Searching for your next customer? They’re on Twitter.

This post is about Twitter, so for the benefit of those are not yet addicted - here's a brief overview of the service.

Although Twitter has been around for years, and has been growing steadily over that time, one feature they never really implemented was Search. If you wanted to find out who had mentioned a particular term recently, you had the choice of using a creative Google query, or one of a number of external sites that used Twitter's comprehensive API.

That changed last week, when Twitter bought Summize - amongst the most popular search tools for the site, and rebranded it Twitter Search. (Naturally, many people asked why Twitter needed to buy Summize, and didn't spend the $15 million on developing their own kick-ass search tool; discussion of that could fill another blog post.)

Back on the topic of this post: maybe because Twitter has reached a size where companies care what is said by its users, or maybe it's because the Summize acquisition put their Search function in to the limelight, but there have been a number of companies/organisations using Twitter Search in creative ways recently.

Who's talkin' 'bout your reputation?

Since I spend a great proportion of my time looking after Reputation Monitoring for clients, it's great that it's now so easy to stick in their brand or product names, and see what people are saying about them.

Some companies are taking a proactive approach to dealing with the results they find. I noticed this last week, when a Twitter contact knew about a design competition site, but couldn't remember the URL. I replied with details of the site, and then received a 'thankyou' message from the company.

Intrigued, I had a look at their feed, and it seems that they are not only replying to everyone who mentions the company name, but to anyone who mentions 'web design' , 'logo' or a number of other terms. Very clever, very easy, and I'd love to know if they've seen a good response and conversion rate from this.

This method of interaction is really well suited to a company which solves a problem that people are likely to complain about publicly - I could imagine a national cable internet provider monitoring for tweets that include terms like "slow broadband" or "lame internet" etc.

Equally, it could probably be cool for someone who can answer a specific question. If someone mentions that they were "wondering what DVD to rent tonight" - then Blockbuster should be down on them like a shot with a suggestion of a good movie and a link to the store locator.

The News in Brief

At the end of last week, I discovered a further example that's on display. When I mentioned that I was working on a new Twitter tool, I noticed a reply from the Tw* Tool Tracker account. The account gave my tool a few mentions (which is great - they have 600 followers) but they do very well out of it too. As a niche news site, they have two million people all potentially generating leads for stories, or even scoops, that they can follow up.

For instance, traffic & travel services often differentiate themselves on the speed that they can pick up on and report hold ups. A quick look on Twitter Search gives an indication of any trouble that people are reporting.

Likewise, if you're looking for attendees at an event or eyewitnesses to a breaking news story, you could find people on Twitter.

Of course, the power of extracting content from the site can be used for evil as well as good. LessAccounting have created an entire site that bashes their competitor using nothing but people's Twitter updates.

As more people join Twitter (I'm certain this will happen) and more companies realise the potential for interaction (I expect this will happen) we should see some more creative uses for the search tool - maybe through crowdsourcing their news gathering, by identifying customers (existing and potential) to deal with, or in ways that we've not seen yet.

Do you know anyone else who's doing clever things at the moment? Can you think or any companies that are missing a trick by not being involved?

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