In Defense of Twitter – How Brands Are Doing It Right

I met a new friend last night named Diego who had the audacity – the unmitigated nerve – to mock Twitter. I know. I know. Prepare the tar and feathers.

He’s a young guy, just graduated from SCAD and is looking to get into filmmaking. He joined me and some pals for a midtown happy hour last night and when I brought up ESPN’s new Tweet Police policy, he said he just doesn’t get Twitter and thinks it’s kind of stupid.

My friends and I began explaining the value of the micro-blog. “It’s a way for brands to connect with target audiences,” I said.  “It’s just another medium, another way to build relationships,” Diego’s lovely girlfriend added.

“I think everyone deserves to know my random opinions and what I’m doing right now. Who am I to dissappoint them?” explained Marc C.

After describing how reporters use Twitter to research stories and how brands use it for everything from customer service and promotion, I did manage to obtain a concession that for PR, Twitter is a great tool. Although Diego maintained that “Twitter is just a limited Facebook.”

True. The micro-blog doesn’t offer nearly the experience of more comprehensive social networks. But, it is becoming a necessary resource for brands. In fact, a new survey from Burson-Marsteller shows that Twitter is the “application of choice for the majority of the top ranked companies in the United States” with 54% of companies using Twitter to reach out

to the public, 32% using blogs and 29% maintaining a Facebook Fan Page.

“Despite the perception that Twitter is the newest kid on the block among the three platforms, 76% of Fortune 100 companies that were using just one social media channel were using Twitter over Facebook and Blogs,” Burson-Marsteller explained.

Companies are also using Twitter to increase customer satisfaction. While 94% of firms are using Twitter to publish company news, 67% are also using the increasingly popular site to offer some kind of customer service.

So, let’s take a look at some of the recent ways brands are using the site to success. This is a great article from earlier this year on how various car makers and airlines are using the site. A few months back, I talked about how BofA stopped a potential identity theft scam through Twitter.

Last December, Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, saw Twitter messages alerting him to criticisms about Ford allegedly trying to shut a fan Web site, TheRangerStation.com. The dispute prompted about 1,000 email complaints overnight. Monty immediately told his Twitter followers he was looking into the matter. Within hours, he reported that Ford’s lawyers believed the site was selling counterfeit goods with Ford’s logo. He persuaded Ford’s lawyers to withdraw the shut-down request if the site would halt the sales. By the end of the day, he Tweeted that the dispute had been resolved.

Jim Oaks, who founded TheRangerStation in 1998, credits Mr. Monty with resolving the problem so quickly. “My relationship with Ford has been better because of this,” he says.

Last fall, Coke’s software spotted a Twitter post from a frustrated consumer who couldn’t redeem a prize from the MyCoke rewards program. The consumer’s profile boasted more than 10,000 followers. Adam Brown – the newly appointed head of social media for Coke – quickly posted an apology on the consumer’s Twitter profile and offered to help resolve the situation. The consumer got his prize and later changed his Twitter avatar to a photo of himself holding a Coke bottle.

“We’re getting to a point if you’re not responding, you’re not being seen as an authentic type of brand,” Brown recently told the WSJ.

But, it’s not just crisis comms and image development that makes Twitter so useful. More brands are using the site for promotions. I’ve been working with some concert series in Atlanta and have been using Twitter for ticket give-a-ways and contests. Airlines are using the site to offer dedicated followers limited-time promotional discounts. And, restuarants and clubs are using it to hype happy hours. As Women’s Wear Daily recently reported, a lot of fashion brands are using Twitter to build their brands’ personalities and announce promotions.

All that said, Twitter must be approached strategically. I’ve had clients ask me to set up Twitter accounts but then, they don’t want to provide the true interaction required to make it a success. Fact is, Twitter is simply another form of conversation – another place to connect. And, most customers do not want to connect with PR pros – they want to talk to the actual company. So, keep that in mind as you build your strategy and make sure it includes a direct interaction with the people/products/brands you are promoting.

And, bear in mind, Diego is right – people telling each other they are doing laundry or eating a ham sandwhich just isn’t valuable at all. But, like most everything in life – you get out of Twitter what you put into it.

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