It's become accepted wisdom that Twitter is a great way to communicate with customers and get feedback about your products. I've actually had success using Twitter for prospecting. Here's my process (which I picked up from Mike Dubrall):
  1. Identify your prospects, and put them in a list. These should be people who could benefit from your service, and people that post quality content to Twitter. Make this list private.
  2. Using HootSuite, TweetDeck or any other type of Twitter app, set up a Twitter feed with all of your prospects' tweets.
  3. Respond to tweets as appropriate. This part has to be genuine--make sure you're adding to the conversation and not becoming an annoyance.
  4. Once a relationship has been established (this part should take a few months), I will reach out to engage the prospect at their work about my product via phone or email. I don't do this via direct message, as I think it is important to keep my Twitter persona conversational, and to send the signal that any sales engagement is separate from any Twitter engagement.
So that's my process. The trick is that there is no trick. If you're insincere or simply commenting so that the prospect will recognize your name you might have some success, but I have found that truly engaging the prospect over a period of time gives you a much better understanding of their needs, and leads to better sales conversations.

I would be interested to hear what others are doing. What do you think, is it appropriate to send a direct message within Twitter or is phone/email the way to go?
Three companies have made a big impact online recently by publishing content that was not initially created with a marketing focus. As Jason Fried mentioned in a recent article, most marketing content is so generic it loses all meaning. Netflix, Dropbox and Xobni have all recently posted unique content, content which does a better job of marketing their companies than any copywriter could hope to achieve.

Netflix posted an HR focused slide deck describing their corporate culture on SlideShare (the corporate shill in me wants to point out this could have been more effectively delivered using Brainshark, but that's not the point). By posting this they are essentially letting the world know what type of employees they are looking for, and letting potential employees understand exactly what to expect at Netflix. It essentially became a very targeted recruiting tool:

Dropbox got great press putting up slides and a video of a presentation one of their founders gave describing their unusual strategy for growth. It mentions Dropbox as being a great application, but that is not the focus. That said, viewers are left with a great impression of Dropbox as a company, and it has much more impact than a traditional marketing piece describing feature sets. Again, I want to point out this is simply a video of a talk the founder was already scheduled to deliver at a conference:

Xobni also has a great presentation talking about their growth. Again, this is different than a traditional marketing pitch, but more effective because it is different:

The overriding theme is that most companies have these type of presentations posted on some type of internal portal, or available when execs need to speak at conferences. They should be publishing everything, and letting their customers get a better feel for who the company is, what their journey has been, and where they are looking to go. David Meerman Scott talks a lot about this, but publishing quality content is a tremendous way to drive revenue and stand out from the rest of the online noise.
Last week I attended a conference put on by Nokia entitled "Driving Internet Strategies", and there was a panel speaking about innovation. All 3 speakers (and the audience) had some great points. I'll blog about all 3 this week.

The first speaker was Daniel Sullivan, Founder & President of Appswell. Appswell is a Boston based company dedicated to the democratization of brilliant decisions. The app, also called Appswell, allows users to submit ideas for iPhone and iPod touch applications. Other users, who've registered with Appswell, can offer their feedback on the idea, voting for the ones they like. Every four weeks or so, Appswell picks a winner based on user votes. Appswell, along with its partner Bit Group will turn the app proposal into a finished product. The user who came up with the idea gets $1,000 plus 10% of the profits from subsequent App store sales.

This is clearly a very innovative business model, and Daniel had some really interesting thoughts. He described how a lot of their marketing strategy revolved around the free press that can be (and has been) generated when you are at the merger of two "hot" fields (in his case crowd-sourcing and the mobile web). His marketing metrics were also really interesting, in that Appswell has found that a lot of people who tweet about them do not actually visit the links they are posting, meaning Appswell has gotten a lot of buzz from people who want to be seen as being interested in companies like Appswell. This separation between perception and action is actually a key metric for a company such as Appswell, who needs to make sure that people are voting for apps they would actually buy, rather than apps they would like others to believe they would buy.
My company had our annual meeting over the last two days, and one of the presentations focused on the power of a good story.

This is a video they showed to illustrate the point:

I use stories all the time in and out of work. People hate complaints and hate being sold to, but nobody hates a good story. Here's a quick example:

On Thursday I left my Blackberry in one of the boxes at the Boston Garden. On Friday, I called up Verizon, and they were able to hook me up with a discount on a new (much cooler) phone running Android. On Saturday I went to the Verizon store in downtown Boston, got my new phone, and walked out happy, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, my wife had come with me to pickup my phone, and she was planning to upgrade from a Blackberry to Android as well. Understandably, she assumed that since Verizon was letting me upgrade early after losing my phone, they would let her (the responsible one who did not lose her phone) upgrade at the same time. This was not the case, and after trying to logically explain to the rep at the store why they should let us buy a second phone at a discounted rate the rep refused, my wife left empty handed, and it brought on a serious case of gadget envy.

When we got home, I called up Verizon customer service and took a different strategy. Rather than complaining that we only got one phone, I told the customer service rep the entire story, with the focus on how happy I was that they let me upgrade early, but how giving me a cool new phone lead to unforeseen consequences and marital discord. He loved the story, and was able to pull some strings to get the new phone sent out the same day.

By telling a story rather than trying to persuade with logical arguments, it is ofter easier to foster a feeling of a shared purpose, rather than an adversarial relationship. This can often be a much easier, and much more enjoyable way to get to a desired result.