Concluding Statement: The How & Why

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After studying JetBlue and Kilroy’s’ Twitter activity, I came up with some conclusions about how to effectively connect with consumers through social media.

1: Be Active, Not Just Out There – It’s important to address issues and be part of the conversation surrounding your company. As Eptica Olivier Njamfa said, establishing a presence but failing to engage with customers could backfire, leading to a spread of negative feedback and damage to the overall brand. If you want to reap the benefits of social media (the marketing, the consumer connections, etc.) you have to put in the time. This means interacting with consumers in a timely manner. As we saw with the ideology of openness, being on social media now means being reachable 24/7 and the conversation around your brand will go on whether you’re part of it or not.

2: Be Relevant – We saw how being relevant highly depends on your audience. Know your followers and what they have in common. You need to be sure what you’re tweeting about resonates with the majority of your audience. Peoples’ newsfeeds are already cluttered and you don’t want to waste your followers’ space with irrelevant information. If you’re a national company like JetBlue, focus on widely recognized happenings like holidays or big events. On top of that, make it your own. Don’t just say “Happy Spring.” Connect events with your company to make your message stand out among the rest. JetBlue did this by welcoming spring “with open wings.” If you’re a local company like Kilroy’s you can focus more on local events. Know the community you’re in and what’s important to them. Kilroy’s’ audience is mostly IU students and they make an effort to play into events that are important to them like IU basketball and Little 500.

3: Offer Something Different – Again, peoples’ newsfeeds are already cluttered, so if they’re going to add you to the mix you should offer them something they can’t get elsewhere. It could be exclusive deals, insider information or anything relevant to your brand and consumers. They can look at plane ticket prices or menu items elsewhere, but offering new information is a real reason to follow. As we saw, Kilroy’s offered their followers t-shirt and trivia hints, something they couldn’t get elsewhere. While it’s just a small piece of information, those trivia and t-shirt days are traditions of the Kilroy’s community and having “insider information” will excite loyal members.

4. Be Human – The Cluetrain Manifesto authors defined a human voice as direct, honest, open, natural and humorous. “Business language” is uninviting and boring. People don’t want to listen to a robot spitting advertisements at them. They want engaging, two-way conversation. Henry Jenkins says loyal consumers feel their support grants them a stakeholder position within the company and therefore they want their concerns heard and addressed. Speak to your followers in a way that positions them as participants, not recipients.

5: Reward with Retweets – If your followers are supporting you, support them back. It’s beneficial for both you and the person you’re retweeting: For you, it’s a free and easy way to self-promote and create a connection with a consumer. For them, it’s social capital. Companies often have more followers than the average individual user so being retweeted by a company means more exposure.

6: Use hashtags to build a community – In order to build a community around your brand, you need your followers not only to interact with you but also each other. Hashtags are the best way for consumers to find each other and by creating the hashtag yourself you can guide the conversation. Hashtags should be consistent so they catch on, unique so they don’t get lost in the sea of Twitter comments, and have a call to action so you have some influence over the point of the community. JetBlue utilizes the hashtag function by promoting “#JetBlueSoFly.” They encourage their users to share their travel photos and experiences with each other.

7: It is what it is – Though we saw a lot about consistently addressing consumer concerns, Twitter is limited as a help channel. There are few issues that can be adequately solved in 140 characters. Don’t try to make Twitter (or other social media) into something it’s not. However, don’t dismiss it either. It is still a useful tool for letting consumers know you’re ready and willing to help. When JetBlue’s followers pose a concern to them via Twitter they respond with what will be the most effective support channel.

After all of this you may still be wondering: why? Why should you connect with consumers? Does it really make a difference? My boss at a local ice cream shop once told me it was especially important to always be friendly to customers because “a friendly interaction can make up for bad food, but good food can’t make up for bad customer service.” If you’re nice and make the customer’s experience an overall good one, they’ll want to come back. However, no one wants to go to a place where they feel unwelcomed. It’s the same idea as friendship: if a friend makes you mad, you’ll probably forgive them. If a random stranger upsets you, you’re less likely to forgive them because you have no previous connection. I think this same theory can apply to social media campaigns. Social media is an extension of customer service. Building that relationship with consumers can ensure brand loyalty.

