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Kaplan & Haenlein - The early bird catches the news nine things you should know about micro-blogging

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Micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter, Jaiku, Plurk, Tumblr) are starting to become an established category within the general group of social media. Yet, while they rapidly gain interest among consumers and companies alike, there is no evidence to explain why anybody should be interested in an application that is limited to the exchange of short, 140-character text messages. To this end, our article intends to provide some insight. First, we demonstrate that the success of micro-blogs is due to the specific set of characteristics they possess: the creation of ambient awareness; a unique form of push-push-pull communication; and the ability to serve as a platform for virtual exhibitionism and voyeurism. We then discuss how applications such as Twitter can generate value for companies along all three stages of the marketing process: prepurchase (i.e., marketing research); purchase (i.e., marketing communications); and post-purchase (i.e., customer services). Finally, we present a set of rules–—The Three Rs of Micro-Blogging: Relevance; Respect; Return–—which companies should consider when relying on this type of application.

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Kaplan & Haenlein - The early bird catches the news nine things you should know about micro-blogging

  1. 1. Business Horizons (2011) 54, 105—113 www.elsevier.com/locate/bushorThe early bird catches the news: Nine things youshould know about micro-bloggingAndreas M. Kaplan *, Michael Haenlein ´ESCP Europe, Avenue de la Republique, F-75011 Paris, France KEYWORDS Abstract Micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter, Jaiku, Plurk, Tumblr) are starting to become an Web 2.0; established category within the general group of social media. Yet, while they rapidly User-generated gain interest among consumers and companies alike, there is no evidence to explain content; why anybody should be interested in an application that is limited to the exchange of Social media; short, 140-character text messages. To this end, our article intends to provide some Micro-blogging; insight. First, we demonstrate that the success of micro-blogs is due to the specific set Twitter; of characteristics they possess: the creation of ambient awareness; a unique form of Ambient awareness push-push-pull communication; and the ability to serve as a platform for virtual exhibitionism and voyeurism. We then discuss how applications such as Twitter can generate value for companies along all three stages of the marketing process: pre- purchase (i.e., marketing research); purchase (i.e., marketing communications); and post-purchase (i.e., customer services). Finally, we present a set of rules–—The Three Rs of Micro-Blogging: Relevance; Respect; Return–—which companies should consider when relying on this type of application. # 2010 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.1. The hare and the hedgehog: When requests from a computer virus or spyware applica-Twitter’s ‘already here’ tion. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now.’’ What happened? It turns outAt 2:26 p.m. on June 25th, 2009, the world stood still that the algorithms of the California-based searchfor a split second when word spread that Michael engine giant interpreted the flood of searchesJackson, the King of Pop, might have died at the for the same keyword as a brute-force attack,UCLA Medical Center from cardiac arrest. Naturally, and reacted according to standard protocols. Justmillions of people rushed to Google News to verify 25 minutes later, Google realized that the querieswhether this rumor was true, only to read: ‘‘We’re were legitimate. In parallel, Google itself correctlysorry, but your query looks similar to automated reported that indeed Michael Jackson had died–—on August 30th, 2007, roughly 2 years earlier, making reference to a Wikipedia article about a British author of the same name. * Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: mail@andreaskaplan.eu (A.M. Kaplan), It seems fair to say that Michael Jackson’s deathhaenlein@escpeurope.eu (M. Haenlein). was not the best day in the history of Google, a firm0007-6813/$ — see front matter # 2010 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2010.09.004
