Listen with Twitter

February 10th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Who would’ve thought it? A micro-blogging site with no apparent use beyond the inane ramblings of an early-adopting minority getting the full analytical treatment in the Daily Telegraph.

Well, Twitter has certainly come of age in the UK; now the seventh most popular social networking site and an online destination more popular than holiday shop, Expedia and personal finance comparison website, Money Supermarket.

But those dismissing Twitter as nothing more than a virtual location for verbally incontinent gasbags and, more recently, popularity-craving celebrities, should think again.

It is also a powerful tool for the world’s consumers to make their voices heard – either evangelising or denigrating a company, product or brand – and finding camaraderie with other Twitterfolk in doing so. It’s old fashioned “word of mouth” working its magic; something that lives beyond the controlling tentacles of marketing and communications departments, yet something they’d like to harness.

Companies across the globe are getting it in the neck from people on Twitter, from a disgruntled United Airlines passenger “tweeting” in real time about a rude flight attendant to a car buying customer in Aberdeen, sounding off about bad customer service at the hands of Skoda.

And the problem is, as Rebecca Lieb at Econsultancy succinctly points out, companies quick to broadcast on social media are not necessarily “listening”.

Yesterday, Staniforth client, Norwich Union, was itself on the receiving end of Twitter ire. The difference is, someone was listening. When we picked up the disgruntled customer’s Twitter posts, he was clearly furious and frustrated at being unable to resolve his query with the insurance company. The fact he was also a journalist just added another potentially damaging dimension to the story.

But making contact with him via Twitter, getting a blow by blow account of his case, getting it passed through to the right people at the company who sorted it out within hours, turned a customer on the warpath to someone sharing the pipe of peace, and letting the wider world know about it – again via Twitter.

Leaving aside the details, this was simply the case of a person, with a problem, wanting to be heard and understood. As with any company whose customers are numbered in the millions, mistakes happen. The way the mistakes are handled distinguishes those who keep or lose their customers. And with social media, it’s being conducted out in the open, whether brands like it or not.

Update: The New York Times does a good introduction to Twitter

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

13 Responses to “Listen with Twitter”

  1. Paul Taylor Says:

    I agree with this article and case point. Any social media strategy should begin with ‘listening’. There are many customers ‘clearly furious and frustrated wanting to be heard and understood’. Big brand names need to listen and engage professionally and effectively – if they do not, their competitors may well be on hand to placate customer service issues.

    The consumer today, has many social tools in which to vent their spleens including blogs, forums, chat rooms, microblogs, video / photo sharing sites etc. and many more as the conversational tools evolve.

    There are many companies that are winning in this environment because they have made the choice to both listen and join the conversation.


  2. Jon Says:

    You’re right. But it requires a fundamental cultural shift in many companies, where customer complaints are handled away from the public eye and there is an intrinsic reluctance to acknowledge mistakes openly, in the fear that it “harms the brand”. Remaining silent in vibrant online communities where your company is being criticised is akin to saying “no comment” in the media world. In other words, “we’ve got something we want to hide”.

  3. Peter Says:

    Hi Jon – great example of Twitter at work. What could be very interesting to brands and companies pondering Twitter is if search is embedded in the main home page, making it easier for people with a gripe (or a compliment) to hit the site and immediately find like-minded souls.

    If twitter is, as you point out, a great example of word of mouth in action, a home-page search bar could be WOM on steroids, providing a huge incentive to all non-twitterers (i.e. the vast majority of the population) to join the conversation.


  4. Paul Taylor Says:

    Yes I agree it requires a cultural shift within large organisations. Over the past 2 weeks, I have had in depth discussions with 2 top 5 management consultancies on this challenge.

    With their input we are approaching large corporate organisations department by department, typically sales, marketing and customer service. Once the application and the benefits of ‘listening’ are recognised, workflows can be integrated across large companies to great effect.

    I also hear your ‘no comment’ call – this is also known as ‘no engagement policy’…

  5. Jon Says:

    Sounds excellent Paul. Dare I say, changing the rubric?

  6. Paul Taylor Says:

    yep, having fun adapting process methodology for both social media monitoring and engagement.

  7. Jon Says:

    You make some good points.
    That home page search bar could create a Godzilla of a community and organisations need to know how to monitor it and how to engage.

  8. renaissance chambara | Ged Carroll - Links of the day Says:

    […] Listen with Twitter » […]

  9. Andrew Seaward Says:

    The most important aspect of dealing with customers is to let them know they’re dealing with a fellow human being. By being natural, human and using your powers to demonstrate empathy you show that you care.

    As a result of that, even if you can’t give them what they want or don’t necessarily know all the answers, they will trust you more. So to put in cynically you will get away with more !

    We all appreciate (as customers) that things don’t always go right, but waht really irritates us is that we also feel they don’t care either. This theme comes up time and time again with the customer service people we train on our customer service courses. And it doesn’t make any difference whether they are in Corby, Kettering, Birmingham, Peterborough, Coventry, Leicester or Northampton. They always say the same.

  10. cherry Says:

    I have of course heard of this site but have never really taking a look. However after reading your article I now do this for obvious reasons.

  11. Jon Says:

    If you’ve got customers of any race, colour or creed it makes sense now to have an appreciation of how they are interacting online, as with it comes both threats and opportunities for you.

  12. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks for reading and for your comment, together with its carefully contrived plug for your course locations!

  13. Digital kindness - a new concept? » Says:

    […] Without wanting to – heaven forbid – come over all touchy feely, isn’t that the essence of social media? And when companies grasp that, is it not a more commercially beneficial approach to the “non-engagement policy” mentioned in some recent PR Media Blog comments? […]

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