Brands adapt on Twitter

13 December 2011

NEW YORK: Brand owners like Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods and Best Buy are continuing to adapt their strategies on Twitter, as understanding grows about the possibilities and pitfalls the site presents.

Whole Foods, the grocery chain, possesses over 2m followers on Twitter, and sets aside an hour each week to participate directly in conversations on various matters with members of the microblog.

More broadly, customer service has been the main point of emphasis, with Michael Bepko, Whole Foods' global online community manager, dedicating about 90% of his time to engaging individuals.

"The online community doesn't recognize office hours-nor should they," he told the Wall Street Journal. "Waiting until Monday is just not good enough."

Best Buy, the electronics retail group, runs various different Twitter accounts, ranging from one offering deals to another tied to the "Geek Squad", which helps people experiencing technological problems.

Its "Twelpforce" customer service channel also draws on the expertise of roughly 3,000 staff from across the company, who can all respond to queries regarding, say, what products to purchase.

"There is no right answer often," Gina Debogovich, the social media leader for Best Buy in the US, said.

Southwest Airlines boasts around ten staff working on Twitter from between 5am and 11pm, and allocated significant resources to training employees in this area.

"Can you imagine if you called into an airline and the person who answered the phone had to ask someone else for the answer?" said Christi McNeill, Southwest's social and emerging media specialist.

Some brands, however, have witnessed greater difficulties. Chrysler, for example, split with New Media Strategies after a member of the social media agency's staff posted a less than complimentary remark about Detroit's drivers on its Twitter feed.

Kenneth Cole, the apparel manufacturer, faced a similar problem after an official tweet suggested the Egyptian uprising earlier this year was linked to the fact protestors had heard its "new spring collection was available online".

Elsewhere, American Airlines recently challenged a tweet by actor Alec Baldwin saying he had been removed from a flight for playing Words With Friends, an online game. Baldwin later apologised to other travellers and deactivated his Twitter feed.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff