I think I have developed an unhealthy obsession with trying to understand how companies can harness the power of social media to better support their customers and create a sense of community and brand awareness. I have a laundry list of questions and I thought who better to start with then Ben Gaines, a.k.a. @OmnitureCare, the face of support and community at Omniture.
1. How did you get started using Twitter at Omniture?
BG: I was on my way to lunch with a manager and friend in the ClientCare organization, and he sort of nonchalantly mentioned that our social media strategist thought it would be a good idea to have someone out there, and that they would like me to do it. I had plenty on my plate, but it seemed like a great way to see what was going on in the user community and to help answer questions before they came in as support tickets, so I agreed. The funny thing is that I had never—not even once—used Twitter before setting up OmnitureCare. It was a learn-as-you-go process in many ways, but this was actually a good thing: it allowed me to play around and see what worked (and what didn’t). There were no pre-established rules.
2. Are you proactively looking for customers or potential customers with questions, if so what terms do you search for?
BG: Absolutely. Very few users know, before interacting with me, that Omniture is actively out there and listening—they don’t know to contact me directly—so I monitor brand mentions and butt in if I think I can help. That’s actually one of the coolest things about Twitter; people throw questions or complaints out there with little or no expectation of follow-up, and then they’re thrilled when they find out that we’re listening and want to help. So, in TweetDeck, I search on a bunch of keywords: Omniture (which includes #omniture), OMTR, SiteCatalyst, SearchCenter, Test&Target, etc. The tricky ones are products whose names are normal words in the English language, like Discover. You can’t search on them, because 99.999% of uses would be unrelated to Omniture, and it would be overload. So I have to hope that people say “Omniture Discover” instead of just “Discover.”
3. Do you search competitor terms? And if so, how do you approach them?
BG: I suspect that there is a lot of this going on, and I think it’s a good thing. Companies can’t hide anymore, which I’ve had employees of competitor companies jump in on Twitter conversions that I’m having in a very non-threatening way, and it’s actually kinda cool. It’s nice to see that we can be friendly and chat about web analytics overall, even amid fierce competition. I don’t see it as my role to watch them like a hawk—I’m out there to support Omniture users and build a sense of community, not to gather competitive intelligence. Sometimes I will monitor competitor terms (depending on my mood, I guess!), but it’s mostly just to see how they’re interacting with customers.
4. Do you turn text alerts on for anyone you’re following? If so, why?
BG: I used to do this, but it got to be too much—I kept getting excited that someone was texting me, only to find that it was another tweet that I had already seen. I’m in front of my computer all day at work and much of the time at home, so I think I’m sufficiently connected as it is. And even though I spend most of my time on Twitter talking about Omniture, I do keep my “All Friends” TweetDeck column around so I can see what people are discussing beyond Omniture and Web analytics.
5. How much time do you spend each week using Twitter?
BG: I would estimate that I am somewhere in the 30-40 hour range. That’s time spent actively tweeting or reading tweets, as well as researching questions that come to me via Twitter (or by e-mail after a conversation got too complex for Twitter). You aren’t the first person to ask me, and it’s a surprisingly tough number to estimate because I’m constantly in and out of TweetDeck for iPhone when I’m not at my desk and it’s always running while I’m at home, where I check in from time to time, depending on what I’m doing. And that number also does not include other social media aspects of my job—writing blog posts, participating in the Yahoo! Group for web analytics, etc. I keep meaning to gather some real data on this, but my brain is split across enough tasks that I never remember to start keeping track when I wake up on Monday morning. I can put it to you this way, though: checking Twitter is the last thing I do before I go to bed, and it’s the first thing I do when I wake up, so I’m involved at least intermittently literally throughout the day.
6. Does Adobe have an internal policy related to social networking that you follow?
BG: Omniture had one prior to the acquisition, and Adobe will soon release one as well. My role, of course, is slightly different from that of my colleagues who are out there on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I don’t have details on it yet, but I’m told that it will be similar to the policies implemented by other large companies.
7. You have become the “face” of OmnitureCare. Have you put a plan into place in the case you decided to leave Omniture?
BG: It’s worth mentioning that having a “face” on our social media presence has been a really powerful thing. It’s difficult to build trust and a sense of community without that. People need to know that they’re dealing with a real person, and that couldn’t be truer in the case of OmnitureCare. At present, I’m the only one who has ever logged in to that account.
