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Turning Tweets Into Dollars and Cents

By Features FOXBusiness

Many small businesses already use Twitter for branding – but it turns out Twitter is good for more than public relations.

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Increasingly, small businesses are using Twitter as a selling platform. After all, business is business – and profit is usually the ultimate pursuit. In other words, Twitter is more than the proverbial mannequin in your small business’ window – it’s also the cashier at your store’s exit.

Thanks to services like Square and PayPal, small businesses can use Twitter as a virtual store, connecting with customers throughout the world.

Just ask Woodrow Reed, founder of Strange Brew Coffeehouse.

“Our Web site is www.StrangeBrewCoffeehouse.com -- and we love it, but Twitter allows so much more.” Reed is just one of many entrepreneurs thinking outside the 140 character-limit box to turn Tweets into dollars and cents.

@SBCoffeehouse

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http://strangebrewcoffee.com/

Shane Reed opened Strange Brew Coffeehouse in Starkville, MS – home to Mississippi State University, six years ago in April 2005. An MSU grad himself, Reed lamented that Starkville never had any “real” coffeehouse.

As a self-proclaimed tech pioneer, Reed was a front-runner in making professional use of social media, taking Strange Brew Coffeehouse to Facebook in 2004 – and they jumped on Twitter in 2008. Alas, being the first can be lonely.

“In the beginning it was kind of lonely but very quickly the students of MSU and people of Starkville started using Twitter,” he said.

Reed said he thought of selling coffee on Twitter when he first joined the micro-blogging site, but it wasn’t until 2010, when Square came along that he found a way.

According to Reed, selling coffee on Twitter enables his company to have a virtual coffeehouse online where he can talk and connect with customers all over the world. Strange Brew Coffeehouse offers every one of their coffees via Twitter.

When selling through Twitter, Reed even provides customers with personal recommendations.

“Selling through Twitter allowed me to talk to customers as if I was standing in the Brew,” he said.

 Currently, Twitter accounts for 5% of Strange Brew Coffeehouse’s sales – and, according to Reed, the percentage is growing every day.

@CardGnome

http://www.cardgnome.com/

Joel Wishkovsky and Chad McGimpsey founded Card Gnome, which sells artist created greeting cards, in November 2010.  At the time, Wishkovsky and McGimpsey were building a different site geared to helping artists sell their services directly to consumers. When one of their featured artists asked if the duo could print cards for his fans, they realized there was a huge opportunity to help card designers reach consumers.

“We wanted to bring the distribution of Greeting Cards online, just like Zappos did with shoes,” Wishkovsky said.

The Boulder-based startup took to Twitter from its inception. Wishkovsky said since artists already use Twitter to promote their own card designs and get feedback, Twitter was a natural transition. 

“We wanted to join the conversation,” said Wishkovsky.

Card Gnome uses PayPal to process its sales on Twitter. Card Gnome only sells a handful of its best-selling designs through Twitter, but according to Wishkovsky, these sales already account for 17% of the company’s total sales.

“We couldn’t have built such a strong brand loyalty this quickly without social media,” Wishkovsky said. “This strategy has paid off for us, in just 5 months, we’ve already developed a vibrant online community that cares about our business and helps us address technical issues, improve the product offering and get new customers.”

@MeetandCompete

http://www.meetandcompete.com/

This Raleigh-based small business organizes, markets and operates adult recreational sports leagues and social events. Meet and Compete is targeted towards young professionals. Also know as TRI SPORTS, the company offers wine tastings, golf trips, happy hours, scuba diving, ski trips, camping – and much more. 

During the 1990s dotcom bubble, TRI SPORTS founder Danny Lefebvre found himself working 70-90 hours a week  -- and without any social life whatsoever, he said.

Lefebvre said at the time he searched for an organization like TRI SPORTS to join, but he had no luck finding one. So when the economy cooled in 2001, Lefebvre abandoned his loafers and ties for cleats and pinnies – and started up TRI SPORTS. 

It wasn’t until 2009, thanks to the influence of the company's athletic director Charles Warren, that TRI SPORTS took to Twitter under the handle @MeetandCompete. Lefebvre said after signing up he immediately realized this was an opportunity to sell memberships.

“It’s easy for e-mails to get lost in an inbox, but Twitter allows us to reach out instantly and gain impression, click-throughs and ultimately, registrations we might not have otherwise gotten,” he said.

Lefebvre said he’s found that clients are more likely to re-tweet promotional offerings than forward along newsletters. TRI SPORTS clients use PayPal to register for sports, trips and events. Twitter sales account for 15-25% of the company’s total registrations, according to Lefebvre.

“With over 18K members, PayPal is PRICELESS,” Lefebvre said.

You named your small business, you set up a Web site, and you even started seeing profits from it. What's next? You could set up a profile page on a social networking site, such as Facebook or Myspace. And/or you may want to head to Twitter, the member-based site that boasts of allowing you to virtually shout your company's message from a technological rooftop.

Every week, Fox Small Business Center will highlight companies that are making their brand known through social media. As small businesses, you are on the frontlines of re-starting our economy, and we want your voice to be heard.

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