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Twitter as a mobile marketing and ecommerce channel is back in merchants' crosshairs after the company revealed two weeks ago it purchased CardSpring, a payments company that enables retailers to offer and track promotions across different digital media platforms.
Web retailer Fancy in June inadvertently revealed a Twitter "Buy Now" button that has since been removed. But Twitter's CardSpring acquisition shows the social network's intent to have a large say in e-commerce.
But Twitter for marketing and payments are nothing new, as other companies have offered it with varying degrees of success.
Chirpify was one of the first companies to exploit the social network in this way and used it initially for person-to-person payments. It has since expanded to help national brands run extensive Twitter marketing campaigns.
Amazon brought some attention back to Twitter as a shopping method when it introduced a feature that enabled users to add items to their carts by including a hashtag in a tweet.
American Express sports a Twitter sync feature that enables cardholders to pay for select products with hashtags.
Twitter (and other social media sites) introduces yet another form of mobile payments as most social network users access their favorite sites through apps for smartphones and tablets. Brands recognize this and are playing in that arena as well.
"All these brands are looking at mobile, and it's that spaghetti-throwing mentality where they are willing to try just about anything and if something sticks, that's awesome," Jordan McKee, a senior analyst for Yankee Group, told Mobile Payments Today. "They'll push forward with it. We're still in that experimentation phase of all this. No one is really sure what the best strategy is, so why not just try a little bit of everything? Inevitably something is going to click."
Total-Apps Inc., a Calif.-based merchant services provider and payments processor, is the latest company to use Twitter for social commerce and is developing Twt2Pay specifically for the mobile environment. The service will enable Twitter users to buy items using hashtags once the company exits its current stealth mode.
"We built this for the mobile environment," Russell Droullard, marketing director for Total-Apps, told Mobile Payments Today in a recent interview. "We really focused on the details, so that everything about the experience needs to be mobile friendly. That's been our guiding light from inception.
"It needs to be a good experience from the first time you use it."
Bad experiences could be the reason why consumers have not embraced Twitter for marketing and payments. Recent studies suggest consumers largely ignore social media advertising.
But companies such as Chirpify and Total-Apps built their products in such a way that the consumer stays in the Twitter stream to complete a purchase (with the exception of the initial transaction to sign up for each service). This is intended to deter the dreaded cart abandonment syndrome and provide a better checkout experience, the golden egg that is the much-discussed frictionless transaction these days.
"I think all the other research is based on the brand putting out a link, leaving the social platform, and following that link to the brand's website," Chirpify CEO Chris Teso told Mobile Payments Today in a recent interview. "Consumers aren't on social media to be redirected off it. They are on social media to have conversations. And we've made the transaction as easy as a conversation."
Chirpify and Total-Apps are not strictly concerned about payments, either. Marketing is a large part of what the companies offer brands.
Teso provided an anecdote about a recent Rascal Flatts concert where Chirpify saw attendees respond in high numbers to a seat upgrade contest at the venue.
"People tweet the hashtag [for the contest] and raised their hand to be a part of this promotion, but you still have to give Rascal Flatts some contact data," Teso said. "A concert is a distracting environment, so our theory was the conversion rate [for signups] would be half [of the typical 60 percent], but over 65 percent [of attendees] got the response right back and signed up for Chirpify."
Droullard and Teso both believe brands using Twitter for marketing and e-commerce can expect significant results even if current anecdotal evidence says consumers are not interacting with the social network on a large scale in this way.
Adidas and TaylorMade Golf use Chirpify and have seen "tremendous ROI," Teso claimed. Both companies and others view this type of marketing as a lead generator to capture data, which today is a valuable commodity.
"Brands are used to paying for lead generation," Teso said. "They are acquiring a brand new channel of consumer activations. If you look specifically at social commerce, it's more about marketing data versus selling a volume of goods over social media."
There's the "viral" aspect of Twitter marketing to consider as well, Droullard said.
"If I retweet those hashtags, that will be retweeted to my feed as well," he said. "There are aspects of additional advertising just from the viral approach. Now you're tapping into that as well."
Droullard and Teso are convinced Twitter and other social networks are the future of e-commerce, and there are current trends to back their statements. Facebook also is experimenting with a "buy-now" feature, and Foursquare is in the process of reinventing itself as social networks continue enabling brands and merchants to be everywhere on the Internet to reach as many potential customers as possible.
"If you believe the Internet is becoming social media or that social media is becoming the Internet," Teso said. "I believe social media is the new plumbing of the Internet. You can see that with brands, they are investing [in social media]."
Consumers could derail this ambition, of course, as more of them become skittish about sharing too much information about themselves as data breaches become more prevalent. But that will not stop some from oversharing, especially when it comes to securing a good deal on the Internet.
"People are becoming more comfortable buying through a social network," Droullard said. "And they clearly are buying on Twitter now, but they happen to be [redirected] to webpages to do it.
"What we're looking at [with Twitter] is a new channel [for engagement and purchasing]. It's still an untapped channel for brands that have large followings."
Photo courtesy of Garrett Heath.
Companies: Total-Apps Inc.