  2. 2. 106 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinthat has built its reputation on providing results of Jaiku, Plurk (particularly popular in Taiwan andoutstanding relevance, maximum accuracy, and im- Southeast Asia), and the New York-based Tumblr.pressive timeliness. June 25th, 2009, was a great day Although only a few years old, Twitter–—foundedfor the micro-blogging application Twitter, though: in October 2006, roughly 2½ years after Facebook–—short messages dealing with the breaking news has become one of the major players in the socialstarted to appear only minutes after the event media industry. The number of Twitter accountsactually happened, and tweets were exchanged at reached 75 million by the end of 2009, with a growtha rate of 100,000 per hour. According to the Twitter rate of approximately 6.2 million new users pertracking tool Trendistic, by 12 a.m. the next day, month, or 2-3 per second. Even though 80% ofan impressive 22.6% of all posts included the accounts should be considered inactive, these num-term ‘Michael Jackson.’ Add to this the 8.7% includ- bers are still impressive. Moreover, despite what oneing ‘MJ’ and some share of the 25.8% including might expect, Twitter users are not primarily teens‘Michael,’ and it implies that roughly one-third of or college students. According to Forrester Re-all tweets of that day dealt in one way or another search, more than one-third of all Tweeters arewith the death of the pop icon. 35 years and older, with an average household in- But Twitter is not only used to exchange recent come of $85,000 per year. Coupled with the me-‘yellow press’ news or to speak about trivialities. It dium’s focus on up-to-date information, thisis also an important channel for more serious mat- interesting demographic profile has resulted in moreters, such as politics. On June 12th, 2009, Iran’s companies utilizing Twitter, including publishingtenth presidential election took place with incum- houses (e.g., The New York Times), grocery retailersbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad running against re- (e.g., Whole Foods Market), and even Google itself.formist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Toprevent protesters from sharing footage of relatedpolice violence in the streets of Tehran, the author- 2. Nine things you should know aboutities decided to interrupt mobile phone communi- micro-bloggingcations and block popular social media applicationssuch as Facebook and YouTube. Yet, they forgot 2.1. Going once–—Characteristicsabout Twitter, the vehicle which subsequently fa-cilitated global sharing of hundreds of photos of At first glance, it probably seems counterintuitivedemonstrations and protesters. The resulting traf- that an application limited to the exchange of text-fic was so important that Twitter even decided to based messages of 140 characters or less should bereschedule a long-planned maintenance shut-down of interest to anyone. After all, even the 160 signs ofin order to preserve access to the application; a traditional SMS give more room for personal self-rumor has it that the U.S. State Department played expression. Yet still, micro-blogs are growing at aa role in this decision. rate that makes most other industries look tiny in These examples illustrate the wild popularity and comparison. Based on our research, we have identi-potential of an application that few of us may have fied three factors that can explain this apparentheard of 6 months ago, but which today is one of the contradiction: the concept of ambient awarenessmost up-to-date dinner conversation topics: Twitter. that implies being updated about even the mostTwitter is undoubtedly the most popular member of a trivial matters in other peoples’ lives; the uniquelarger group of Internet-based applications called type of push—push—pull communication that appli-micro-blogs, which allow users to exchange small cations like Twitter allow; and the platform forelements of content such as short sentences, individ- virtual exhibitionism and voyeurism they provideual images, or video links. Micro-blogs in turn belong for both active contributors and passive observers.to the big family of social media, which can be Let’s look at each of these three factors in moredefined as the ‘‘group of Internet-based applications detail.that build on the ideological foundations of Web 2.0,and that allow the creation and exchange of user- 2.1.1. Ambient awarenessgenerated content’’ (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. The first reason that accounts for the huge success61). On the continuum of social media classification, of micro-blogging can be related back to the Greekmicro-blogs stand halfway between traditional blogs philosopher Aristotle, who wrote in his book Meta-and social networking sites, and are characterized by physics that sometimes the whole is greater than thea high degree of self-presentation/self-disclosure sum of its parts. While the messages ‘‘Need to rushand a medium to low degree of social presence/ to the drug store’’ or ‘‘Have to get some crackersmedia richness (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Other and soda from Wal-Mart’’ may be completely insig-well-known micro-blogging sites include the Finnish nificant on their own, they become important pieces
