Why Twitter Isn’t Your Holy Grail

I adore Twitter. I spend a great of time on Twitter. I have made lasting, valuable connections on Twitter. I’m one of the biggest Twitter cheerleaders you will hear (heck, I just wrote a book about Twitter with Laura Fitton and Michael Gruen called Twitter for Dummies). So why, then, do I not automatically include it in every client strategy, or promote it as “the answer” to all business issues? Because it isn’t.

Twitter is a valuable piece in your social media puzzle, but it is only a segment of your larger plan. (You do have a larger plan, don’t you? If not, go back to the drawing board until you do.) What’s more, it is a segment that can fail on occasion, in spite of your best efforts to use it wisely and well. In fact, there are some companies out there who are using Twitter well, and in innovative ways, but still failing at their overall business model.

Today’s case in point is Comcast. The formerly beleaguered telecommunications company found that Twitter was an effective customer service channel when they started an account called @ComcastCares. People flocked to it for “real time” customer service support and the more personal feeling you get from quick response to your issues, because you knew it was manned by a real person (Frank) – it gave Comcast a human face. I adore the folks that man the various Comcast accounts (ComcastBill, ComcastGeorge, ComcastBonnie, and so on). They listen, they monitor, they respond.

In spite of all the inroads the Comcast reps have made by using Twitter as a channel to improve Comcast’s image and provide better support, in the end they are fighting against their own company’s continuing inability to provide good service offline. Customers use the phrase “it’s Comcastic” sarcastically when something isn’t working for a reason (“What happened?” “Oh, my car stopped working for no reason – it’s Comcastic!”). Comcast has an infrastructure that, in many parts of the country, is woefully inadequate and fails repeatedly. This is not the representatives’ fault, but it affects their jobs online. Too often, I’m sure, they get customers like myself who are forced to use Comcast for lack of any other option, which would be fine if it worked, but who are then faced with problem after problem, outage after outage, service call after service call.

If you are going to open your customer service channel (or any other business channel or feedback channel) to the public, your company needs to back the people manning the account(s) up. Comcast proves that if you can’t put your money where your mouth is, your work toward brand perception improvement or better customer care can still be damaged, even when people interacting with your company on that platform appreciate what you’re trying to do. There comes a time when being responded to and told it will be fixed for the umpteenth time just isn’t enough. Customers love the human contact, sure, but at the end of the day they want results, and not to have to come to your brand representative with the same problem over and over.

The moral of this anecdotal analogy is simple. Any social media campaign needs not only more than one facet online, but a strong backbone at the company level offline. Make sure your company is ready to stand tall under the strain of more attention, and ready to truly fix the underlying main issues or problems, not just what’s on the surface. If you aren’t ready to make real changes if needed, then you may want to rethink your engagement strategy until you are.

  • I could not agree more, it must be part of a broader plan with a purpose. When we set out into social media the goal was never to change the conversation, but rather listen and assist when we can.

    I have always looked at social media has just another means of communication, similar to phone or email. In fact I have used our family website to communicate the birth of each of our children. When the first was born premature, it was a primary means of communication to family and friends. When she was home doing well, we used it to educate people about Cystic Fibrosis. When she was diagnosed with cancer we shared every step of the way on our website. We built so many relationships with friends from around the world. It certainly made this world a smaller place. (http://www.eliasonfamily.info)

    As you can tell I do think social media is just another means to communicate, similar to phone, email, chat or in person. It is a progression that I would expect many Customer Service organizations to take in the future. I also find it to be a great way to obtain the Customer story in their words. We actually share that every day to many leaders in the organization. It is a great way to show the impact that decisions have on the Customer. It is also extremely helpful as we strive to improve the Customer experience. We will continue to work to improve the experience for all our valued Customers!

    Thank you!
    Frank Eliason
    Comcast
    @ComcastCares on Twitter

  • Thanks for your insight, Frank. 🙂 I do think your social media team is doing a phenomenal job responding to people online in the face of challenges from your company that are out of your control. I long for the day when Comcast overhauls their infrastructure in the more overlooked areas (especially in areas where Verizon has pulled FIOS plans, like mine – missing a need here, for sure). I think an infrastructure overhaul would do wonders to help your team (and Comcast itself).

  • I love your personal and candid approach on Twitter. I think it is effective in connecting with customers and letting customers know you care.

    I also agree with the article that a Social Media campaign cannot be successful without the Executive leadership team and the offline organization support and drive to improve Customer Experience. I see the Social Media connection as an adjunct to other means of connecting with customers – especially more digitally savvy customers which is becoming closer to the norm day by day.

    Frank, I am curious, what got Comcast into using Twitter and Social Media in the first place. Was it the Executive Team saying we need new ways to connect or the Customer Care team saying we need to do more? Any tips you can provide for others who want to get Executive Leadership buy-in?

    Thank you for leading the way with @ComcastCares.

  • Here is the brief version of the story. I started in September 2007. In October 2007 Rick Germano became Senior VP of Customer Service. At the time we were reaching out to a few blogs when we could identify the account. Customers were thrilled when we would call (I came from financial services so we were not posting, just calling by phone). I think it was December when one of the leaders asked why we were not posting, so we started to then. Customer continued to love it. So in February, 2008 I was asked to develop a team. That is when I started a daily newsletter, and Scott Westerman, an AVP from the Southwest, told us about Twitter. There were many involved in the overall decision to support it, but also it was Customer reaction that really drove the decision (at least in my opinion).

