Businesses Must Manage the Twitter Conversation

Posted on Aug 2, 2009 | 0 comments


HiResThis post is part of my ongoing series Twitter 101 for all those that still “don’t get” Twitter.  I’m now moving from the 101 basics into the business applications.  I think we all know by now that a conversation is happening on Twitter and that this extends to talking about brands.

Twitter is the new CRM (customer relationship management) channel.  The volume of Tweets is enormous and growing at a rapid pace so tools are emerging to help brands manage this information.

In an earlier post I spoke about the asymmetric nature of Twitter vs. Facebook.  It turns out that this difference has a huge impact on the business applicability of Twitter that nobody could have anticipated.  On Facebook (and nearly all social networks that preceded it) the relationship was always reciprocal – if I accept your invitation to follow me then I have to follow you.  The default setting and behavior on Facebook has been “private” and therefore you need permission to follow my status updates.  It is a closed, two-way relationship between users in which brands are not invited into the discussion.

Twitter, by contrast, started as an open platform where people let anybody see what they were writing.  Many of the initial commentators (at least when I signed up for Twitter in April 2007) seemed to talk about it as a “microblogging” platform where people like Robert Scoble were free to tell quick thoughts about what was going on in the world in real time vs. waiting to come home and spend an hour publishing their thoughts for the day in a blog post.  My intuition is that this is why when Twitter initially took off (around the time of SxSW in 2007) it was an open “publish to the world” platform and the trend continued.  People write their thoughts knowing that anybody else can see them.

So why is this important for businesses?  Businesses online are able to monitor the conversations that happen about their company, their competitors and their industry like they have never before been able to.  It’s almost like they’ve been given the right to wiretapwiretap our conversations and know what we’re telling our friens about them.

Brands in the Facebook world have had to resort to setting up “Fan Pages” and trying to get users to follow them.  They could then publish information and it would go in the “stream” of information when you were logged into Facebook.

Below are the CRM steps brands are taking in the Twitter world to monitor our conversations.  Tools (covered at the end of the post) are emerging to help us to automate this process given the sheer volume of Tweets we must now monitor.

1. Monitor the conversation – The first thing that businesses need to know is what is even being said about them.  Are people giving you feature requests, complaining about your service or comparing you to the competition?  Are they recommending you to friends or telling people how badly you suck?

2. Capture the data – the currency of online direct marketing prior to Twitter was the email address.  If a brand had your email address and permission from you to send occasional messages to you then you could effectively market new products or services.  The currency of the real-time web is, for now, your Twitter address.  Companies can capture this information if they notice you Tweet about them.  If you’re not capturing the names of people who are talking about you on the real-time web you’re missing out on CRM opportunities (direct marketing, customer support, 2-way conversations, monitoring future conversations).

3. Assess the tone – The second thing a brand needs to be able to do is to automate the process of assessing the tone of Tweets about them.  While not 100% accurate, software tools use specialized dictionaries to help semantically determine the meaning of your Tweet and rate them as positive, negative or neutral.  If you’re a smaller company you can obviously do this manually but at a minimum you need to know whether people are positive or negative.

4. Determine authority – If you’re a small business you might want to build relationships and take action on any Tweet about your company but when you’re a large company like Apple you obviously can’t respond to everybody but you also can’t just ignore everybody and pretend the conversation isn’t taking place in this public forum.  Apple must be overwhelmed by people who hate the iPhone service because the AT&T Network is so bad.

noiphoneBut when Michael Arrington announces that he’s giving up his iPhone because he’s pissed off with the network and with your blocking Google Voice then you sure better know.  There are different ways to determine “authority” that are being debated now.  Some people believe it’s as simple as looking at how many followers you have.  But the problem is that some people just go and follow a bunch of people so that many people will follow them back.  This probably isn’t a good authority measure in my opinion.  Following 7,000 people who follow you back doesn’t mean those people actually listen to you.

Other people see authority as the ratio of followers to people you follow (e.g. if 10,000 follow Michael Arrington and he follows 200 back then he probably has good authority on at least something).  Finally, some people are arguing that the number of people who “retweet” (RT) your posts should be a measure of authority because it means that your followers value what you say.  Whatever the answer is or becomes measuring authority is an important tool for brands.

5. Take action – Obviously when Michael Arrington is writing something scathing about your product you want to pay attention and take action.  This is most likely done outside of the automated processes that you can manage on Twitter and probably warrants a phone call.  But there are lots of actions that businesses large and small can automate on Twitter.  As a starting point if you’re captured the data from step 2 you might choose to follow that particular user.  I noticed when I sent out Tweets about the Beastie Boys or the Philadelphia Phillies I got Twitter Follows immediately.

Over time these brands may choose to send out @ messages to me or DM messages to me in the way that people send out direct marketing emails now.  But we need to wait for the equivalent of “opt-in” to develop on Twitter because without this brands need to be careful about not coming across as Spammy.

There are also steps brands can begin to take today to manage Twitter followers with the most authority.  If you’re a brand and you’ve determined the 10 most influential people who write positive things about your company or products then wouldn’t it be nice to provide these people with toolsets for their blogs or webpages to help better promote your brands since you know they influential in your community?  Actions based on a user authority is an emerging area where I believe the tools are nascent today but you’ll likely see more emphasis on this in the future.  I see many early-stage businesses pitching me today talking about solving this need.

So the following list is not exhaustive (if I’ve missed some please feel free to add in the comments section), but here are some emerging companies who are providing tools for brands to monitor, assess and take action on Twitter feeds: PeopleBrowsr, Social Approach, HootSuite, CoTweet, EasyTweets.