When McDonald's launched its McCafÃ© advertising campaign in May, the company took a bold marketing step. It opened a Twitter account, @McCafeYourDay.
For a company that has traditionally tightly controlled its messaging, opening itself up to the world of Twitter and its millions of users' text-based posts was a leap forward. After all, its Facebook page has more than 380,000 fans but no way for them to communicate with the brand, something other companies tend to allow.
The goal with Twitter, said Julie Pottebaum, a consultant for McDonald's, was to open another avenue to reach customers.
"The whole idea is about being where customers are, being relevant, listening to them and how they feel about the product and sharing new McCafÃ© news," she said.
For quick-service brands on Twitter, consumer engagement is one of the primary goals of their interacting on the microblogging site. And there are plenty of consumers to reach as the site grows in popularity.
According to digital measurement company comScore's latest figures, Twitter had 32 million users worldwide in April. That number is far below Facebook's 200 million users but is a growing segment.
The free service enables its users to send and read other users' updates of up to 140 characters known as tweets displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them, known as followers.
Twitter by the numbers
- Twitter grew more than 1,000 percent between February 2008 and February 2009 to 7 million. By April 2009, that number had multiplied more than four fold.
- Only 40 percent of Twitter users continue to regularly maintain their accounts after one month.
- In February 2009 that the site's primary users were in the 35-49 age group.
The Nielsen Co.
Aggressive growth tactics
McCafeYourDay's following — 391 at last count — is small compared to other brands. Unlike other QSRs' Twitter sites, the McCafÃ© account contains no McDonald's brand images, and "Jessie from communications'" posts are generally about how the coffee products boost her work day.
Other brands have found success with more aggressive tactics in seeking followers, which they hope translates into increased brand awareness and ultimately store traffic.
Church's Chicken, for example, launched its Twitter site last month to promote its Random Acts of Goodness $1,000 giveaways, marking the brand's first foray into social media. The company tweets hints about the locations it will visit and has seen its followers increase with each one, said Farnaz Wallace, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Church's Chicken.
The company also offered other incentives to boost its number of followers, now with more than 1,700 followers on @ChurchsChicken. One tactic is its offer of a video game to its 2,000th follower as well as to each 100th follower along the way. The company also rewarded customers who posted about their own acts of goodness and is donating $1 for every follower as part of the campaign.
Wallace said the site has achieved its goal. "Whether over the internet or PDA, the Church's Chicken Twitter is a portal that uses pictures, tweets, videos, polls and other features to let our followers know what we are doing, where we are, what's coming up and how much we love connecting with them."
Valuable customer input
For Krystal, the brand's Twitter engagement (@Krystalist) is one more way it interacts with its customers online. With more than 1,900 followers, the interaction on the site has even contributed to its product development.
Krystal has taken note of customer's product and flavor suggestions on the site and set up an account for its director of research and development. Becky Conner (@K_Becks) posts or 'tweets' updates from the company's test kitchen.
The company's R&D staff is now testing several ideas for its MilkQuake milkshakes from customer tweets, said Brad Wahl, vice president of marketing for Krystal, one of several Krystal corporate staff who work together to manage the brand's Twitter site.
The company also used its Twitter account to promote its activities for National Hamburger Month in May. Events culminated with an online live giveaway show that also involved Twitter. The company tracked 300 tweets with the #KrystalHD hastag, which potentially reached 30,000 people based on the average person having 100 followers, Wahl said. Combined with posts to the company's Facebook page, Wahl estimates the event resulted in imore than 2 million online impressions — and grew its Twitter following.
"The entire month-long giveaway increased our followers by neare 120 percent," he said. "Many of the new followers obtained were not only new to us to but to Twitter, so they actraully got on Twitter to be part of our event."
@Rita'sItalianIce has nearly 3,300 followers, having drawn attention to Rita's Twitter site with daily trivia contests. Rita's also holds contests on its Facebook page, a site the brand launched more than a year ago and now has nearly 34,000 fans. Jen Cohen, social networking coordinator for Rita's Franchise Co., manages both sites and said each social media site offers a different way to connect to customers.
Twitter allows real-time communication, something brands don't often achieve with most customer interaction.
"Twitter lets us send succinct messages and instantly connect," Cohen tweeted during an online interview via Twitter. "It's a quick way to respond to guest feedback, increase online visibility, and it shows our personality."
Communication on Twitter also differs from Facebook in that it can appear as a one-sided conversation. A site's followers can only read messages posted directly on the site, posts from others the site manager decides to re-tweet and messages posted to the site.
Cohen, a former social media consultant, was asked to interview with the company thanks to a tweet she posted about her interest in a career in the field. She spends about two to three hours a day managing Rita's Twitter account, hosting contests, searching for brand mentions and responding to those posts.
Cohen uses a variety of online tools, including TweetBeep and TweetLater to help her track references to Rita's on Twitter. She always interacts with the Twitterers, typically thanking them in someone way for the mention. For those that have a complaint, she apologizes and then ensures the company addresses it.
Handling the negative
Just as QSRs plan to handle negative publicity, brands approaching Twitter wisely also have a policy to handle complaints and anyone who would attempt to sabotage the brand's messaging, typically known as "trolls."
Church's has a policy to address trolls, but Wallace said Twitter's inherent design doesn't lend itself to such attacks.
"On Twitter, a 'tweeter' can only inflame their own followers since they are the only ones with immediate access to their tweets, not the Church's followers at large," he said. "Taking a look at their online influence and potential to begin viral activity is key to what action if any we might take to manage the issue."
While not concerted brand attacks, negative posts must also be addressed as an important component of customer interaction on the site, Wahl said.
"If you're going to engage in this space, you can't simply ignore the bad," he said.
Tips for brands using Twitter as social CRM
Adam Sarner, research director at IT consulting firm Gartner Inc. who specializes in social CRM — tools that help brands connect online with customers — offers the following tips:
- Twitter is just one online communication tool; wise brands choose those that fit their purpose.
- Online communication is a trend that will evolve into other forms, not fade away. Familiarize yourself with tools like Twitter tobe ready for the next development.
- The best online customer-brand interaction exists in some type of community, like a Twitter following. Manage that community just as you do other communication.
- Just because Twitter is a free application, don't approach appearing on the site without doing your homework.
- To see the ROI, you must have a purpose, such as increasing online buzz or drawing in-store traffic.
- Develop a value proposition that ensures the communication is good for the brand while also interesting its customers. Most importantly, maintain a balance between your purpose and value proposition
- To stand out from the chatter, the communication needs to have contextual relevance as well as a call to action.
- Tweets must engage the consumer without being too much about the brand or allow the consumer to move the conversation completely away from the brand.
- Brands need to "put up guardrails" as well as prepare for negative messaging and provide a channel to address those concerns.
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