Make Money on Twitter

Viral marketing benefits businesses, consumers

By BJ Lutz
|  Friday, May 15, 2009  |  Updated 1:25 PM PDT
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Weekend Web:  Twittad

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Instead of your cell phone just eating money, services like Twittad can help you make back some of that cash.

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There was something different about Wednesday morning's debut of the 2010 Land Rover at the New York International Auto Show.

In what is sure to be a growing advertising trend, the typical media coverage surrounding such an event was accompanied by a Tweet from Twittad (@twittad), an 8-month-old, Des Moines, Iowa-based company that helps brands target messages to their Twitter followers.

The roughly 200,000 Twitterers who have opted-in to "follow" Land Rover -- Twittad calls them "affinity groups" -- received a tweet announcing the debut of that company's newest model and invited them to watch a YouTube video of its unveiling. Four more tweets will be sent throughout Land Rover's campaign.

Land Rover, and brands like Dell (@DellOutlet), Lance Armstrong (@LanceArmstrong), Zappos.com (@Zappos), Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) and JetBlue (@JetBlue), are considered early adopters of Twitter and of social media.

"These companies, they get it," said Twittad's Thomas Buchar. "They understand that they have to build their affinity networks in order to be able to reach their customer directly and very cost-effectively. So they can communicate with all of their customers just through one Tweet."

Twitter has one of the fastest adoption rates recorded. Neilsen Online reported the service grew 1,382 percent year-over-year in February and now boasts over 8 million users. Through its service, Twittad says it can reach nearly one in four Twitterers.

Buchar said the cost of a tweet is far less than, say, sending a flyer through the mail, though he admits that brands with 10,000+ followers will see the best return on their investment. 

But brands aren't the sole beneficiaries of the service.  Twitterers that sign up with Twittad can take part in a revenue-sharing model.  If an advertiser accepts a Twitter user into their campaign, Twittad sends a limited number of tweets on the user's behalf (usually just two), and displays an ad on their Twitter profile page.  Participants are paid for every hour they serve a marketer's ad.  The more followers a Twitter user has, the more money they can make.

Other Twitter-based ad networks, like Magpie (@beamagpie)and adCause (@adcause), rely solely on tweets, Buchar said.

Buchar said Twittad built out its network to about 2.5 million Twitterers before even approaching an advertiser, and then it took another three months to land its first major retailer. Twenty national companies have now signed on, beginning with Land Rover, with another retailer launching a campaign within the next two weeks.

"This is the most-accelerated way for you to take your campaign and convert it into cash, and once you're able to show them that, then they buy into it," Buchar said.

He admits that the pitch to early adopters was somewhat difficult, and he said a "couple of big box marts" have been particularly hesitant to sign on.

"There was a big box mart that we were dealing with and they were like, 'Oh, OK, well we don't know about this affinity thing, but why don't you announce a sale?' Well, who cares that you're having a sale? You know, companies are having sales every day. We can go to Macy's and get 85 percent off today because of where the economy's at. I mean, throw your consumers a bone," Buchar said.

That "bone" could be a digital coupon attached to the 140 character tweet. One day very soon, a retailer could have a campaign that sends tweets based on where followers are, using location-based services in smart phones.

"Incorporating that, and those types of technologies, yeah, absolutely. You'll be walking by the Starbucks (@Starbucks), here's (a digital coupon-carrying Tweet with) 50 percent off your coffee," Buchar said.

And for companies with tightening budgets, those marketing messages, sent to consumers who want to receive them, can make for a win-win situation.

"(You'll have) that customer forever, and it's going to cost you basically nothing to send them out a tweet. That's a big value proposition," Buchar said.

While you're exploring Twitter, remember to follow us, @nbcchicago.

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