What Works in Twitter Marketing – A Consumer’s Perspective

In our first class of MI621 we learned about a woman who was in one of those “stuck in a plane on the tarmac for 11 hours” situations.  In the past, passengers complained, probably got refunds, and the airlines just waited for the fuss to die down around the situation.  But this woman had a tool at her disposal that she was able to leverage against the airlines, and she used it surprisingly well.  What she did was find online news articles about the incident and use the comments section to spread her manifesto against the airlines.  Through this, she was able to find enough people who were also on the flight, they started a website and an organization, and their efforts eventually got the law changed in New York State so that kind of thing would never happen again.

I mean think about it… the COMMENTS SECTION OF NEWS ARTICLES!  That is the undisputed armpit of the internet.  You could read an article about a poor rice harvest in China, and the conversation will devolve into “It’s Obama’s fault!”  And that’s on the polite side.  What does that have to do with marketing on Twitter?  Well, what struck me is that if this woman was able to start a movement through the comments sections of news articles, just imagine your power to reach people through well organized social media.  Professor Kane told us that only when a technology gets boring do its uses really get interesting.  I think this is evidence that social media is at that moment.  Social media isn’t just Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr.  All media now has a social aspect to it.  There are comments sections, CNN Facebook chats, even the games on my iPhone allow me to chat with my friends or complete strangers in random games.  Social media is ingrained pretty deeply into everything we do online, so the technology isn’t really the question anymore.  The question is how to effectively reach people with it.

Yes, this is real.

It’s not as easy as simple advertising (not that advertising is easy either).  What makes a company’s social media “just work” and what makes it just weak?   It’s hard to identify.  In a space like Twitter, if you’re not looking out for it, you won’t even notice.  A company who does it right will be just another good follow.  If a company does it wrong, you’re probably not following them anyway.  Here’s what I’ve observed:

Is Twitter even for you?

First off, who are you trying to reach?  If you sell Depends, catheters, or 4:00 early bird buffet specials, your target market is not exactly blowing up the Twittersphere.  Maybe they will be in 40 years.

On the other hand, some companies may say, “Why not give it try?  What’s the harm?”  On Twitter, if you’re not prepared to really put in the effort, you can do more harm than good.  An unused or misused Twitter account makes a company look out of touch, and the kind of person who uses Twitter is the kind of person who notices things like that.  To bring out my inner nerd and quote Yoda, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”   A decision to jump into any social media should include a dedicated social media strategist, who is constantly engaging with customers.

Social media fail.

Give us a conversation

Don’t just talk at us, talk with us.  Respond to people.  This doesn’t mean everyone (you couldn’t possibly) but just seeing a company respond to an individual request makes me think that they’re listening, and that I could reach them if I needed to be heard.

That being said, don’t let your conversation stray too far off message.  There’s enough inanity on Twitter already, and being asked about the latest sporting contest by a toilet paper company comes off as just a bit disingenuous.

You have to give us some value!

Social Media isn’t the same as advertising.  If all you do is try to sell us, only your biggest fans will care (and you’ve already got them).   What do we get for following you?  Special offers, available only to those of us in the know?  An outlet for actually reaching the company, and getting answers?  Your social media outreach should offer us something new, something that we can’t get through our other interactions with your company.  Otherwise, why are we here?

But don’t get too comfortable…

Try not to forget, you’re still a company with a reputation to uphold.  If you dive into social media haphazardly, you do so at your own risk.  It is well worth finding an experienced professional to manage your social media outreach, as the road is littered with Twitter feeds that were passed off to the nearest intern with… mixed results.

What do you guys think?  Any others that I didn’t hit?



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12 responses to “What Works in Twitter Marketing – A Consumer’s Perspective

  1. Hi Ryan,
    Your post was very insightful! This is the exact dilemma that my group and I are trying to figure out. Fist, your statement, “An unused or misused Twitter account makes a company look out of touch, and the kind of person who uses Twitter is the kind of person who notices things like that.” is one of our biggest fears and why we have not posted anything on twitter yet as a company. If we did post anytime soon, it would be “selling” ourselves with a press release. Your argument validates our choice to not engage on twitter at this time for a few reasons. 1. Our prospect and customer base is not using twitter to find us, 2. We do not have a dedicated person who can monitor and respond to comments as we all already have a full-time job, which would make this a halfhearted attempt. I agree with all of your statements and I appreciate you sharing your insights!


