter for B2B sales? We’d love to hear from you. Happy Tweeting.

 Photo Matthew Mesher Matthew Mesher

Matt specializes in data analytics and solutions design to create elegant frameworks for complex problems.

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