Making Customer Connections and Getting Twitter Right

Every time you turn a corner these days, someone is dispensing advice on "how to connect with your customers on Twitter." There are usually plenty of fancy words like "dialogue" and "communication" thrown in to make corporate Tweeting sound less onerous but let's face facts: it's still PR. Done correctly, however, marketing your product or service on Twitter can gain you new customers and make loyal fans out of the ones you already have. Here are three companies on Twitter that get it right.

Comcast -- Few things provoke instant fury in customers like a cable TV or Internet outage. Since public communication happens on Twitter in near real-time, complaints about a company can spread like wildfire with very little effort. In order to catch dissatisfaction early, Comcast smartly set up a Twitter account, Comcast Cares, to deal directly -- and swiftly -- with disgruntled customers and resolve complaints.

Frank Eliason, the man behind the curtain, told BusinessWeek, "This is just one way people have gotten to know us. It's a little more personal. More back-and-forth discussions, and it's less formal. And it gives immediacy to interactions." Comcast was one of the first companies to use Twitter as tool in its customer service arsenal and set the bar pretty high for businesses who came along afterward to do the same thing. Putting a human face on a typically amorphous customer service department was a smart move indeed.

SeaWorld -- No one needs to beg a child to visit SeaWorld, but getting parents to spend a limited entertainment budget there instead of Disney might take a little more doing. SeaWorld uses its Twitter account RealShamu, named after one of the park's main mammilian attractions, to send out regular messages touching on everything from baby otters to reminders about world events. RealShamu's Twitter feed (which will soon be re-named "Shamu") also includes tons of laugh-out-loud humor and the occasional giveaway thrown in for good measure. The updates don't specifically advertise SeaWorld, but they're a subtle -- and incredibly effective -- way of worming the park's name into people's brains.

TiVo -- Sometimes effective marketing relies on educating the consumer about your niche more than simply resolving customer complaints. Digital video recorder (DVR) vendor TiVo maintains a Twitter account that keeps tabs on what people are saying about the company. Shanan Carney works behind the scenes to help people understand why they might want to consider a purchasing a DVR over renting one from a cable company, points out differences among units, and announces new TiVo services as they launch. She also keeps an interactive conversation going among current customers by asking them to name favorite shows, share their favorite tips, and make recommendations to other TiVo users.

Using Twitter to market or promote a business has the potential to make or break a company. Do it wrong and you'll irritate people beyond belief. Instead, take a page from TiVo, SeaWorld, or Comcast's playbook and rely Twitter to first amuse and engage others. After that, everything else will fall into place. After all, people rarely re-Tweet a plain-old promotional message but useful tips, helpful information, and adorable pictures are sure-fire winners every time.

This story, "Making Customer Connections and Getting Twitter Right" was originally published by Computerworld.

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