Is Twitter a Useful Customer Engagement tool?

If we tallied a vote for the most popular new social networking tool, I’m betting Twitter would take the prize.  It seems that everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to John Cleese is tweeting these days.  Elected officials and state and local agencies across the country  are now tweeting, too.  Twitter has even been credited with disseminating information from countries that were previously isolated, like Iran.  Will Twitter soon become an essential part of doing businesses?  And if so, how?

Some industries, such as market research, have ridden Twitter’s rising wave of popularity to predict and understand consumer trends.  Others see Twitter as a marketing tool; as Craig Howe recently wrote for the LA Times-Washington Post, car companies are tweeting about new products in an effort to stir up consumer interest.  As we are interested in any tool that has the potential to increase Customer Engagement, PeopleMetrics has been especially interested in the fact that some businesses, like H&R Block and Zappos, are now using Twitter to respond to customer queries.

So, how does Twitter relate to customer engagement?  Well, in one sense your Twitter followers are likely to be engaged customers. As Mr. Howe pointed out in his article, Twitter “gives a company direct access to an audience that has indicated it wants to receive information.”  Anytime customers opt-in for updates, emails, Facebook messages, and tweets, they are indicating that they have a high degree of interest in your company. Twitter can be a useful tool for learning what those interested customers are looking for from your product and future products.

In his article, Mr. Howe turned to Andy Sernovitz, the author of Word of Mouth Marketing, to explain the importance of Twitter.  According to Mr. Sernovitz, “Twitter is a bunch of people who are asking to hear from you, and that’s wonderfully powerful.  They’re asking for the information, and they want to share it with their friends.”  When you put it in those terms, it’s easy to see that setting up a company or executive Twitter account can definitely have its rewards.  The idea is that your Twitter followers are so enthusiastic about your brand, that they’re likely to retweet and share the love.

Twitter is also an easy way to answer questions for your customers.  As USA Today recently reported, Comcast has been using Twitter to post updates on service failures.  In April, many Comcast subscribers went to the company’s Twitter page to find out why they lost their connection to a Stanley Cup playoff game.  In fact, those who opted for Twitter were rewarded with an almost immediate answer—more so than those who called Comcast’s automated help line.

Some companies, like Dell, are even reporting significant Twitter-based sales.

Twitter is representative of the wider societal shift from the telephone to the internet.  As consumers increasingly see companies and brands as more than just providers of goods, Twitter and other social networking tools are helping companies position themselves as approachable, real, and innovative organizations.  As Salesforce.com CEO Marc Brenoff told USA Today, “Brands aren’t about ‘messages’ anymore.  Brands today are conversations — and today the most important conversations are happening … through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.”

So, if you’re ready for increased communication with your most dedicated customers, by all means, start tweeting.  Keep in mind, however, that Twitter cannot replace, only supplement, your company’s current litany of customer communication tools. In all likelihood, most of your customers aren’t even on Twitter, so it’s important to provide a variety of ways for them to communicate with your firm.  At current rates of use, Twitter is a great way to communicate with people who are already dedicated to your brand—your engaged customer base.

Top photo by Jeff Turner.

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