May 11, 2012

Handle It: Why Twitter Handles Belong in Your Database

(Note: B2B Marketers, this is most especially to you)

To a new generation email feels old and even “outdated.”  However, for many years now, email is the medium by which companies communicate from a digital perspective (more broadcasting that communicating, but I’m being aspirational).  Customers are all too familiar with it.  They can’t seem to put down their mobile devices or tablets long enough to lose their attraction to it, checking and sending email with friends and coworkers.  Clearly, despite some peoples’ desire to have email pass on to the great “old media bucket in the sky,” it remains.  I hear companies still talking about collecting email addresses so that they can communicate with customers to market a promotion, handle customer service issues and track product shipments, etc…so why aren’t companies talking about collecting a Twitter handle?

Despite our experience and recommendations, I don’t see companies collecting customer Twitter handles as a profile attribute.  From a data perspective, I view a Twitter handle no differently than an email address.  I am pretty surprised that I am not seeing more and more companies storing this vital new information.  Is it because companies have just figured out how to collect and communicate using email?  Is it because companies don’t want to invest in the time and capital to modify their existing customer systems to track this information?  Or is it that companies don’t think it is important to collect this data at this time?  In some cases I feel that the answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes.

It’s always amazing to hear companies indicate how challenged they are with social business, when they are still trying to use decade old marketing and data management tactics to gain ground with customers.  Seriously folks, it is past time to start bashing some silos.  It is time to start collecting more and different information.  It’s time to start not just collecting data but actually using it.

Do twitter handles lose freshness?  Yes.  Do they become dormant?  Absolutely, some of them do – and often quite quickly.   Do they need care and feeding to stay fresh?  Yes.  Do you need to do some work to collect them?  Of course.  However, there are analytic and profile benefits in doing so

Here are five:

Actionability – a quick tweet is far easier to read to than an email – especially while shopping or simply being out and about.

Directness – when you tweet, you share something directly with an individual; and optionally with your community.  It’s not about selling, it’s about sharing.

“Sociability” – the presence of a twitter handle and recent activity provides some validation of social participation, which may drive a different interaction style in customer communications (certainly worth testing).

Topic Analysis – finding out what someone is talking about allows a number of  spinoffs including supporting a Thank You Department; detecting customer service SNAFUs, gaining user testimonials and category/competitor research.

Research – social media can get you answers faster and more effectively than complex and potentially drawn out marketing research.  It’s an inexpensive way to ask people to provide feedback on your new website layout, a store offer, you name it…If you build your community well, people will respond.

While adding Twitter handles may not be an easy task to accomplish, companies should be identifying, tracking and storing them. This very important piece of data can help companies interact with some of their customers every minute of the day – most especially when they are a part of the conversation.  Furthermore, companies have limited its scope to just promoting a brand or handling customer services issues but why not use Twitter in different and innovative ways.  Why aren’t we using a twitter handle (instead of email) to provide direct messages to customers about the shipping status of a product?  Why aren’t companies using Twitter for other types of notifications that have been historically reserved for email.  Email is a dying digital breed, start collecting and associating a twitter handle for your customers…but be ready to start using it because your customers will demand it!