As technology evolves, Square is proving its savvy by making the most of its social-media expertise. It uses Twitter not just as a highlight of CEO Jack Dorsey's resume (Dorsey co-founded the micro-blogging company) but as an effective channel for immediate sales.
Square's products, client base and social media tools create the perfect storm for precise social marketing. Square's connection to its online audience is so well-tuned that the moment Square announced over Twitter that it would offer flat-fee processing, one of its merchants said he signed up "the second I saw their tweet."
Twitter allows individuals and companies to broadcast 140-character messages, called tweets, to as many people as are willing to listen. Square is also active on Pinterest, a social photo-sharing site that has so far found little following among payments companies.
Square strives to "use social media to nurture and speak to our community of Square merchants," says Square spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn.
Since Square's card readers require a smartphone or tablet, Square merchants are likely to already have an always-on data connection with apps for Twitter and other social media sites, Brooklyn says.
"These merchants follow us on Twitter for short tips about getting the most out of Square and for links to interesting articles relevant to small-business owners," she says.
Square uses Pinterest to illustrate uses of its payment-acceptance technology. Its use of Pinterest may increase as companies like Amazon.com Inc. take on projects that boost Pinterest's popularity.
Amazon's Zappos unit last month unveiled PinPointing, a Web tool that recommends purchases of Zappos products based on users' posts on Pinterest.
Zappos, which sells shoes and other clothing, reported that its users are 13 times more likely to share a purchase on Pinterest than on Twitter and eight times more likely to share on Facebook than Twitter, according to a recent article from Bloomberg News. However, posts on Twitter brought in the most revenue, Zappos told Bloomberg News.
Despite Square's example, Twitter generally is not a strong marketing tool because it is hard to track its effectiveness, says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group.
"When you send a tweet, you have no idea how many of your followers actually saw it," Shevlin says. "It's like the proverbial tree in the forest."
Even if it is hard to gather exact data on how many sales are attributable to Twitter, Square understands how to ride the wave of industry buzz, Shevlin adds.
"You can't knock Square [on how they approach social media] because they have the luxury of being the hip and cool provider in the marketplace right now," Shevlin says.
But Brooklyn suggests that Twitter is perfect for Square, which has long emphasized the simplicity of its products.
"Our device is free, our pricing is transparent and easy to understand, so it is easy to convey the benefits of Square in 140 characters," the limit for a single tweet, she says. "Twitter is a great platform for sharing quick, concise information and those simple and clear messages really resonate with our audience."
In other cases, Square doesn't really need to do anything to engage its merchants about products or services because the merchants are already talking up its products over Twitter and other social media sites, Brooklyn says.
Facebook is a popular marketing medium that many small-business merchants use, she adds. "It's a perfect medium to engage with fans and share business stories," Brooklyn says.
Square benefits when making major announcements because those always generate "heavy traffic on social media sites" which in turn introduces more businesses to Square, Brooklyn says.
But that heavy traffic on social sites could eventually become mere noise, Shevlin says. "As volume increases on these mass medium channels, the ability to stand out is challenged."