Realizing the brand-building potential, savvy business owners are leveraging Twitter to interact with customers. Twitter enables brand-to-customer conversations through comfortable, open forums. In fact, 20% of tweets are about brands, and they come from both consumers and businesses.
Comcast uses Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers. The idea was born when someone in the company realized scores of public complaints against Comcast were being vented via Twitter. In response, the cable company built a team of 11 people whose function is simply to scour the site and respond to Comcast-related tweets. Much to many users’ surprise, the Comcast team responds to tweets, identifying themselves as a company representative and asking if they can help. Comcast execs are highly satisfied with the unique dialogue Twitter has enabled, noting that the conversations are dissimilar to the typical phone complaints the company receives. “[Twitter is] a little more personal. More back-and-forth discussions, and it’s less formal. And it gives immediacy to interactions,” says Frank Eliason, Comcast’s director of digital care.
For instance, an angry Comcast customer wrote, “I would suggest you tell the people in charge of the money to do their jobs.” A moment later, she was compelled to tweet again: “P.S. If my credit score is negative, it is your fault for not paying enough attention or not calling off your dogs.” In response, Eliason suggested (to a BusinessWeek writer who was observing his work) to reply and simply thank her for her suggestion, with a period at the end. “I wouldn’t do a smiley face when we’re doing a collections issue,” he says. Although not a quick fix for some deeply rooted business issues, Eliason and his team’s work has made Comcast accessible and trustworthy to customers. When Twitter users think Comcast, they think Eliason. “Right now I have 5,700 followers. They know about my family Web site. It gives a face to Comcast,” he told BusinessWeek.
A number of corporations have followed Comcast’s lead, using Twitter as a means to reach out to consumers and resolve complaints. Travel companies like Virgin America use Twitter regularly to communicate everything from vacation specials to possible flight delays. But Virgin takes its Twitter presence a step further than the competition, communicating much more than just deals and flight status, and asking for open communication from its customers in return. And its more than 20,000 followers deliver, filling Virgin’s Twitterstream with photos of themselves aboard Virgin flights or on vacations made possible by the airline. Virgin also retweets its passengers’ posts. During one flight, a recent medical school tweeted her excitement about her accomplishment and about being aboard Virgin America. Rather than congratulating her, Virgin retweeted and asked someone to buy her a drink on the flight. There was an immediate response and the surprised grad was quickly presented with a drink, compliments of Row 11.
Businesses and organizations have also made use of Tweetups to further their brand. For instance, in April 2009 the National Hockey League (NHL) worked with fans to organize a series of Tweetups that occurred simultaneously around the world. The Tweetup effort brought together 1,200 fans in 23 cities, and reached an estimated 240,000 through Twitter and millions more through press coverage, which included a mention in USA Today. Increased Twitter action on the day of the Tweetups also spurred countless brand impressions. On the opening night of the playoffs, the term “NHL” was mentioned on Twitter more than twice as often as on a normal day. And #NHLtweetup became a trending topic for the day. Now the league has a dedicated social media department and has planned more Tweetups for the 2009-2010 season.
Twitter has emerged as the hottest brand building and customer service tool on the market and, ironically, it was not created for that purpose. But corporate tweeting has spread like wildfire and has been met with praise from consumers, who appreciate the fact that there is a human being at the other end of that Twitterstream – a welcome change in today’s impersonal business world of stiff corporate policies and procedures. Using Twitter is not just for the large corporations. Twitter also gives smaller, local businesses a voice and a solution to some of the complaints of the consumer. Look out next week for some strategies and helpful tools to help you monitor your brand on Twitter and other social media.