Case Study of 4 Companies on Twitter

Short of the official Twitter rules and usage guidelines left and right, it is the choice of each business to either emulate best practice or test how to write and respond to 140 character updates on their own.

The following is a case study of four companies and a look at how they engage with their customers and coworkers to brand themselves on Twitter.

Case Study 1: Walmart

Meet Kelly and Kevin in the below screenshots:

walmartkelly

walmartkevin

FYI: All screenshots above and below may be clicked to zoom.

Kelly works in the company’s media relations department and Kevin is the senior manager in corporate communications. Both are employed out of the Walmart headquarters in Arkansas.

There is no primary @Walmart account at this time.

While the company shares its list of numerous Twitter feeds, Kelly and Kevin are the only official associates on the list. You can see their following, follower, and listed metrics are on the relatively small side; and so most of their tweets, when not responding to customer queries, involve retweeting the company’s other broadcasting feeds.

I wish there were more Walmart employees sharing their names and faces on Twitter, but I’m glad to see Kelly and Kevin engaging with us here. I also like the naming convention, for WalmartKelly gives an entirely different branding and friendly impression than WalmartMedia or KellySmith.

Suppose you didn’t know the company tweeted. What would their website say?

Have a look yourself by visiting walmart.com. If you click the twitter icon at the bottom of the page, you’ll see a reduced list of feeds (Kelly’s missing, for instance) than what you see at walmartstores.com, which has a worse branded twitter link, buried in the middle of the right column. Click between the two links and see what I mean.

Case Study 2: Comcast

comcast

Less than 30 days old, the telecommunications provider’s primary Twitter account, @Comcast, acts as a conduit to its engaging blog feed @ComcastVoices and customer service channels via @ComcastCares.

To early adopters of Twitter (aka anyone who’s tweeted to any extent for more than 12 months), the real voice of Comcast is senior director of customer service Frank Eliason, evident from his top right corner metrics in comparison to every screenshot so far:

comcastcares

The way customer service works for Comcast on Twitter, is if someone tweets Frank (whether or not they know it’s Frank), either he replies first or someone on his team like @ComcastMelissa, @ComcastBonnie, @ComcastGeorge, or @ComcastBill (among others) tweet back on Frank’s, aka the department’s, behalf. Depending on the shift in the day depends who replies first.

If Frank or his team can’t help you, they direct you to send an email to a master account and you personally receive a phone call within 24 hours, as I’ve shared previously about saving money.

As for the comcast.com website, good luck finding a Twitter link or icon. It’s not there.

Case Study 3: Los Angeles Times

latimes

With the @LATimes flagship, the newspaper maintains a list of every account holder, from reporters and editors to columns and sections. Some broadcast, some reply to queries. It’s noteworthy that many section reporters and feeds tweet infrequently.

The paper’s come a long way since my last blog post about its branding failure on Twitter that I wrote 12 months ago. I credit Andrew Nystrom, among others, for implementing changes.

I wish every LA Times tweeter could use the same naming format as Walmart and Comcast, but as it is accounts range from @latimescaramiad and @latimesneuman (who is inactive since September) to @wjhenn and @davidcolker, despite all being reporters and editors.

The newspaper’s website is in the same boat as walmartstores; there’s a buried twitter link in the middle of a chunk of links at the bottom of latimes.com.

Case Study 4: Whole Foods

Whole Foods on Twitter

Its corporate mission values customers, without whom there would be no business; and the company goes out of its way to create Twitter accounts for every region and every store. That’s right; there’s a feed with comparable broadcasts and replies for every Whole Foods store in the country. You can see their continually-updated list here.

While the Whole Foods blog sees few comments, the customers are engaging with their retailer en masse on Facebook, which sees over 161,000 fans and dozens of comments for every corporate wall post.

Note how the blog includes bylines for each author, for the primary Twitter account @WholeFoods includes zero bylines. I have no way of knowing who is tweeting, whether a broadcast, reply, or retweet. I’d like to know this and I shared this sentiment 12 months ago when commenting about tweets and brands.

About halfway down the comment section last year is a bit by Kris Colvin, referring to a dialogue I had with corporate art director Marla Erwin (the red markup is by Kris):

December 2008 Twitter conversation with Whole Foods and meSome things take a while to change.

I applaud Whole Foods for displaying a Twitter link in the very top of its wholefoodsmarket.com homepage.

