Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The business of conversation on Twitter

‘Just setting up my twttr’, the first status update on Twitter was sent March 21st 2006 by co-founder Jack Dorsey; 130 years separated it from the first successful telephone call when Bell called “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” and Watson heard each word distinctly, though history doesn’t note how irritated he probably felt.

At first glance, I’m struck by the banality of both the statements; hardly ‘one giant leap for a man’. But whilst Twitter is often criticised for the trivial nature of its content, people forget that the vast majority of phone calls are of the ‘get some milk on the way home’ variety; hardly changing the world.

So the microblogging site that gives you just 140 characters to share your deepest thoughts is four years old.  It’s been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army, turned down both Google and Facebook as suitors and launched a thousand croissants.

It’s one of the most talked about brands on the internet; all this without turning a bean in profit.

We don’t care about that.  We hear lots about Ashton Kutcher and Stephen ‘I’m stuck in a lift’ Fry on Twitter, and those celebrity brands have certainly found value in connecting directly with their fanbase.  Astronauts tweet from space, babies from the womb.  But beyond those individuals, the question on marketers’ lips is, has business found a way of making money from Twitter?

Mostly, as with Facebook, business activity on Twitter is unfocused, lacks a clear reason for being there, and most importantly, a benefit for customers.  But there are a few exceptions, from big businesses to small, where enterprising people are connecting to consumers for their mutual gain.

Dell has booked $3m in revenue and gained substantially in awareness of its outlet store.  With over 80 Dell-branded Twitter accounts, the company uses the channel for customer service, distributing coupons and exclusive offers to customers regionally.

Best Buy adopted Twitter broadly across its organisation, launching its Twelpforce service with employees encouraged to answer technical queries from consumers in the channel.  They’re not paid to do this, but employees sign up via Best Buy’s own interface and follow a well-crafted set of social media guidelines created by the company.

Hundreds of customer queries are answered every day with typical issues being product recommendations and customer support; ‘If the blue light stays on, it's likely a camera software driver issue with light levels. #twelpforce’, ‘#twelpforce Is there a specific refrigerator you have in mind, most doors will come off’.
Jetblue in the US use it to ‘break down the artificial barriers between customers and the individuals who work at companies’, and report that when customers are better informed about delays and other problems, their treatment of front line staff improves.

KogiBBQ in Los Angeles, a mobile vendor of Korean/Mexican fusion food (you can’t make this stuff up) uses Twitter to let it 58,000 loyal fans know when and where its trucks will be.  So if you’re in the market for a stinky leprechaun burrito (there’s no explanation of the Irish content) you need to know the ‘Alibi room grill is fixed!! Come on back and grab some gruba!!’

What distinguishes these successful brands is their eagerness to connect with consumers.  The overwhelming majority of conversations are about them, rather than with them; and they flourish by being a part of the conversation rather than being a broadcaster.

It speaks volumes about their openness, and puts a human face on the corporation.

And mass marketers who dismiss the traffic volume as irrelevant are missing one important thing.  Both Bing and Google index Twitter; and the recency of the content drives it right up the results.  So when consumers search for your brand, you’d better hope the conversation’s good.

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