Numbers can portray an incomplete picture. Twitter.com - the micro-blogging and social networking platform with two million unique visitors in India - may look very small compared to Orkut and Facebook,which have 18 million and 12.5 million unique visitors respectively in India (source, comScore), but wait.
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That is why when the Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor posted a tweet (a message posted on Twitter) in which he referred to an airline's 'economy class' as 'cattle class' in September last year, it made headlines in the mainline media and created a stir in the Congress. Tharoor has more than seven lakh followers on Twitter.
Earlier this year, Shah Rukh Khan (Twitter.com/iamsrk, 2.60 lakh followers), took up this platform to put forward his views on the My Name is Khan-Shiv Sena controversy. Lalit K Modi (Twitter.com/lalitkmodi, 56,000 plus followers) used the micro-blogging tool to announce the IPL partnerships, and that is where mainline media picked up the news.
It's not just celebrities who have become active members of the micro-blogging site. Many brands across categories in India are present though they are still striving to leverage it effectively. Among them: media brands (MTV India, Channel V and The Times of India), book publisher Penguin India, multiplex chain PVR theatres, retail brands (Big Bazaar and Shoppers Stop), banking and financial companies (ICICI Bank and Kotak Cards), hospitality (Trident), information technology firms (Infosys and Wipro), consumer durables (Whirlpool and Sony) and coffee chain (Café Coffee Day).
The Buzz machine
Twitter creates more buzz than traditional blogs, which are relatively lengthy posts and cannot be easily updated on the move. In contrast, Twitter's short format messaging service and capability to update through various touch points such as mobile phones (through both GPRS and SMS), desktop applications and in-browser plug-ins - without opening the site again and again makes it more user friendly. All this leads to a higher frequency of usage which amplifies the buzz.
"It is easier to use Twitter to write and publish immediate reactions, instead of doing the same on a blog which requires more analysis and time," says Kiruba Shankar, a blogger and founder of Business Blogging, a social media consultancy.
IPL (Season 3) on YouTube is a good example of the micro-blogging site's instant power. On March 12, as soon as the first match began to stream, Twitter users began sharing their views on the quality of it. A user named @Shobhitmaini tweeted; "Youtube's coverage of IPL sucks. C'mon Google, we expected something better!!"
Apart from sheer speed, Shankar points out, "Facebook is like a walled garden while Twitter is an open one." Unlike Facebook, where members have to invite one another to become a friend, anybody can follow a person on Twitter. On Twitter, one is not required to add a person to his friend's list to check the information posted by other Twitter users, while one is required to request and add a person to check his status updates on Facebook. It implies that the reach of a Twitter message is multifold as non-Twitter.com users can also check updates of a Twitter member.
The power of 140
On March 4, 2010, two days after the sex tapes of Karnataka-based Swami Nithyananda allegedly showed him with a Tamil actress were broadcast on a channel, 2,000 Twitter users posted about 7,900 messages mentioning or discussing the affair (source, WTHashtag.com, a Twitter trend monitoring website).
Assuming that each Twitter contributor has about 100 followers, the messages would have reached more than 200,000 users (ignoring the duplicated reach). However, since an internet user can integrate Twitter with his Facebook, Linkedin, blog or website, a tweet has the capability to automatically get posted on each of the other platforms. This creates a large additional reach for a tweet.
Not only this, search engines Google and Bing now incorporate messages (on Twitter) related to keywords searched on a real-time basis along with other search results. This means that people who searched for 'Nithyananda', may have checked the related Twitter messages flashed on Google or Bing that day.
From the media standpoint, this additional reach is significant. Prasanth Mohanachandran, former executive director, digital services, OgilvyOne and Neo@Ogilvy thinks that "it is a targeted and relevant reach".
THE TWITTER GUIDE
Twitter.com is a micro-blogging website with some features of social networking. A user is required to first create an account on Twitter.com. Once registered, the user is assigned a unique or dedicated address on the internet. For instance, a user named 'xyz' may get 'Twitter.com/xyz' as his address. He can log into it, write and publish posts. These can be seen by anyone.
Unlike blogs - where users can write indefinitely - Twitter restricts the number of characters in a single post to 140. But there is no limit on the number of blog posts a user can publish on Twitter.
