The Mutterings Of Twitter

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Brands that are leveraging Twitter to connect with their consumers may be in for a surprise.

That feeling of frustration that we have all experienced as consumers of a brand is not a constant or lingering feeling that turns someone from a consumer (or even a brand advocate) into a non-consumer (or a brand terrorist). We can’t forget that Twitter – in its purest form – is the ultimate exhaust valve for many individuals to let some immediate steam loose. How many instances has there been when someone waiting for a plane is delayed, and they dump all over the airline in a moment of frustration? While in some instances the airline is at fault, more often than not it’s an issue that has to do with weather or security (some of the many things that are beyond an airline’s control). Airlines aren’t perfect and they mess things up in spectacular fashion from time to time, but that’s not the point: what’s important to note is that the frustrated traveler is not writing an obituary for their relationship with the airline and that those tweets or Facebook status updates are more like mutterings and "moments in time" rather than a greater issue of customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

In a world of Twitter mutterings, not all tweets are created equal.

The evolving landscape of brands, Twitter, customer service and meaningful connections is something to behold. Have you even been in a situation where you stub your toe and in the throes of agony, your spouse asks if everything is ok and you wind up responding in an angry tone? That’s Twitter. People tweet whatever internal mutterings are frustrating them at one, specific moment in time. The platform acts like a mythical sea able to wash away your random mutterings as if the act of typing and publishing the thought to the your social graph cleanses your soul (it’s not always a request for customer service). It’s a much more common practice than brands understand. Now, brands have to ensure that they’re suddenly not in a constant state of being the spouse that’s asking if everything is ok.

Respond… not quickly but in time.

What does all of this mean? Perhaps these evolutions of engagement are teaching us that responding right away may not be as beneficial as responding in time. While that may read like semantics, it can be a very powerful concept: don’t let your consumers stew over something, but also don’t jump in just as they’ve stubbed their toe (if that’s all it really is). This delicate balance may give a brand (and the consumer) some time to figure out if this is just a moment of externalized mutterings or something that requires true action.

Dynamics at play.

Understanding people is both an art and science. Understanding people as they begin to tweet the things that normally resided between their two ears is a completely new type of psychology, engagement and challenge for a brand (hence all of the missteps and call-outs). Getting it right will not be solely driven by the corporate structure that is put in place. Getting it right may well be about taking the proper time to understand the people you’re connected to. Picking at consumers who are muttering simply because they have a platform to mutter through could open up a can worms that truly didn’t require any level of engagement.

The adaptation of brands to this new reality is a fascinating thing to watch.


  1. I think the five second rule should always be in affect. If someone stubs their toe, don’t rush in to ask them what happened unless you want you and your entire heritage insulted in an instant. If you have a bad customer experience, perhaps begin with the person who is actually standing in front of you aka the provider.
    Twitter is a great place to let your network know about a great website you have visited, an important piece of content you want to share, something you are doing and yes, a good or bad experience as a customer. And since we are all customers and providers, we must not be surprised if others do it to us. And that solves nothing.
    Many enjoy the bullhorn in their pocket that gives them power at the very moment the provider hasn’t kissed their boots. Bad service happens, all the time and companies need to monitor what customers are saying about them in person and online. But no company can possibly deal with every stub toe if the customer doesn’t give them a chance to fix it once the five second rule has been honored.

  2. Sure, every service provider, every brand aims to please their customers through considering their feedbacks and social media is a great way to hear the customers out but tweets and status updates are spur of the moment ramblings and do not necessarily reflect the kind of service a brand offers in its entirety.
    As much as it is the brand’s responsibility to take action, they don’t really have to do it at once. It’s still better to wait a little until everyone’s mind is clear.

  3. I agree and the risk is there for brand to have twitter as a can of worms risking to infect them with unpleasant comments or critics (very rare to hear someone embellishing a brand), but by the other hand twitter gave freedom to the people in the sense of letting the others hear what is going on in their mind, and most of all putting people in contact. When thing are goods the word is spread exponentially, and when things are bad the same thing happen, this is a new risk brands need to be prepared and need to know how to turn up the table if necessary.

