Social Media Strategy, Social CRM

Customer Stalking – When Is Your Twitter Response Too Fast?

neicole2 Customer Stalking   When Is Your Twitter Response Too Fast?Guest post by Neicole Crepeau, an Online Strategist at Coherent Interactive. She blogs at Coherent Social Media.

The other week, I was participating in Jay’s hashtagsocialmedia.com chat on social media. (It takes place every Tuesday at noon EST.) The exchange is below:

@jaybaer #sm107 BONUS Q4. How important is speed of response on Twitter? And can a company be TOO fast = creepy?

@neicolec: Q4: If support problem, no reply too fast. If I made a comment, a fast reply creeps me out. #sm107

It’s true. I get creeped out when a brand on Twitter replies quickly to a comment I just made. Probably a lot of people do. It may seem inconsistent and fickle, but we don’t always like a fast response to a brand mention on Twitter. In some cases, it might be best not to respond at all.

The key to deciding how fast to respond is to take off your business hat and put on your person hat. Think less about your business and more about appropriate behavior in a social situation.

spies 200x300 Customer Stalking   When Is Your Twitter Response Too Fast?

Eavesdropping With A Purpose

The circumstance where I definitely do want a fast response is when I’m having a problem. I’ve had several companies respond quickly to conversations I was having with others about their products. Livefyre responded when I complained to my friend Mark W. Schaefer that my comment on his blog wasn’t uploading. And just last week, Triberr’s Dan Cristo helped me out when I told Gini Dietrich that I didn’t understand how to use Triberr. I was happy to have them eavesdropping, and happy to have them offer assistance.

In this circumstance, no response is too fast. Presumably, the customer has tried to figure out a solution on their own. By the time they reach out, they’re frustrated and maybe angry. They just want the problem solved now. (in fact, ExactTarget’s research on Twitter found that most customers turn to it as the third option, after they’ve been dissatisfied by a company’s phone and email response).

That’s one of the benefits of real-time monitoring and response—you may be able to intervene before the customer gets to the boiling stage. If someone is complaining about a problem, they are almost never going to be upset that you overheard, stuck your nose in it, and solved the problem.

Business hat: I’m monitoring conversations about my product. Someone just said they’re having a problem with it. I’ll provide good customer support by asking if I can help solve the problem right away.

Person hat: Those two tourists are looking at a map. Oh, I just heard one of them ask how to get to the market. I know just how to get there. Let me go over and help them.

It works in either scenario. If you were lost in the real world and someone offered to help, you’d feel grateful. (Except if you’re a New Yorker, in which case, mind your own business!)

Customer Service vs. Customer Stalking

Most of us who are digitally savvy know that we are being served online ads based on information that Google, Facebook, and others collect about our online activities.  Many of us accept it as the price we pay for so much free content.

Still, if you visit Ford’s website, and then every ad you see for the next two days is for Ford, it kind of creeps you out.  It’s like you’re being banner ad stalked. Maybe you know in the back of your mind that advertisers are watching you, but you don’t want it to be so obvious!

This effect is even worse on social networks. When you’re on Twitter and someone @’s you, you know that a person is talking to you. Even if it’s a branded account instead of a personal one, with a logo instead of a person’s photo, you are still very aware that it is a person tweeting to you. So, when someone tweets about the great deal on Wii’s at this or that store, just after you’ve made a comment that you’re thinking of buying a Wii, it feels like stalking. It feels like that person was spying on you.

Business hat: I’m monitoring the real-time conversation for opportunities. Someone just mentioned they are thinking of buying a new minivan. That’s a prime sales opportunity—at the point of decision. I’ll tell them we have good prices and give them a link to our site.

Person hat: I’m talking with a friend at a party about buying a new minivan. The sleazy guy at the buffet table behind us leans over and says, “I heard you mention you want to buy a minivan. I have great prices at my dealership. Here’s my card.”

Yuck.

Even something less spammy can be creepy. Let’s say I @ a Twitter friend in response to a question. I tell her that she should try Livefyre for her comment system. And then @Livefyre immediately tweets, “Let us know if you have any questions!”

