How retail execs use Twitter

Microblogging website Twitter is now eight years old, and its impact on how businesses and businesspeople communicate and interact with their customers has been significant.

Retailers use the site to boost their brand presence and talk directly to customers who may have publically voiced a complaint or mentioned the business on their own accounts. Some companies, such as fashion retailer Gap, have used the medium to reveal new marketing campaigns and generate momentum behind new product launches and seasonal promotions.

It is also apparent that senior industry executives use Twitter in completely different ways, with the likes of Dixons Retail CEO Seb James and Tesco's central Europe managing director Ken Towle opting to regularly highlight good practice within their respective organisations, but others such as Ryman chairman Theo Paphitis and Jessops boss Peter Jones taking a much more personal approach to their messaging.

Lauren Hughes, social media account executive at digital marketing agency iProspect, said that "stand-out best practice" examples of Twitter usage include the recent Oreo 'dunk in the dark' Superbowl tweet and Specsavers' recent exploitation of brand mentions in national newspaper headlines.

"However, for the most consistently impactful use of the platform, look no further than globally recognised digital market leaders such as Topshop, Asos, Net-a-Porter, Harrods and Selfridges," she explained.

The retail executives Essential Retail spoke to about Twitter usage seemingly follow a policy of mixing business with pleasure, in terms of the messages they post on the site.

Kypros Kyprianou, the CEO of Ryman whose Twitter moniker is @Kypros13, calls the site "a great business tool" and the best way of keeping up to date with the latest news and events.

"As such, I debated whether my Twitter feed should be purely business related or just personal and whether I should even have two separate accounts," he said.

"In the end, as Twitter should reflect a personality whether [it's a brand or individual account], I decided on the one account and that it should reflect me as an individual. So it consists of the businesses I work in, a loyal #SBS family following, friends and football (Spurs).

"It even on occasion helps for communication with the family – most recently I tweeted my son to get on with his revision!"

Twitter has opened up access to the personal thought process about leading celebrities and business figures on a scale never seen before, but Phil Jones, managing director for technology company Brother UK, argues that there are multiple business benefits related to using the site.

"Twitter is the only tool for establishing a proximity and conversation platform with customers, colleagues, journalists, trends, thought leaders and breaking news," he noted.

"My own feed focuses on leadership, technology, entrepreneurialism and personal growth aligned to our own values as a business. By sharing information which grows business and people, ultimately they grow and buy our products, which means we grow in a virtuous cycle."

Jones, who uses the Twitter name @philjones40, added: "The new 'Expectation Economy' means users expect transparency from the brands they buy from and at all levels businesses need to be listening, starting with the top executives."

Although fashion specialists Topshop, Asos and Net-a-Porter currently lead the way in UK retail in terms of Twitter follower numbers, each with more than half-a-million followers of their respective accounts, research released this week shows that the medium still has some way to go in delivering adequate customer service.

The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 100 leading UK companies on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web, as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and web chat. The social media site was reportedly "particularly patchy", with 39% of companies able to answer customer service questions asked through Twitter, despite three-quarters of the organisations analysed now being contactable through this channel.

According to iProspect's Hughes, the retailers that use Twitter as a two-way communications channel to engage customers in conversation – as opposed to simply pushing out sales messages – are the companies that get the most value out of the platform.

"Responding to customer queries and mentions, and generally being reactive with content, is the key to success, and the only way to build more meaningful relationships with followers," she stated.

"In many cases, customer complaints represent the greatest way of turning crisis into opportunity on Twitter, and there are numerous examples of this in action from O2 to Morrisons."

Follow Essential Retail on Twitter @EssRetail.

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