Twitter, the most popular microblogging site on the internet, offers instantaneous communication and unique engagement opportunities for businesses to connect with members of their audience. Twitter indeed offers two-way communication, but a recent study by Conversocial shows that many big businesses, within retail clothing in this case, do not engage in two-way communication with their customers, and if they do it is limited. On social platforms other than Twitter, customers can message businesses directly, comment, and reach other in other ways.

But with Twitter, it can be much easier to connect with them – if the retailers see it, and choose to respond that is. @mentions of the brands are simply made by customers but appear in complaint messages many times effectively blasting a message of customer dissatisfaction that can harm the reputation and image of the brand and if not resolved, can result in a potentially lost customer. These oft-missed @mentions present opportunities for businesses to respond to customers in productive two-way communication.

Social Customer Service; An Opportunity to Engage
The study from Conversocial entitled “Top US Clothing  Retailers on their Customer Service Response Times on Twitter” tracked more than 8,000 @mentions of 10 large clothing brands during the last week of January into February. 13% of customer complaints were responded to by brands and they were slow in initiating this return communication.  Further, 50% of the retailers didn’t respond to complaints voiced on Twitter. 48% of customer service issues were questions customers had which means they were looking for a response, as only 9% were negative mentions that didn’t request a response. As such, the majority of mentions are genuine customer service queries that should be addressed by company marketers to protect the brand and satisfy customers.

In an interview with The Next Web, Conversocial CEO Joshua March points out that this splits customer service and marketing as the few social media marketers that companies have on board are not equipped to handle customer service issues and marketing techniques are lacking in the skills et of customer service representative. As such, cross-trained staff should be utilized to track @mentions, engage with customers, and resolve issues – and in significant numbers to keep up with the volume of @mentions.

Essential Takeaways for Business Marketers
This insight is significant for companies that have a social presence. Simply put, businesses and the SEO companies partnered with them to strategize their social actions can take this information as a moment for pause to reconsider how they use the mediums.

  • First and foremost, marketers need to see Twitter as a two-way communication tool. This may be a bit of a paradigm shift, or at least a shift in the perceived purpose of the medium. Rather than solely sending out promotional and marketing messages constantly, take the time to purposefully engage customers, responding to them. This represents a transition away from quantity and towards quality communication with followers – this is more strategic and will likely yield better customer loyalty in the long-run.
  • Marketers must engage on the personal level, add some personality to the handle and various accounts, and most importantly, track and engage with those that are reaching out to the company (in the case of twitter, creating @mentions of the brand).
  • If customer service is a vital part of your business/industry, then invest in the staffing to adequately address as many complaints and queries across social platforms (especially Twitter) as possible. Stress the importance of quick turnarounds in response time as often queries are initiated via mobile while in-store and quick responses can be very beneficial.
  • For companies operating in international markets, they need to identify which platforms are most used by the customers/followers in each market and meet them on the preferred platform. Check out this Casual Friday video that discusses social media in different countries.

Reach out to me directly at rbuddenhagen@webimax.com if you have any questions regarding how your business can utilize social media more purposefully and constructively engage with your customer-base.

A couple weeks back, I wrote a post about the changing dynamic between consumers and brands.  It could be the pesky, tenacious “recession,” that won’t go away like socially-inept relatives after the holiday season, making consumers a bit more perceptive and sensitive in the pocket.  Additionally, it could be the popularity of social media platforms and daily usage by consumers within all business verticals.  Considering a number of major brands have pulled “180s” last year regarding major decisions due to the reception of its consumers, it could be a sign of the times.  Will 2012 be the year of the consumer?

Today, as usual, I got up with the sun and headed to a local coffee shop for some caffeine and the New York Times.  I’m a creature of habit; I know to have a five in hand.  Four goes toward the price of the paper and coffee, and I leave one for the baristas as a tip.  However, this morning the baristas got $.50.  Why?  The Times now charges an extra $.50 for its daily weekly.  This was unbeknownst to me, their consumer, avid reader, and loyal fanboy, who often links and mentions the brand in my posts.

As a consumer with social media options and a “virtual” voice, I reacted, tweeting to them regarding the near $20 ($2.50 each weekday plus $6 for Sunday’s edition) I must invest to peruse the Time’s pages each week.  I haven’t heard back, but I reckon I’m not the only consumer who took notice and took action.

Perhaps my personal sentiment is not salient enough to persuade the Times to reconsider, but as we saw in 2011, if enough people take action, a brand will take notice.

  • Recently, the Verizon brand issued news about a rise in fees, charging customers who pay bills online or by phone, an extra $2.  Consumers, along with federal regulators, voiced their disapproval; Verizon recanted the extra fee sentiment soon after.
  • I wrote a post last week about Go Daddy’s fickle nature regarding their stance on SOPA.  It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes’ level of perception to figure public perception had a hand in the brand’s stance on SOPA.
  • Let’s not forget the rollercoaster ride of fanfare the Netflix brand experienced after the summer season.  Due to public reaction, the brand did modify intentions of uniting its DVD-by-mail element with its Internet-streaming process, yet did not reconsider its rise in prices, and the public reacted.
  • In November, Bank of America took back a sentiment issued five weeks earlier regarding a to-be $5 price increase imposed on debit card users.  Consumers “no likey” price increases; therefore, brands must consider the reception of such things before making final arrangements.

Will my reactive sentiments save myself and other readers $.50 on the weekly Times?  Will open communication, facilitated by social media platforms and the availability of information sharing in real time, be a champion for consumers in times to come?  As a consumer, I hope so.  As an online marketing practitioner, I hope brands are taking notice of a growing trend and inextricable need to consider consumers in 2012.