Like any communications medium, Twitter can be used for a wide variety of purposes, only some of them relevant to business. So, I find it is helpful to benchmark companies using Twitter successfully, in order to understand their different approaches.
Here are 5 strategies for corporate Twitter accounts that I've seen work across a variety of industries:
1. Direct Selling: For some businesses, Twitter is a cheap and effective tool for promoting daily discounts. Think of it as a newspaper circular, but with global reach and zero cost for media spend. Dell was an early pioneer of this approach with @DellOutlet, which has sold over $6 million in excess inventory for the computer manufacturer. Amazon promotes its digital music store (a competitor to Apple's iTunes) with a steady stream of deals on @Amazonmp3.
@Amazonmp3: "You still have a few hours to get the Strokes' brand-new album Angles for just $3.99: http://amzn.to/e9ytse #dailydeal"
2. Customer Service: Other businesses find that Twitter can be an effective channel for fielding customer service inquiries, in tandem with established channels like call centers, email, and FAQ sites. As customers expect an increasingly real-time relationship with business, Twitter allows companies to be speedier in responding and make their good service deeds visible to others, burnishing the firm's brand image. Comcast helped turn around a poor customer service reputation with the extremely personable and speedy responses on @comcastcares. This approach was pioneered by Frank Eliason, and is carried on today by Bill Gerth (putting a face to the account helps customers feel like they're getting human attention). For @SouthwestAir, Christi McNeill answers questions for travelers tweeting at any point in their journey. Customer service on Twitter should be personable: quick to refer customers to the appropriate web, phone, or email channel (not all issues can be solved in 140 characters); and unafraid to apologize or offer sympathy.
Sample Tweet :
@SouthwestAir: "@bgindra We've reported the error to our online team. Try switching browsers. I'm sorry!"
3. CEO Brand: Companies with a CEO or founder who is a brand themselves (even the public face of the company) may want to give the CEO a Twitter account of their own, like Virgin's @richardbranson. Or they may decide to let the CEO be the voice of the company's main Twitter account. This is the approach taken by shoe retailer Zappo's, whose CEO Tony Hsieh is famed for his philosophies on entrepreneurship as much as his ability to deliver great footwear to happy customers. His steady, but not-too-frequent tweets on life and business have attracted a following of 1.8 million to @Zappos.
@Zappos: "Vision + Values + Velocity of Adaptation is a great formula for business and for life."
4. Valuable Information: Great marketers build relationships with customers by understanding them and finding ways to deliver value to them at just the right moment in time. Depending on your brand, your company may find its "sweet spot" on Twitter by offering helpful advice, relevant news stories, or even a recipe for what to make for dinner. Netflix knows its customers are sometimes stuck deciding what to watch among all the new additions to its "Instant" streaming video service. On @Instant_Netflix, it offers short tantalizing tweets announcing new movies with one-sentence plot summaries to pique your interest. H&R Block is building its brand on Twitter this month by offering tips and advice at @HRBlock for Americans preparing their taxes for the April 18 deadline.
@HRBlock: "File an amended tax return to claim missed deductions and credits within 3 years. http://bit.ly/dWW4NE #taxes."
5. All of the Above: The brands that are most effective on Twitter manage to connect in a natural way with customers that combines more than one of the strategies above with a personable approach that adapts to the dialogue of customers online. @JetBlue has drawn 1.6 million followers with a combination of Twitter-only discount fares and customer service for travelers. On @Starbucks, you can find answers to questions about store locations, April Fool's jokes, and shout-outs to community events in the company's hometown of Seattle (showing the brand hasn't forgotten its roots). @WholeFoods serves 1.9 million with a mix of weekday recipes, customer service replies, and news stories of interest to customers concerned about natural ingredients. What you won't see on any of these feeds: a stream of press releases from corporate communications.
@WholeFoods: "ARTIFICIAL COLORINGS: we've never allowed them in our food and we never will. Read what the FDA is considering -http://cot.ag/i7ANJd"
How else do you see Twitter being used effectively by companies you interact with? Let me know in the comments.
David Rogers writes about becoming a part of your customers' conversations, and four other digital marketing strategies, in his newest book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers
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