  3. 3. The early bird catches the news: Nine things you should know about micro-blogging 107of information when preceded by ‘‘Little Joe is person as particularly relevant or interesting, shefeeling ill this morning.’’ In combination, different can decide to become a ‘follower’ of that person.tweets sent out over time can paint a very accurate Following implies that one author’s tweets are au-picture of a person’s activities, just like the distinct tomatically pushed onto the Twitter main page of alldots in a pointillist painting can collectively create followers. The average Twitter user appears to fol-the beautiful images of a Vincent van Gogh, John low a dozen others, although official statistics areRoy, or Chuck Close. hard to find. Nevertheless, celebrities such as the From an academic perspective, this concept is American actor Ashton Kutcher can have millions ofcalled ambient awareness. Just as physical proxim- people following them. All messages exchanged onity allows one’s mood to be interpreted through a micro-blogs are public by default, which means thatseries of little behaviors (e.g., body language, they can be read and commented on by everyone;sighs, stray comments), several tweets together this represents an important difference as com-can generate a strong feeling of closeness and pared to status updates on social networking sitesintimacy. Due to ambient awareness, applications such as Facebook. Nevertheless, following anothersuch as Twitter result in relatively high levels of user creates an additional element of conveniencesocial presence, defined as the acoustic, visual, and as it reduces the effort associated with accessingphysical contact that can be achieved between two this information.individuals (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976); and In many cases, the information pushed to a user’smedia richness, defined as the amount of informa- followers may be read and immediately forgotten;tion that can be transmitted in a given time interval in other cases, it may not even be read at all. Given(Daft & Lengel, 1986). This is why micro-blogs that tweets are not directed to one particular usershould be considered as mid-ground between tradi- but to the whole world, each individual followertional blogs and social networking sites within the feels a much weaker urge to react than–—for exam-general classification of social media (Kaplan & ple–—in the case of a traditional e-mail. But in someHaenlein, 2010). cases, the receiver of the message might find the Ambient awareness is a far from new concept, news so interesting and intriguing that they decidehaving been discussed long before Twitter was in- to give it an additional push by re-tweeting it tovented. It links back to the idea of ‘cooperative their own followers. The initial tweet can thenbuildings’ (Streitz, Konomi, & Burkhardt, 1998) in cascade down from one user’s follower network towhich physical devices (e.g., fountains) actively another’s, and on the way transform from a simplereflect the status of some metric of interest (e.g., bit of information to word-of-mouth. Specifically,how well a computer system is working). More when the initial message has been sent out by arecently, the idea has been extended to other areas, company, this transformation of a commercial mes-such as cooperative work and romantic relation- sage into ‘buzz’ can substantially increase its impactships. Here, it has been shown that ‘awareness and credibility (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955).systems’–—which allow people at different locations In a last step, once the message has been pushedto maintain similar levels of awareness of each and pushed again through the whole network, it mayothers’ activities and status as can be achieved motivate some user to go out and ‘pull’ additionalwhen physically in the same room–—can lead to information on the subject from other sources.increased effectiveness, stronger social relation- Given that 140 characters are often too few toships, and overall improved well-being (Markopoulos, explain a topic in sufficient detail, many tweetsde Ruyter, & Mackay, 2007). In some cases, mobile include links to web pages or traditional blogs wherephone text messages exchanged by couples to give more information is available. In order to avoidshort updates about their activities and whereabouts using up too much space by sending out a URL, theseare considered even more intimate than traditional tweets usually rely on URL shortening servicesphone calls (Ito, Okabe, & Matsuda, 2005). One key (whereby a provider makes a web page availablecharacteristic of Twitter is, therefore, the ability to under a very short URL in addition to the originaltell the world what you are doing at a particular address). In this case, micro-blogging messages be-moment–—in the desire to be closely connected to come similar to traditional banner ads, which equal-your loved ones, no matter where they may be ly try to motivate users to click on an embeddedphysically. link. As shown in several research studies, such ‘click-through’ can have a favorable impact2.1.2. Push—Push—Pull communication on consumer behavior (Manchanda, Dube, Goh, &The second reason behind the popularity of micro- Chintagunta, 2006). Another key characteristic ofblogs is the unique type of communication they micro-blogging is, therefore, the unique combina-allow. Once a user considers the tweets of another tion of push—push—pull communication from sender
