January 15, 2009
How To

How to Use Twitter to Push Your Products: Lessons from Woot

SUMMARY: Can you promote your products through Twitter? Listen to a marketer for Woot, a discount eretailer that does.

Woot has attained an almost cult-like following for its ‘one-day one-deal’ product offers. Find out how they got started on Twitter and the strategy they use.
Twitter, the social networking and short messaging service, allows users to send out real-time ‘tweets’ to other users. Consultants stay in touch with clients. Publishers send snippets of content. Consumer marketers use it primarily for customer service and PR.

How about promoting products with Twitter? Dave Rutledge, Creative Director, Woot, and his team use Twitter to push sales of their deeply discounted products. Woot has an almost cult-like following for their one-deal-a-day concept.

Customers can buy only each day’s featured product. When it’s sold out, it’s gone. A new product posts at midnight each day.

“We are a business that has a very small piece of text that can explain what we’re doing for the day… There are any number of places that could display that micro-summary, and Twitter happens to be a popular one right now,” Rutledge says.

We chatted with Rutledge to find out why Woot started using Twitter, how they got up and running, and how it’s helping their business.

How Woot Started on Twitter

Before using Twitter, Rutledge and his team used an RSS feed that would automatically update with the daily product’s picture, description, features and price. The team also whittled that down into a short-text version, which Rutledge calls the "micro-summary."

Rutledge’s team created the RSS feed, mentioned it in their blog and on Woot’s community forum. Woot fans took it a step further.

Programmers took Woot’s RSS feed to create applications and widgets that show their daily product. Woot applications exist now, for instance, for the iPhone, Mac OSX, and iGoogle. Woot’s developers did not create them; Woot fanatics did.

“It’s pretty cool,” Rutledge says. “It’s neat having fans that are excited about that. And I think also that we have particularly techie, intelligent, kind of geeky-in-a-good-way fans who are excited to figure out how to do all these things.”

In February 2007, as Twitter’s usage took off, according to a study by HubSpot (linked below), Rutledge thought that the Woot micro-summary and Twitter would make a nice fit.

Rutledge went to Twitter’s site to sign up. He was disappointed to find that the username Woot had already been taken.

“I went and checked what the person with the Woot account was doing, and they were actually doing what I wanted to do. They had coded up a little script that scraped our [RSS] feed and posted it to Twitter. I thought, ‘I guess this is a pretty good idea because one of our fans has already jumped in and done this for us.’”

o Ask for the account

Rutledge wrote to the account’s operator, who turned out to be a big Woot fan and passed the torch. Rutledge explained that his team wanted to make some slight differences and to ensure that the feed was stable and official. Then it was just a matter of receiving a username and password.

Tweeting Strategy and Lessons

Core Strategy

For the most part, Rutledge’s team continued the strategy of the feed’s previous owner. They send a tweet when a new product posts at 12 a.m., and they send another when it sells out. A link to Woot in every tweet also drives traffic to the homepage, which doubles as a product page.

o Simple message

Twitter does not give much space for elaboration – a tweet has a 140-character limit. Woot keeps their messages straight and to-the-point:

Here’s a sample message for a product going on sale:
“$99.99 : Lexmark X9350 Wireless Office All-in-One with Duplex www.woot.com”

Here’s a message for the same product selling out:
“$99.99 : Lexmark X9350 Wireless Office All-in-One with Duplex : SOLD OUT www.woot.com”

o Homepage is a landing page

Woot’s homepage looks like a landing page. The product’s image, description, price and button to purchase all sit above the fold. The team did not set out to make the page a landing page, but it acts like one.

“The thought is for someone who doesn’t have much time or is very casual, they can come by, look at Woot for 10 seconds, look at the product, the title, the price, they can make a decision and go on with their day,” Rutledge says.

o Automated process and glitches

Rutledge’s team automated their Twitter strategy. Tweets now are automatically sent out when a product goes up for sale and when it sells out.

Automating the process leaves it open to occasional technical snags, but Rutledge’s team has experienced very few, he says. One time, for example, the feed stopped sending messages. Another time, it sent the same message every two minutes. In both cases, the team quickly solved the problem and apologized in the feed.

