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Listen with Twitter

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jon Clements

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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 ''