If you ever thought Twitter was silly, and maybe you still do, you are not alone. But maybe you stopped snickering after Twittering moms brought down the Motrin campaign. If you missed that, Google "Motrin Twitter," or read about it here (registration required).
Some of today's most prolific Twitter all-stars initially felt the same way. And let's face it; the business applications are not readily clear. But there are brands that have been able to successfully adapt to the changing consumer and business landscape, and they have found success in new and meaningful ways.
To provide you with some practical insight, answers and perhaps a dose of inspiration to help you on your way to Twitter success, we spoke to a few Twitter all-stars. Here are their stories.
Meet Neal Stewart, prime minister of marketing for Flying Dog Brewery. "When I first heard of Twitter, I thought it was for 11-year-old girls. I was skeptical, so I had to get more into it," he said.
Stewart is friendly and personable, but then again, it’s hard not to like talking about beer! He clearly loves what he is doing and has a palatable passion for his brand. With about 10 years of marketing and brand experience, Stewart confesses that Twitter started as a hobby.
But, after actively tweeting for sometime now, Stewart has found that the time he invested on Twitter has built a strong sense of loyalty among Flying Dog's customers.
"It's making people realize that there is an actual person talking to them, not an animated response or some pre-planned ad slogan," Stewart said. And that loyalty comes back to the brand. "After a while, as a Twitterer, you start to feel like you are friends with the people you follow and those who follow you."
And if this all sounds like fun and games, think again. Using Twitter has been extremely beneficial in starting buzz around new Flying Dog products and getting immediate response to new initiatives. And, much to Flying Dog's surprise, promotional activities have elicited the best response. Tweets like trivia questions and giveaways get great responses, especially impressive when that approach is more often than not frowned upon in the Twittersphere.
For example, on Election Day, Flying Dog Brewery tweeted that if you buy something from the store and enter promo code "I Voted" you get 20 percent off. In exchange, Flying Dog saw a spike in store sales and directly traced those sales through the promo code. That success can be credited to a loyal and enthusiastic consumer base and promotions that reflect the spirit of the brand and trusted relationships.
A top tip from Stewart: "When building a base of followers, don't go out and spam huge groups of people and hope they follow you. That's a pretty unauthentic way to dialogue with consumers. On the other hand, we monitor for conversations about us and then follow those people and hope they follow us because we know they are interested. We have found they are usually glad to have us reach out to them."
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"Twitter empowers us to be authentic," Day said. "Getting real means being empowered, engaged and prepared. It is necessary to have the person in the Twitter role equipped to handle news management, customer communications, to be able to write compelling tweets and be willing to be engaged at all times."
Day emphasized having the tools in place to handle a variety of questions, concerns, etc. "Your Twitter voice should be an established voice for the company."
One element of Southwest's involvement on Twitter that Day finds additionally exciting is their CEO's support and involvement. "The newsletter went out to Gary Kelly, our CEO, and he got interested in Twitter. We sent out a picture and a note that the CEO was Twittering and people responded instantly to be able to access him."
Day explains how effectively you can react to tweets. "We had a customer back in March who direct messaged us that the kiosks were down in Oakland and was frustrated," she said. "I called Oakland to find out exactly what was going on and sent him a reply that there was a power outage and it would be up soon."
A top tip from Day: "All companies have their own corporate culture and values. I would say examine those values, ensure that this is the channel that will help you achieve that mission, then get on there, explore the tool for yourself and try to transfer that to your brand."
"My main goal is to help people," Eliason said. "We aren't redefining service. We are redefining how people think of service." And don't be surprised if Eliason calls you on the phone, too. A college student posted about issues he was having and Eliason called him. The first time he called, the student hung up. Then the student called Eliason back. The customer was absolutely shocked that someone had paid attention. "We look at it as one customer at a time. If one customer is on the street and they need help, I want to help them," he said.
If you wonder how connecting with one customer at a time can really have an impact consider the recent "Comcast customer success story" post on Steve Garfield's blog. The blog post recounts the story of Eliason's direct involvement with Garfield to resolve an issue he was having with his TiVo. You can read the entire story here. Garfield, by the way, has more than 5,000 followers, about as many as Comcast. This is viral in action!