Rutledge suggests having an easy-to-flip “off” switch to deactivate the feed when glitches strike.

o Occasional non-product content

Rutledge’s team rarely (less than once a month) sends snippets of information not related to products. For example, here’s a tweet from January:

“Look for us at CES, and @woot if you have goofy CES pics or can get us into an event or party worth making fun of. woot.com/2lo.r”

“My thought is most people are [following us on Twitter] to follow the products, and it might seem like abuse or spam if I used it to too much to try and promote things. So I try and make sure that it’s something that most people would enjoy,” Rutledge says.

o Don’t reply to messages

Twitter is designed for two-way conversations. Rutledge’s team often receives messages from Twitter users through its feed. Most people say they like the product or they missed out on it. The team does not reply to the messages, partly because it could disrupt the automated process they’ve set up, and also because they do not want to use the feed for customer service.

Building More Feeds

Every six weeks or so, Woot has a “Woot Off.”

“There will be 100 or 150 products instead of just one per day,” Rutledge says. “We had those going through the Twitter feed, but that can be pretty insane for somebody who’s getting texted all those products.”

Rutledge’s team created a separate feed – called Woot Blabber (linked below). It sends messages for each daily product and for every product during a Woot Off.

o Feeds for other Woots

Woot also has two other websites, Shirt Woot and Wine Woot (linked below). They sell T-shirts and bottles of wine using the same strategy as Woot. The team eventually created Twitter feeds for these sites.

Little Promotion, Tracking and Traffic

o Many devices, many statistics

Many ways exist for developers to extract information from Twitter and to use it to create a software application. Apps have popped up for a wide range of platforms and devices. Users can receive tweets as SMS messages, in emails, on the Web, through a widget, and through smartphone apps.

The range of applications has a big advantage: Users can select the optimal way to receive tweets without your team having to do any additional work.

However, this also poses a challenge by breaking up your referral analytics. If you’re using Twitter to drive traffic to your site, you can easily find out which visitors are coming directly from Twitter’s website – but that might only be a fraction of the people using Twitter to receive your messages. Others can be receiving your tweets from a widget on a website or an application on a smart phone.

o Woot’s Twitter growth

Less than two years ago, Woot had about 2,000 Twitter followers. Followers now number 23,000 – without promotion (see below). Woot’s feed is #43 on the list of Twitter feeds with the most followers, according to Twitterholic’s rankings (see link below). Much of that growth occurred last year, when Twitter’s usage ramped up, according to a study by HubSpot.

Overall traffic to Woot’s website has almost doubled from a week before they started the Twitter feed in 2007 to early this year, Rutledge says. How much of that growth is attributable to Twitter is unknown, although the website has sent around 400,000 visitors to Woot. That’s about one-tenth of a percent of visits over that same period, Rutledge says.

“We’re growing in a lot of places and for a lot of reasons. I’d be hesitant to give too much credit to Twitter.”

o Word-of-mouth promotion

Rutledge’s team has done little to promote their Twitter feed. They wrote a blog post announcing the feed, and experimented with some ads “not as a very serious means of getting people into places, but mostly because we wanted to try something out and were having fun with it.”

“We don’t even link from our site to the Twitter feed. That’s probably something that we will do at some point… The word of mouth on this stuff is the most powerful way to spread it around and get people talking about it.”

Useful links related to this article:

How to Target Twitter: 8 Ways to Build a New Audience in this Niche Community

Lead Gen with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging - 6 Key Takeaways

Twitterholic: Twitter rankings by followers

HubSpot: State of the Twittersphere PDF

Eretailer example: Amazon on Twitter

B2C Example: H&R Block on Twitter

Publisher example: CNN on Twitter

B2B Consultant example: Robert Rosenthal on Twitter

Woot: Blog post announcing Twitter feed

Woot’s Twitter Feed:

Woot Blabber Twitter Feed

Wine Woot’s Twitter Feed

Shirt Woot’s Twitter Feed


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