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September 4, 2008
My Almost Free Twitter-Based Corporate Social Media Strategy
What if you could reach a few million people, improve customer support, tap into an incredible wealth of customer satisfaction data, protect and enhance your brand, and obtain some positive coverage, all for under $500? But wait, there’s more! Sounds like a late-night infomercial, but in fact, a minimal investment (mostly time) can help you establish a highly visible and rewarding social media outpost on Twitter.
If you’re trying to figure out how social media can be integrated into your corporate communications strategy, follow this simple program. Don’t hire expensive consultants, don’t spend millions of dollars on viral marketing programs, and don’t wait to be shown proven ROI for social media initiatives. Just roll up your sleeves, get on Twitter, be genuine, and actually respond to and assist consumers.
Of course there are other social networks and opportunities to use social media in your corporate communications initiatives, and Twitter hosts a relatively small audience, perhaps two million people. But online, two million people who are extremely well-versed in the use of social media tools can be a very influential audience. Their comments on your company, its willingness to engage with customers, and the quality of its customer support not only reach a potentially much larger audience, but once published, are on the web almost forever to be retrieved via a search on your company name. If those comments are negative, wouldn’t you like the opportunity to respond? And if they’re positive, wouldn’t you like to know that as well?
I’m sure you’ve heard it said hundreds of times, that there’s an online conversation going on about your company. And as much as this is a metaphorical conversation, it is also, in many social networks, forums and chat rooms, an actual conversation in which real people are sharing their experiences with your company.
I was inspired to write this piece as I watched this morning as a well known vehicle rental company come under attack on Twitter. A Twitter user with more than 1500 “friends” commented on a bad experience involving the company. Perhaps feeling that the company didn’t care about his plight, he invited other Twitter users to share their negative experiences with the company, and thus was born a groundswell of negativity. The company in question had no clear presence on Twitter, and did not get involved in the conversation. Here are a few of the comments:
“horrendous service…fails on many levels…poorly maintained trucks too.”
“I'm going to need a moving truck soon...maybe I should try another company this time around”
“abysmal customer service”
“I have had way too many problems with them - bad equipment, oversold equipment, etc.”
To get an idea whether your company is being talked about on Twitter, go to http://www.search.twitter.com, and enter your company name. You will be able to scan, in chronological order, user comments about your company. Whether these are largely negative, positive or neutral, each is an opportunity for you to weigh in, which is perfectly legitimate to do on Twitter. And you would be remiss not to.
It’s difficult for me to say that they “should” have been on Twitter, but I have to ask, why not? One company after another has been in the news as they have established a presence on Twitter and started engaging one-on-one with consumers. I am not exaggerating when I say the cost of being on Twitter is under $500. Twitter membership, even for corporations, is free, but I was allowing $500 to pay for the time to have someone in corporate communications sign up, create a simple graphics backdrop for the page, complete the very brief profile, and begin the conversation.
It’s not that hard to do. I recently wrote on my blog about the Seven Rules for Establishing a Corporate Presence on Twitter. These are very simple guidelines for branding your Twitter account and making it clear to consumers that it is an authorized company communications vehicle.
There are no barriers to Twitter entry. As I said, it costs nothing, and you do not need to create any content, but you do need to identify one or more company spokespeople who can be online periodically to respond to consumer inquiries, questions and concerns. Home Depot’s account is staffed by Sarah, a PR person who has agreed to “moonlight” on Twitter to respond to customer comments and issues. Comcast’s account is staffed by its “digital care” group, and jetBlue’s is managed by the company’s corporate communications team. Surely there are one or two people in your company who are social media savvy, and connected either to your communications or customer support organizations, who can spend 30-60 minutes a day engaging with consumers, solving problems, and improving the company’s reputation. Not doing so doesn’t seem very smart.

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Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and public relations. He's the author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, a handbook designed to help corporate communicators and executives understand how to successfully adopt social business strategies in large companies. Prior to founding Socialized, he was EVP of Emerging Media at Eastwick Communications a Silicon Valley public relations firm, and before that, he has a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications experience, including leadership roles in executive and internal communications at Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

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