How to use Twitter as a customer-service “conversational” tool

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In 2009, I predict a lot of marketers will finally figure out that Twitter is much, much more than the confusing chaos of an online chat, forum, time-wasting thing they now believe it to be. I’m going to attempt to help them in that journey by using this blog to make simple suggestions on ways marketers at associations, companies or any organization can use Twitter and other conversational media (also called “social media”) tools to sell, promote and better serve customers, members, alumni, donors, backers, etc.

Lots of companies have already registered a Twitter username for their company. For example, I recently mentioned how Dell uses Twitter to promote special deals at its “outlet”. Dell has also registered many other Twitter accounts that are used in various ways.

Many savvy marketers have a designated individual or group of individuals who use Twitter Search to track any mention of their brand or product names appearing on Twitter. Unlike a typical search engine, Twitter Search is designed to provide “real time” results of a search query. Once a search results page appears, it continues to collect results as long as you keep the page open in a browser tab. It won’t automatically refresh, however, a message at the top of the page displays a tally of how may times users have included the search-term in a “tweet” since you last manually “refreshed” the page. Click on the refresh link, and the new tweets appear.

But don’t think of Twitter as merely a “tracking” tool or a “broadcasting” tool. It is a conversational tool. Here are a couple of examples (there are many) that I’ve personally encountered on Twitter during the past couple of days — days when many marketers who use Twitter had set up a “see you next week” message on their accounts.

The first example is an easy one for me to select, as it’s from a Nashville-based (my hometown) company, Griffin Techology, and the employee who maintains it is, separate from his job at Griffin, a highly visible member of the local blogosphere. I was trying to locate a place locally to purchase a Griffin product called the Clarifi that serves as a case or “skin” for an iPhone, but also includes a small lens filter you can slide over the phone’s camera lens for taking closeup photos of documents or business cards. (I want it to use it with what is quickly becoming the software I’m currently obsessing over, Evernotes — and thought it would make a good stocking-stuffer for, uh, Santa to give me).

When a phone call to the Apple Store led to a dead-end (you can purchase it online, they said), I decided to tweet a request for help. Within moments, (again, this was Christmas Eve) Dave @ Twitter, the person who is the “@” at @griffintech posted a “tweet” suggesting I check Best Buy. He then tweeted to me a coupon-code for a “stocking stuffer” discount if I couldn’t find it there and needed to order it online. Sure enough, it had sold out at the Best Buy closest to my house, so I used the coupon code.

The other example is a product called EyeFi. It’s a rather amazing product as it looks like a regular memory card for a digital camera, but it has built-in wifi that automagically (without any wires or docking) uploads photos to your computer or via your home or office’s wi-fi, to a web-based photo hosting/sharing service like Flickr. Yesterday, on Christmas morning, I mentioned on a tweet that I’d received and EyeFi for Christmas and within moments, @eyeficard was following me. The service was a little clunky on Christmas morning, but whoever was responsible for maintaining the @eyeficard Twitter account was responding to any tweets for assistance. It was impressive.

For customer service, these companies also probably use forums, wikis, knowledge-bases and a lot of people answering phone-calls. But yesterday, a 30-second tweet reassured lots of customers that help was within 140 characters and a few seconds away.

See also:

More Twitter How-to Posts

How to use Twitter as a public policy tool

The Sunlight Foundation’s Capitol Tweets

[Note: In 2009, I’m going to write more posts about simple things any marketer can do with social media tools.]

Previously, I provided a practical way for retailers to use Twitter as a means to broadcast a text-message to customers.

Another thing you can do with Twitter is tracking messages posted on the service by a specific group of people or on a specific topic.

To track people, you simply set up an account and “follow” the specific people’s Twitter accounts.

To follow a topic, you go to Twitter’s Search page and do a keyword search. After you land on the results page, you will have the URL to a page that will provide continuous updates to any message posted on that topic. But what if you want to track several terms, or want to narrow your search? Twitter Search allows you to use what are called “search operators” to accomplish that. Here is a page that explains how to use search operators like the one I used to set up a Twitter search with several terms about the Tennessee Titans that looked like this: titans OR “tennessee titans” OR “jeff fisher” OR “vince young” OR “LP Field” OR #titans.