If only Walmart, Comcast, and the LA Times could follow suit on their websites.

On the flipside, I wish Whole Foods and the LA Times could indicate in the Twitter bio field who does the tweeting, as Comcast does.

And the Twitter users themselves? You’ve met @WalmartKelly and @ComcastGeorge and @LATimesCaraMiad; notice how Whole Foods’ @MarlaErwin sticks out differently — which is not to suggest she’s tweeting wrong, just differently.

Anything else stick out to you in the above examples?

If you’re part of a larger tweeting company, anything look familiar?

Get New Posts!

Don't miss another blog post. Get free delivery to your inbox!

Comments

  1. says

    I dunno why it’s so important to you to know WHO is giving out the 411 at wholefoods. I don’t really care. It’s clearly a person–or people, nice tone, individual response, etc. I am not looking for a close personal relationship with my grocer. The point WF makes about not wanting to saddle their staff tweeting personally and on behalf of WF with identity collision makes sense, too. Not everyone wants to mix corporate and personal.

    At least for me, I am more concerned with the tone and quality of corporate tweets. A name is great, but not a requirement.
    .-= New from Gwynne: Facebook: What’s The Point? =-.

    • Ari Herzog says

      It’s the principle. If you walk into a Whole Foods store (or any retail store), you see name tags on every employee, from the manager to the cashier to the warehouse clerk. If stores want to remove their name tags, I have no beef with no names on social networking sites. But they can’t have it both ways because that leads to confusion.

      • Philip Nowak says

        Ari, You are being overly dramatic. I agree with Gwynne. There is no confusion here at all. You are just playing Devil’s Advocate. Does anyone truly care what the names of the employees are at an actual store? Of course not.

        It’s the same way on Twitter or any other social network. Some companies choose to identify their representatives and some do not. Whole Foods is doing a great job with their Twitter account and shouldn’t change a single thing.

        Changing topics, what are your thoughts on Best Buy’s TwelpForce Twitter account strategy?

        • Ari Herzog says

          Again, I look at the big picture. If you don’t care what your store associate is named, then tell that person and/or the manager that nametags should be stricken. Enough people complain, maybe the nametags will be removed. If you remove the nametags, then remove the bylines on the WF blog. Do it in both places, and they can keep tweeting as is. Until then, I look for universality in a brand.

          • says

            I’m not sure it’s a that huge of a faux pas by WF, but I tend to agree that at least names should be given behind corporate accounts. This is a very personal medium. I know of people who won’t follow an account that doesn’t have a face as the avatar. They could at least put a list of names of poeople who manage the account, and when a new person sits in, quickly tweet “Judy is here to help!” or something similar. I don’t see why it’s a difficult proposition.

          • Wilson Zorn says

            Consistency/universality I agree with, but the matter of relating between face-to-face, microblogging, and blogging (to name just 3 interfaces) are fundamentally inconsistent. So, too, are types of communication. WF’s advertisements and various other corporate materials (product information on their website, etc.) are not signed by the individuals who created and/or delivered those, nor would we expect or (necessarily) want that. Encountering an employee f2f may or may not be more easily faciliated with a name, the f2f encounter necessarily bringing a wide variety of unpredictable needs. A blog representing a personalized style and/or “one employee’s opinions” essentially makes sense to have a signature, but a blog representing policies and standardized corporate information likely does not. A microblog similarly can vary a lot in purpose (and of course we are still discovering those uses as well); a statement of where to find information or regarding discounts has less value in being personally signed, but an intense customer support interaction does have value.

            So I think the universality/consistency requirement has to be considered not on a whole-organization level blindly, but also with sensitivity to the matter of interface.

            That said, as a consumer I do expect a singular and consistent corporate voice from a Twitter account for most products and services I engage. There is, I well grant, a tricky point where what starts as a mere simplistic exchange of information turns into a complex conversation, at which point personal accountability and personal relationship-building become important. However, one key issue for Twitter is that messages are severely limited in length yet most companies and consumers like to have a singular account for simplicity, so it’s difficult to affix initials (which by themselves are inadequate anyway in a larger organization with multiple people of the same name) or other identifiers yet also difficult to manage across many identities.

      • says

        Hey Ari, interesting examples. @latimes is flattered to be included among these big, national brands. As a media company rather than a retail or consumer brand, I’d say we operate in a slightly different set of circumstances, but I do agree we have a lot to learn from Comcast, Whole Foods, et al.

