A few weeks ago, Gloria Huang, a social media manager for the American Red Cross, was out having a few drinks with friends when she fired off a quick Twitter update. The tweet was unremarkable. It read: "Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer... when we drink we do it right." Unfortunately, she was logged into the Red Cross account instead of her own.
The message remained live for about an hour; then the Red Cross started on some damage control. They took the tweet down, replacing it with a message that lightheartedly explained why it was deleted. They posted a blog the next day. They did not make a big deal out of it -- nor was Huang fired -- and as a result, the organization actually saw an increase in donations.
“The Red Cross had a good sense of humor about this, and came across very human. Their reaction was totally a best practice scenario,” says Sarah Milstein, a social media expert and co-author of The Twitter Book.
We’ve seen other cases of Twitter gone wrong that haven’t ended nearly as well (most recently, Kenneth Cole was put through the wringer for making light of the protests in Egypt). Here are tips on how to use the social networking site to help -- not hurt -- your business:
- Tweet often. Milstein says that the most popular Twitter accounts update with messages over 20 times a day. Updating regularly will not only make you attractive to current followers, but it will increase your presence so you’ll gain more followers. “The bigger risk, actually, is not tweeting often enough, and not being present or part of the conversation,” explains Milstein. One of the attractive things about Twitter is that it allows customers and clients to interact with businesses in a way they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, so don’t be afraid to be chatty. (And yes, weekends count.)
- Think it through. The one caveat to the point above is that you want to be prolific, but also relevant and interesting. Before you send a tweet, take some time to think about how you can make it “more interesting, more valuable, a little funnier, or more likely that people will read it and have a good reaction,” suggests Milstein. The idea isn’t to pump out everything that pops into your head, or -- worse -- random stats and facts about your company. Think about what you’d want to hear from some of your favorite businesses.
- Loosen up. People responded well to the Red Cross because they were able to laugh at themselves, they didn’t overreact to the slip up, and they were personable. Twitter lets your customers see another side of you, to get to know you and your business in a different way. It’s okay -- good even -- to be funny or express your opinion. No, you probably don’t want to alienate a portion of your base by tweeting your thoughts about Obama, but if you own a grocery store, for example, you might tweet about your favorite foods or what you’re watching on the Food Network.
- Interact. When people tweet to you – either to ask you a question, compliment your business, or complain -- always try to respond. Some major companies, like Allstate, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, are getting great press these days because they have active Twitter accounts that respond to consumer issues quickly and effectively. “When someone sends you a tweet -- messages you or comments about your company -- that naturally merits some response. It might be a question you can’t answer in 140 characters, so you tell them to email you or follow you and you’ll send them a direct message. People like when companies respond, so it’s worth putting in the time,” says Milstein. It may even be worth hiring an extra hand if you don’t have the extra time to dedicate to this.
- Admit mistakes. If you screw up and tweet an insensitive comment, an embarrassing spelling error or incorrect information, acknowledge it like the Red Cross did, then move on. Don’t just delete the Tweet -- this is the Internet, after all, and to a certain extent you can’t every wipe the slate clean -- talk about it. Otherwise, people think you’re trying to hide something, and Twitter is all about transparency.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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