7 Ways To Fail At Twitter
Looking to leverage Twitter for massive fail? Here are some tips to follow -- or to avoid, if you're seeking success!
Twitter is a powerful way for businesses to disappoint customers, alienate influencers and convince anyone never to become followers. Want a pathway to Twitter fail? Here are seven things to consider — or reconsider, if you’re after Twitter success.
This is a companion story to a talk I’m giving today at Inbound (See slides below). In it, I’ll cover some of the things I’ve found businesses and others sometimes fail at from my perspective as a potential “influencer” and as a regular user of Twitter.
My Life On Twitter
I often have people reaching out to me on Twitter because I’m perceived as an influencer by some, either because of my fairly large number of followers or because they’re hoping for coverage due to my role as founding editor of Marketing Land and Search Engine Land.
I’m not alone among the “Twitter Famous” who get approached this way. I’d highly recommend that anyone read Anil Dash’s post, Nobody Famous, for some of the approaches he gets and how he deals with them. Another good read is by Gina Trapani: The Flip Side of a Big Audience.
For those hoping to influence an influencer, this is my personal take on how to fail (or not). Beyond that, I’m an avid user of Twitter both for work and pleasure. My tips also come from that perspective. In addition, I’ve got some tips that I’ve gathered from others.
Fail Tip #1: Don’t Listen To Your Customers
A few weeks ago, I tweeted about the high price Hertz charges if you don’t refill your rental car’s gas tank. Hertz isn’t alone in this. I just happened to be at Hertz waiting behind the counter for my paperwork to be processed when a sign across from me illustrated how expensive it was. So I tweeted at Hertz about it:
Hertz heard but didn’t actually listen to what I said. If someone had taken a closer look, it might have replied that the cost covers convenience. Maybe it might have tried to lighten things up with a joke. Perhaps my tweet might have just been ignored.
Instead, I got back a strange essay of over 10 replies about how to refill my car’s tank:
Win Tip #1: Listen & Respond Appropriately
As I said, there were other ways Hertz could have handled this, if someone had taken the time to really read what I’d tweeted.
What we want from brands we call out to on Twitter is an appropriate reply. We get if you can’t always fix our problems. But at least we’d like to know we’re not dealing with the Twitter-equivalent of an infuriating voice mail system.
Fail Tip #2: Break Your Promise To Help
Last year, I was having a terrible time with Verizon having changed my calling plan after I purchased a new phone, even though this wasn’t supposed to happen. Like others in such situations, I tweeted about my upset. Verizon replied that it wanted to help.
Two months later, I was still having the same problem despite many phone calls and more follow-up on Twitter. At one point, I told the Verizon rep on the phone that Verizon on Twitter said they were trying to help.
The rep said, “I didn’t even know we had support on Twitter.” Here was the Twitter response I got:
Indeed, I’d say it’s not uncommon that companies promise customer service support via Twitter that sounds great but which can turn out to be completely disconnected from the actual team that’s supposed to deliver on that service.
Win Tip #2: Deliver On Your Promises
To avoid fail, it’s pretty simple. Brands should deliver on what they promise. One example of this was when I tweeted about having problems with Gogo’s inflight wi-fi. I promptly got a reply asking me to go into chat for support. There, I was promptly issued credit.
Faster speed would have been better, but the refund was appreciated, as was the quick response that delivered a solution.
By the way, Twitter just released a long guide on how brands should approach customer service, when it comes to the platform. You’ll find it here. Also see our two write-ups with more about it:
- Twitter Publishes 122-Page Customer Service Playbook For Brands
- Twitter’s Advice For Better Customer Service: Get Personal
Also, just a word to anyone who complains on Twitter. I complain, but I also try to praise companies when they do a good job:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) April 21, 2014
I encourage anyone to do the same. Make sure you’re out there telling companies and brands when they get it right, as well as when they’re getting it wrong.
Fail Tip #3: Reach Out To Everyone
On any day, I might have companies I know nothing about tweeting at me about a product or service. What’s a bummer is when I feel like this is done without any effort to determine if I’d really be interested.
One company tweeted at me about a way to organize all my “paid search tweets.” I took a look and found that I was one of many people they appeared to be targeting in an automated or semi-automated way:
Maybe this works in some cases, with some people. But to me, it didn’t feel personal. It was the Twitter equivalent of sending me and many others junk mail.
Win Tip #3: Reach Out In The Right Way
I absolutely love when people tweet things that might really be of interest or something helpful. One example is when someone who often tweeted responses to me about my stories pointed out a typo:
@dannysullivan typo: $20 per month instead of per year when talking about opt out for gmail.
— Romit Mehta (@TheRomit) February 7, 2013
Appreciated. And over time, I also appreciated that I’d learned that Romit Mehta often pointed out good things to me, or had good comments or shared interesting stuff himself. That made me want to follow him.
Here’s another example of a smart way of reaching out, from that aforementioned Twitter customer service guide:
You can see that someone was looking for a hotel room during BlizzCon and found the Marriott they wanted was sold out. Hilton was a brand listening for such things and offered suggestions, which resulted in a booking. Success for everyone.
Fail Tip #4: Have A Complicated Promotion
Sometimes I see companies go wrong because they’re obsessed with proving that a social media campaign worked on Twitter by demonstrating the number of hashtags tweeted or by ruthlessly demanding tweets. They get so caught up in the minutiae that that they miss the entire part of being social with their “social” campaign.
For example, I visited a special area that a science fiction TV show made during the annual SXSW event. It was pretty cool, a spot between two buildings made to seem as if you were on the set of the show.
