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Web Marketing Case Study: Using Twitter

Three Tree Inn is a serene, three-bedroom bed and breakfast in Geneva, New York. When the inn opened in March 2010, the website went live simultaneously, says co-owner Marcia Swenson. "We immediately started receiving reservations." Now more than 90 percent of their guests find the inn online and make reservations.

About a year later, the inn went on Twitter almost accidentally, when some of their best friends, Mike and Charneil Swenson (no relation), visited for New Year's. A conversation about Twitter turned into an account "and the next thing we knew, Mike was making chili, and we were tweeting!"

Mike helped the owners identify "the right people to follow," and sure enough people started following back. Visits to the website increased dramatically, from 149 in December 2010 to 517 in January 2011.

The inn tries to follow people on Twitter who like to travel, as well as people interested in wine, birding, biking, running, swimming, and nature. "The main marketing goal for our Twitter presence is to drive traffic to our website, but also to learn what it is that people are seeking," Swenson notes, giving credence to the need to listen, not just to talk, on Twitter.

"Because we are a very small business, our marketing budget is miniscule," explains Swenson. "Twitter interested us as a means of marketing, that would cost us time, but not money." She tries to avoid promoting the inn, focusing instead on up-to-date information and pictures about "things to do" in the Finger Lakes area, which would be cumbersome to update on the website.

Marcia and her co-owner Paul read and post on Twitter about three times a day between them. When Marcia had to take an unexpected leave of absence, visits to their website decreased. "All that aside, I miss following my favorite #'s, and especially the #'s for our area, that so many tourists follow."

"Retweets are nice," she says, "but what matters most . . . is the number of people that click through to our website, as well as the number of our followers." As of July 2011, the inn has amassed 394 followers, appears on 27 lists, follows 830 people, and has a retweet rank higher than 67 percent of all the other users on Twitter.

The inn also belongs to the Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce and the Finger Lakes Tourism Association, both of which have a strong Internet presence, and records excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. "Good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth has brought us guests, and we enjoy significant return visits, which we are the most proud of."

Swenson insists that Twitter is about relationships, not selling a product. "We have consciously chosen not to try to 'sell' our business, but rather offer people something of interest, something useful for them when they are traveling."

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