I’m sorry. That’s asynchronous and icky. Livefyre might just be trying to be helpful, but it feels like they are spying on a private conversation, and are a bit too eager to please. Even though I clearly like the product and am suggesting it, I don’t like them intruding into my private recommendation to a friend.

That’s ridiculous, you might say. The conversation isn’t private. You’re on Twitter, for goodness sake. And it’s hypocritical. You didn’t mind them intruding when you had a problem.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hypocritical, though. People aren’t logical, and social rules are subtle and can seem capricious. Still, when they’re broken, we know. I may have a hard time explaining why that gentleman is standing too close when we’re out here on the street, even though it would be acceptably close in a crowded elevator. Nevertheless, if he’s standing too close, I’m uncomfortable.

So, let’s try our hats on again for this last situation.

Business hat: I’m monitoring the real-time conversation. Someone just recommended our brand of luggage. I’ll make sure they know we can answer any questions, and that they have my contact info.

Person hat: I’m on the subway talking with my friend about her travel plans. I recommend this great travel bag I bought. The guy behind us leans over the seat and says “I’m a sales rep for that luggage. Do you have any questions? Here’s my card.”

Creepy. You want to just brush him off. Chances are my friend is going to throw away that business card, even though she wants the luggage.

The next time you’re wondering how fast to respond to someone’s mention of your brand, take my advice: put your person hat on first.

  • http://www.writetoincite.com Michele Dortch

    I hadn’t thought of this before. I’ve always assumed that a quick response time is what customers want, but I definitely see how it can be creepy. Your subway scenario really nailed it for me. Thank you for opening my eyes!

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Thanks! I’ve just noticed my own reaction sometimes isn’t as positive as the person @ing me probably expected… 

  • Anonymous

    On the other hand, if you happen to be logging into Twitter as someone @’s you, should you then delay a reply until a bit later to avoid sounding creepy?

    • http://twitter.com/net0gre Robert Johnson

       no, if you’ve been @’d, they’re speaking directly to you. answer.

      • Anonymous

        OK  my bad – reread the article a bit more leisurely and realised that the piece was referring to # or just straight inclusions rather than @  mentions.  So yes, I agree with you both (  and @twitter-191884639:disqus )!

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      I agree with Robert on that one. That’s like someone talking to you and you ignoring them and turning away. 

  • http://twitter.com/NancyCawleyJean NancyCawleyJean

    Not sure I agree with this. I don’t think it’s the speed of the response, I think it’s the content. If you’re being pushy and invasive, then yes, it can seem uninvited and creepy, but if you’re being friendly or helpful, then I believe more people would think it’s acceptable and even welcome.. 

    • http://twitter.com/net0gre Robert Johnson

      but what’s being said in the article is what’s intended to be friendly or helpful can be construed due to timing and situation as pushy and invasive. so speed is irrelevant, really; it’s more wether to respond at all. sometimes, no.

      really.

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Hi, Robert and Nancy. I think as Robert said above, it’s the timing, context, and tone. The whole package. Perhaps one of the challenges is that we can respond immediately online, but we don’t know the person and their personality–they are usually a stranger–and we can see body language as cues to get a sense of their mood or how they might respond. It makes it a lot tougher to figure out whether the person will interpret our jumping in as helpful or annoying.

  • Dan

    Woohoo. Thanks so much for the mention, Neicole. To be honest, I’m sort of egotistic, so I’ve created some Triberr related searched saved on Twitter that I keep in an open tab so I can watch new mentions of the site. haha.

    It just so happens that sometimes people have customer support requests and it works out. In fact, @dino_dogan:disqus is much more consistent with prompt customer service than I am, but I try.

    You do bring up a great point about brands being too eager to jump into the conversation so that it comes across as creepy. I can totally see that, and it’s a good reminder to not be too eager – but be eager enough :)

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Thanks, Dan. I definitely appreciated your quick response. I think you guys are doing a great job on that front. 

  • Dan

    Woohoo. Thanks so much for the mention, Neicole. To be honest, I’m sort of egotistic, so I’ve created some Triberr related searched saved on Twitter that I keep in an open tab so I can watch new mentions of the site. haha.

    It just so happens that sometimes people have customer support requests and it works out. In fact, @dino_dogan:disqus is much more consistent with prompt customer service than I am, but I try.

