Twitter for Online Retailers
Michael Gray and Todd Malicoat Jason Billingsley SES San Jose August 2008
Jason Billingsley: here with Get Elastic. I’m chatting with Michael Gray and Todd Malicoat. Hi guys. Why don’t you tell me what you guys do and who you work for.
Michael Gray: I work for my own consulting company, Atlas Web Service and I’m a general all around troublemaker.
Jason Billingsley: And you have a pretty popular blog, don’t you?
Michael Gray: Yes, I do. Wolf-howl.com
Jason Billingsley: Alright. Todd?
Todd Malicoat: Todd Malicoat, aka Stunt Double, do the SEO consulting thing, same kind of thing, consulting and build some sites here and there and get in a little less trouble than Michael.
Jason Billingsly: Right. Getting hit by traffic and not cars, right?
Todd Malicoat: Exactly
Jason Billingsley: So Todd had a pretty successful event last night and he had a charity party and I think there’s a lot of SEO people here today that are pretty red-eyed and sleepy so thanks, Todd. So today we want to talk a little bit about how online retailers are using Twitter as a marketing channel. So what have you guys seen? What’s creative and what’s really good?
Michael Gray: Twitter’s an interesting tool. You know the limitations of the medium are a hundred and forty characters so that kind of removes a lot of the marketing spiel from it and you’ve got to kind of embrace the customer relations a little bit more direct. So the companies that are willing to deal more directly and face that kind of raw customer interaction, those are the companies that do well with Twitter.
Jason Billingsley: And do you think they have to put some people that are dedicated to the resources they can add it as an ad hoc channel to their marketing mix?
Michael Gray: People have to understand how the online marketing world works. There’s certain etiquette with blogs and email and that sort of thing. And if you don’t understand the etiquette, it’s a really hard thing. If you come at it from saying, “Hey, this is a marketing approach,” you’re probably going to make some mistakes. If you come at it saying, “Hey this is more of a customer service approach,” you’ll probably do a little bit better with it.
Todd Malicoat: I would never let anybody who hasn’t read the Cluetrain Manifesto near my brain on Twitter or any other social media.
Michael Gray: Yeah. That’s probably like a prerequisite.
Todd Malicoat: The best quote I’ve heard recently was Ben from at Word Press said Twitter’s like the new social command line. Kind of like DOS for social. You have your few characters, you can ask a question, and you can do whatever and interact in that small little space. But it’s still that social medium and a way to create the conversation with customers and everything else. Regular retailers are a little different. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of retailers yet.
Michael Gray: I don’t see a lot of the big box people out there. You see people who are kind of at the forefront of customer service. People like Jet Blue, Southwest, Zappos. People who are really into the customer service and interacting more with people as oppose to staying mile high, ivory tower kind of stuff. Those are the people that are moving into Twitter.
Jason Billingsley: Right. Todd, you said an interesting word: conversation. Twitter often is conversational, right, with reply tweets and whatnot? For a retailer that doesn’t have the staff to do bi-directional messaging and they’re very omni-directional, is there still value in that for them?
Todd Malicoat: It depends on the business model. Like Zappos is built off customer service and Jet Blue is built off customer service. That’s why customers love them and they like having that conversation and everything else. You know, United Airlines really doesn’t talk to the customer. Their whole business model is let’s push people off as much as possible. Cell phone providers, AT&T being my least favorite one, really pushes people off and they don’t want to have that conversation. So I think it depends on the model. If you want to have that conversation, if you want to be a company like that or you just want to be cheap. So you can do the cheap way and be United or AT&T or whoever and just have customer service delegates that their whole responsibility is putting people off and not necessarily answering the questions or the really helpful ones. And you’re going to pay more for the helpful ones so you’re going to pay a premium both as the consumer and as the business. So it really depends on the model I think if it’s going to be useful as a medium for them.
Jason Billingsley: So we see a lot of retailers that do live chat on their own web properties. Can Twitter just be seen as an offsite live chat service.
Michael Gray: You can use it in different ways. For companies that are kind of looking to save money and make it more efficient, there are ways to work Twitter. You know there are a lot of Twitter search engines. Twitter actually just bought Surmise. You can use them. There’s Tweet Beep. There are a couple of other tools basically you can program to scan in and it makes the Twitter thing not so much of a burden on the retailer so it makes it a little bit easier to manage and basically they can have somebody scan it maybe two or three times a day you can have email alert comes in, RSS comes in, again, you’re kind of going into that customer service thing. And again, Comcast Cares, is another one where some other customers don’t like them so much and but they’re trying to go out there and use Twitter to address those customer concerns. And for big retailers, they kind of say, we’re afraid of this because what if our customers say bad things about us. And basically if you’re in that position, your customers are saying bad things about you anyway. So are you burying your head in the sand and pretending it’s not there or are you going to try and do some to at least acknowledge it, embrace it, and maybe try to fix some of those problems.
Jason Billingsley: So some of these retailers can be using Twitter for online reputation management.
Michael Gray: Yeah. If you can get in there and do everything that you can. Firefox I know when they released the new version, some people had a lot of buggy experiences with it. And they had someone monitoring, creating a channel. Like “Firefox answers” I think was the profile they were using. And basically they were picking up people who were having problems and trying to make suggestions. Again, were they able to solve everybody’s problem? No, but having somebody there saying hey here’s something to try and trying to help you, that’s a big step. Jason Billingsly: Cool. So, last question. We talked a little bit about Woot.com earlier today. What about retailers that are having Deal of the Day like Amazon Gold Box. Twitter seems to be a good medium for that. What’s your take?
Michael Gray: I would isolate your promotional stuff from your customer service stuff because you’re going to kind of have mixed messages there. And you’ve got to kind of be careful with how you do that. You know some people can get away with doing it but I would say keep your sales channel separate from your customer service channel because you don’t want to be giving people that mixed message.
Todd Malicoat: Yeah. And people would likely want one or the other. I’m there to get deals or I’m there to get help. So I don’t need my help and my deals mixed.
Michael Gray: Yeah. [?] for the right product. That’s a good strategy for Twitter. And again, if you can offer something unique with some sense of immediacy or time expiration, that’s a really really powerful tool. Jason Billingsly: And I think it’d be a mistake for me not to bring up the notion of SEO and Twitter. Is there anything that people are doing creatively for SEO?
Michael Gray: Well if you look at Barrack Obama, if you do a search for his name, Twitter profile is number four for his particular name. For someone who’s a presidential candidate in a site that’s maybe a year, a year and a half old, that’s a pretty impressive result. So again if you’re a company that maybe doesn’t have such a good customer service reputation, having another spot in there that you can control, that’s to your benefit.
Todd Malicoat: And really just the social media tie-in too of pushing stuff out via social media. If you’re doing stuff all the time and you’re getting readership, and you have a bunch of people following and everything else, at some point you’re going do that promotional post or it wasn’t necessarily SEO but even promoting the party was kind of…there’s that cross between the guerrilla marketing and marketing and everything else and then pushing it out via Twitter.
Jason Billingsly: Yeah, we certainly heard about every hour someone talking about the party. Hey guys, thanks a lot for chatting with me about Twitter and how online retailers can use it for another marketing channel.
Todd Malicoat: Absolutely.
Michael Gray: Thank you.