December 21, 2009
Does Twitter have potential as a sales promotion channel? In short, yes.
See how an online t-shirt retailer used Twitter to tease a major sales event, launch the promotion, and encourage a viral effect. The campaign broke their record for single-day sales, and realized a 4% conversion rate from Twitter traffic.
September 9, 2009 was fast approaching and Cam Balzer, VP Marketing, Threadless.com, saw the chance to do something special. The t-shirt retailer planned to recognize the 9/9/09 date with a one-day, $9 sale on all t-shirts.
"This was a campaign that we wanted to go big on in all channels," Balzer says.
Threadless' usual customers are t-shirt enthusiasts, ages 18 to 30, and evenly split between men and women. The company has a strong social media presence, because its shirt designs are submitted and voted on by the community prior to release for sale.
As a result, the team planned to promote the sale in every one of their channels, including:
o Paid advertising on social media and t-shirt sites
Balzer’s team also had more than 1 million Twitter followers, and intended to use the micro-blogging platform to promote the sale. Rather than just repeating the offer on their Twitter feed, they wanted to use the platform to push the sale to new heights.
The team used its Twitter account to build anticipation for the upcoming sale, and then encourage a viral effect once the 9/9/09 promotion was live.
Here are the five steps they followed to create excitement and monitor Twitter’s impact on the campaign.
Step #1. Have a strong follower base
Twitter was an ideal channel to integrate into the 9/9/09 campaign because the team had more than 1 million Twitter followers -- a tremendous amount for a retailer.
They achieved this follower base, in part, by getting on to Twitter’s now-defunct "suggested followers" list, and by forming a collaborative Twitter Tees site with the network (see links below).
However, they also used several tactics that any marketer with a Twitter account should consider to build and maintain a following:
- Send regular, relevant tweets
The team takes very good care of their Twitter followers. Balzer’s team sends several tweets per day, and receives many responses from the community.
A member of the marketing team manages the feed. The team’s "Twitter ninja," Balzer says, has a good understanding of the community’s likes, dislikes and tone.
Sending regular and interesting information to followers, from a proven company voice, helps keep the list responsive.
- Balance promotions with non-promotional tweets
Balzer estimates their ratio of non-promotional to promotional tweets at about 50/50.
"Unless you give people a reason to really stay engaged with you, the promotional stuff is going to be lost and they’re going to ignore that anyway," Balzer says.
Step #2. Send tweets that tease the promotion
Starting a week before Sept. 9, the team started peppering its list with "Top 9" lists, such as employees' top nine favorite shirts, songs and episodes of "Small Wonder."
On Sept. 8, they sent teaser tweets such as:
o 5:00 p.m. -- "Anyone else getting the feeling that something big is happening on Threadless tomorrow?"
o 6:30 p.m. -- "Srsly, you're going to wanna stay up LATE tonight to get in on the 999 Threadless fun."
o 7:00 p.m. -- "5 more hours until 9/9/09 hits @Threadless! (CST, btw, k?)"
o 9:33 p.m. -- "We can't comment on rumors. Giggle nervously, sure. 2.5 hours and counting til 12am Central Daylight Time. Wait. Is that a comment?!"
The team had tried this teaser strategy before and saw good results, Balzer says.
"If you get the right messages out there, the buzz can start to build. Then when you have the primary message, it really explodes."
->Tip: Don’t tease every sale
"We try not to do that too much," says Balzer. "Obviously, if you do it every single time, people get tired of it."
Step #3. Create contest to encourage re-tweets
Balzer anticipated the sale would generate buzz, but the team did not want to take any risks.
They set up a contest offering $99 gift certificates to nine randomly selected followers who re-tweeted the sale during the day. The contest was announced at the same time as the sale.
- Award prizes in batches
The team planned to make winner announcements throughout the day-long sale, to give the promotion repeated bursts of interest.
"When tweeting about who won, we encouraged people to keep re-tweeting it for a chance to win."
Step #4. Tweet the sale
The team needed to announce the sale and the contest at the same time -- not an easy task when using fewer than 140 characters. Why fewer than 140?
"You need to leave people room to re-tweet to add our user name to the beginning of it, and even add a comment if they want," says Balzer. "It’s a matter of getting your message as succinct as possible...It takes a little bit of skill to jam that in."
Here’s the message they sent to announce the sale:
o "Happy 9/9/09! ALL THREADLESS TEES ARE $9! No joke! (Pls RT for the chance to win a $99 gift code)http://thrdl.es"
The team sent the tweet at 12:25 a.m. CST on Sept. 9.
"Because this sale was specific to one day on the calendar, we wanted to make that whole day the sale," Balzer says. "We did it on central time, which [we had to specify] because we have a lot of customers in Australia, Europe and Asia."
Throughout the day, the team tweeted:
o Jokes about their servers running slow
o Mentions of the $9 shirts
o Gift certificate winner announcements
Step #5. Measure response
The team had to do some nuts-and-bolts tinkering to measure how much site traffic and sales their tweets generated.
The team used a third-party URL shortener to create a link back to their website in their tweets. Typically, a link’s number of clicks from Twitter is lower than its total clicks. This is because followers repost the links from Twitter on other platforms, Balzer says.
They combined tracking from the URL-shortening service with their website analytics to see who was clicking on the tweeted URLs, and from where visitors were coming.
From a long-term analysis of their tweeted link traffic, the team has seen on average more than 20% of a link’s clicks come from Twitter, and close to 70% come from other channels -- giving tweeted links a multiplier effect.
The 9/9/09 campaign generated the best one-day sales figures in the company’s history (although the team recently surpassed this record on Black Friday).
"Within minutes we had literally thousands and thousands of people re-tweeting the sales event," says Balzer. "We really feel like Twitter and the buzz and the word-of-mouth that we were able to get there was a significant driver of the overall success of that sale."
- The team received about 17,000 visits to its website directly from Twitter throughout the day.
- The multiplier effect of tweets generated approximately 73,000 visits to the site, Balzer estimates.
- 4% of visitors who arrived directly from Twitter made a purchase that day, "at a marketing cost of zero," Balzer says.
- Websites that aggregate ecommerce deals from across the web follow the team’s tweets and regularly share this information with their audiences. Sales from these deal sites generated six figures in revenue in one day for the 9/9/09 campaign.
Useful links related to this article
Creative Samples from Threadless’ Twitter promotional campaign
Online Ad Boosts Twitter Followers 69%: 4 Steps
Bit.ly: The URL shortening service the team used
Threadless’ Twitter Feed