  4. 4. 108 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinto followers, from followers to followers, and from median number of lifetime messages per Twitterreceivers to external information sources. user is one, implying that 50% of all accounts are exclusively used for passive observation. At the2.1.3. Virtual exhibitionism and voyeurism same time, the top 10% of active Twitter usersAs mentioned, tweets are public by default unless a account for over 90% of all tweets. This is veryuser specifically requests that only approved fol- different from other social media applications,lowers can read the messages; this happens very where usually the top 10% most active users accountrarely. Additionally, searches conducted through for 30% or less of all content. To put it differently,Google since July 2009 automatically include dy- Twitter is like a huge one-way mirror which allowsnamic content streams, such as live updates on millions of people to sit on one side and watch themicro-blogs or up-to-the-second news headlines. day-to-day lives of a select few who have decided toAny message sent through Twitter therefore auto- share their each and every move with the wholematically becomes public knowledge within minutes world.of its publication. This creates the perfect environ-ment for virtual exhibitionism and voyeurism, and it 2.2. Going twice–—Applicationsshould come as no surprise that these two factorsrepresent the third reason behind growth of micro- Having explained why micro-blogs are popular, it isblogging applications. Empirical proof for this state- now important to discuss how they can be of benefitment can be found by considering the popularity of to companies. To facilitate this discussion, we sys-reality television programs. Anybody who has spent tematically analyzed the Twitter activities of atime watching Big Brother or The Simple Life will be selected group of leading firms in various differentable to confirm that people are more likely to watch industries. We started with a ranking of the 100reality programs when they have a higher voyeuris- largest Twitter accounts based on total number oftic tendency caused by factors such as the disclosure followers as published by Twitterholic. Removal ofof personal information, gossip, and private emo- all accounts that (1) did not represent corporations,tions, as well as sexual behavior and nudity. Aca- but individuals (e.g., Ashton Kutcher, Britneydemic research has confirmed these commonly-held Spears, Ellen DeGeneres); (2) corresponded to tra-beliefs (Baruh, 2009). ditional media companies that use Twitter mainly as Two different theoretical perspectives can ex- a news ticker (e.g., CNN, The New York Times, Timeplain such behavior: self-presentation and self- Magazine); and (3) were maintained by non-profitdisclosure, and indeterminacy. Self-presentation organizations (e.g., the World Economic Forum)and self-disclosure contends that every individual resulted in a total of five companies that we ana-continuously engages in strategic activities to con- lyzed in more detail: Google, Dell, Whole Foodsvey an impression to others which is in his or her self- Market, Zappos.com, and JetBlue Airways. Lookinginterest (Goffman, 1959). Self-disclosure is one of at these firms shows that Twitter can be used for allthe reasons why people create personal web pages three stages of the marketing process: pre-purchase(Schau & Gilly, 2003), and it has been shown that (i.e., marketing research); purchase (i.e., market-computer-mediated environments lead to higher ing communications, especially sales promotions);levels of self-disclosure than traditional settings and post-purchase (i.e., customer services). We will(Joinson, 2001). For its part, indeterminacy now discuss each of these areas in more detail.(Vosgerau, Wertenbroch, & Carmon, 2006) statesthat indeterminate consumption experiences–—such 2.2.1. Pre-purchase: Marketing researchas watching sports competitions live on television or One obvious way that companies can use micro-reading real-time micro-blog entries–—unfold in blogging is to simply read what clients have toways that are not decided ex ante. This makes them say. Historically, marketing researchers have alwaysmore exciting than equivalent determinate experi- struggled to integrate customers into their decision-ences, such as watching the same sports competi- making processes. At the same time, the concepts oftions as recorded broadcasts or reading the same customer knowledge as a source of competitivemessages one day later. advantage and the importance of customers as Micro-blogs are therefore the perfect tool for co-producers have become increasingly prominentanonymous voyeurism and keeping updated regard- in the academic literature (Vargo & Lusch, 2004).ing friends and family without feeling an obligation Social media in general and micro-blogs in particularto react or respond–—just like the proverbial ‘fly on provide the potential to easily obtain customerthe wall.’ The significant attraction that this rep- feedback. In terms of marketing research, they haveresents can be illustrated by the fact that most the potential to take netnography–—that is, ethnog-Twitter users observe, rather than contribute. The raphy adapted to the study of online communities
