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Local businesses turn to Twitter

Large companies like Dell and Starbucks, and hundreds of small businesses, like OneCall in Spokane, have turned to Twitter, the free online message tool that lets people track discussions or share ideas.

From a humble beginning in 2007, Twitter has now become a massively popular form of online information exchange. Its simple form — messages must be no more than 140 characters — makes it ideal for brief notes and text messages to people using a computer or a mobile phone.

Businesses across the country are learning the Twitter ropes. They’re looking for answers and a guidebook. How often should they post messages on their Twitter accounts; what should be the main focus — selling products or telling potential customers about cool things on other sites; and can short text messages really influence customer behavior?

In Spokane and North Idaho the number of companies using Twitter grows weekly.

They range from restaurants and clothiers to hair salons, wineries and retail stores.

Huppin’s HiFi, Photo & Video, one of Spokane’s successful electronics retailers, has used Twitter since November 2008, with the Twitter name OneCall.

Matt Paschall, marketing specialist for OneCall, says most OneCall followers are from the Spokane area. He knows some Twitter messages have probably led to purchases at Huppin’s.

But the other, perhaps larger value of Twitter is its ability to permit direct communication with consumers, he said.

“While some people look at our account for possible deals, a lot of people just want to ask questions,” Paschall said.

When those exchanges occur, marketing experts say Twitter builds a strong and loyal brand following.

Other area retailers, however, are on the sidelines, wondering how to dive into the Twitter stream.

Mountain Gear, the Spokane outdoor equipment retailer, has a Twitter account but doesn’t use it yet, said, company founder Paul Fish.

If he does start using Twitter, Fish said he wants to know what his customers want from it so that he doesn’t create a backlash against Mountain Gear.

“If it helps get a couple sales but irritates everyone else, I’m not sure that’s the right thing for a business to do,” Fish said.

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