  2. megfrazier

    I have had a huge amount of success talking with companies through twitter. Some of the best experiences have been when the main twitter handle replies to me with a handle of a particular service representative, asking me to follow that person so that the employee can DM with me. We were able to pull our conversation off the feed and get to a fix in no time. Obviously, DMing is not for large complicated problems, but it works like a charm when I can’t determine if my order processed as I was not confirmed one way or the other.

  3. My opinion of twitter has changed hugely due to mi621. This blog also highlights the pros and cons of twitter. It might not be for everyone and a business needs to assess itself and how it decides to use it to. If companies just post reems of tweets and dont engage with the consumers and potential ones by replying then it is a wasted medium. I agree with your point ‘individual request makes me think that they’re listening, and that I could reach them if I needed to be heard.’ Congrats great blog,


  4. I thought this was a great post! I think one of the biggest problems of social media that you point out is how companies misuse it. Companies’ mentality of “Why not give it try? What’s the harm?” can be more dangerous than expected. I think the pressure for companies to keep up with the constant changes in technology and social media sites force them to make errors.

    I like your comment about tweets affecting a company’s reputation. With a 140 character restriction, much of a tweet can be left up to interpretation. It’s difficult to compose the message and image you want to portray to customers in a short tweet. In addition, another potential danger is the effects of other people on Twitter. Not only can a person’s negative tweet hurt a company’s reputation, but a person’s retweet of a company’s tweet adding inappropriate comments to the beginning of a retweet can spread a bad image. Using a company’s use words against them is almost more harmful to a company.

    Although there are potential dangers to twitter, there are also a lot of benefits. The one you especially talk about is changing the dynamics of the relationship between customers and companies by having a conversation with them. I think this is one of the greatest benefits to a company because it changes the image of a company to a more personal, intimate one.

  5. Ryan,

    I think it is often overlooked, but as you pointed out, social media is integrated into all media nowadays. I constantly feel myself defining social media as the websites that are most obvious – but you are so right! – it’s much more than just Facebook now.

    I also really liked the point you made with your Yoda quote. Sometimes I feel like it’s almost silly for companies to be hiring whole teams of social media “experts” because, when I don’t think hard about it, I feel like anyone with a few accounts who updates their Facebook or tweets every so often is an “expert” – but again, you are right! It takes someone who actually knows what they are doing to be a social media expert. As you nicely illustrated by the Metamucil picture, there IS a wrong way to do social media from a corporate perspective. Yet I feel like many “old school” companies take the naive view of things and agree with how I initially felt – and they need to adapt and hire people to manage their public images on the social side of the Internet.

    I really liked your insights. Send this post around to companies and then suggest that they all hire MI621 as their social media consulting team 🙂

    – Simone

  6. What a great post! I love the reasons/explanations you give regarding how companies can use social media (particularly Twitter) effectively. I especially agree with the “give us a conversation” reason that you explained. Followers love to get a shout-out or an answer or a retweet… let’s be honest: It’s pretty cool when your favorite team or brand or company responds to YOU. The ability to leverage SM in one’s favor is an invaluable asset to any organization. Right now, I would go so far as to say that an organization’s success correlates with their SM following. Awesome post and a really great read!

  7. Insightful and thought-provoking blog, Ryan. You posted a comment to my question last week as to “why” people use social media. I appreciate that in this post you’ve taken it one step beyond the individual to try to help a company answer the question why would we use social media. As the landscape of social media still is influx it I believe that it is critical for companies to evaluate the role they want social media to take, if any. I could only imagine a Depends Twitter account and the types of questions/comments that could arise. Actually, that may provide a hysterical sketch for SNL. I think you should submit it to them…

    It seems that so many companies are simply eager to get out there without really understanding how “out there” will interact with “in here,” meaning their corporate culture. They should ask, does it makes sense to have a presence on Facebook or Twitter and if the answer is yes who will be the handler of the account. What tone should we take? Will we answer everything? Will we provide incentives? I can imagine this could spark a whole new line of employment that could play a pivotal role in a company’s marketing/communications strategy. An argument could be made that Tweeting is an art form; being persuasively succinct and clever enough to be consistently followed. I could easily see “Tweet Master” under the skills on resumes of the future.

    I think it’s going to be a fine line for some companies to walk. It will be a an obvious fit for some (even natural) and a stretch for others. Either way, I hope they will seriously consider the questions you raise here.

  8. Another excellent post. I’m not sure if we covered it in class yet, but I find the Gartner Hype Cycle to be invaluable for understanding social media, and it goes to your first point. Many companies adopt social media simply because other companies are doing it, without clearly thinking through why they are doing it.

    One you may have left out though is whether social media creates efficiencies. I have alot of luck with customer service on Twitter, particularly for airlines. I get much better service, more quickly, and usually much more in sync with what I need as I’m dashing through the airport. The customer service rep can be working for me as I go through security, get on a train, etc that a cell phone couldn’t do.

  9. I thought this was a really insightful blog! it sounds like you have a deep understanding of how Twitter for business should look like. I thought it was great how you mentioned the importance of genuine interactions and added value. I have never been a big Twitter user, and I’m still working on being more active beyond the 4 tweets that we do per week for class, but its pretty hard. But so far as a user, what you have said really resonates with me. Twitter is so diverse and confusing that receiving a relevant message means a lot. Especially since tweets are so diverse, when a relevant message finds its way to me, I find it really refreshing and I pay attention immediately. so the idea of “Give us a conversation” makes a lot of sense. At the same time, I see the value of being genuine in the conversation. As a minimal user, I already get span from random Twitter BOTs. Getting irrelevant, non-targeted and non genuine tweets from a company would just make me dislike them…which is worse than not having spoken to me at all.

    “Give us some value” was also a really great point. If I’m engaging a company that stands to profit form my engagement and cooperation, I want to be rewarded. Not only do I feel entitled to it, but I feel like I would expect it. It may not be monetary, but I do want engagement to feel personalized of atleast meaningful to me. Tweeting to me that a a grocery store gives the best deals doesn’t feel like anything to me but advertising…which I hate.

    I also really liked your point about making Twitter a full effort….and the Yoda quote. If I were to message a company with a Twitter account and got no response, I’d feel like they were ignoring me, which could have been avoided if they didn’t have a twitter account to begin with.

    After reading your post, I felt like a lot of it felt like common sense….but as we all know common sense isn’t all that common when it comes to social media. Thanks for a really great post!

  10. Great post!

    I think you bring up a great point about businesses needing a reason to be on Twitter. I agree with Ellen and Professor Kane when they said that businesses at times start using social media without knowing what their main goal is, and only use it because their competitors are. If a businesses presence on Twitter is not valuable to the customers, is it valuable at all?

    Speaking from experience, one of the spirits brands I worked on this past summer at my internship at Jim Beam started their own Twitter account to engage with customers. They created this account with no set goals in mind, no set voice they wanted to portray, and nobody to constantly keep up with the account. They did not get what you mentioned in your post that social media is not advertising. Essentially, it was shut down a month ago for a re-evaluation of what their presence on social media needs to be.

    Interesting times for businesses!

  11. Hey Ryan, great post! I particularly liked your commentary on how business need to use the account to give customers something of value. Do I care that Dunkin Donuts employees are fans of Mighty Ducks D2? No. (Well, kinda). But do I care that they will be giving out medium ice coffees at three locations in Boston this Saturday? Absolutely. I think it’s very important for businesses on Twitter to recognize this aspect of connection and to understand how much more business they can gain from it.

    ps – loved the link at the end to the corporate tweets that probably got people fired!

  12. Pingback: Nonprofits, Social Media, and the Gamification of Fundraising | Therefore iAm

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