Business in the Time of Twitter
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By John Kocsis
Welcome to the age of the Twitterverse. While initially developed as a platform from which impulsive commentators could put their feet in their mouth with little recompense, Twitter has developed into an important phenomenon in the new era. It is a social network site where users can share information with their friends, as well as an activist portal where dissatisfied viewers can engage with @NBCOlympics (owned by Comcast) with the terse #nbcfail. Twitter is a news engine that removes any dream of spoiler discretion, as well as an equalizer that can make anybody anywhere at any time. In short, Twitter is many things.
Now that the service is in its sixth year of existence, companies are beginning to realize the benefits it has to offer. The operators of Twitter have also picked up on its value, as the site now purveys advertisers with the option of paying to “promote” their tweets. Businesses are now using this and other mechanisms to reach out to possible consumers. Market watchers optimistic about the future of Twitter are sure to keep an eye on these stocks in the years to come.
In May, customer service rater STELLAService examined the companies that best used Twitter to deal with their consumer bases. Two companies stood at the head of the pack, LLBean and Zappos, an online apparel shop owned by Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). The two companies respond to 100% of daily questions posted on the microblogging site. Out of all those surveyed, Zappos also provides the quickest rejoinders, as it gets back to the inquirers in less than an hour. Zappos builds a reputation for caring by branding @zappos with the title “Zappos.com CEO – Tony,” a nicety that connects its base with Chief Executive Officer Tony Hsieh. This is just the most notable example of Amazon dominating Twitter. In 2009, the company raised a storm by announcing its Amazon Associates program would facilitate the tweeting of links to almost any product. Amazon is a leader in exploiting Twitter to promote sales, as it is wont to publicize daily deals available on the site.
While Zappos and LLBean topped the list of customer service retailers, they are not the only businesses that earn top marks for their work. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) replies to 89% of its tweets within a 24-hour period and maintained the second speediest response time. Best Buy manages consumer engagement with a specialized Twitter handle called @twelpforce, which empowers employees to “twelp out” those with queries. While Zappos has about five workers who deal with incoming tweets, Best Buy uses the existence of the service to cultivate a more knowledgeable “Geek Squad.” Hundreds of employees are expected to learn about the business by researching the answers to these questions. Best Buy’s other account, creatively handled as @BestBuy, ranks inside the top 100 brands on the site, just after Macy’s, in a competitive ranking dominated by video games, clothing lines, and restaurants. Best Buy has been praised by its promotion of coupons and other deals (pushed mainly by @BestBuy_Deals) that have helped Best Buy remain competitive in the days of online shopping.
Nike (NYSE: NKE) also uses Twitter for customer service purposes and has made Twitter a foundational component in its marketing campaign. Any visitor to its increasingly sleek website will notice its different accounts for Nike, Nike Sportswear, Nike Basketball, Nike Soccer, US Nike Football, Nike Women, Nike Training, Nike Running, and, well, scores more for basically every country and sport one can imagine. The company’s most recent advertising campaign implores Tweeters to #findgreatness, a concept promoted frequently by its various accounts. This reflects the growing trend of businesses to utilize trending topics that relate back to their products. This ability is often use to broadcast specific events, such as J.C. Penney’s recent #freehaircut announcement.
The New York Times’ “Bits” blog posed an appropriate question last week when it wondered, “Is Twitter a Media or Technology Company?” Such a distinction is nebulous in this case, a fact not lost on The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), one of journalism’s most prolific tweeters. The paper’s website has an entire page devoted entirely to its variegated array of accounts. This includes its different sections, such as Politics and the Crossword Puzzle, and goes into the weeds with specific blogs devoted to arcana like open source and the uses of photography. These accounts operate in addition to the ones of what seems to be everyone on the Times payroll. The New York Times has raised a Twitter army devoted to scooping any and all news. Luckily for those who aren’t indefatigable enough to follow them all, @nytimes has been known to retweet the most interesting posts of its affiliates. This distribution of information is incredibly helpful to nonsubscribers, since the Times’ Twitter followers get the benefit of avoiding that vexing paywall.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock—and assuming you don’t follow @nytimes—you’ve heard the big Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) news. Depending on whom you believe, the tech giant is either actively considering or had previously negotiated with Twitter to buy a significant stake in the service. Apple has already reaped some of the social media benefits by integrating Twitter with its iOS5 operating system, making microblogging seamless for anyone with an iPhone. It has also created this nexus with its Mountain Lion operating system, eliminating the pain of typing twitter.com. Thus, while Apple is not an active participant in the Twitterverse, it has made it incredibly easy for every Apple user to actively participate. This exposed it to Twitter’s 500 million users and creates useful synergies for both companies. This might only be the beginning of Apple’s foray into the world of Twitter, but its main rival, Google, has developed a social networking site. Don’t be surprised to find Apple not far behind.
This article is written by John Kocsis and edited by Jake Mann. They don't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Amazon.com, and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com, Apple, and Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.