  5. 5. The early bird catches the news: Nine things you should know about micro-blogging 109(Kozinets, 2002)–—to the next level. Since they do not about special promotions, product recalls, andrely on the analysis of traditional newsgroups that health tips. It also connects with customers bysummarize conversations and comments building up awarding the Tweet of the Day four times perover time, but instead allow investigation of what week–—the best tweet made about Whole Foodscustomers are talking about at that very moment, on any given day receives a $25 gift card–—andthey provide a unique type of information. organizing contests, such as encouraging customers A good example of how this approach can be to tweet their ‘‘five word food philosophies’’ andimplemented in real life comes from computer awarding the 10 most creative authors with a $50manufacturer Dell. The company has created a team Whole Foods voucher and 5 pounds of quinoa.called Communities and Conversations, which in- JetBlue Airways has a more bottom-line orientedvolves about 40 employees. Members of this team, approach regarding micro-blogging activities, andwho would not normally interact with clients (e.g., uses Twitter as a sales and distribution channel.Finance, HR, Purchasing, Shipping, Logistics), have Every Monday morning, the company sends out itsthe opportunity via this channel to engage in con- weekly ‘cheeps’: Twitter messages about specialversations with Dell’s end customers. These employ- low prices on available seats on flights the followingees then carry that customer-centered viewpoint weekend. These promotions are exclusively avail-back to their departmental colleagues, a feedback able on Twitter and typically expire at the end of thecycle that moves the whole organization closer to day; however, most of these attractive deals arethe market. According to Richard Binhammer, the snagged within hours, so potential customers eitherperson behind Dell’s social media strategy, Twitter need to be glued to their screens or have perfectprovides a unique forum to hear what customers timing–—which keeps things interesting. Morganhave to say and to fix customer problems–—free of Johnston, manager of corporate communicationsthe accusation of digital assault often associated at JetBlue, says that in addition to filling emptywith other types of unsolicited company—customer seats, cheeps represent a great way of introducingcommunication (e.g., phone calls, e-mail spam). new customers to the airline. For its part, United For example, by systematically analyzing what its Airlines employs a similar strategy, calling its offer-customers were saying via Twitter and other micro- ings ‘twares.’blogs, Dell realized that the apostrophe and return Micro-blogging is not only suited to communicatekeys on its newly-launched Inspiron Mini 9 laptop externally with potential or current customers, butwere located too close together. Dell subsequently also internally with one’s employees. Online retaileraddressed this problem, which might never have Zappos.com asks all new recruits to open a Twittercome to light using more traditional marketing account and post messages throughout the initialresearch techniques, in its design of the next- training session. According to Tony Hsieh, CEO ofgeneration Inspiron Mini 10. Consider also Starbucks, Zappos and himself a big fan of Twitter, this is towhich closely monitored and managed Twitter during empower employees with the understanding thatthe introduction of its Via instant coffee product in everyone in the company can act as a spokespersonOctober 2009. By actively listening and participating for the firm. Hsieh even wrote a beginner’s quickin conversations about Via, Starbucks helped get start guide and tutorial to using Twitter, which issamples of the new product into people’s hands in published on the company’s web page.order to enable trials. According to Brad Nelson,principal tweeter for the coffeehouse chain, this 2.2.3. Post-purchase: Customer servicesmade it possible for consumers to get over the initial Finally, firms can rely on micro-blogs to improvecommon reaction that instant coffee must necessarily their customer service and complaint managementbe distasteful. processes. The power of word-of-mouth has been discussed widely and regularly in the marketing2.2.2. Purchase: Marketing communications literature. While research has shown the desirableAnother form of utilizing micro-blogging entails effects of positive feedback and recommendationstweeting advertising and other brand-reinforcing (Reichheld, 2003), it has also underlined the devas-messages, especially ones that need to be acted tating impact that negative customer comments canupon quickly (e.g., sales promotions). The five com- have on a company (Goldenberg, Libai, Moldovan, &panies in our study all rely on Twitter in this manner, Muller, 2007; Richins, 1983). Firms should thereforeone way or another. Google maintains separate manage dissatisfied and complaining customers rap-channels for all of its major products (e.g., iGoogle, idly and professionally. As old industry wisdom dic-Google Calendar, Google Reader) to update fol- tates, there is nothing better to create a loyal clientlowers about new developments. Similarly, Whole than an efficiently-managed customer complaint.Foods Market uses Twitter to broadcast information Also, by handling dissatisfied customers as early as