  4. Very thoughtful post. Graduate-level tweeting, to be sure. The great thing about Twitter, assuming the person making incendiary or uncomplimentary remarks is a follower, is that the brand can have a DM interaction and dialogue, and perhaps diffuse things — if they even need diffusing, to the point of your post — 1:1. Essentially taking things “offline,” for a sidebar conversation.
    So, just because someone’s stubbed toe invective might be playing out publicly in the Twittersphere, doesn’t mean the brand’s response always needs to do likewise.

  5. I agree. There seems to be a growing trend for brands to respond to every single mention. I’ve been on the receiving end of some irritating tweets when I’ve just been venting my frustrations.
    “No, I don’t need another demonstration of your tool, leave me alone!”
    On a social team it’s so important to work with people who use Twitter themselves and who realise that each contact requires a unique response/approach.
    As ever, food for thought Mitch.

  6. Hey Mitch,
    I’m the Content/Community Manager for our IDX Company – Diverse Solutions. I can’t tell you how often this happens and it is a delicate balance to achieve. Whenever we release an update to one of our products and a function doesn’t work (if even for just a moment), you feel like this: “the spouse that’s asking if everything is ok.”
    I’ve learned that you have to constantly work on setting proper expectations right away. From the moment that individual becomes a client. If you have any questions or issues, please use our Support Forum (that I moderate closely) or contact Customer Support. Yes we use our social networks, but not 24/7 and so we don’t actively use those to address support issues. At least that’s the expectation we try to set so someone doesn’t get umm…”whiny”…when we don’t respond the second they post something.
    There’s been some instances where someone is venting about a Support issue on Twitter. Attacking us and saying “they’ll never refer us.” In each instance I’ve addressed the issue, personally replied both on Twitter and via their Support Ticket and their mood quickly changes to one of apology and praise.
    It’s interesting really. They take a moment in frustration and lash out. Then, everything is ok again and they love you. It’s like you’re dealing with Jeklye & Hyde sometimes actually.
    Anyway, I think the key is to be responsive but also set clear expectations from the very beginning on how issues get addressed.

  7. That immediate brand response has been one of the hardest things to get used to in this new Twitter era. It used to be that you could use Twitter as free therapy, get things off your chest, and then go on with your day. Now, more often than not, I find myself going through the mental exercise and playing “do I want a response from XYZ company about this?” before I fire of a brand-specific rant, usually resigning to remove the name not to protect them, but to protect myself.
    If software I’m using just crashed and lost hours of my work the last thing I want is some sales kid chiming in about the next iteration of their software package “which will be on sale this summer, follow me for deets!” Just let me stew for a few minutes and get back to work.
    Great commentary.

  8. Mitch, I could not agree more. Fantastic post. One thing that jumped off the page to me while reading the last paragraph, “Dynamics at Play” is that the most difficult thing for brands is understanding HOW to engage or respond. Understanding customer dynamics, as you put it takes time. How do brands know who I am amidst the sea of consumers that appear on their social sites on a minute/hourly/daily/weekly basis?
    I am just another person. How do they manage their relationship with me? From your airline example, do they know that I sit in the same airport once a month, for a scheduled business trip – dealing with the same great or horrible service time and time again?
    My sense is that its all reactive, dealing with the best and worst as it comes in as best they can. What do you think? How do brands manage their social relationships with their consumers?

  9. My grandfather used to say, “never argue with a pig – you’ll just get dirty and the pig will like it”. Now I’m not saying that toe-stubbing tweeters are pigs, nor that brands are pigs…but that the ease of just firing off a missive on Twitter calls out for a deep breath and sober second-thought on both sides.

  10. Great point, Kneale. I have long maintained that customers/consumers are forgiving of a company that makes the hustling mistakes, but fickle to those that make mental mistakes.

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