We’ve put quite a bit of thought and planning into “next steps” for our social media strategy. What we’ve been able to do thus far has been valuable enough to users that it only makes sense to develop our thinking and try to do even more and do it better. I know you’ve seen @OmnitureUXD out there—Jessica is doing a fantastic job (once again, note that she is a real person and not a nameless, faceless corporate entity) and we are working on plans to add additional social media resources. There is definitely a contingency plan in case a bus runs over me tomorrow or something. We wouldn’t leave the community hanging.
8. How has using Twitter benefited Omniture? Anything that is measurable?
BG: A positive and a negative of Twitter is that its effect on customer relationships, technical support, etc. is difficult to measure in many ways. For example, of course we can tell when a Twitter conversation answers a user’s question and, therefore, saves that person from having to call ClientCare or their Account Manager. What’s tricky is that 50 other people—or more—may have seen that conversation and, as a result, not needed to pick up the phone themselves at some point in the future.
One thing that we can definitely measure is the amount of feedback and enhancement requests that we’ve received. I don’t have the number in front of me, but I know of at least one soon-to-be-released feature in SiteCatalyst that originated as a suggestion on Twitter. That’s one demonstration of powerful benefit to Omniture and to its entire user base.
And I think that’s the key. Ultimately, Twitter benefits Omniture inasmuch as it benefits our customers. Being out there talking, answering questions, and responding to complaints shows that we are invested in our users. We want to do whatever it takes to make them successful, because when they get value out of their relationship with us, everyone wins. And if that means I stay up late discussing dashboards and eVars, then that’s what I’ll do.
9. What makes you most excited about using Twitter for customer support?
BG: Twitter’s “reach” is awesome. As I suggested above, the fact that hundreds of users can learn about the product from a single person’s question means that support and education scale better than ever before. I love when I answer a user’s question and then I see that answer re-tweeted by people who weren’t even involved in the conversation.
You also can’t beat Twitter’s immediacy. Users can fire off questions and get a response from me (assuming I know the answer off the top of my head!) within seconds—and almost always within a few hours. On top of that, using Twitter means that the person asking the question didn’t need to interrupt his or her day to pick up the phone or log in to chat with a support agent.
There are certainly questions and issues that are more complex than is ideal for Twitter, and I do recommend that users contact ClientCare in those cases. But generally, we’ve found that technical support in 140 characters or less is a beautiful thing.
(Can you tell that I could write a book in answer to this question?)
10. What advice would you have for other companies who are attempting to use Twitter and other social networking sites as a customer support tool?
BG: Okay, I’m going to try to do this without straight-up plagiarizing Jeremiah Owyang’s presentation at Omniture Summit in 2009. Unfortunately for my attempt to be original, everything he said has been 100% true in my mind. His blog is a great resource. Anyway, here goes.
I’m naturally drawn to social media. Even though I had never used Twitter before launching OmnitureCare, I was a relatively early adopter of Facebook and blogging. That was huge because the concepts, the norms, and the ethos of social media were already a part of my attitude when I started. They can be difficult to teach—I have seen really bright, really passionate people struggle with customer support via social media because they just don’t quite understand what works and what does not. For whatever reason, I’ve been able to sense how to approach customer support via social media without much formal training. So the advice here is this: find the right person to represent your company out there. He or she doesn’t just know and love your products—which, don’t get me wrong, is hugely important—but also knows and loves social media. But you probably have some of these people in your organization already. After all, Omniture didn’t go out and seek to hire a community manager. I happened to be around already and was interested in the role.
Companies also need to empower their social media representative to affect change on behalf of customers. I have noticed that customers can sense it almost immediately when someone doesn’t actually have any ability to help. If you’re out there just to say that you’re out there, with no actual intent to improve your customers’ experience, that’s okay—but don’t promise support if you aren’t planning to back it up. Your community of customers will not take kindly to this sort of a run-around.
Finally, trust your social media representative. Hopefully, you have found someone who has a good sense of what should and should not be said—if not, making the person the public face of your support team is probably a bad idea. Let the person run with it. They might make mistakes from time to time—I certainly have—but in most cases, it seems to me that users are more forgiving of the occasional error than they might be when using more traditional communication channels because they understand the challenges of communicating effectively via social media. Let the person set goals, SLAs, etc. once they’ve gotten the lay of the land, and support those goals.
Someone who is passionate about social media, has good communication skills, knows your products and organization, and is empowered to truly help can do marvelous things for your company using social media. That much is crystal clear to us.