  6. 6. 110 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinpossible, firms can avoid issues growing out of pro- you. To avoid a situation whereby ‘the spirits thatportion and evolving into organized forms of cus- you called’ treat you in an unexpected way–—a la the `tomer protest, such as consumer boycotts (Garrett, Sorcerer’s Apprentice–—we have derived three rules1987) or complaint websites (Ward & Ostrom, 2006). of successful micro-blogging. We call them TheWhole Foods Market, Dell, and JetBlue Airways all Three Rs of Micro-Blogging: Relevance; Respect;use micro-blogging in this specific fashion. and Return. According to Slaton Carter, online communitydevelopment manager at Whole Foods, the grocer 2.3.1. Relevanceanalyzes Twitter daily to identify issues and negative The first rule of micro-blogging is to focus on mes-comments raised by its customers. Followers can sages that are relevant for the target group. Userssend out questions about Whole Foods or the com- are unlikely to read, let alone re-tweet, boringpany’s products, queries which are answered within information. Relevance is therefore necessary to24 hours. Alternatively, if some clients are, for ex- leverage the push—push—pull communication char-ample, referring to Whole Foods as ‘Whole Pay- acteristics of this type of medium. If firms do notcheck’–—a nickname for the company that makes respect this rule and instead flood their followersreference to the firm’s upscale positioning and high with off-the-shelf advertising slogans, they will soonprices–—Carter tries to engage in a conversation with see readers leave in droves. In this context, rele-them to better understand the underlying concerns vance implies two things: (1) listening before tweet-resulting in the negative impression. Similarly, com- ing, and (2) finding the right balance betweenputer manufacturer Dell maintains over 80 separate sending out too few messages and tweeting toobranded Twitter accounts, most of which are private many of them. One method of increasing relevance(i.e., by invitation only) and used for customer involves focusing on information that needs to beservice exchanges that require direct and personal- reacted upon quickly; for example, the aforemen-ized messages that cannot be exchanged using Dell’s tioned case of sales promotions. Another alternativepublic channel. Up to 200 Dell employees regularly entails relying on highly customized messages; foruse these accounts for conversations with their example, Whole Foods maintains separate Twittercustomers. channels for followers with differing interests, in- In a similar manner, JetBlue Airways systemati- cluding one channel devoted entirely to peoplecally monitors and scans Twitter to identify custom- interested in cheese.ers who might need proactive management and Many examples illustrate that even prestigiousadditional information on flight delays or cancella- companies fail when they do not follow thetions. Tony Wagner, a JetBlue customer, for example simple rule of relevance. Consider online retailertweeted his request to be able to sit with his wife Amazon.com. Rather than using Twitter as aand 2-year-old daughter on a flight to San Francisco channel to interact with its customers, Amazonwhich customer services was unable to fulfill (‘‘Ad- employs a ‘bot’–—an automated software tool–—thatvice to get both parents and 2 yr old seated next to tweets random excerpts from the firm’s U.S. blog.each other on flight later today? Right now only one These messages, which add little value beyondparent. Full flight.’’). Not 20 minutes later, JetBlue that of a standard RSS feed, show no signs ofsent Wagner a note asking for additional details and ‘listening’ to followers and are therefore only ofsubsequently flagged his ticket as a priority concern. limited effectiveness. Another example is the FrenchAs Brad Nelson from Starbucks puts it: ‘‘Don’t be reality TV show Secret Story (similar in concept toafraid of unhappy customers. If you say the wrong Big Brother), which used Twitter to send out statusthing, don’t ignore it or cover it up, admit your updates on its participants in 30-second intervals;mistake and move on. Don’t under-estimate the even the most interested spectator might getgoodwill that can be created by showing you’re annoyed by receiving 1,000 tweets per day!listening’’ (Carter, 2009). Starbucks, however, has gotten the Twitter equa- tion just right. The coffeehouse chain regularly en-2.3. Going three times–—Rules courages its roughly 300,000 followers to send out ideas and comments. Using the ‘My Starbucks Idea’Given the unique characteristics of micro-blogs and channel, customers can propose modifications re-the large spectrum of applications they offer for garding the company’s product and service offerings.companies, many firms are seriously considering Other users can then read the ideas and vote in favorbecoming active in this new type of social media. of, or against, them. The most popular suggestionsIf your company is part of this faction, be aware that are subsequently implemented by Starbucks. ‘‘ManyTwitter does not come without its own risks and that times I’ve had to inform people within the companythe power of the system can quickly turn against that micro-blogging isn’t an advertising channel and