You can make links to those two pages — the one where you are following a certain group of people and the one with results to the keywords search and be done with it.

Or, with a little bit of simple, simple work that any semi-geek (I can do it, so there) can accomplish, you can take the content from those two pages and display it on your own website or blog. (As these posts are intended to be “simple things,” I suggest you may want to enlist the help of someone who is familiar with how to use RSS feeds or the “API” of Twitter. You, personally, don’t need to know anything other than how to ask the question, “Can you help me hack the Twitter API to display something on my blog?” In this case, “hack” is something good.)

Here’s a great example of what I mean:

The group Sunlight Foundation has used the Twitter API to create a service called “Capitol Tweets” that collects and displays every new Twitter message shared by any member of Congress who uses Twitter.

So here’s an idea for you: Do you follow a specific group of lawmakers or public officials — say ones from a specific state or region? You can easily develop a version of what the Starlight Foundation is doing.

You can even develop a widget that allows other people to display what you’re doing on their sites — like the one above that is shared by the Sunlight Foundation, but that’s another post for another day.

[via: Read Write Web]

See also:

More Twitter How-to Posts

How to use Twitter to make money for your small (or big) business

[Note: I remember when I used to say the word “blog” outside of the bubble of people who know what an RSS feed is and people would kind of giggle, just because the word “blog” sounds funny, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. I remember it because it was last Saturday. From having eight years of being one of the few people my non-geeky friends know who “blogs,” I’ve learned from previous experience not to voluntarily tell any offline people I use Twitter. Indeed, I try very hard never to even say the word “Twitter” in the real-world. “Do you really Twitter?” people will ask, dumbfounded. “Can you explain to me what it is?” To which I respond, “It’s, well, it’s. You know, I blogged an answer to that question once. Let me just send you the link.”

I once wrote that RSS was so hard to explain, I quit trying. Rather, I started explaining what you can do with an RSS feed. I came to the conclusion that you should never try to explain what any new technology or platform is, you should explain — better yet, demonstrate — what you can do with it.

So, in 2009, I’m going to write more posts that are about practical things any marketer can do with social media tools (which means blogging, photo-sharing, and other things some people collectively call Web 2.0 or “that stuff you do on the web”). These posts will also appear on a new blog at Hammock.com we’re launching January 5 — more about that in a few days.

This is my first shot at one of these. I’ll be using ScreenCasts in upcoming posts.]

How to use Twitter to make money for your small (or big) business

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1. First. Relax and clear your mind of what you think Twitter is.

2. While in your relaxed, open-state-of-mind, think of Twitter solely as a way you can broadcast text message alerts to customers when you have a sale.

3. Set up a Twitter account with a name that’s modeled on other companies that I’m borrowing this idea from, say: DellOutlet, the Twitter account Dell uses to do what I’m suggesting

4. Promote to your customers that you now offer special “text-message sales alerts” they can only get by signing up for the alerts at that Twitter account web address.

5. About once a week, post an incredible (and I mean something they’ll brag to their friends about) savings on some item

Will it work? Here’s a quote from a recent article on InternetNews.com that mentions how Dell uses Twitter:

Twitter has produced $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half through sale alerts. People who sign up to follow Dell on Twitter receive messages when discounted products are available the company’s Home Outlet Store.

Because I’m trying to keep this how-to post simple, I won’t even tell you about how customers can subscribe to your Twittered sales alerts lots of other ways like, say, via RSS. For now, just think of it as a way to send out a text-message blast to customers who really love to come to your store or website when they know they can purchase something on sale. (Sorry, this only works in countries where Twitter is available via text-message or SMS, as the techies call it.)

Sidenote: I discourage individuals who use Twitter as a personal forum for sharing random thoughts with friends about what they’re doing each moment of the day from trying to “monetize” it by participating in any of the schemes that are emerging that will pay them to insert an ad in their Twitter stream. However, when you say to customers, start following this specific username for the stated purpose of receiving alerts when there are real deals, that’s the opposite of spam. I guess that’s something we should call Twitter Bacn. Note to self: explain bacn in a 2009 post.

See also:

More Twitter How-to Posts

(Hat tip: VentureBeat.com.)