FEATURE23 March 2016

Twitter’s winners and losers

Features Media Trends UK

Responding well to consumer queries on Twitter can provide brands with an easy win to a public and vocal audience, says Tim Barber of BDRC Continental. But there are big differences between those that do it well, and those that don’t.

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Twitter is 10 years old this month. It didn’t take long for consumers to adopt it as a tool for talking about – and talking to – companies and brands.

Many brands have embraced it, recognising it as a unique way to have a one-to-one dialogue with consumers. They have invested in the channel, and are skilled at using it as a customer service tool. However, many major brands appear to be struggling to get to grips with the best way to use the opportunity that Twitter offers to connect with existing (and potential) customers, and they could be damaging their reputations as a result.

For our Twystery mystery shopping project, BDRC Continental sent almost 10,000 tweets to nearly 400 brands, and evaluated each brand on several measures, including the response rate and the speed and quality of responses. These were combined to deliver an overall score for each brand, and also for each sector.

The best individual performers were Nationwide, Aviva, Great Western Railways, Co-operative Bank, First Direct, HSBC and Heathrow Airport. Each responded to at least 90% of queries, and did so quickly ( 90 minutes or less on average).

Other brands performed far less well. For example, Starbucks and Waterstones only responded to 20%. Some, including those as varied as Nokia, Puma, Wetherspoons, and Stansted Airport didn’t respond to a single Tweet.

Others did respond, but took an excessively long time to do so. The average time amongst all responders was just under nine hours, but 33 brands had an average of over 24 hours. Among the slowest were Avis, Burger King, The Gap, Prudential, Qatar Airways, Sports Direct and Talk Talk. All of these brands should know better, shouldn’t they?

Twitter is an instantaneous medium, and many consumers turn to it when they want a rapid response. Consumers increasingly use Twitter as their first option when trying to contact a company. When a brand chooses to be on Twitter, it has an opportunity to buy into the speed and immediacy that social media offers. It should reply to every query it receives – not just pick and choose.

The brands that perform best on Twitter have set the bar high by responding quickly and inclusively. That level then becomes the expectation consumers have of all companies. The two fastest sectors, rail with an average response time of 1 hour 26 minutes, and airports ( 3 hours 12 ) – reflect the fact that customer queries may be made at particularly time-sensitive occasions – i.e. when rushing to catch a train or plane.

Two sectors stood out as taking the longest to respond. Car rental companies were the slowest overall: their average response time was not up to scratch, taking 22 hours and 32 minutes to respond to each tweet. Cruise lines were the next slowest (or should we say ‘most relaxed’) – they took a leisurely 19 hours and 49 minutes.

The lesson that many brands still need to learn is that as Twitter is a public medium, anyone can Tweet about, or research, any brand on it. And just because you aren’t listening, it doesn’t mean people aren’t talking, and reading, about you.

Tim Barber is a director at BDRC Continental