        Our thinking about social media identity (link to our latest social media guidelines) has evolved a lot since 2007. Re naming of Twitter handles, we started out thinking it was essential to have @latimes*** in every official, individual username, but our view now is shorter, more personal handles are a-ok, so long as the account bio clearly indicates the individual’s affiliation with the L.A. Times. Re link placement, we consider every page on latimes.com our “homepage,” or gateway to the rest of the site, which is why you’ll find multiple social links on nearly every template.

        Regarding frequency of tweets, we recognize that Twitter and other social platforms serve different purposes for different staff members around our newsroom. Some folks tweet dozens of times a day; some maybe a few times a week or month; some just listen in. We’re cool with that and encourage quality of conversation over quantity.

        Re personalization of tweets, Twitter’s just-announced Contributors feature (in limited beta preview) should go a long way towards adding the personalization you desire, which I agree makes sense in many, if not all, cases — but is probably not necessary or desired by our readers from our straight headline-only accounts like @latimes.

        Just curious: Do you patronize any of the businesses that you mention above?
        ~ Andrew / @AdNys

        • Ari Herzog says

          I pay a monthly Comcast fee for TV, VOIP, and Internet; and sporadically shop at Walmart. Since moving to where I am 2 years ago, the nearest Whole Foods is about 40 minutes away so I don’t go there anymore, and I have no reason to read the LA Times unless someone points me there.

          Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Philip Nowak says

    One more thing. I really like the look and feel of your comment section. What comment system or WordPress plugin are you using?

  3. says

    Thanks for the post…I agree that having the personal touch on these social networking sites is important! That being said, I am now going to change our profile on Twitter because my name is not included there. I often add it when sending DM’s but having it up front is more important. That’s the way we do it on our Facebook page, so that’s the way we should do it on Twitter! Thanks again for opening my eyes…

    Jen @ Pongo
    .-= New from Jennifer: Networking Plays a Critical Role in Your Job Search =-.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Thanks, Jennifer. I point you to the first paragraph above; that there is no one way to use Twitter. I merely pointed out four companies that did it differently and let you decide what works best. Whether the initials/names of each tweeter is in the twitter.com bio field or the background wallpaper is up to you; if your name is like WalmartKevin or ComcastBill, even better. But that’s my 2 cents.

  4. says

    Using Twitter for business is increasingly becoming a new trend. People feel relaxed in boosting their business through Twitter.

  5. says

    Hi Ari,

    Thanks for including @WholeFoods in your post along with @latimes, @comcast and Walmart’s Kevin and Kelly. Quite a nice group to be in!

    I’d like to submit the correction that Whole Foods Market does not yet have a Twitter account for every store; currently 192 of our 289 stores have Twitter accounts. We also have 3 topical accounts (cheese, wine and recipes) and 12 metro accounts (Austin, Chicago, DFW, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Montgomery County MD, New Orleans, NYC, San Francisco, and Vancouver) for a total of 207 active accounts. And occasionally we will run a temporary account for a special event, such as @WFMBonnaroo.

    Regarding the use of individual names or photos: that seems to be of great concern to social media analysts and business reporters, but not to any of our customers. We’re now at over 1.65 million followers on our main account alone, and still haven’t had more than about eight or ten customers ask for a name behind the account. The notion that there would be customer backlash seems to have been unfounded, and we’ve had no doubts about our decision being the right one for Whole Foods Market.

    That said, it’s absolutely a case-by-case question, and the answer lies with the specific brand’s character, customer profile, competition, and name recognition; I wouldn’t even venture broad guidelines such as “Fortune 500 companies should do this” or “B2Bs should do that.” In fact, you don’t have to pick just one answer — for example, @WFMCheese is very clearly the account of our global cheese buyer, Cathy Strange, and Doug & Geof are a big part of the personality of the eponymous @WFMWineGuys. Because they are renowned experts in their fields, it makes sense to feature them as personalities even as we choose not to feature any of the folks tweeting on the @wholefoods account.

    As for the nametag-consistency argument: a store is not a blog is not a Twitter account. After all, I don’t expect HomeDepot.com’s site navigation to match the layout of their store aisles (e.g., lumber on the left, garden supplies on the right, and paint in the middle). Each medium can and should develop its own best practices.

