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How to use Twitter to create brand conversations with customers

How to use Twitter to create brand conversations with customers Ashok Lalla

Twitter is the latest brand wagon marketers in India (and elsewhere) seem to be getting onto for a ride. The lucre of 'free media' as well as stories of how brands have actually generated sales via Twitter (Dell being a case in point) seem to be driving this latest 'gold rush'.

But wait, most marketers forget a basic fundamental of social media as a means to marketing -- that it's not about the media (Twitter, Facebook, or whatever else), and it's not about marketing either! All it's really about is 'being social' and adding a social face to your brands; but keeping in mind that not all brands can be equally gregarious, chatty or witty.

Here are some of the things marketers must keep in mind when they go about creating brand conversations on Twitter (the same principles broadly apply to all social media):

1. Don't broadcast, participate
Most brands merrily start telling the Twitterverse everything they are about, i.e. they broadcast their story broken into 140 characters, forgetting that the essence of Twitter success lies into getting into the life stream of consumers before you get into their thought stream (and consideration space).

An easy way to do this is to follow people, and get involved with what they're saying before you say or share your piece. Just as with a party, where one walks in, observes what's happening, makes small talk, and then perhaps shares one's viewpoint, it's the same with Twitter. So get involved before you inform, unless you want your brand to be an unwelcome guest at the consumers' party.

2. Follow people, be social
Lots of brands are guilty of chasing follower numbers, but never follow people back. If you don't follow people, you won't know what they are saying. If you don't know what they're saying you cannot get into their life stream. Converse with the people you follow on the things they tweet about, even if it's not about your brand. It will make you more real, more personable, more likeable, and in the long run more social. One of the key reasons you put your brand out on Twitter in the first place.

3. Go beyond your brand world
Twitter is not about your world, but about the world of Twitter folks. Broaden your chatter to include their world. For instance, a car brand on Twitter can participate in chatter about traffic snarls in the city, share traffic updates and highlight new restaurants along a certain drive route.  Michelin Tyres did this very successfully with the Michelin Food Guides years back and socialized their brand with consumers long before 'social media' entered the lexicon.

4. Don't ignore competition
And don't run them down. Participate in chatter around competition, even if it's accolades about them. It widens the reach of your brand. And makes it seem more real, more believable. And more social.

5. Be contextual, stay on the ball
By following people and participating in their life stream, brands can contextualize their Twitter conversations better. Imagine a tweet announcing news of India winning a match in Delhi followed by a brand tweeting a special offer in celebration of the win valid for residents of Delhi. Not just sales, this may well result in greater message momentum as people following the news of the win would pick up the brand's message and even spread it further. Beats simply putting out tweet after tweet with special offers.

6. Respond to queries and comments with a smile in your voice
Canned replies (corporate voice) have no place on Twitter. To truly socialize your brand with consumers, use a real voice. One that puts the warmth of a handshake, the twinkle in an eye and a smile in the voice of your responses.

Social marketing via Twitter is a serious business. But key to making it work for brands is keeping out the marketing and business aspects -- and focusing on being social. 140 characters at a time.

Ashok Lalla is President -- Digital at Euro RSCG India.


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