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Marketing Startups Get Serious About Twitter

Twitter
Tweet your way to riches? That's probably not in most people's future, but a number of companies in the fast-growing Twitterverse are focused on helping users and companies leverage the popular microblogging service for financial or marketing success.

For starters, there's TweetROI, a service that pays influential Twitterers for spreading the good word about marketers' products and services. In keeping with the social media theme, the last bit of the company's name actually stands for "Return on Influence," not "Investment".

"There are a bunch of companies -- small, medium and large -- going on Twitter and hoping they can figure out some kind of ROI; we call it Return on Influence," Brian Carter, co-founder of SocialROI, the company behind TweetROI, told InternetNews.com.

Carter, who also works with an ad agency, said he felt uncomfortable telling clients to do a Twitter profile and spend "twenty to thirty hours each week" managing it. The idea behind TweetROI is to help individuals and companies leverage Twitter in a more automated way.

"There are marketers, Twitter influencers and Twitter followers; you have to make all those people happy," Carter said.

And building influence isn't just a matter of targeting the popular Twitter users, according to Carter, who draws a distinction between Twitterers with a large number of followers and those who have actual influence.

"Ashton Kutcher may have 2.5 million followers but how many of those came once and never returned?" Carter said. "We think the real value is in retweets and conversations."

TweetROI has developed a ranking system designed to measure how much tweeting is viral or conversational. The question of how much a Twitterer or Tweet is worth is handled by TweetROI’s user-ranking system that segregates them by influence and allows marketers to bid accordingly. Users are able to tweet about products and services from a list of participating companies.

"They choose which ones, and most important, can recommend them in their own words," Carter said. "We want something honest; if it's Jelly Belly jellybeans, we hope they ate them and liked them."

He said the average Twitterer can make $0.78 per tweet.

"This is really big in terms of both society and advertising because it's the first time we've been able to scale word of mouth, which is considered the most powerful form of advertising," Carter said.

Hop over to LocalBunny

Another service that aims to make Twitter more accessible to businesses and entrepreneurs is LocalBunny, a startup based in Boulder, Colo. Co-founder Dave Rogers, a former newspaper publisher, said he got the idea from talking to local merchants.

"They were all saying they no longer knew how to reach their audience," Rogers told InternetNews.com. "I'd hear, 'I'm not a social media expert, but I know potential clients are out there, I just don't know how to reach them.'"

Essentially, LocalBunny automates customer responses over Twitter. The company also plans to release a similar service for Facebook in the next month.

Rather than manually responding to random queries about store hours, location, restaurant menus and the like, LocalBunny provides an automated responses even after business hours. In one customer example, tweeting @BoulderTheater brings back a Web page with info on the theater's next four shows.

[cob:Special_Report]To get the biggest bang from their buck, the merchant must promote to the tweet in fliers, kiosks, or other marketing material, Rogers said.

"We view this as the most effective call to action," he said. "It's a very fast way to deliver data and it happens in a very interactive environment."

A free version, BunnyLite, offers up to two free keywords -- used to determine which automated responses to generate -- and Rogers describes it as a great way to test the service.

Bunny Classic allows up to 25 automated keyword responses for $99 per month. A deluxe version, that LocalBunny will customize to the needs of larger businesses and organizations, is also available.

A local unit of national grocery store chain Whole Foods used an early version of the service to promote recipes and other information about the store.

"We are excited to see how our local Twitter followers respond to LocalBunny. This should allow them to receive quick, relevant responses to their tweets with a ton of useful content, no matter the time of day," Ben Friedland, marketing coordinator in Whole Foods' Rocky Mountain region, said in a statement.

LocalBunny's Rogers said he hopes his service "solves a lot of user and business pain" in dealing with Twitter.

"It's now a same-day implementation, and we'll be fully self-service in a few weeks," he said. BunnyLite, the free version, is already self-service.