Does Every Business Really Need Twitter?

Last Updated Jun 17, 2011 6:47 AM EDT

How necessary is a Twitter account for good customer service? The conventional wisdom is that you can't have one without the other.

A new survey from InboxQ supports that assumption. It found nearly 60 percent of Twitter users said they would be more likely to follow a brand that answered them, and 64 percent said they would be more likely to make a purchase from that brand.

The poll also showed that customers go to Twitter with service-related questions. The top queries:

1. Product recommendations and advice
2. Tech support
3. Local suggestions
4. Entertainment
5. Sports
6. Health
7. Travel
8. Music
9. Careers
10. Fashion

The number one, two and possibly the number-three question on Twitter has customer-service implications.

"Your business will earn more followers and increase sales by answering questions on Twitter," the InboxQ research concludes.

Uh, not so fast.

When Being on Twitter Hurts Business
While it's undoubtedly true that many brands can benefit from having a Twitter account and answering questions from their customers, I'm not convinced that every company needs to be engaged in microblogging.

First, it's not being on Twitter that matters â€" it's answering queries in a timely way.

One of the case studies frequently cited is Delta Air Lines, with its @DeltaAssist account. I've spoken with passengers who have asked a question through @DeltaAssist and received a quick answer. They're usually happy.

But what tends to get glossed over in citing Delta's social-media success is that this isn't the airline's first foray into Twitterland. A previous Twitter account was monitored intermittently, and customers couldn't always rely on it.

Fact is, there are other airlines out there â€" and they know who they are â€" that don't pay much attention to their accounts. Instead of integrating Twitter into their customer service operations, they make it the responsibility of their public relations staff, which is already stretched to the limit. Questions aren't always answered in a timely way â€" or at all.

Those companies are probably better off deleting their Twitter accounts. After all, the foundation of this social networking tool is real-time interaction. If they can't follow the rules, they shouldn't bother.

The other area of concern is one I raised in a panel discussion at a recent social media conference. I asked the impertinent question, "Does every business need to be on Twitter?"

I mean, I can see how a cruise line needs a Twitter account, but what about a yacht builder? An airline, yes â€" but what about a charter jet company that deals with large corporate customers?

Wouldn't a Twitter account be a distraction, if not a drain on a company's resources? And could you automatically assume that in the absence of a Twitter account, that it doesn't care about customer service?

(My comments were met with silence. Now I know what the other Chris Elliott feels like when his jokes bomb.)

I'm not at all convinced that Twitter is necessary to provide good customer service, or that not having a Twitter account means you don't care.

Are you?


Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
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Photo: Creative Tools/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.

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