Here's What Huge Brands Have Learned From Twitter

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Photo: JOE MARINARO via Flickr

When Twitter came on the scene nearly four years ago, no one knew if the service would ever go mainstream.Now, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a major consumer company that doesn’t have an active Twitter presence.

Of course, figuring out how to approach it was a process of trial-and-error for most.

We spoke to several brands who have a major presence on social media — AT&T, Southwest Airlines, Amazon’s Zappos, and American Apparel — to find out what areas of their business Twitter has affected most, and how their strategy has evolved since they first started using Twitter.

What prompted you to start using Twitter?

Twitter has most influenced customer communication

Customer service and customer communication are, hands down, the areas that have been most influenced by Twitter.

For Southwest, Twitter is now a primary way of communicating with customers, Day tells us.

Twitter is perfect for getting a pulse on customers because you can instantly see if they're excited or upset about something, she says. 'It's like having a focus group at your fingertips, 24/7.'

Twitter requires a team effort

In the beginning, most companies had just one person -- if anyone at all -- responsible for keeping track of Twitter. Now, entire teams of people handle it.

At AT&T, two PR people began tracking customer complaints on their own. 'They were trying to direct all these issues to the right contacts, and it was really overwhelming.... they needed to get customer service involved,' says Bean.

Upper management agreed; the company currently has 13 customer service reps devoted to Twitter, and the team is growing.

Southwest started out on Twitter by doing what many companies do: automating their account to sync with their RSS feed. 'We were failing to respond to anyone who was trying to start a conversation with us... we quickly learned that every social media channel has a different audience and a different purpose,' says Day.

Everything is now done manually. It takes more time, but 'it's called 'social' media for a reason,' she adds.

It's designed for getting messages out fast

Twitter is perfect for updating your customers about important information that would take longer to reach them through other channels.

American Apparel's Ryan Holiday recounts the story of a major sales event in London: 'Twitter was how almost 30,000 people found out about it, and when the unfortunate behaviour of some people in line shut it down, it was actually how the London Police asked American Apparel to communicate with the crowd to disperse in a calm, orderly fashion.'

'It was also the means through which we addressed customer concerns and made it up to the people affected,' he adds.

Listening is most important

Twitter is most definitely NOT about selling

Across the board, these companies emphasised the lesson that Twitter is NOT about marketing.

Users don't want to see marketing materials getting shoved at them. 'We definitely would see a negative response whenever customers thought we were trying to sell them something,' DeMaagd adds.

For American Apparel, 'Twitter is an invaluable resource when you have something important, direct or personal to get out there,' Holiday says. 'It's important that you don't blow that opportunity with trivial updates or greedy thinking.'

The main purpose is to spur conversation

'Social media is about connections and starting conversations,' says Bean.

'We listen to what customers are saying after everything we do,' DeMaagd says. But the most positive reaction comes when the company asks customers for their opinion before making a decision.

'We've learned that Twitter probably isn't the best way to have a whole conversation,' Bean adds. While Twitter usually can't stand on it's own, it is an important part of a larger arsenal of tools that any company can use to connect with customers and solve their problems.

So, what have you learned?

A few lessons these companies learned as their Twitter approaches evolved:

  • You should not use Twitter for selling.
  • Responding fast is crucial.
  • Automated tweeting is a bad idea -- social media is 'social,' after all.
  • Every social media platform has a different audience -- figure out who you want to target first.
  • It's all about the conversation.

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