Along with this, in their book Spreadable Media, Jenkins et al say that interacting with consumers on social media can increase the company’s economic value. They take from Eleanor Stribling’s four categories of valuable engagement, which include sharing, recommending and endorsing as valuable behaviors. Jenkins et al say, “In [consumers’] everyday activities, they contribute to the cultural value of media products by passing along content and making material valuable within their social networks.” The more people talk about something, the more others will seek it out as well. Therefore if companies promote interaction through the ways mentioned above, their followers’ friends will see them interacting with you and they too may check your business out.

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New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture

In “New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture,” Vincent Miller discusses how conversations online have become more about maintaining relationships than substantial conversations. While Miller focuses mostly on relationships between people, I believe some of his ideas can be applied to business-consumer relationships as well.

Miller addresses the idea of being continuously contactable. He references Licoppe and Smoreda whose argument is that “a new sociability pattern of the constantly contactable, one which blurs presence and absence, has resulted in relationships becoming webs of quasi-continuous exchanges.” This is an idea that has come up in some of my previous blog posts. In Ideology of Openness I discussed how there is tension between consumers and businesses because their values for engagement are different. In Timeliness I noted how quick response was highly important at all hours. Businesses can never truly be absent anymore without risking their reputation. The fact of social media is that it’s a communication channel where both parties don’t have to be present for the conversation to continue.

Miller asserts that this continuous connectivity has led to a rise in phatic communication, which he describes as “small communicative gestures whose purpose is not to exchange meaningful information, but to express sociability, and maintain connections.” Because the Internet has afforded for such large social networks, there simply isn’t enough time to maintain meaningful conversations with every friend or follower. This is especially true for businesses that are consistently bombarded with questions and comments from consumers.

The idea of phatic communication and oversized social networks made me realize that Twitter is limited as a help service. Twitter is one of the biggest advocates of phatic communication in the fact that it limits its users to 140 characters. It often takes more than one or two sentences to completely solve a problem. Twitter is also limited because it’s public. If businesses responded to every problem posted to them on Twitter they’d be clogging up their followers’ feeds with information only relevant to one or a few.   The reality is it’s more realistic to use the phone or a private help chat for solving the majority of problems: consumers get more individualized attention and more instantaneous responses. However, phatic communication can be helpful even for businesses when it comes to customer support. When JetBlue has a customer with an issue not easily solved over Twitter, they tweet them back to the link with the most beneficial support method. While this alone is not going to solve the problem, it lets the customer know JetBlue is listening and is ready and willing to help them with their problem.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto undoubtedly relates to my project because it addresses the way companies should and should not speak to their consumers. It asserts that business is fundamentally human. Locke et al say “corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.” Social media has proven to be a great way to expand contact with customers. The conversations are no longer limited to one customer at a time per help representative. A business can essentially have contact with everyone they’re connected with on social media. However, how the conversations are managed is just as important as the contact.

Along with the idea that businesses should have as much contact with their consumers as possible, Lock et al feel that businesses need to speak to them in a genuine human voice. They say businesses are all too used to speaking with “the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal” when in reality “human conversation is the true language of commerce.” Locke et al define human conversation as open, natural, honest, direct and funny. So, social media is not just a method for businesses to spit advertising at all their Interned-bound customers at once. It’s a communication channel and the communication needs to come in a human voice. Locke et al explain that “business language” is distant, uninviting and arrogant, which puts distance between the customers and the company.

It’s important to note that social media is a two-way communication channel. Customers can talk back to the businesses and the businesses need to listen. Lock et al assert that businesses need to create a community and belong to that community by sharing their community’s concerns and responding to them. Not only can customers speak to businesses, but they can now more easily talk to each other. Locke et al say “people in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.” So, if a business does not want to take the time to build that community and respond to their customers concerns, the customers will bring their concerns to each other instead. As I noted in my original post, this can lead to the spread of negative feedback and damage the company’s reputation.

