Rob Banker takes the time to tell us about his new obsession.
Every once in a while a new technology (or more accurately, a new application of an existing technology) comes along that is fascinating for its inventiveness, but makes me think, "Huh?". That's what, until recently, I thought about Twitter. The biggest problem with Twitter is describing what Twitter is (or isn't). One school of thought is that Twitter is like IM, but it's designed to be one-to-many communication. The problem with that analogy is that it's not quite as interactive/real-time as IM. Others have called it micro-blogging. It's a quick way to give your 'followers' (in Twitter terms) a quick update on what you're doing or whatever random thought happens to be passing through your (my) caffeine-addled brain.
And others have just dismissed it as yet one more way to distract and clog our Inbox/IM/Blackberry/Text-dominated lives. Up until recently, I subscribed to the latter philosophy. The last thing I needed was one more communication channel. But, not ever wanting to feel like any piece of technology bested me, I felt like I needed to spend some time with it to see what I was clearly missing, according to the tech press, anyway. For the last month or so, I've been a voyeur on Twitter. I signed up to follow a few of the web personalities that I'm interested in -- Merlin Mann from 43folders, Leo Laporte from twit, the Buzz Out Loud crew from CNET. All these folks "tweet" regularly -- that is, post to Twitter. I have the Twitter mobile interface bookmarked on my iPhone, and I check about once a day. And I've become addicted. I now follow about 20 people and look forward to the updates. I've sent a few tweets myself, but as I have no followers (queue violins), they fall on deaf ears.
That's the intro -- here's where I start to tie all this into this blog's theme. I'm not teaching you how to use Twitter because -- I wouldn't know how. I'm still figuring it out. But why I think it's important is an interesting trend I'm seeing on Twitter -- corporate Twitters, both sending tweets and watching for opportunities to respond to a tweet.
Example 1 -- Comcast Cable. Comcast is one of the country's largest residential cable and Internet providers. They also have a reputation for somewhat less than stellar customer service (I can't vouch for that -- I have a different ISP that provides less than stellar customer service). Regardless, some regular Twitter users who sent tweets complaining about Comcast found that, very quickly, they had a new follower: ComcastCares. Not only that, but ComcastCares was responding directly back to them and offering to help solve the problems they were experiencing. To make a short story long -- Comcast actually enlisted employees to actively monitor all of the traffic on Twitter for mentions of Comcast and gave those employees the power to address issues on the fly. Smart. By the way, VerizonCares is out there, too.
Example 2 -- Zappos.com. As a company with precisely the opposite customer service reputation from Comcast, Zappos.com, the very successful online shoe reseller, predictably took an opposite approach to Twitter. Instead of simply searching Twitter for complaints, most Zappos.com employees use Twitter including the CEO and actively engage customers. Customers actually follow the CEO (6500 followers) and frequently follow their favorite customer service reps because they're valuable sources of information and general silliness. You can't get much better brand loyalty than that. I've purposefully avoided using the buzzword that encompasses a service like Twitter right up until now: this is Social Networking. So far, the corporate world has really struggled with how to commercialize social networks like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. When you hear about the opportunities surrounding social networking for business, the discussion usually stops at advertising, which is pretty much where most discussions end up when the business+Internet equation is calculated. That's why Comcast's and Zappos' use of the Twitter service is such an interesting oddity. They're using it for both building and repairing relationships.
Neither company will be able to show a dollar figure on their balance sheets that will be directly attributable to Twitter, at least for now. Good customer service rarely shows obviously in the profit figures. Bad customer service and communication, however, is easy to spot because it usually goes hand-in-hand with a poorly run, failing company. While these companies can and frequently do survive, they rarely flourish. As far as strategy, that's hard to say. As a company that relies heavily on good customer relationships, I can see many ways using Twitter could be beneficial (like system maintenance notices). For credit unions and other financial institutions, it could offer another avenue for announcing services as well as a place for members and potential members to ask questions and receive answers. I'll say, cautiously, that Twitter seems to be spam-free at the moment, because you only get updates from those you actively choose to follow. If you start getting spam tweets, you simply un-follow that person. For that reason, using Twitter as an advertising platform is risky business. If you manage to build up a large list of followers and then start over-promoting, the repercussions will probably result in both a reduction in Twitter followers as well as possible suspicion of other eCommunication programs. Twitter followers are extremely valuable because they've chosen to follow. Treat them well.
I should note that neither I or DigitalMailer has any particular interest in the Twitter service itself. It is currently the most popular platform of this type, but there are other micro-blogging services that follow similar models, like Pownce (www.pownce.com). Like anything in marketing, you tend to go where the eyes are, which is why I picked on Twitter. Your mileage may vary. By the way, when using Twitter, each tweet is limited to 160 characters, which is equal roughly to the first half of the first paragraph, or about 6400 fewer characters than this post. I've gone ahead and created a Twitter account here. I'll do my best to make regular tweets here about what we're doing and give you some interesting info and links to follow. Please follow me, because I need friends. I'll follow you back, but not in any sort of creepy, stalker-type way.