  • I could not agree more, it must be part of a broader plan with a purpose. When we set out into social media the goal was never to change the conversation, but rather listen and assist when we can.

    I have always looked at social media has just another means of communication, similar to phone or email. In fact I have used our family website to communicate the birth of each of our children. When the first was born premature, it was a primary means of communication to family and friends. When she was home doing well, we used it to educate people about Cystic Fibrosis. When she was diagnosed with cancer we shared every step of the way on our website. We built so many relationships with friends from around the world. It certainly made this world a smaller place. (http://www.eliasonfamily.info)

    As you can tell I do think social media is just another means to communicate, similar to phone, email, chat or in person. It is a progression that I would expect many Customer Service organizations to take in the future. I also find it to be a great way to obtain the Customer story in their words. We actually share that every day to many leaders in the organization. It is a great way to show the impact that decisions have on the Customer. It is also extremely helpful as we strive to improve the Customer experience. We will continue to work to improve the experience for all our valued Customers!

    Thank you!
    Frank Eliason
    Comcast
    @ComcastCares on Twitter

  • Thanks for your insight, Frank. 🙂 I do think your social media team is doing a phenomenal job responding to people online in the face of challenges from your company that are out of your control. I long for the day when Comcast overhauls their infrastructure in the more overlooked areas (especially in areas where Verizon has pulled FIOS plans, like mine – missing a need here, for sure). I think an infrastructure overhaul would do wonders to help your team (and Comcast itself).

  • I love your personal and candid approach on Twitter. I think it is effective in connecting with customers and letting customers know you care.

    I also agree with the article that a Social Media campaign cannot be successful without the Executive leadership team and the offline organization support and drive to improve Customer Experience. I see the Social Media connection as an adjunct to other means of connecting with customers – especially more digitally savvy customers which is becoming closer to the norm day by day.

    Frank, I am curious, what got Comcast into using Twitter and Social Media in the first place. Was it the Executive Team saying we need new ways to connect or the Customer Care team saying we need to do more? Any tips you can provide for others who want to get Executive Leadership buy-in?

    Thank you for leading the way with @ComcastCares.

  • Here is the brief version of the story. I started in September 2007. In October 2007 Rick Germano became Senior VP of Customer Service. At the time we were reaching out to a few blogs when we could identify the account. Customers were thrilled when we would call (I came from financial services so we were not posting, just calling by phone). I think it was December when one of the leaders asked why we were not posting, so we started to then. Customer continued to love it. So in February, 2008 I was asked to develop a team. That is when I started a daily newsletter, and Scott Westerman, an AVP from the Southwest, told us about Twitter. There were many involved in the overall decision to support it, but also it was Customer reaction that really drove the decision (at least in my opinion).

  • Great post. You highlight some excellent points about Twitter and the fact that whatever its unique attributes are it is just another communication channel that brands have available to them. It should not be the end game, nor should it be used to cover up any shortcomings a business has in terms of its customer service.

    I am the Online Help Manager at Carphone Warehouse in the UK ( recently entered into a JV with BestBuy in Europe) and we have been using Twitter in a similar manner to Comcast, as a customer service touchpoint.

    What I've found is that it's a great way to understand what people are really saying about your brand, and if there's a problem it's a very effective medium to open up the conversation. But it is not a resolution channel, it simply gets the ball rolling. After which point the issue is dealt with through more 'traditional' channels such as the phone or email.

  • Great post. You highlight some excellent points about Twitter and the fact that whatever its unique attributes are it is just another communication channel that brands have available to them. It should not be the end game, nor should it be used to cover up any shortcomings a business has in terms of its customer service.

    I am the Online Help Manager at Carphone Warehouse in the UK ( recently entered into a JV with BestBuy in Europe) and we have been using Twitter in a similar manner to Comcast, as a customer service touchpoint.

    What I've found is that it's a great way to understand what people are really saying about your brand, and if there's a problem it's a very effective medium to open up the conversation. But it is not a resolution channel, it simply gets the ball rolling. After which point the issue is dealt with through more 'traditional' channels such as the phone or email.

  • Frank,

    I agree that Twitter and other forms of social media should be part of a larger strategy for customer care. You and your team seem to be making great strides in service. What have you learned from your experience that you believe will show up in other customer touch points at Comcast?

    Scott Solomon
    BI

  • Frank,

    I agree that Twitter and other forms of social media should be part of a larger strategy for customer care. You and your team seem to be making great strides in service. What have you learned from your experience that you believe will show up in other customer touch points at Comcast?

    Scott Solomon
    BI

  • Great post. You highlight some excellent points about Twitter and the fact that whatever its unique attributes are it is just another communication channel that brands have available to them. It should not be the end game, nor should it be used to cover up any shortcomings a business has in terms of its customer service.

    I am the Online Help Manager at Carphone Warehouse in the UK ( recently entered into a JV with BestBuy in Europe) and we have been using Twitter in a similar manner to Comcast, as a customer service touchpoint.

    What I've found is that it's a great way to understand what people are really saying about your brand, and if there's a problem it's a very effective medium to open up the conversation. But it is not a resolution channel, it simply gets the ball rolling. After which point the issue is dealt with through more 'traditional' channels such as the phone or email.

  • Frank,

    I agree that Twitter and other forms of social media should be part of a larger strategy for customer care. You and your team seem to be making great strides in service. What have you learned from your experience that you believe will show up in other customer touch points at Comcast?

    Scott Solomon
    BI

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