I thought it would be beneficial to see if JetBlue and Kilroy’s were following Lock et al’s advice. Firstly, I wanted to see if they were using a human voice. Both Kilroy’s and JetBlue seemed to make an effort to be laid-back and playful in their tweets. Kilroy’s joked at its followers saying, “If you are not doing some patio drinking today, you are not a Hoosier!” People seemed to respond well to it and I think it’s because Kilroy’s was showing that it knows it’s community’s traditions and played into that tradition. (Patio drinking on a warm day.) Jet Blue approached humor in a different way. They started a series of YouTube videos with funny scenarios that people nationwide deal with. I think this stuck out to their followers because it had nothing to do with their business, yet they still put a lot of time and effort into making their community laugh, and laughter is widely valued. These two examples also brought me back to my relevancy post. Kilroy’s had to focus on something that its local Bloomington audience valued to be humorous with them, while JetBlue had to find something their widely-diverse nation audience could enjoy.

Kilroys drink or not hoosier

Secondly I wanted to see if JetBlue and Kilroy’s were ensuring two-way conversation over their social media. I found that both seemed to be doing a good job with this. You’ll see in my Kilroy’s example a customer asked if Kilroy’s could give their shirts out earlier than the usual time because it conflicted with a basketball game. Knowing that their customers value both Thursday night t-shirts and IU basketball, Kilroy’s agreed to give them out early. This is an example of understanding your community and addressing their concerns. JetBlue also tended to do a good job of responding to their customers with concerns. They would quickly respond to inquiries and if it was not something that could be handled over Twitter they would give them the best phone number, email or URL to get the problem solved.

Early Shirts

Lastly I wanted to look at how JetBlue and Kilroy’s promoted themselves. The ClueTrain manifesto seems to discourage old-form advertising, but one of the benefits of social media for businesses is the low cost promotion to a large audience. This means businesses need to negotiate between advertising and their human voice. Kilroy’s still advertises its daily specials but it does not appear distant or uninviting. I think it works because it’s not gimmicky. They advertise in a casual, human voice, like someone talking to their friend about getting drinks. JetBlue on the other hand seems to throw in some business-language advertising here and there to advertise their deals. However, these seem to be received well by their followers. I think this may be because people “follow” brands because they’re already fans. Therefore, the advertising may be seen as friendly helpful information, not an attempt to convince them to use their service. I think another big reason JetBlue and Kilroys’ advertising is taken well by their followers is they’ve already established communities and human voices. If all they did was advertise and never post anything else or converse with their followers, the advertisements may be taken differently.

Kilroys advertising

Kilroy’s advertises in a casual voice

#community

While studying JetBlue’s feed I began to notice one hashtag they used consistently: #JetBlueSoFly. I started looking into the hashtag and realized that hashtags can be a great way to build a community around your brand. Hashtags not only connect the company to their customers, but the customers to each other. If you click a handle (@JetBlue) you’re taken to that particular users feed. If you click a hashtag, however, you’re taken to a collective feed of all the tweets using that hashtag. That makes it easier for all users using a specific hashtag to connect.

JetBlue encourages their customers to share pictures, flight and travel tips, and travel experiences and recommendations using the hashtag, and many people do. The tweets tend to be travel photos, but as you’ll see in my examples the hashtag is sometimes used to give customer feedback about the planes or flight experience. While JetBlue’s hashtag community does not necessarily two-way converse, they definitely seem to be inspired by each other to share their own experiences.

Jetbluesofly4 Jetbluesofly2  Jetbluesofly3Jetbluesofly5

 

I checked out Kilroy’s to see if they had a hashtag campaign as well but I didn’t find an effective one for building community. One problem was they used widely used hashtags, like #happyhour or #breakfastclub. It would be hard to create a community through a widely used hashtag because the tweets aimed at Kilroys would get lost in the mix amongst all the other tweets using the tag. Another problem was they used random hashtags sporadically. For example, they use #1dollaholla, which could make a good community builder for their $1 drink days, but they don’t use it very often at all. It’s hard to get a hashtag to catch on if you only use it a few times a month. The only continuous and unique hashtag I found was #KOKTrivia, but surprisingly there was barely any use of the hashtag by anyone other than Kilroy’s. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t have a call to action like JetBlue’s hashtag does. (The call to action being to post pictures/tips using the hashtag.) Kilroy’s does not promote the use of their hashtag by others like JetBlue.