Or consider that one of the outcomes of Comcast's efforts is that folks are now defending them. "When you build a community, you may get some negative people, but others will come back and defend you," Eliason said. "Our customers see what we're doing and stand up for us. It's like they're saying 'Hey, they are trying to help. Leave them alone' whenever someone speaks out negatively about us."
But Comcast, unlike the other all-stars, does not have a blog at this time. It appears the immediacy, brevity and directness of Twitter is more suited to its cause.
A top tip from Eliason: "Listen and utilize the feedback. Ultimately, that's where the value is. Every company talks about voice of the customer, but voice of the customer is based on survey, data and numbers. The most effective voice is truly the voice and learning what the story is behind it."
Arguably one of the most effective voices, and certainly one of the most well known on Twitter, is Zappos.com. Zappos.com's much touted and talked about success on Twitter is about more than just social media or a tool. It is about a profound shift in customer and employee cultural economics and how companies can succeed in this new business economy. While Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, is the most well known Twitterer (@zappos), there are hundreds of Zappos.com employees who tweet as well. To get the story behind it, we spoke to Aaron Magness, business development for Zappos.com.
"Tony is an early adopter for a lot of tech things," Magness said. "He saw Twitter as a way to communicate. We try to form a personal and emotional connection with of our customers. The idea of being friends with your customers takes away the impression of it being a matter of the customer versus the corporation."
According to Magness, one of the benefits of Twitter is that, "It's short, it's easy, you don't need to listen to anyone pontificating on any subject and no one is going off on a high horse."
There are now roughly 400 Zappos.com employees on Twitter. "Zappos aggregates all public mentions of Zappos: the good, the bad and the ugly," Magness said. "There is another link with all the employees who Twitter." Your head could spin trying to keep track of all the ways everyone connects via Twitter. For a glimpse into the level of activity Zappos.com employees, customers and followers have on Twitter, take a look at twitter.zappos.com.
"It's not just about Tony-- it's about the entire team," Magness said. "At lots of other companies, you don't have the opportunity to interact with the CEO like that. People see the power of Twitter and want to become part of it, so much so that part of our training program is an intro to Twitter. It all comes down to our desire to ensure we have a personal and emotional connection to our customer. We want to be as transparent as possible. Our brand is our culture. They are two sides of the same coin.
"It works in good and tough instances. If you always maintain transparency, there isn't a down side. We recently went through a round of layoffs. Tony posted to his blog about it and tweeted out the link to the blog, which reposted the email. We embrace the philosophy throughout everything. Everyone bonded together. Both those that were impacted and those that weren't."
A top tip from Magness: "Every company has a culture. We would never say the Zappos.com way is the only way. On Twitter, you have to be yourself. The people that do it well aren't hiding behind a fake persona. You can’t hide. You can't create a persona and be someone that you aren't. If you are a buyer of Ed Hardy shirts, go ahead and Twitter it. But be who you are, especially in a medium that is about promoting open communication."
Inspired yet? Hopefully these stories have sparked some ideas and thoughts of your own about how your company can be a Twitter all-star, too. In our conversations with the Twitter all-stars, there were certainly some consistent themes, tips and insight. A few things to keep in mind:
- If you haven't already, get your own Twitter account and start following people. Get familiar with the tool and communicating on the platform. Better yet, get a group together at work to do it with you.
- Take lessons learned from other direct-to-consumer communications such as blogs and email newsletters and transition those to Twitter.
- Brand profiles must be personal and honest; content must be compelling to successfully interest and attract people.
- Connect to the audience as often as possible; reply directly to them if they are speaking about your brand.
- Make sure your Twitter voice is consistent with your brand.
- Do not exist on Twitter only as another version of corporate promotion. Be a person.
- Get your CEO or top executive involved. Employees love it. Customers love it. There is no more powerful way to humanize your brand.
- Above all, be authentic. Don’t try to fake, spin or hide behind your tweets -- it won't work.
On Twitter, what really matters is how you play the game. It's still early in the first inning, and if you haven't already, now is the time to get off the bench. Really.