When talking about Twitter, the word “engagement” comes up time and again. Twitter isn’t meant to be a sales channel, insist the pundits, but rather a means of engaging customers and prospects with your brand. Of course, the purpose of engaging an audience in this way is to foster a stronger bond between them and your company, a bond that is ultimately expected to pay off in greater customer loyalty, retention, and yes, sales.
In reality, though, how many merchants are using Twitter to facilitate two-way conversation with consumers, as opposed to viewing it as just another means of pushing out their own messages without encouraging response?
In a highly unscientific survey, I looked at the Twitter feeds of a dozen merchants from 10th to 17th December. I was pleasantly surprised by how few of those 12 companies used their posts primarily to talk about themselves.
Electricals retailer Comet, for instance, posted 24 tweets during the week in question. Of those, 20 involved its Tweet the Parcel competition (which colleague Miri assures me was great fun). By naming the various prizes in its tweets, Comet was able to subtly promote its product range—and of course the game itself drove traffic to its website. But by also announcing the winners in its tweets, it created a sense of conversational give and take, and aligned its brand with a sense of fun. I’d say it was a win/win all around.
Compare Comet with nursery etailer Kiddisave, which posted a whopping 156 tweets during the week—that’s more than 20 a day. Just about every one of those posts was a straightforward product advert (“Micralite Fastfold Stroller Black also available in red - Kiddisave The One Stop Baby Shop http://bit.ly/8Ax0ua”, “Great savings on Quinny, Cosatto, Stokke® any [sic] many more big name brands - Kiddisave The One Stop Baby Shop http://bit.ly/3dFrx9”). Kiddisave’s Twitter feed did nothing to distinguish the company as a brand, other than to suggest it was a site to visit when pricing products. But in this era of comparison-shopping sites, using pricing as your primary selling proposition, with “one-stop shop” a distant second, seems short-sighted. Perhaps Kiddisave figures that because it has a high customer churn rate (after all, you only need to buy strollers and highchairs for a very limited span of time), engaging with customers to encourage a relationship is a foolish luxury.
Then again, maternity and nursery cataloguer/retailer Mamas & Papas has a similar issue regarding customer churn, but its Twitter feed establishes a brand persona akin to a girlfriend with whom you might sit at the kitchen table over a cup of tea while leafing through a copy of Heat magazine and chatting about your neighbours. A typical Mamas & Papas tweet: “Congratulations to Zoe Ball and DJ Norman Cook aka Fat Boy Slim on the news their baby is a long awaited girl who will be due in Janaury. [sic]” Of its 19 tweets for the week, only six promoted products, and even these maintained a “just us girls” tone (“The perfect heirloom gift for a little girl's bedroom. How cute is this? Boys version too. http://bit.ly/60znke via @addthis”).
Other retailers that promoted product aimed for a colloquial, soft-sell tone as well. All six of Laura Ashley’s tweets for the week were self-promotional, but at least the brand tried for subtlety or a sense of context: “Did you see Kirsties Home Made Christmas? Get the Novelty Chrismas [sic] Bunting as seen on her fireplace here! http://ow.ly/LO28”
Likewise, while two-thirds of Halfords’ 15 tweets were promotional, the auto and cycle accessories retailer injected a sense of humour: “On the third day of Christmas Halfords Twitter gave to me...Three Wiper Blades: http://bit.ly/5nTIEh”. Its other tweets offered vehicle-related news and info, helping to establish the brand as a definitive, qualified source.
A supplier of spare parts for appliances, eSpares is an exemplar of two-way communication. Of its 32 tweets, 22 were responses to the tweets of others, with a heavy customer service component. The remaining 10 tweets were friendly and nonpromotional, along the lines of “Good morning! It's so cold here in London today. I'm thinking I should suggest opening an eSpares branch in Sydney.”
Dolls House Emporium follows a similar tactic. Not one of its 26 tweets touted product; one linked to a blog post, 15 were responses or retweets, and the remainder were simple observations. The closest its Twitter feed came to self-promotion was with this tweet: “It's very very busy here. We're not complaining, in fact we're quite excited about it :)”
The upshot? If you’re using Twitter solely as a push mechanism, and the only things you’re pushing are your products, you’re not taking full advantage of the medium. Failing to take advantage of its pull capabilities—by inviting followers to participate in giveaways and promotions, say, or by posting nonpromotional snippets as conversational gambits—is akin to kitting out your lounge with the latest wide-screen, HD television set and surround-sound speakers, then using the gear solely to watch decade-old reruns of Last of the Summer Wine. Why bother, really?--SC