Within this area, there were giveaways, including a chance to win some nice-looking T-shirts. But to enter, you had to tweet. And you had to tweet with a specific hashtag. And you had to tweet using the iPad of whatever company was running the social media campaign.
You know, log onto someone else’s iPad and trust they’d log you out and delete your sign-in info.
No thanks. I passed — and a social share opportunity was lost.
Win Tip #4: Make It Easy For People To Share
Contrast that with what happened with HBO’s Game Of Thrones, which was also at SXSW. They brought the Iron Throne. Well, a model of it. You could sit, get your picture taken and even have a print-out of the photo made in addition to getting a digital copy.
There were no demands that this could only be done at the price of a tweet or if you used a particular hashtag. No one pushed anything at all.
I loved it so much that I just naturally tweeted out a picture:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 8, 2013
I thought a good recent promotion was the one done to push the film Straight Outta Compton, where anyone could make their own Straight Outta image. There was no demand to log in to do this. No requirement to tweet. You just got a cool image and, if you wanted, an optional prompt to share:
Sure, the campaign got a good kickstart by enlisting celebrities from the start. But I saw plenty of regular people making these and sharing. No wonder. It was so easy to do.
By the way, a pet peeve is when campaigns require giant, complicated hashtags. Please don’t. Unless you’re Ant-Man, where its #billboardforantssweepstakes mashup with Zoolander made perfect sense:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 11, 2015
Fail Tip #5: Ask Questions For Engagement
I get asked a lot of questions on Twitter. If I have time, and if I can help, I make a real effort to respond.
Given time is always short, replying to someone’s question only to find that the same account is asking many people the same thing is disappointing. It’s also annoying to discover that virtually all the account does is ask various people all types of random questions. It suggests the person or brand isn’t really interested in the answers. Who has time to waste on that?
Win Tip #5: Share Things Of Interest
This is closely related to Win Tip #3 above. If you’re after engagement, then rather than asking unnecessary questions, do share things that you think someone might find of interest.
If someone shares a great item to me, that I really do find interesting or helpful, I’ll often share it to others or retweet, because I want the person who alerted me to it to get credit.
Fail Tip #6: Ask To Be Followed
Don’t ask to be followed. If you want to be followed, you need to stand out in some way as being self-evidently worth following, which leads to…
Win Tip #6: Be Real & Interesting
For me, one of the main reasons I might follow someone is because they’ve become familiar to me by sharing interesting or unique things my way. That doesn’t mean someone who constantly hammers away with shares in an obvious attempt to be followed. Instead, it means I begin to recognize someone on Twitter over time, in the way that in real life, I might get to know them.
Usually, I’ll go to someone’s account and look over other things they’ve shared. If their stream looks interesting, that might make a follow.
In writing this article, I had this exact experience come up. I couldn’t remember the URL of that story Gina Trapani wrote, which I mentioned earlier. I tweeted to her about it. Before she answered, one of my followers, Sean Riley, remembered it and offered up the URL:
— Sean Riley (@Techgasms) September 8, 2015
That was helpful. And I recognized Riley from other engagements we’ve had. Looking at his shares, I figured he was a good person I should follow — and so I did.
I asked people who follow me what causes them to follow others, and I got similar responses:
@dannysullivan For me: ALWAYS comes down to content of tweets. If they have interesting past tweets (or look like they might in future).
— Mark Rosch MCLE (@MarkRosch) August 18, 2015
@dannysullivan if by their profile and latest tweets I can instantly see they’re authentic and post content of real value to me.
— Josh Steimle (@joshsteimle) August 18, 2015
If you’re wondering what causes celebrities to follow people, well, maybe one day I’ll interview enough to have a separate article on that. But I did get this comment from Rob Gregory, the chief revenue officer of WhoSay, which works with a number of celebrities on social media:
Celebrities are the same as other users of twitter. They don’t like the ‘teaspoon dipped into the Mississippi River’ aspect of twitter: that they’re always missing so much of their feed. And it’s the same for them when it comes to retweeting: if you want something retweeted, than post something retweetable! And of course what they like is the reach, immediacy and brevity of the platform.
Fail Tip #7: Jump On A Bandwagon
Pearl Harbor Day. A hashtag about domestic violence. Both are examples of brands that decided to jump onto a topic and ended up with a social media nightmares: If you’re after bad press and attention, then jump on a bandwagon without thinking. But if you’re not…
Win Tip #7: Jump On A Bandwagon With Thought & Relevancy
Arby’s scored a huge social media win comparing its hat logo to the hat Pharrell wore to the Grammys last year:
— Arby's (@Arbys) January 27, 2014
It made sense. It was funny. The person tweeting understood all that was going on. Newsjacking for the win — and, by the way, a win that didn’t require a giant social media war room. Think carefully about the bandwagon you want to join. If you’re confident things have been well thought out, it can bring success.
Want more tips for Twitter fail? Or things to avoid, if you want success? Here are a few that others shared with me, when I asked a few weeks ago:
@dannysullivan my current worse: adding you to over-flattering twitter lists to make you react!
— Wilhem Pujar (@WilhemPujar) August 20, 2015
Auto DMs, requests for retweets, pitches in DM, constant following-unfollowing in hopes of attention are all on the list. So think carefully before doing those. Have your own pet peeves? Leave them in the comments below!
Finally, for those after more success with Twitter and social media marketing in general, be sure to come out for Marketing Land’s SocialPro conference this November in Las Vegas. We’ve got a great program for you!