One of Twitter’s key benefits is that it gives you the chance to communicate casually with customers on their terms, creating friendly relationships along the way—tough for corporations to do in most other mediums.
Think of it. For years companies have relied on symbols (logos, text, pictures) to represent them. General Electric, IBM, Westinghouse--Brands with easily identifiable logos, the mere sight of which called up an image in our mind. Today we have Nike, VW, and McDonald's. I'm sure you can remember an early Ronald McDonald or perhaps the Norelco Santa buzzing over the snowdrifts at Christmas time. But for all of the power and success that came from Madison Avenue it was a passive one-way conversation with the customer.
Logos and advertisements were created as ambassadors of a corporation, to introduce the brand and product or service to people unfamiliar with it. Logos and advertisements traveled where a company's sales staff couldn't - the buyer's home or office or with them to far away places. There was no engaging the customer, no risk, and no accountability. There was a timelag and buffer between the company and the customer and as a result, corporations took on mythic identities. The word corporation became a label for something untouchable, with deep pockets, and power.
The landscape has shifted. Reliance on passive forms of communication including TV & radio advertisements, print media, and even websites has drastically diminished. They are still useful but they are not effective enough to stand on their own. At PubCon Las Vegas this year the mantra was Mobile & Local. Reach out to your customers where they are. Don't just wait for the customer to come to you - that's reactive. Today, it's about finding customers where they gather to talk about what they like, where they engage each other in conversations - that's proactive. This is the reason Twitter is so darn useful - it allows us to actively engage people wherever they are.
I've heard/read the naysayers doubts about Twitter's usefullness. In my opinion, about half of them are afraid of Twitter and the other half can't think outside what they know. The fear comes from Twitter's immediacy. There is no hiding, no lag time, no buffer. When someone has a gripe, they can let it be known in an instant and within seconds their friends, strangers and other customers can comment or spread the original tweet. In a very few minutes a bad reputation could be built around the globe. As a company, the thought of such immediate engagement is teffifying. How to control the conversation, minimize damage, and wipe the blemish away? It's unlikely a company would find themselves in this situation - except for maybe BP. And I think it's the wrong way to think about Twitter.
It is precisely because Twitter is immediate, uncensored, and efficient at communicating a thought that it is necessary for companies to participate because just as a tweet that casts doubt or ill-will about a company can travel, so too can one that carries praise and compliment. It is precisely because whatever we write is immediately subjected to scrutiny by thousands of people, judged for it's value, and brings reaction that can earn a company faithful, even fanatic, customers. It is only a risk to companies that have something to hide. Honesty, humility, and a willingness to improve easily outweigh mistakes over time. It's not the incident itself that people will remember. It's what a company did or didn't do. It is an unexpected gesture of good will, willingness to share, genuineness, that earn solid reputations and respect.
I've noticed that some people using Twitter seem to forget (especially those new to Twitter) a basic rule we use every day: be yourself. Of course a company is many people and the obvious question is how can a company practice "be yourself?" The answer is, it can't. But it can select competent people it trusts to represent it's interests that share similar interests with it's customers.
Twitter isn't a sales tool. It's an information gathering, community building, word of mouth sales force, your worst critic, and your fiercest champion. Twitter is a conduit for the many different faces and personalities that share the same planet. Using Twitter you implicitly agree to expose your thoughts and engage with other people. I think Twitter is a phenomenal tool and we are only beginning to understand it's potential.