Twitter: Where Customers Become Friends

Everybody loves lists. Everybody also loves money. So when billionaire Richard Branson provides a concise list of seven tips on how to make the most of social media campaigns, you better break out your keyboard and get to tweeting ASAP. Forbes.com released an article that delves into Richard Branson’s use of his company’s social media in which he provides the following tips to fellow business owners:

Richard Branson social media tips

Richard Branson social media tips

Forbes adds a seventh tip which is “Do it Yourself”, inspired by Branson who does not delegate social media tasks to an employee but takes on the role himself- leaving his Virgin tweets to be rather entertaining. Using social networking sites (SNSs) to keep people up to date on a business has become the norm, however SNSs were designed to keep individuals interacting with other individuals, which then became a dwelling place for big and small business globally.  In her book, Nancy Baym states that the majority of social media users are active in order to keep up to date with people they already know. But chances are, while the majority of the users following business accounts are familiar with the business, they likely do not have a personal stake in the business itself. Which is why business moguls need to follow tips likes these. There is a balance between portraying your business ideologies in a personal and authentic way to your audience, while also being aware of what your audience wants to receive.

Who Are You Talking To?

When posting to SNSs we never can be fully aware of who is viewing what we post. “While anyone can potentially read or view a digital artifact, we need a more specific conception of audience than ‘anyone’.” Marwick and Boyd discuss the inability to completely comprehend who is reading what we post. On personal pages users may be able to more easily keep in mind who they have “friended” and who has followed them, but still the user never knows in what context their posts will be read. Businesses also have a blurred idea of who is reading their posts, especially if the business is popular and has many followers.

It appears as though Branson does not worry about in particular who is reading his tweets but rather how what he posts can be the most authentic and entertaining. However this article does focus on a general trend of the readership and that is: “People respond to stories, not data”. To that I would highlight that people respond to people, not numbers or robot-like corporate moguls. Authenticity is key, in Hugo Liu‘s “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances“, he states that authenticity in a way means imperfection. Imperfection shows that the user is human, and creates a more relatable persona. Those who view his posts want to read them and want to interact because of his authenticity.

Businesses Are People Too! (Or at least they should seem like it)

Branson’s take on social media is “unique and engaging precisely because it’s authentic”.  Forbes recounts times when they reached out to companies to be interviewed for this article and they never responded proving that there was “no authentic voice[s] behind the accounts[s]”. The key is to get a real person behind the corporate twitter to interact with their consumers’ profiles. The Forbes article does not talk excessively about consumer interaction but it seems to be where most social media savvy companies succeed. Decades ago consumers could not form a bond with a company other than using or supporting its products, but now companies become personified and success is being found in forming ties with the consumers or products via social media. Baym discusses the importance of weak ties, and when we have the ability to form a relationship with our favorite company it almost becomes a novelty and a fun/entertaining thing to do. 

Example:  Why Taco Bell Rules

My friend Brian was trying to promote his band and his favorite fast food chain via Twitter hashtags. He thought he was being funny- little did he know, Taco Bell’s twitter takes jokes very seriously.

Taco Bell loves people who love them. Screenshot taken by author.

Taco Bell loves people who love them.
Screenshot taken by author.

A simple promotion of hashtags led to #CoolRanchDLT trending worldwide and it also led to this:

Taco costume custom made by Taco Bell for Brian.

Taco costume custom made by Taco Bell for Brian.

Never in a million years did he think Taco Bell was serious when they continuously tweeted Brian about how their seamstress was doing a great job on his taco costume… until it actually arrived in the mail one day.  Prior to social media the only real communication between companies and their consumers was probably through hassle-filled customer service calls or angry letters about quality concerns. Now, users get a look into the personality of the company themselves. The person behind the keyboard creates a persona that represents the company- and people want an authentic and fun profile to interact with. It is not only about consuming the products but becoming invested in the mentality and happenings of the company. Companies are not just broadcasting and creating unilateral ties, but building ties with their users in a similar fashion to how online friends build/maintain ties with one another. This makes for an entertaining social tie- talking to a Walmart customer service representative in the offline world is not nearly as fun as talking to Walmart themselves on Facebook.

Walmart is particularly active on Facebook.

Walmart is particularly active on Facebook.

Branson is aware of this, and in tips #2 and #3 emphasizes the use of OTHER sites and applications as well. The more ways you can communicate interesting bits of information, the better. Following your friend on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram might mean you know more about that person’s life than a person who only follows them on one site. This is known as media multiplexity; the more media sources used to communicate, the stronger the tie between users.  In using multiple platforms it mirrors the ways in which people interact with their friends on the internet, this allows people to communicate with organizations in an interesting and often entertaining way. Companies build an online interactive personality, which builds relationships and eventually loyalty. After all, how many of you would actually make your friend a custom made taco suit? Taco Bell’s twitter has taken Branson’s tips, has transcended the online world and has one up’d you as a friend.

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