    —Marla
    .-= New from Marla Erwin: marlaerwin: Amen. RT @Fungible: Aaannnnd the best picture of the year is…http://bit.ly/5xwW68 (via @fluxrad) =-.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Thanks for elaborating, Marla; appreciated! I’d like to focus on your last paragraph about universal standards. Looking to the future, do you think each business should use a social networking site however they want, or do you think customers might be less confused if businesses on those sites adopted common practices?

      • says

        Businesses should use social networking how it best suits them and their customers. Best practices will emerge, up to a point, but I still resist your call for homogeneity. We don’t all use the same practices in the real world either; an idea that is perfect for one retailer might be a complete dud for another. For example, I think Apple was brilliant to do away with cash registers and simply have their store staff ring you up where you stand— but can you imagine how impractical this would be for a grocery store?
        .-= New from Marla Erwin: marlaerwin: @ariherzog fyi – am intermittently getting "account suspended" errors on your site =-.

        • Ari Herzog says

          Imagine the following: You walk into your grocery store and with the cart comes a scanner (similar to how wedding registries are created or how bookstores manage inventory). When you place items from the store into your cart, you scan a RFID barcode that does three things: 1) you are removing the item from the shelf, 2) you are buying the item (with a pre-defined credit card or checking debit), and 3) the store’s security system knows you bought it so no alarms will ring when you cart everything out of the store.

          It’s very doable, no?

  6. says

    Ari,
    Thank you for including Comcast with such distinguished companies in social media. I thought the post was well thought out and provided many different thoughts on ways companies can choose to interact in social media. I did want to provide my thoughts on advertising a Twitter presence as a means to contact us, so I wanted to share a link to my personal blog where I provide my thoughts on the topic:

    http://www.eliasonfamily.info/blog/?p=899

    I hope you are well and I hope you and your family have a great holiday season.

    Frank Eliason
    Comcast

    • Ari Herzog says

      Thanks for the ping and the deeper explanation over there, where I added a comment questioning whether you have any analytics to share on your different social media outposts.

  7. says

    Most clicks come from search of the internet, and links in other blogs or forums. Today the link is not on Comcast.com as we waited for a server change, which is now completed, so we will be adding that link shortly. Originally it was a soft launch so we could build up content. We also realized the benefits of moving the blog to be part of the Comcast.com domain, so now it is http://blog.comcast.com. Now that there is plenty of content and the server moved we will be adding the link.

    Frank

  8. says

    Thanks for the case study Ari. I am just at the halfway point of deciding the best approach for our business and any example helps. I’ve seen brands really engaging with followers, responding to questions etc which is the model I’d like us to follow as well.

  9. says

    Thanks for these case studies. They are very helpful for me, because I have to make my twitter-strategies for my companies. I’m quite newbie so I have to study a lot..

  10. says

    Hi,
    In your post you said “I wish there were more Walmart employees sharing their names and faces on Twitter, but I’m glad to see Kelly and Kevin engaging with us here. ” I’m actually surprised at the number of employees that admit where they work on twitter. The story of people getting fired or “punished” for what they say on twitter is starting to become all too common. If people want to bash their place of employment online they should atleast have the common sense to do it without exposing their true identity.

    But with that aside, i’m also glad that we’re living at a time where people can communicate instantly online by using services such as twitter. Alot of people may not have noticed it but it has truly changed our lives for the better.

    Johnnie Dice

    • says

      Yes, Services such as Twitter and Facebook has changed the way we do business in 2010. I was just talking to an older guy who was in Barnes and Nobles researching how to get his real estate site ranked on Google. I gave him a few tips and one of them were to create a twitter acct so that he can have another form of communication with perspective buyers.

  11. says

    I really like the idea of reps tweeting instead of a nameless/faceless company updating its followers. The way Walmart has its Twitter accounts set up is extremely friendly and trusting. It’s very similar to the way companies use the Feedback plugin to get feedback and ideas from customers. Comcast uses this on fancast.com and use reps with names and faces to respond to feedback.

  12. says

    Interesting. I found this post because I’m about to create a new Twitter page to start promoting products on our site. It’s cool to see how other, especially large, companies are interacting with their customers.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Case Study of 4 Companies on Twitter — AriWriter The following is a case study of four companies and a look at how they engage with their customers and coworkers to brand themselves on Twitter. (tags: marketing media socialmedia pr social twitter) [...]