How Do Companies Use Twitter?
Companies don't use Twitter the same way regular people do--that is, they don't sit around Tweeting inane things all day, such as what they're eating for lunch or how boring their commute is.
Instead, companies use Twitter as a way to interact with customers, answer questions, address complaints, and monitor the social Web for trends related to their brand.
Let's take a closer look at a few specific uses of Twitter by businesses.
Responding to Questions
Companies using Twitter for customer support spend most of their time writing responses ("@replies") to questions from customers who have included the company's Twitter handle in their original public tweets (such express references are termed "mentions" in Twitter parlance).
"We respond to every tweet where people need our help," says Christine Morrison, social media manager at TurboTax (@turbotax). "That said, we don't respond to every mention, as some people are mentioning us in passing and aren't expecting a response."
Your questions need not be about a customer service issue. They can bring up anything related to the company's general sphere of knowledge. For example, you can address questions about technology to Best Buy, or questions about shoes to Zappos.
"We attempt to answer any reasonable questions related to technology, but cannot answer questions such as 'Where do I hide a dead body,' which someone asked us once," says Bernier of Best Buy. "If someone Tweets to the @bestbuy account and needs help, we have a team of people there willing to jump in and engage. We try to help as much as possible."
Chatting With Customers
A big part of customer service involves trying to make people feel appreciated and welcome. That's why companies don't limit themselves to fielding questions and addressing complaints: They want to interact with customers more casually and under more upbeat circumstances as well.
"We try to engage with everyone, even if it's just to welcome them to the Seamless world after their first order or to agree on a particularly yummy food choice," says the Twitter team at Seamless (@Seamless), an online food-ordering website that pairs customers up with local restaurants that provide door-to-door delivery.
Companies that provide services also like to congratulate and celebrate with their customers.
"Each day we respond to a handful of complimentary Tweets and say 'thanks' and celebrate alongside our customers, who are excited about being done with their taxes," says TurboTax's Morrison.
Monitoring--but Not Necessarily Responding to--Twitter
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but if you mention a company's name on Twitter, the company probably knows about it. That's because companies monitor Twitter for mentions of their brand name, mentions of their competitors, and general trends that affect them.
Of course, just because you mention a company doesn't mean that it will respond or acknowledge your Tweet.
"Using tools such as Sysomos and HootSuite, we can see just about any public Tweet that mentions our name, tagged or not," says Julie Jarratt, sponsorship PR manager at Esurance (@esurance).
"If we're not tagged, it could be seen as intrusive if we respond to the user. But at the end of the day, [how we react] depends on the context of the Tweet. If it seems like they're having an issue that needs our attention but we haven't been tagged, we'll respond," Jarratt says.
Companies also use Twitter to stay on top of trends affecting their customers.
"From a data standpoint, we're able to get an instant pulse on what consumers are trying to accomplish at any given moment," Best Buy's Bernier says. "And we can identify pain points in that process."
Directing Users From Twitter to a More Responsive Place
Twitter may be fast and convenient, but it's not always the best place for dealing with customers' issues.
Recognizing this, many companies use Twitter as a jumping-off point, and shoot email addresses, phone numbers, and requests for private messages to customers who seem to need more than 140 characters of help.
"If it seems another channel may be appropriate for a customer, we will direct them to that channel," says Bernier. "For example, if we need to look up an order by number, or exchange sensitive customer data that we wouldn't want shared such as name, address, or phone number, we will encourage customers to call or email us."