  7. 7. The early bird catches the news: Nine things you should know about micro-blogging 111they can’t just send me 140 characters to post,’’ says and consequently criticized the firm for spammingBrad Nelson, principal tweeter for Starbucks. ‘‘Twit- Twitter. Although Habitat posted an official apologyter isn’t for distributing press releases; it’s a way to on Twitter (‘‘We’ve been listening and we know 140talk with customers, not at them’’ (Carter, 2009). characters aren’t enough for a full apology, pleaseService innovations such as offering a free birthday follow this link. . .’’) and blamed an overenthusias-beverage for all registered cardholders or increasing tic intern for the issue, the company has not activelystore density in the Netherlands have been claimed to used Twitter since then.stem directly from the My Starbucks Idea initiative. 2.3.3. Return2.3.2. Respect Last but not least, firms that use micro-bloggingThe second rule of successful micro-blogging is to should also pay close attention to the benefits andshow respect to your followers. This implies correctly return-on-investment of their activities. Ultimately,identifying yourself, using appropriate language, and engaging in Twitter only makes sense when it servesrefraining from deceiving other users. Computer as a marketplace for your company, not as a play-manufacturer Dell, for example, has defined strict ground. Should you believe that hard numbers andguidelines for using social media applications. Among social media don’t go together, think again and con-other criteria, the firm asks each and every employee sider Dell. As previously mentioned, the role of the 40to be transparent and to disclose their employment employees involved with the Communities and Con-with Dell in all communications. It is important to versations team includes–—among other things–—note that transparency must extend both ways to be engaging with customers and stakeholders via Twit-effective. When low-cost airline easyJet decided to ter. Dell contends that these micro-blogging activi-join Twitter, the firm realized that some other user ties alone have generated an additional $7 millionalready posted regularly under the pseudonym ‘Easy in sales. While this may seem small compared toJet Service.’ Unfortunately, this was not an eager the computer manufacturer’s total revenue of $60employee who took things into their own hands, but billion, it’s certainly a promising sign that using socialrather a frustrated customer who used the channel to media can indeed generate measurable returns.vent his or her dissatisfaction. The company has now Nevertheless, in many cases it may be difficult orcreated the account ‘easyJet Care’ and is trying to even impossible to put a hard dollar value on micro-limit the damage to its reputation. blogging. In these situations, other types of measures Concerning the use of appropriate language, might be more appropriate, and several companiesWhole Foods Market learned the hard way that it provide such information–—often free of charge.may be possible to be too casual with one’s fol- Twitalyzer, for example, determines a series of met-lowers, especially if representing an upscale brand. rics such as a user’s impact (a combination of theIn late August 2008, an official spokesperson of the number of followers and the frequency with whichTexas-based foods grocer tweeted ‘‘Oh my f’ing the user tweets, re-tweets, and is re-tweeted) orgawd: Whole Foods has Hatch Chiles. From NM. Twitter ratio (the ratio of followers to people the userOn sale. Apparently I have died, but am not as evil is following). Tweet Beep measures the number ofas I thought.’’ This message prompted outrage and times a company or brand name has been mentioneddiscussion regarding the appropriate use of language on Twitter, and sends out regular e-mail alerts rangingin social media. Although Whole Foods tried to from once every 15 minutes to once an hour. And Twitproactively manage the issue by sending out a reply Truth can tell–—for each Twitter user–—the number ofmessage asking its customers whether they actually messages sent to this user per day, the number ofwere offended by this post, discussions did not stop replies this user sends, and to what extent theseand the Whole Foods case became the key topic at replies go to other famous Twitter users.the kick-off meeting of the Social Media Club Miami. Pages such as Graph Edge calculate how fast your Finally, companies should not try to deceive or follower network is growing or shrinking, who youroutsmart other users, at the risk of the community most influential followers are, and how to reachturning and fighting against them. In June 2009, them most efficiently. It hereby limits itself toUK-based furniture retailer Habitat launched a se- ‘legitimate followers,’ which excludes people whories of tweets to inform followers about new prod- follow more than 2,000 other users or who haveucts available in its stores, hoping to increase traffic been suspended by Twitter and therefore cannoton its Internet site. To heighten awareness of its read your messages. Finally, firms such as Tweetmessages, the company tagged its tweets with key- Psych create psychological profiles of any Twitterwords related to the Iranian presidential election–— account by using a combination of Linguistic Inquiryone of the hottest Twitter topics at that time. Soon, and Word Count (LIWC) and Regressive Imageryhowever, Habitat’s followers realized the betrayal Dictionary (RID) techniques. The list of suppliers is
