It’s exciting to see how new social media tools evolve, as participants discover new ways to use them, including commercial ones. Of course, commercial use of social media can be a bit touch and go. After all, the key word here is SOCIAL, and members of communities can get pretty prickly when marketers infringe on their space in inappropriate ways.
Twitter, the micro-blogging community, has been around for awhile, but 2008 seems to be the year in which it’s coming into its own. For those as yet uninitiated, Twitter members can post short micro-blogs of 140 characters or less about anything that moves them. They can create lists of people whose “tweets” (posts) they follow. Likewise they can see who follows them. At my last count, which is a while ago, Twitter had over a million users. It’s still growing strong, and has lately received a great deal of press coverage.
Now marketers are getting into the act. Comcast (comcastcares) and HRBlock are two companies that have been using Twitter successfully to address customer questions and problems. There are real, live people managing the sites. They engage with people personally, politely and with a real human voice, to ensure questions are answered and appropriate actions are taken to address issues. I twittered HRBlock, and it was a very positive experience, a refreshingly human conversation between me (Mr. Consumer) and HRBlock (Mr. Brand).
But lately I’ve been experiencing a different kind of brand contact on Twitter that I’m less happy about. Twitter lets you know via email when someone new is following you. There’s always a sense of satisfaction, and admittedly, ego gratification about that. A human being out there wants to hear what you have to say. Often it’s someone with whom you share a common interest or passion. But increasingly, many of those “Follower” notices aren’t a person, they’re a business, or somebody hawking some product or service. Basically it’s spam. It’s bad enough that I receive emails alerting me to these unwanted Followers who clog up my Follower list. But often I can’t even tell from the email notice if the Follower has a commercial purpose. I received one from “leannecook” who turned out to be someone looking for “great leaders who would like to earn a six figure income.” Oh dear. I wouldn’t mind so much if I were informed immediately if the email alert was from a commercial Follower, so that I could quickly opt out (i.e. delete) or in to their following me.
This is social media abuse. It’s exploiting a social community as a one-way media channel to sell me something. It’s a breach of faith and trust. Comcast and HRBlock have gotten it right. They don’t push the contact on anyone. In cases where Comcast initiated contact, it was because they had heard someone on Twitter talking about a problem with Comcast. Generally those people were pleasantly surprised when Comcast got in touch with them via Twitter. With HRBlock, the customer initiates the Twitter contact, for example, through the HRBlock web site. Both these companies are using Twitter in the right spirit, to enable direct one-to-one conversations for the benefit of both the brand and the consumer. These little guys, on the other hand, just don’t seem to get it.