    You do bring up a great point about brands being too eager to jump into the conversation so that it comes across as creepy. I can totally see that, and it’s a good reminder to not be too eager – but be eager enough :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/unmarketing unmarketing

    Please don’t have this post lead to companies telling employees they have to wait at least an hour to reply so they don’t seem stalkerish…….. :)

    I don’t think the speed is the issue, but more the context and tone, right? A tweet shelf-life is minutes at best.

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Well, as I said, if I’m having a problem, I wouldn’t want the company to wait an hour. But I agree, it’s the whole package. Tone, timing, context (such as the context of the tweet to which you’re replying).  

    • http://johnantonios.com John Antonios

      I think what Jay’s stressing on is the context of interaction of a business on twitter … The difference between listening to the conversation and creeping into it …
      Non of us want the response time of any company or person for that matter to exceed the one-minute window as you so clearly defined it … As customers, we feel that companies have a “social media resposinility” to answer any inquiry or problem … But we don’t want them poking their nose where it doesn’t belong!

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

     Hey there Neicole,

    Great to see you over here at Jay’s part of the web, and a great topic too. :)

    While I can see what you’re saying, I think we have to “accept” both sides. We’re constantly looking at brands to humanize themselves – yet when they do, we say they’re being “too human”. ;-)

    It’s great that businesses offer support when needed – but it’s also nice to know I’m not forgotten about as just another number when I don’t have issues.

    I kinda like when someone says “Hi” or offers their take, as well as just says thanks for the mention kinda thing. I think it shows that brands appreciate their customers in all facets, and not just their customers’ wallets. :)

    Great conversation starter!

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Thanks, Danny! Maybe it’s that we all have different personalities and therefore react differently. I know I’m an introvert. I’m really not keen in real life on small talk or chatting just to chat. That may translate into my online interactions, too. I also wonder if those of us in the business are more accepting of this kind of interaction than average users. What would be great is to see some research in this area. Thanks for the comment. (Just got up, here on the west coast.)

      • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

        Definitely a possibility, miss. Like you say, we tend to take our offline selves online – so that makes complete sense. 

        And good morning! :) 

  • http://johnantonios.com John Antonios

    Hey Jay,
    This is so true … Response rate on twitter should not be brushed as a trivial issue, it can save your brand or do the exact opposite. I think companies sometimes take the concept of NOW marketing a bit too far … I previously wrote about something similar, which I called SMR (social media responsibility). The latter discussed the responsibility of each company that decides to join the world of social media – they have an obligation to be present and reply in real-time … I think your post elaborates on how “current” should real time be … So I thank you for that!
    As you said, It’s not a science per say, it’s more about common social sense … Putting on our Person Hat serves as a good measurement tool.
    Once again, thanks for such great reflection and insight.

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Thank you, John! 

  • Anonymous

    Reading the comments, looks like it’s a subjective call. Personally, I like when businesses respond if I’m talking about them (for example, my recent conversation with @bribespot). I’d rather they’re listening than not. What I don’t like is people who @ me for irrelevant, inappropriate business messages. (i.e. If I’m not asking about making money on line, don’t tweet at me for that.) My 2 cents.

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Yes, I think it may vary from person-to-person. But I wonder if we did some research if we’d find that a majority had clear preferences in different situations. 

  • http://nichenista.com Leah Steinbrink

     Hey there, Neicole~

    Great observations on what most would consider subtle nuances.  I tend to think it’s all about the relationship.  If there’s no prior contact, no relationship there – then butt out.  Because whether it’s on Twitter or (God forbid) a car dealership lot – if I didn’t ENGAGE you in some way, you weren’t invited to participate.  Period. Step in, and you just crashed the party.

    That being said, I think consumers have come to expect brands to step in and fix customer service issues. With Twitter’s reputation for allowing real-time problem solving, many people mention a brand simply to get things fixed. And one could argue, I suppose, that constitutes a form of engagement.

    Savvy marketers are the ones who intuitively know to wear their person hats to the party (that they’re invited to) and who will find ways to unobtrusively offer information when the time is right.

