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Customer service, recruiting, contests, giveaways and promotions — these are all standbys for businesses using Twitter as a medium to connect with customers and fans.

Given that Twitter as a platform supports nearly limitless applications for business use, we thought it time to highlight some of the newer Twitter-for-business opportunities that aren’t so obvious.

From pitching your followers and rewarding Twitter loyalty, to keeping a trained eye on the Twitterverse, targeting smaller communities, and adding metadata to tweets, here are some unique ways to use Twitter in your social business strategy.

1. Pitch Your Followers

As part of Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy campaign, the soda company empowered Flavor Nations — fan communities for new Dew flavors — to own a flavor of soda that the company is now testing on the market. Mountain Dew literally ceded control of the go-to-market strategy for each of these flavors to the consumer communities.

As part of the creative process, Mountain Dew even made advertising agencies pitch the Flavor Nations with their creative. While this wasn’t done via Twitter alone, the notion of putting brand advocates in the position of power is pretty remarkable.

You could steal from the Dew’s strategy and find a way to give your biggest brand advocates creative control over your next event, campaign or company initiative. Spend the time internally to craft a few solid ideas and then pitch them to your followers. This should be much more than a poll or vote, and instead more akin to empowering your Twitter influencers as project stakeholders.

2. Reward Loyalty

Tasti D-Lite’s initiatives are defining the social media loyalty program. A huge part of their strategy is automatically rewarding customers with TreatCards when they tweet about the brand. It’s also an important part of their plan to build brand awareness so that they can open more stores across the United States. Starbucks has similar notions around loyalty and social media and is experimenting with Foursquare for that purpose.

Both companies have recognized that there is real business value every time a customer or fan shares their purchase behaviors with their friends. If you can find a way to automatically reward loyalty for Twitter-sharing, you’ll be motivating your audiences to spread your message for you. It’s a win-win for everyone, as long as you carefully consider the image of your customer and the message they push out to their followers.

3. Market Research

All too often, Twitter is used only for distribution purposes. But in fact, it’s a valuable tool for keeping tabs on your competitors, as well as your brand’s existing fans.

Power Twitter users have learned the advantages of keeping a careful eye on the network’s trends, and that they can perfect the market research capabilities of Twitter by using Twitter Lists. Business users should absolutely follow suit.

Invest several hours in building a few solid lists that you can easily track every day. Make sure that you track down innovators, influencers, those that break news in your space. Competitors and those that your competitors follow — both companies and individuals alike — are also key. Then remember to add to each list moving forward as you find more relevant names.

If you really want to use Twitter for market research, create a list of your biggest brand advocates and loudest brand naysayers and hang on their every word — even if that means reading up on their weekend activities. If you can get into the minds and lives of the people you’re trying to serve, you’ll have a better idea of what your customer wants.

On this front, get yourself a Twitter application that supports Lists in a way that works for you. I find Echofon for Mac ideal for this purpose, as there’s one list that I watch like hawk — I call it my “Stalking” list. It’s private, but it includes every person and company in the industry that breaks news relevant to what I write about. The application alerts me, with audio notifications if I so choose, any time there are new incoming tweets on the list I’m watching. Other applications are just as list-friendly, so don’t be afraid to try a few out.

4. Target Niche Audiences

The beauty of Twitter is that you can potentially reach anyone in the world with a single 140 character tweet. That’s powerful stuff, but with that kind of reach, business users often forget to narrow the scope of their Twitter presence and connect with smaller communities. While Promoted Tweets aren’t live for everyone, they will offer business users a highly sophisticated way to target their tweets to more niche audiences.

Take Virgin America for instance. The Twitter-savvy brand wasted no time targeting Promoted Tweets toward their inflight WiFi customers. On launch, the company put out three distinct tweets that they then promoted with carefully crafted keywords. Two of the tweets were meant to engage just their passengers at 35,000 feet. Just imagine how cool it would be to fly Virgin America and uncover a tweet that was meant just for you. That’s the power of talking to a smaller audience.

No brand or business should turn to Promoted Tweets or alternative Twitter advertising options for a cheap Twitter win. Your audience will only respect your Twitter presence if you demonstrate that your ultimate goal is to serve their needs (and not your own). If used wisely, targeting niche audiences with Promoted Tweets could be a powerful way to use Twitter for business on a whole new level.

5. Add Your Own Metadata

Beginning next quarter, Twitter will introduce annotations as a way for developers to attach any kind of metadata — tags, notes, location — they want to tweets. While we’ll no doubt see a number of developers build applications for unique purposes — some of them with the business user in mind — we see this as a prime opportunity for radical businesses to craft their own applications with metadata specific to their goals.

Used in combination with the simplistic developer tools available via @anywhere, this could be a powerful way to add Twitter integrations to your site, append notes about visitors’ on-site Twitter behaviors, tag tweets that originate from your site, or attach your own identifiers and figure out ways to reward actions (perhaps even
loyalty). There’s definitely opportunity to be creative and better track Twitter-related data at the same time.

Series supported by the Social Influence System and WE twendz™ pro:

How do you build influence in an increasingly diverse and unpredictable media landscape? Many brands have difficulty connecting campaigns with social media to reliably generate action from fans. Winning influence in this environment takes calculated management of messages, trends and responses. Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s Social Influence System offers help engaging rising volumes of customers and audience segments. WE twendz™ pro helps you measure your results and engage with your target audience. Please visit us at to learn more.

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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Pablo631

[Img credits: Thomas Hawk]

Tags: annotations, business, community management series, List, Lists, MARKETING, metadata, mountain dew, small business, social media, social media marketing, tasti dlite, twitter