In Twitter terminology, a Twitter user name is called 'Twitter handle' which can be expressed as '@username', and can accessed at Twitter.com/username. A blog post is termed an 'Update' or 'Tweet'.
Twitter enables its users to add and create their own network of friends (other Twitter users). Adding other Twitter users implies that the user wants to subscribe or receive updates which will be displayed inside his Twitter account.
A twitter account has two important webpages - 'Home' and 'Profile' that are displayed real time. The 'Home' page will display 'updates' posted by the user himself as well as of other Twitter users, whose updates he has subscribed to. The 'Profile' page will only carry the 'updates' posted or reposted by the user himself.
FOLLOWING AND FOLLOWERS
|'Following' indicates the list of other Twitter users, whom a user has added in his Twitter network to get updates or tweets posted by them. One can add friends or follow other Twitter users by clicking on a button titled 'Follow' displayed near the picture of any Twitter user on his 'Profile' page (to access, type in 'Twitter.com/username').|
Twitter's social networking feature is slightly different from an Orkut or a Facebook. The latter ask the member to send a request before adding any user to his network. A recipient is added only when he or she accepts the request. Once accepted, both sender and recipient are connected.
With Twitter, just clicking the Follow button is enough to add anyone to the network and see his or her updates. The user gets a mail that someone has added or started 'Following' him. Though a follower can see updates of those he is following, the latter can't see his updates unless he is a follower in turn.
Twitter for brands
Customer care With the availability of Twitter, consumers don't even require a company's customer care phone number or e-mail address to report a problem, believes Hareesh Tibrewala, joint chief executive officer, Social Wavelength, a Mumbai-based social media agency (it manages Twitter accounts of Just Dial, Star World, Channel V and Star Movies). If a consumer has an account on the site, he can post a tweet and let the company know about his feedback. "If the company is tracking Twitter, it will immediately find out the feedback as soon as it is posted and respond to it," he says. A recent incident involving Chennai Super Kings (CSK) incident proves what Tibrewala points out.
On February 25 Kiruba Shankar posted a message at 8:45 am on Twitter, "Trying since 5 am to book IPL tickets at ChennaiSuperKings.com only to stare at server errors. #Fail." Within a few hours, an official from Chennai Super Kings (CSK) called him to sort out the problem. Shankar posted a message on Twitter, "Quick response from CSK. Booked my ticket for the CSK vs DC match. Shiva from their IT team patiently helped out."
The matter seemed to have ended there. Later, however, Shankar was asked in person to pick up the tickets from the stadium a day before the match. In frustration Shankar tweeted, "Its stupid to ask ppl who bought IPL ticket online to come to the stadium a day in advance to pick the physical ticket. #fail". A CSK official again called him to explain why they were forced to adopt this method. This incident demonstrates how marketers can figure out negative feedback or problems immediately and resolve them before they get out of hand.
Some of the leading brands which use Twitter for customer care are ICICI Bank, online travel agency Makemytrip.com and Just Dial an information search engine and yellow pages firm. "Depending on the intensity of the problem raised by a consumer on Twitter, ICICI Bank either writes back and provides a solution on the microblogging site itself or asks the irate customers to send further details on an e-mail address and then gives him a call later to resolve issue," observes an expert. It is estimated that ICICI Bank addresses and resolves about 200-300 problems per month in this way.
Just Dial, which created its presence on Twitter just a few months ago has started using it to provide specific dealer and product or services-related information to consumers. "Just Dial has utilised Twitter to help and pass on information about dealers and service provider of various products to about 700 people in the last three months," claims Tibrewala of Social Wavelength.
Marketing communication On March 17, 5.24 pm a Delhi-based Twitter user named Mohak Gambhir posted a message on Twitter, "I'm at Cafe Coffee Day, Greater Kailash II (GK-2, New Delhi). http://4sq.com/9qF7qP" At 5.29 pm, Café Coffee Day, which is active as Twitter.com/CafeCoffeeDay replied, "@mohak Try out our Cricket Special menu - http://p1n.in/cpl4 - Don't forget your scorecard for a chance to win Free Tkts & merchandise."
