There are lots of articles about how brands should use Twitter. They all give good sound advice to the budding corporate tweeter: listen before you dive in, have something relevant to say, or learn from cases like Motrin or Skittles.
This is all very generic though, so let me try to give you my random insights and observations as @guy1067, a corporate tweeter for Carphone Warehouse.
Listening and relevance
I've read lots of articles about listening and relevance. Listen to what your customers are saying before you tweet. Have something relevant to tweet about. To be honest, when I started I struggled with both of these ideas. What am I listening for? How do I know if I'm relevant? And the clever retort comes back: Your customers will let you know. Well, what does that mean? I'm feeling even more confused and nervous now.
My advice, turn it around and do a Twitter search for your company or a product you sell. I'm fortunate in that the company I work for, like many big brands, has no shortage of both negative and positive comments. I did a twitter search (once I had found the 'search' link. In those heady days of December '08, the search link was at the bottom of the page on twitter.com). These were my newbie pre-Tweetdeck days.
Once you have done your search, respond to the most recent tweet whether positive or negative. The double-edged sword about Twitter, is that although you have no idea how the person tweeting will respond to you, you can be sure that they will be amazed that someone from the company they have tweeted about has actually not only bothered to respond, but is even on Twitter in the first place.
The other amazing thing you will find is how much you can diffuse a situation simply by 'reaching out' to someone and showing some empathy for their situation. So, if there's a negative tweet, I will typically tweet back: "Hi I wrk 4 Carphone Warehouse. Sorry 2 hear u've not had good experience from us. Anything I can help with?" And the rest of the conversation goes from there.
What I have found is that, Twitter is great for kicking a conversation off with someone, and then moving the conversation to more traditional channels to actually be dealt with, typically email or phone. And this is an important point, Twitter is only one part of a wider set of communication tools you should have at your disposal. You just need to understand what works best when and how your communication jigsaw fits together.
My tools of the trade
- Tweetdeck: I predominantly use Tweetdeck. I use up nine columns and annoyingly I'll get through my APIs too quickly at least three or four times a day. But I'm sure I could fine tune my set-up. Here's my column headings - All Friends, Carphone Warehouse, guy1067 (narcissistic tendencies), carphone, direct messages, carphonewarehouse, cpw, carphoneware, geeksquaduk. If you want to get rid of the notification box and notification noise, click on the 'spanner' icon top right, it's the third and fourth options down.
- Groups & hashtags: I should be doing more to set up groups, but simply have not got round to it yet. Although tweetgrid (see below) helps out in this respect, it's not quite the same as setting up a group. And certainly I don't use #hashtags nearly enough. I have a feeling that hashtags are an incredibly powerful tool, but just not got to them yet.
- Twhirl: I've only just started to come back to this again. I only tend to use it if Tweetdeck is playing up (columns can randomly disappear). But the more I use it, the more I quite like a lot of the features it has.
- Tweetgrid: I use this to see what other companies are up to on Twitter and what people are saying about them. It is rough and ready, but it does the job. I have set-up the 3x3 option, so it looks a bit like a trading desk at times. You can set up as many tweetgrids as you want, but it tends to be something I just dip into now and again. Some of the searches I have set up include: TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Virgin Media, TMobile, iPhone, BlackBerry, mobile phone ; ScottMonty, Jowyang, Peter Kim, DArmano ; ASOS, JetBlue, Zappos, MyDeco, BestBuy...
- Twitter: I tend to use Twitter less often. For the most part now, I use it to go back over tweets I have sent out. It would be great to have a more sophisticated searchable archive facility, but for now the 'more' link at the bottom of the page does the job.
- Twitalyzer, Twittergrader, Twittercounter: I use all of these, although increasingly am using Twitalyzer more. I started off with Twittergrader and Twittercounter, and was interested simply in watching my 'following' count increase. What I like about Twitalyzer is that it is trying to go to a deeper level of understanding of your twitter activity. I don't really understand all the measures or how they really relate to what I do, but if nothing else it gives me a quick indication of what I am doing.
- Twtpoll: I have done a few polls and like any poll the results are down to how many people know about it. But it's a great way to interact very quickly and simply with other tweeple out there. Note to self: do more polls.
- Tweetlater & Tweetscan: Like Google Alerts. You type in the keywords or phrases you are interested in and you receive emails with all occurrences of them. It gives me a quick understanding of what people are tweeting about.
- Others: Tweepular (helps to organise followers & following), Twibes (recommendations), Qwitter (emails you when someone stops following you. Don't be too dismayed the first time this happens).
- Retweeting: I try to RT as much as I can, and if someone RTs you, thank them. It's sort of like extending a hand of friendship.
Followers & following
Who to follow? What to follow? How to follow? What if I follow 700 people, only have 55 followers and have 17 updates? Have I committed some Twitter faux pas that will raise eyebrows or silence rooms when I walk in?
When I started out I unashamedly followed as many people as I could. I had some vague criteria which was completely subjective and illogical as follows:
- Anyone from New Zealand or Farnham (Call me parochial - I'm from there ; I live there)
- Anything about diabetes (one of my children has Type 1)
- Anyone who seems vaguely interesting
- Almost anyone who follows me. Although I am being a bit more discerning these days.
- Almost any brand on twitter
- The people everyone follows: Stephen Fry, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, Jonathan Ross, Philip Schofield...
- No real estate agents
- No get rich quick schemes
- No one who automates their tweets
- No one who seems only interested in collecting followers
- Anyone who complains about Carphone Warehouse. Although this is out of necessity as I need to DM them usually.
I have thought a lot about what metrics I should be using to measure what I am doing on Twitter. I still don't have an answer. But what I am increasingly understanding from a customer service perspective is that twitter is just one component of an overall experience. Twitter plays a part in bringing a complaint to my attention right now, but for the most part it certainly is not a resolution mechanism.
The complaint will still be resolved via email or in a call. So in that instance, I'm not entirely sure how to measure the contribution made by twitter. Perhaps I should be looking more at measures of reputation and reach: potential damage to reputation from negative comment vs uplift to reputation from positive feedback by happy customer.
I have deliberately not put in 'successful complaint resolution' as part of the equation, because you could still lose a customer or not resolve the issue, but because of the way in which you have handled it, you gain positive feedback. At the end of the day, value, ROI and metrics of success depend on how you use twitter and what you use it for.
A bit of fun
And when you need a moment to wind down between work and tweeting here's a few things to relax to or have fun with: Fast140, TwitterSheep (link to mine), The Twitter song (Do the Twitter dance) by Chris Thompson.
A final note
I hope there are a few helpful bits and pieces in this post for you. It's how I use Twitter and you'll find your own way. I still feel I'm only scratching the surface of what's there and what could be there. But my advice to you is simply this: try it out today, there's lots of friends out there willing to help you.