"Microblogging" site Twitter, which enables users to publish anything under a 140-character limit, has over a million users per month, with 200,000 users posting about 3 million messages per day, according to March figures.
The young adults that use the service present a significant marketing opportunity for retail brands. But most firms aren't doing much to make themselves accessible on Twitter, writes Nikki Baird, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research.
A search for online shoe retailer "Zappos," for example, first yielded individual users whose last names are "Zappos," though the company has a Twitter account and employees that are very active on Twitter. "American Apparel" yielded a similar result.
"I figured they'd be out there," she said, "but I had to wade through pages of results to get the brand account I was looking for."
Her suggestions for increasing brand presence on Twitter:
Develop a Brand Fan-Feed - Like RSS feeds for corporate blogs, or widgets that serve content about a brand to individual websites, putting your brand on Twitter is a good way for the brand to communicate with enthusiastic users — as well as counteract the effects of disgruntled customers. It can also bring fans together, like a Facebook group, allowing them to talk to each other about their favorite brands.
Monitoring - Twitter users have a lot to say about brands they encounter every day. Because they are limited to 160 characters, they use brusque language: that is, they either love or hate you. It is in a company's best interest to keep track of what people are saying and respond accordingly - much like Comcast did with TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington.
Enforce Employee Policies - By developing a policy about Twitter use, you can avoid the issue of employees' identifying themselves as part of a company on personal Twitter accounts, then making public potentially damaging statements.
Stake Your Ground - Users searching for a brand should be directed to the company's account, not to a "cybersquatter" who stole the place for some quick advertising hits. Even if a retailer is not planning on being very active on Twitter, it should at least secure its brand name to prevent others from posing as the brand.
Read more tips for using Twitter to build brand integrity.