Talk to the (Twitter) Hand: The Perils of Non-Engagement

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net. Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too. The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches.

Every day, companies are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon—and perhaps, yours has done the same. Maybe it’s the lure of gaining new followers. Or possibly the attraction comes from all those Twitter success stories circulating the ‘Net.

Or maybe it’s because Twitter takes five minutes to set up and doesn’t cost a dime. That’s OK, too.

The thing is, many brands forget that Twitter is more than having a “who’s bigger” follower list or having the ability to Tweet pithy sales pitches. Twitter is two-way communication, people. Not a one-sided soliloquy where you’re Tweeting solely for corporate self-gratification.

So let’s talk about two major brands that “get it” and use Twitter to its fullest potential. And then zero in on one company’s massive Twitter #fail.

Alaska Airlines and Starbucks give really good Tweets. When you read them, you get a sense that there is a person behind the computer—rather than a faceless corporate PR entity. In fact, Alaska Airlines even names the person handling the Tweets that day. And yes, their Tweets are more than just what these folks had for breakfast. For instance, Alaska Airlines promoted gift certificates and Starbucks previewed an upcoming sale on Cyber Monday (see the actual Tweets in the media player at right).

But here’s what makes both companies decidedly different: These brands engage with their customers. Starbucks and Alaska Airlines chat with their Twitter followers, answer questions and provide real-time customer service (see more examples in the media player).

Pretty cool, eh? And that’s why many people follow Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The content is good, you know you’ll get a response and you’ll learn something. Maybe it’s early notification of a sale. Maybe it’s when in-flight wi-fi will be back. It’s useful information.

Let’s compare this to Citibank’s Twitter stream.

To say that Citibank has had reputation management issues in 2009 is putting it mildly. From taking bailout money to hiking credit card rates on some customers to 29.99 percent, the bank’s latest missteps have caused many good customers to cut up their cards. If there ever was a time for a robust social media campaign so people could “meet” the friendly customer service team members behind the scenes (that is, humanizing the corporation), now would be that time.

The good news is that Citibank has a Twitter account. The bad news is that it’s running it all wrong. Rather than using Twitter as a way to engage customers, the firm’s locking its customers out.

For instance, check out some Tweets mentioning @citibank in the media player, above, followed by a screen capture of Citibank’s Twitter page.

So, OK, let’s give Citibank the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it signed up for a Twitter handle to protect its brand identity—but doesn’t plan to leverage this account for some reason. You could almost forgive the bank … except for the Twitter account promoting the Citi Forward credit card (see the media player again, please).

Here are three problems:

  1. Although it will re-tweet, Citibank doesn’t answer Tweets (I tried)—so there’s no real interaction
  2. Saying that Citi Forward is “the card that rewards you for good behavior” seems a bit disingenuous considering that other Citibank customers with good credit histories have had their interest rates hiked to almost 30 percent.
  3. There’s no customer service component.

In short, Citibank is basically telling its Twitter followers to “talk to the hand” (or perhaps, its middle finger.) Rather than dealing with its reputation management issue head-on—communicating with folks and showing the human side behind the financial institution—Citibank is sending out Tweets that provide useful tips, yes … but talks AT its followers rather than WITH them.

If you’re planning a Twitter account (or currently maintaining one,) remember that Twitter is a real conversation (in 140 characters or less.) You wouldn’t keep a friend who constantly talked about herself, seemed oblivious to how other people perceived her and never listened to you.

It’s no different in the online world.

The perils of non-engagement in the Twitter universe are real—and the rewards for an excellent, interactive campaign are also real.

After all, what would you rather do? Tell people to talk to your Twitter hand or, instead, engage with your prospects and customers in a new, interactive (and profitable) way?

Seems to me, the choice is easy.