Hashtags can be used to bring customers together, but in order to be effective there are some guidelines. Firstly, the hashtag needs to be distinct from others. No one uses “JetBlueSoFly” to talk about anything other than JetBlue, but “happyhour” is used by bars and restaurants across the country. Because of this, it’s hard to create a community around a specific brand. Secondly, the hashtag needs to be used consistently to build awareness and encourage use. Thirdly, a potential guideline is to have a call to action: customers may want a given reason to use a hashtag.

Rewarding with Retweets

On top of rewarding their followers with exclusive information, Kilroy’s rewards their supporters with retweets. I scrolled through their feed and found multiple retweets, whether they were tweets about people’s good experiences at the bar or their repping Kilroy’s gear on vacation. If followers see other users being retweeted it could potentially up the chance of them tweeting support themselves in hope of also being rewarded. Everyone loves a retweet and it’s even better coming from a bigger company with more followers. It’s more exposure. It’s like rewarding them with social capital.

Daydreaming KOK Florida KOK shirts KOK Experiences Patio Fun KOK Skiing KOK

I was surprised to find that this was not something JetBlue was doing. They retweeted partner companies and a few employees, but I found no retweets of supportive customers. I found a tweet to them saying “thanks for getting me home in time for story time” and one thanking JetBlue’s pilots for meeting with him when they learned he was terrified of flying. I see these as great potential retweets. JetBlue did, however, reply to and have a continuous conversation with the guy who was afraid of flying. Maybe they are more interested in creating a personal connection with their customers. However, I see no reason not to both reply and retweet.

In Ryan Pinkham’s article “25 Things That Make You Look Dumb on Twitter” he says not retweeting supporters is a big mistake. “If people are promoting you on Twitter, show them some love,” Pinkham writes. “A retweet can go a long way on Twitter and so can mentioning someone when you share their article or post.”

Ideology of Openness

In their article “Overcoming the ‘Ideology of Openness’”, Gibbs, Rozaidi, and Eisenberg critique the idea that “open communication is an unmitigated good.” They believe that open knowledge is not always desirable, especially when it comes to face-threatening and task-related information. I think it’s important to look at this idea in my study of social media connections. The interests and goals of companies and consumers are different. Therefore the “openness” of Twitter may be more desirable for one than the other.

Gibbs et al speak of tensions in their article. These tensions can be understood as between consumers and companies. The engagement-disengagement tension speaks to the expectations of companies to monitor and respond to Twitter on a consistent basis. Consumers may value the ability to get help or express their concerns whenever they occur (as opposed to during office or telephone hours) but companies may value control over how their time is allotted and their time off the clock.

Along with making companies reachable 24/7, Twitter has made it so that both a company’s achievements and mistakes are broadcast by consumers to thousands of others on a daily basis. This relates to the sharing-control tension. While consumers may value the ability to quickly share negative feedback about their experiences, the targeted companies would likely prefer to keep that information confidential.

I have to agree with Gibbs et al. The openness of Twitter is not a bad thing. Gibbs et al say openness affords employees to foster relationships and achieve solutions. This is true of companies with consumers too. It allows companies to connect with consumers on a level not possible before and gives companies the opportunity to attend more quickly to concerns. Openness also affords consumers more power through visibility of their words. However, we cannot think of openness as unquestionably good either, especially from companies’ end. They’ve lost a good amount of control over their privacy and time management.

Relevancy: differences at a national & local level

Another one of Costa’s four marketing principles was relevancy. I decided to see what JetBlue and Kilroys did in order to stay relevant to their audiences. What I found is that relevancy depends on how broad your audience is. JetBlue has a national audience so they have to stick with things that are relevant at a national level. As I was searching through their Twitter feed I found the way they do this is through holidays and other widely recognized markers, like the changing of the seasons. Below you’ll see some tweets they did for Valentines day, April Fools Day and the beginning of spring. And they don’t just say “Happy Valentines Day,” “Happy Spring,” etc. They find ways to tie it in with their company, like welcoming spring with “open wings” and offering flight credits for those with April Fools birthdays.

April Fools Spring Valentines

Kilroys, on the other hand, is local and therefore they can be more specific with their relevancy. They focus on things they know their specific customers, IU Bloomington students, care about. The examples I found were basketball, Little 500 and returning from Spring Break.