"With Twitter, marketers can monitor their target audience across geographies, connect with them on a personal level on a real-time basis," says Aditya Rao, co-founder and director, Superchooha, a social business communications firm. Brands or even celebrities can employ Twitter to share information or disseminate news. For instance, on March 17, 2010 Airtel posted news on Twitter.com/AirtelNews "Bharti Airtel and Dow Jones Partner for Launch of The Wall Street Journal India Mobile." This news was out on Twitter even before it was published across business dailies the next day.
Ashok Lalla, president, digital, Euro RSCG has a piece of advice for marketers: "Marketers should go beyond their brand world while conversing on Twitter and should broaden their chatter to include the users' world. For instance, a car brand on Twitter can participate in chatter about traffic snarls in the city, share traffic updates and highlight new restaurants along a certain route."
Online reputation management On February 04, 2010, a few users gathered at the Café Coffee Day outlet at Ispahani Center in Chennai for a tweet-up. After they had ordered coffee, the outlet manager asked them to either pay a cover charge to carry on the tweet-up or leave the outlet. The users left but soon began tweeting about the incident.
For instance, a Twitter user named PPrakash posted on Twitter: "CCD sucks... @cafecoffeeday at Isphani center is kicking twitter out.. #ccdsucks". On Feb 05, Café Coffee Day, also active on Twitter, replied, "@PPrakash @AmolMathur @ahmedhussain @idlee_amin @CreativeWolf Tnks for letting us kno ppl! We don have a policy to chrg a cover. Chking rt nw".
News about the incident spread on Twitter and more than an estimated 700 messages - either against or in-favour of Café Coffee Day - were posted on the micro-blogging site within three days. After a few days, Café Coffee Day posted on its Twitter account, "#ccd @CafeCoffeeDay Met wid Ispahani cntr twters n assured such incident wil nt occur in future."
Although the coffee chain managed the #CCDSucks incident well, it is a good lesson for marketers about how damaging word of mouth can spread quickly. Brands need to monitor what is being said about them.
Sales channel The best example for using Twitter as a sales channel is Dell. The company announced, in December 2009, that it has generated orders worth $6.5 million for PCs, accessories and software through Twitter.
In a news report published on Bloomberg.com in December last year, Manish Mehta, vice president, Dell Online, pointed out, "The $6.5 million represents the total amount generated through direct customer interactions on Twitter over that time. While those sales are a fraction of Dell's $61.1 billion in annual revenue last year, the company sees Twitter as one of its most significant ways of interacting with customers."
Dell mostly tweets about its products, coupon codes and announces discount offers at Twitter.com/delloutlet, which has more than 1.5 million followers.
Tibrewala thinks that marketers should not use Twitter solely for sales promotion. He says, "There is a need to find a balance in the type of messages a brand posts. For instance, promotional and marketing communication messages should contribute 20 per cent, while the majority of tweets should be centred around issues about which consumers feel passionately."
Hrush Bhatt, founder and director, product and strategy, Cleartrip.com believes that, "It's far more appealing to be a part of the Twitter conversation than it is to try and use Twitter as a sales or lead generation tool." Bhatt says that the website very rarely post updates related to itself. More often than not, it talks about other things that are interesting to the online community. "We post about technology, internet news, politics, movies and anything else we come across that is interesting to us. Most of our posts contain a link to a third party web site with an article that we found interesting and shared."
Market research Instant availability of an audience on Twitter makes it a good tool for market research. For instance, Mumbai-based digital agency Pinstorm uses its Twitter account for market surveys. The agency has already conducted studies on topics related to classified sites and local search services. Rao of Superchooha goes on to give an example of its client Zapak. "Zapak.com has used Twitter to dig out details about the type of games consumers may like to play online," he says.
Rao also points out an international example - Mountain Dew uses social media along with Twitter to engage its consumers in the new Dew flavour development process.
These are just a few ways in which brands can exploit Twitter's reach and instant connect. With the micro-blogging platform gaining more prominence, it will be interesting to see what other uses brands will come up with on this conversation-led platform.
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Radian6.com: Track conversations across social media platforms such as Twitter, blogs, forums and social networking sites. Analyse conversations and prepare reports about positive and negative mentions.
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Desktop applications: Receive and post Twitter updates from your desktop by downloading desktop Twitter applications from TweetDeck.com, Twhirl.com or Seesmic.com.
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(Kapil Ohri tweets at Twitter.com/kapilohri)