  8. 8. 112 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinendless and should be checked out thoroughly; about it. Twitter will also soon be accessible viathere’s certainly some company that can provide mobile phone SMS services in Europe, a functionalityexactly the type of data your firm is looking for. that is already enabled in the United States. During Combined with traditional e-commerce meas- the last quarter of 2008, 812,000 unique users sent orures, such as click-through rates for promotional received Twitter text messages from AT&Tor VerizonURLs, these metrics make it possible for any com- cell phones in the U.S., with an average of nearly 240pany to determine its own ‘Return-on-Twitter.’ tweets per person and quarter–—or 2.5 tweets per second per day. Nevertheless, micro-blogging is still in its infan-3. And so it happened that the cy and many questions need to be answered beforehedgehog ran the hare to death. . . we fully understand this new medium. One open issue deals with privacy. How can companies bestThe Global Language Monitor selected ‘Twitter’ as make use of such applications without giving thethe top word of 2009, based on its frequency, impression that they monitor all their customerscontextual usage, and appearance in global media and try to brainwash those who might hold aoutlets. Followed by ‘Obama’ and ‘H1N1,’ the negative opinion about the firm? Another point isterm was chosen because it represents the ability whether corporate Twitter channels should beto encapsulate human thought in 140 characters. managed by the company itself (as practiced byAccording to Paul JJ Payack, President of The Dell and Starbucks) or associated with a relatedGlobal Language Monitor, ‘‘being limited to strict prominent individual (e.g., David Neeleman, Jet-formats did wonders for the sonnet and haiku. One Blue Founder and CEO, who tweets all JetBluewonders where this highly impractical word-limit messages himself). Finally, more analysis is neededwill lead as the future unfolds’’ (Global Language to learn how micro-blogging should be integratedMonitor, 2009). Based on our analysis, it should be into an overall social media communication strat-clear that such reactions are not merely driven by egy. Should it be a separate contact channel, or athe hype which so often surrounds new forms of tool to drive traffic to other applications such ascommunication; rather, micro-blogging can truly corporate web pages or blogs?create tangible benefits for firms. While not with- It is also necessary to realize that even if com-out risks and pitfalls, Twitter and micro-blogging panies use micro-blogs with the best of intentions,seem poised to enter the mainstream social media, they cannot always avoid undesirable outcomes. Inmuch as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Second Life did May 2009, Starbucks launched a campaign encour-years ago. aging customers to Twitter pictures of themselves Many organizations have already realized this in front of the company’s new billboards. Filmpotential and have responded to this evolution. In producer and political activist Robert Greenwaldposting a job opening for a senior manager in emerg- saw this as an opportunity to promote his latesting media, U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy dictat- documentary movie about unfair labor practices ated that qualified candidates must have at least 200 the coffeehouse chain, and urged people to takeTwitter followers. Similarly, Pizza Hut looked to fill photos of themselves in front of Starbucks storesthe novel position of ‘twintern’–—a summer intern holding signs criticizing the company’s practiceswhose main job it would be to tweet about the instead. Numerous individuals responded to Green-company–—and received over 400 applications. Even wald’s plea, and soon approximately half of thethe White House–—or, more precisely, Organizing for photos distributed on Twitter were in a sense veryAmerica, the successor organization of Obama for different from those initially intended by Star-America–—is hiring a Social Networks Manager, re- bucks. Despite such risks, though, one thing seemssponsible for maintaining its accounts on several certain: Firms which decide not to even considersocial networks including Facebook, MySpace, and using micro-blogs in their marketing strategy mightTwitter. find themselves in the same position as the hare at Yet, while these companies are trying to prepare the end of the race with a couple of hedgehogs–—themselves for the first generation of micro-blogging, dead on the ground!the second generation is already on its way. SinceNovember 2009, Twitter has enabled users to merge Referencesinto their messages the location from which they aretweeting. 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