    As always, terrific and thought provoking, Neicole.
    Leah

  • http://nichenista.com Leah Steinbrink

     Hey there, Neicole~

    Great observations on what most would consider subtle nuances.  I tend to think it’s all about the relationship.  If there’s no prior contact, no relationship there – then butt out.  Because whether it’s on Twitter or (God forbid) a car dealership lot – if I didn’t ENGAGE you in some way, you weren’t invited to participate.  Period. Step in, and you just crashed the party.

    That being said, I think consumers have come to expect brands to step in and fix customer service issues. With Twitter’s reputation for allowing real-time problem solving, many people mention a brand simply to get things fixed. And one could argue, I suppose, that constitutes a form of engagement.

    Savvy marketers are the ones who intuitively know to wear their person hats to the party (that they’re invited to) and who will find ways to unobtrusively offer information when the time is right.

    As always, terrific and thought provoking, Neicole.
    Leah

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      I think you hit the nail on the head, Leah! 

  • Anonymous

     I recently had a complaint and posted it on Twitter, and I was very creeped out that within 1 minute I had a tweet back.  Because it was so fast, it made the interaction feel very inpersonable, like I was dealing with a robot, or better yet a outsourced social media company.

    Due to the fast response, I didn’t reply back. 

  • Anonymous

    What this whole conversation boils down to is that you must have real humans analyzing the context and subtleties of the monitored conversations…a “bot” is not going to pick up on the creepy-factor.  

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      I agree. Unless, as I blogged about on Monday, your bot algorithms are so good, they emulate real people.  http://nmc.itdevworks.com/index.php/2011/05/here-come-virtual-people-online/

  • http://twitter.com/jwongjk Jan Wong

    Hello Neicole, that’s some awesome observation and illustration. I never really thought of that as eavesdropping but it does make sense! Perhaps there’s a fine line between listening and being intrusive after all. Thanks for sharing :)

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      Sure. Thank you for the comment! 

  • http://www.gamesweplayed.com Tom O’Leary

    I don’t know. The fact is that businesses ARE monitoring tweets. Consumers know this. To “pretend” that we aren’t — to pretend that we AREN’T watching constantly in order to capitalize on the channel to communicate with customers and respond to their needs is disingenuous. 

    The Question:

    Is Social Media Psychological Response Strategy Development less creepy than Rapid Customer Service on Twitter?

    By being so analytical in the boardroom about how customers respond to our response on social media, aren’t we also being a bit creepy? Personally, I think we are (even more so) because we are trying to figure out a way to leverage twitter without our customers being so aware that we are doing so.

    I tend to think that the most sincere strategy (i.e. the least manipulative — the least subversive) is the most ethical. But, then, since when did ethics trump the desire for bottom line results in business?

    • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

      But then, if we were being sincere and real, would we really be monitoring constantly for mentions? 

      • http://www.gamesweplayed.com Tom O’Leary

        Because, we are being “sincere” by saying “Hey, our company uses Twitter (as everyone knows businesses do) and that’s what we’re doing. We are a business and we are listening for opportunities here and all across the Internet to help people who are either interested in our products or need help with them. We aren’t trying to manipulate people to maximize our benefit from them.

        It’s a rather simplistic deal:

        Hey! I’m a sales guy for that company. Can I help? or Hey, I’m a support guy for that product. Can I help?

        We’re not trying to be something we’re not — we’re not pretending we have a personal relationship with people we don’t have one with. We’re not over-analyzing our interaction with you.

        In a physical analogy, we have sales people in the aisles of our shop who step up when someone is looking for help. Our sales people aren’t standing behind the racks of clothes eavesdropping for opportune moments of engagement.
         

  • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com/ Eric Wittlake

    Neicole, I’m aware that conversations on Twitter are in public and brands can monitor for keywords. A quick response is ok in my opinion. The problem is when the response isn’t appropriate. The example you cited of a Livefyre recommendation, for instance, would have been more appropriate as a thanks for the recommendation. Automated responders that get the context of the mention wrong are barely better than the iPhone mention spam that follows any mention of said phone.

    Putting on a person hat before sending every response means someone is taking at least a moment to consider what the appropriate response is. In my opinion, not taking that moment is the only way a response can be too quick.

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