Spring Break Return Little 500 Band Basketbal Hoosiers

 

As Costa said, it’s important to stay in touch with what your specific consumers want and need. For JetBlue, tweeting about Little 500 or IU basketball would be irrelevant to the majority of their consumers and that would create a disconnect. However, at a local level it’s good to be aware of the culture surrounding you. Tweeting about things relevant at a local level can let consumers feel you really know them and the community and help to connect with them on a deeper level.

Timeliness: JetBlue for #2

According to technology writer Elizabeth Harper, quick response is also a key to a successful social media campaign. In her article “Which Airline is the Quickest to Respond to Customers on Twitter,” she says that frustrated customers are more likely than ever to turn to Twitter and Facebook with their problems, especially when stuck at an airport with only a smartphone. The more time it takes to respond to customers, the more they complain for all to see and the less relevant the eventual help becomes.

Harper pulls data from a study by Skift that rated airline response times to customers. JetBlue came in second with an average of 15 minutes to respond to customers (following American Airlines, who got back to customers in 12 minutes).

This again ties into my original blog post. For one, it shows that JetBlue exercises persistency, one of Costa’s marketing principles. Secondly it enforces Njamfa’s idea that if a company establishes an online presence, they need to be prepared to commit to nourishing their customer relationships.

Hint Hint: Create Incentives

One thing I’ve always admired about Kilroy’s Twitter campaign is their weekly trivia and t-shirt hints. Wednesday at Kilroy’s is trivia night and Thursday is free t-shirt night. Trivia and especially t-shirt night are well known and enjoyed traditions amongst of-age IU students. The hints have been an effective way for Kilroy’s utilize Costa’s relevancy and consistency in their social media. Relevancy because the hints are something their followers want. It’s insider information. It’s a reward for being a loyal fan and follower. The hints exercise consistency because Kilroy’s posts them on a weekly basis. Their followers know they can count on the information being there every week and they’ll often actively seek out Kilroy’s feed to obtain it. Not only do their followers seek out the info, they interact with Kilroy’s, especially on the t-shirt Thursdays. There’s always a long list of replies to the t-shirt hints taking guesses about what the shirt will be or expressing excitement. The t-shirt hints also often get a lot of favorites and retweets compared to others.

To me this shows that a good social media strategy is to offer followers something they can’t get elsewhere. Why else would they want to follow? Kilroy’s often encourages followers to head over for their $2 Tuesdays or .50 cent breadsticks on Mondays, but that’s information that doesn’t change and can be found on their website. You wouldn’t need to follow them for that. Social media campaigns should offer something different and desired. The Wednesday and Thursday hints act as an incentive. Following Kilroy’s on Twitter is like being in on the secret.

Jersey Valentine Cubs

 

Authenticity, Relevancy, Persistency, Consistency

Before I delved into Kilroy’s and Jet Blue’s social media strategies, I thought it would be a good idea to see what experts were saying about what companies should do. That way I could see if Kilroys and Jet Blue were following those guidelines and whether or not they seemed to be working.

 

In his Huffington Post article, MAACO president and marketing specialist Jose Costa says social media allows companies to do something that no other marketing method in the past has: to build relationships directly with customers. “But it has to be real,” Costa says. “It has to be done right, with a genuineness of purpose if it is truly to be a two-way communication and not merely another brand monologue.”

 

Costa recommends that businesses follow four principles when it comes to their social media communications: be authentic, remain relevant, be persistent, and be consistent. Here are a few summarized definitions of his principles:

 

Authenticity: To be original and genuine in the personality behind the “handle.”

Relevancy: Be aware of current trends, culture and happenings, and stay in touch with what your specific consumers want and need.

Persistency: Be sure to have an appropriate frequency of outbound messages

Consistency: Have a continuous perspective and tone that align with the company’s values.

 

On the flip side, the Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study showed that joining the social media world can backfire if company’s don’t pay attention to the consumers once they’re out there. This Real Business article quotes Eptica CEO Olivier Njamfa on the issue: “In particular, when it comes to Twitter companies are playing a dangerous game by establishing a presence and then failing to engage with customers. This could well backfire, leading to negative feedback spreading through the social network and damaging their overall brand.”

 

All in all, it seems that Twitter can be a beneficial and effective method for businesses to connect with their consumers, but it has a cost. If you want to reap the benefits of communication and exposure you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.