Update: The day after I published this post, I was introduced to yet another brand on Twitter that could not comprehend the subtleties of human interaction. You can read about the late entry to this edition of Darwininian Advolution here.
Isn’t Twitter just swell? Sure, it has problems like declining user growth, rampant harassment, and a gaggle of spam accounts. But that doesn’t mean that businesses can’t have one hell of a good time finding ways to engage with customers. With 288 million users sending 500 million tweets every day, listening on Twitter is just as important and useful as talking. Unfortunately, too many brands have mistaken social media for nothing more than a low-cost advertising soapbox. If there was ever been a sure way to fall behind in the game of marketing natural selection, it’s not taking the time to hear what your audience is saying.
To be brutally honest, I wish this post wasn’t necessary. I wanted Darwinian Advolution to jump right into thoughtful discussion on how brand messaging is adapting to fit changing audiences and mediums. However, it seems that we have to start with a more remedial lesson for the companies that are still struggling with basic communication skills. So we’ll be looking at why conversations on Twitter need to be a two-way street.
Ad. erectus: American Apparel
Get your mind out of the gutter. Homo erectus was a primitive hominid species predating even H. neanderthalis. And we need a more primitive label than usual to describe one of the most unresponsive and monotonous Twitter presences in existence. But American Apparel? They’re edgy, they’re hip, they relentlessly target the youth market. Surely they must be on their Twitter game. Well they certainly do post quite a bit, but they aren’t so great at using the platform to communicate directly with specific users. A prime example of this mediocrity can be found in the most recent response to a complai… er, wait… oh dear.
That is the most recent response that I could find to a customer’s tweet, dated December 6, 2013. And don’t think for a moment that nobody has posted questions, complaints or even compliments addressed to American Apparel on Twitter for the past year. Believe me, they have.
The American Apparel Twitter feed reads like some neverending nightmare catalog. Virtually every single post is a picture of some of their products, accompanied by a brief description and a link to their online store. Ever so rarely, the stream of promotional shots is interrupted by a retweet of a celebrity or model’s post, which of course contains a flattering mention of American Apparel. But finding examples of interaction with average folks is a fool’s errand. I had to do an obscene amount of scrolling just to get the tweet shown above.
Then again, I almost have to applaud American Apparel for consistency. Their marketing materials nearly always exude self-importance, and their responses to criticism and controversy are usually tone-deaf. The company’s Twitter profile oozes with this trademark smugness and carelessness, obviously valuing self-promotion over interaction. Attempting to flaunt some sense of superiority by not talking to anybody on social media puts American Apparel on a new level of marketing troglodyte.
Ad. sapiens: Chipotle
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anybody. Chipotle has always been intent on avoiding any brand association with the processed, the manufactured and the artificial. They take this all-natural, approachable identity seriously even in the digital space, which is important since you can’t distract people with burritos directly over the internet. So they go beyond the basic necessities of responsiveness and relevance in their Twitter interactions.
Here you have a lamentation I once posted over the brutal tragedy of having to wait in line before I could stuff my face, and Chipotle’s reply. Petty as my grievance was, they responded before I was even out of that line. Not only was it prompt, but it was signed “Nicole” to add a touch of humanity and accountability. Not that it matters if someone named Nicole actually wrote that tweet. For all I know it could have been a Hell’s Angel named Sledge or an automated response from Skynet. The point is adding that signature complimented practical advice with the appearance of personability.
Chipotle doesn’t just devote their online time to dispensing sage advice either. They’re incredibly eager to engage in Twitter conversations that appear to be just for the sake of being social and cracking wise.
Juliet happens to be a friend of mine, so I can verify that she’s not dumb enough to expect Chipotle to make a burrito drone or cannon. Chipotle’s social media managers were smart enough to pick up on the joke, and they replied in kind. On top of the humor, we once again see prompt response times and a first name included with each tweet. They even reply twice, turning the gag into a mock negotiation.
Chipotle gets more that just the joy of conversation by adhering to these standards; the endgame is consumer loyalty. Even in the form of 140 characters or fewer, showing customers that their voices are heard makes them feel like a part of the brand. Once they feel that connection, they’ll start spreading the word on their own.
I know these point are no revelatory breakthroughs in social marketing. The great shame of it is that there are so many companies that are behind the curve on comprehending even the basic function social media. That kind of ignorance leads to the seemingly insane behavior of constantly posting but never listening. If, like American Apparel, you think your brand is above communicating directly with your customer base, then stick to web banners and magazine ads. To be on Twitter, you have to accept that you are one out of 288 million voices. So you can either pay some attention to the other 287,999,999 every now and again, or see how much buzz you generate by talking to yourself.