“What ifs” keep companies from seeing true value of Twitter

Jan 10, 13 “What ifs” keep companies from seeing true value of Twitter

What’s the chance of you walking out of your house tomorrow and being struck by lightning? According to the National Weather Service, one in a million. Maybe just slightly higher if you Ben Franklin it and fly a kite with a key tied to it in a rainstorm.

What are the odds of you actually winning the Powerball and really being able to quit your job, pay off your house and go live on an island for a year? According to The Huffington Post, one in 175 million.

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll like this one. Heard it today after Iowa St. didn’t foul Kansas up by three with eight seconds left and allowed Ben McLemore to hit a game-tying three as time expired. What is the likelihood that Kansas could have hit the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, got the rebound, kicked it out for three, hit the shot and beat Iowa State in regulation? According to a Harvard study, one in 12,000. And the radio host added, no one can identify a game where it’s actually happened.

Allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by any of these what ifs seems kind of silly, right? We might as well embrace agoraphobia…or a career besides basketball coach. No one really walks out of their house each day and sprints to the car while looking at the sky in fear, do they?

Literally, no. But figuratively, companies do this every day when it comes to adopting social media — specifically Twitter — to engage with customers. I have literally been in meetings before where I’m trying to show a mish-mash of Legal, IT, HR and Communications representatives with a C-level leader on top the value of Twitter as a customer service tool and they just what-if the topic to death for a couple of hours before walking out of the room…probably to go buy a Powerball ticket.

A story in PR Daily this week quoted a study from Acquity Group that showed 45 out of 50 major retailer brands had a company Twitter account. But only 29 percent of the retailers used those accounts for customer service. To the remaining 79 percent, I’d ask just one question — What the hell are you waiting for?

There is no foolproof solution to help these companies feel at ease when it comes to using Twitter to engage customers. But each brand needs to take some time to figure out why they are so scared and which of their what ifs have even actually happened to another company before. Ever. On Earth.

Education, a social media policy, and scenario training are usually good ways to begin to ease the what if fears. But what’s amazing to me is how many smart, experienced, dynamic people in leadership positions would rather sit around and waste time what-iffing than actually talking to their customers through a tool like Twitter.

I want to ask these people what they’re afraid of. Afraid of being successful maybe? Because if you look at any retail brand that has embraced a culture of open communication with its customers — Zappos, Southwest, Patagonia — that usually makes it easier to embrace customer service via Twitter. And those are the companies you read about in Mashable and The Wall Street Journal. The leaders you see keynote presentations at conferences. The brands that continue to thrive in a down economy. The leaders that inspire people to want to do their jobs differently…better.

So if you’re sitting at one of the 71 percent of retail not using Twitter to engage with customers, ask yourself why not? And then maybe turn the “what ifs” around on your colleagues and leaders.

What if we did take the time to show customers we’re listening? What if we did prove we’re a brand that puts customers first and wants to help? What if we educated our employees and ourselves about Twitter? What if we trained our customer service team to manage issues raised on Twitter just like they do any other channel?

Because I can answer the what if about avoiding a culture of engaging with customers the way they want to engage because that way something bad can’t happen. Your company’s potential for success will become almost as likely as your chances of a team losing when it fouls up by three with under 10 seconds left.

Well, if a team ever does actually lose a game that way since, you know, it’s never happened.

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