Twitter is a fantastic way for brands to communicate with their customers, though all too often they overlook the social element of social media.
We’ve all seen companies that just use Twitter and Facebook to churn out marketing messages, but generally they are short lived experiments that fail to deliver any real value to the business.
But rather than dwell on the failures, I thought it would be interesting to investigate the social strategies of some of the most successful retailers on Twitter.
According to eDigitalResearch, Topshop, ASOS, Net-A-Porter, Harrods and Selfridges have the highest number of followers among UK retailers, so here’s a look at what makes them so damn popular.
Topshop has racked up almost half a million Twitter followers, making it the most followed retailer in the UK.
Its stream is mainly filled with @replies to customer care queries, but there are also occasional product messages and tweets about what’s going on in the Topshop office.
It takes a cunning approach to customer care, asking all customers to send a direct message including their order number and email address. This takes the conversation behind closed doors and means any complaints are dealt with in private.
But obviously not all @mentions are complaints. Topshop is also good at responding to queries about stock and product information, or requests for fashion advice.
Looking at its marketing activity, Topshop posts roughly five links a day to its various product ranges, but avoids coming across as too spammy as any marketing tweets are far outweighed by replies to customer queries.
Clothing retailer ASOS maintains separate Twitter accounts for fashion updates and customer care queries.
This is a strategy adopted by a number of brands as it means marketing messages and consumer engagement don’t get mixed up with responses to angry customers.
The main account is hugely active, responding to hundreds of @mentions each day, mainly from customers who are excited about a recent purchase. It’s a terrific way of building a relationship with customers and improving brand loyalty, and is really just a new form of post-sales customer care.
As with Topshop, any product suggestions or marketing messages are largely lost among the huge number of @mentions, which means they don’t come across as spam (though obviously followers won't see all the @mentions).
The dedicated customer care account takes the same strategy as Topshop, so all queries are dealt with via direct message and a follow up call or email from customer services.
Net-A-Porter tweets very few direct links to its website, but instead posts fashion news, tips and questions. For example, on Sunday night it live tweeted what the celebrities were wearing on the red carpet at the Golden Globes.
This is a good way of providing followers with interesting and relevant fashion information that fits with the brand and doesn’t come across as too salesy.
Looking at its @replies, Net-A-Porter is far less active than either Topshop or ASOS, but as it is a premium brand it’s likely that it receives fewer customer queries.
The famous department store takes a quirky approach to Twitter, greeting users every morning and wishing them a goodnight before signing off each evening, often with a photo of the storefront.
While most of the tweets reference Harrods’ product ranges in some way, very few actually link to the website. Instead they mention forthcoming product launches, new displays or fashion shows. It also frequently posts questions asking for views on a particular topic or product range.
However in contrast to the other retailers on this list, Harrods replies to relatively few customer queries.
While ASOS and Topshop reply almost every time their brands are mentioned on Twitter, Harrods deals with far fewer queries and often it is just to confirm minor details like the store closing time.
This is obviously a hugely different strategy to the other retailers, but probably reflects the type of brand values Harrods wants to convey on social media.
The department store post a huge number of tweets each day, and of late has mainly focused on its ‘No Noise’ campaign and the ITV series Mr Selfridge.
There are also occasional product references including links to the Selfridges site, but these are far outweighed by the campaign messages that include the hashtag #NoNoise.
The idea behind the campaign is to take a break from our increasingly busy modern lives, which apparently means buying products that have had the labels removed.
Selfridges retweets more often than any of the other brands, which is a good way of engaging followers and associating the brand with other companies.
It is also good at both responding to specific customer care queries and replying when users mention the brand indirectly.
Unlike the other examples, Selfridges deals with complaints by asking users to email their query rather than by direct message.
The brands on the list predominately use Twitter as a means of responding to customer queries and @mentions rather than pushing out sales messages.
Selfridges is probably the worst offender in terms of tweeting its own promotions, but it still does a decent job of responding to its followers as well.
Of all the retailers in the list, Harrods responds to noticeably fewer @mentions than its rivals, but then it clearly has a different social strategy to the ASOS and Topshop.
While Harrods adopts a more conservative approach in line with its brand image, wishing its followers good morning and goodnight, ASOS and Topshop cater to a younger demographic so adopt a more informal style and try to get involved in their customers’ excitement around buying new clothes.
Overall though, the common theme is that all these retailers have taken time to build a following by engaging with consumers and using Twitter as a two-way method of communication.
The varying brand images and target demographics of these businesses show that almost any consumer retailer can achieve success on Twitter if they are willing to invest time engaging with their followers.
Simply pushing out marketing messages is boring and won’t get you far – brands need to make sure they respond to @mentions and deal with customer queries as well as offering branded content and product ideas, otherwise they’re missing the point of social media.