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Why businesses should follow their customers on social networks

shunningI was somewhat disheartened, yet not completely surprised, to see that Twitter has released a feature allowing its users to receive direct messages (DMs) from people they don’t follow. As reported by The Drum, what this really means is that businesses and brands on Twitter can now receive DMs from customers – such as when asking for account numbers or tracking numbers – without having to follow them (it also opens those brands up to a barrage of DM spam which is perhaps just desserts).

It’s a move that comes at the same time that Twitter announces the ability for businesses to schedule tweets in advance so that they “can publish content at any time without having staff on-call to Tweet on evenings, weekends, holidays, or other inconvenient times”.

These are both clear signals that Twitter is prioritising the demands of brands and businesses who simply want to use it as a marketing channel for broadcasting messages, not a way to converse and interact with their customers. It’s further evidence of the slippery slope that takes Twitter further and further from the core principles of ‘social’ media and closer to mass commercialisation.

When it comes to the DM/following issue, I just don’t get it. Why on earth wouldn’t a brand want to follow its customers, to hear what they care about, what they’re passionate about, what they think of other products and services, and even competitors? Is it really that awful for a brand to be seen to be following their customers? Is it really that difficult for the person who asks the customer to send a DM to click the ‘follow’ button as well? And what message is this ‘arms length’ attitude sending to customers about how much the brand values them?

Scheduled tweets I can perhaps understand a little more (everyone deserves time off), but I’m afraid can’t see it being used for anything other than filling our timelines with more broadcast messages – even worse, messages planned by a marketing agency – with little resemblance to, or consideration about, what is happening in the world at the time. We have already seen examples where scheduled tweets have caused unfortunate reputation damage simply because no one can predict when a crisis or tragedy might occur. Many more brands look set to join their ranks with such an easy ‘fire and forget’ approach.

For me, both of these developments are nothing more than treatment for the symptoms of lazy marketing – interruption, irrelevancy and ignorance. Brands would be better advised to follow their customers, to listen to what they’re saying, and to talk to them like human beings.

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