More than all the hoopla around Sahara India Parivar withdrawing their support to Indian cricket team, what interested me in yesterday’s lead story in The Times of India is the last sentence.

It went, ‘we haven’t received anything in writing from them officially. We heard about it only through a media release. We can react only after they communicate with us in writing‘, quoting IPL commissioner Rajiv Shukla.

This is a very interesting topic, particularly in the Twitter age. I had briefly touched on this while referring to people venting their frustration about brands/poor service on Twitter, but I suppose another round of explanation may be good.

Let me start with an example.

One of our clients noticed a tweet from our daily reports that was a retweet of a tweet that we had posted on their behalf (since we manage their Twitter handle). The format of the retweet looked like this,

<Question?> RT <Our client’s Twitter handle> <Tweet>.

The question was about something mentioned in our original tweet. The client wanted to know why we did not recommend responding to that tweet. Besides the fact that the person asking that question had a history of not seeing our client’s point of view, there was a more fundamental reason for not responding to this question – it was not addressed to our client. It was ideally addressed to that tweeter’s followers and others who may care.

Now, you could ask – isn’t that a great opportunity for the brand to get into the conversation and be helpful – the person would think, ‘Wow, I didn’t ask them this question directly and they still bothered to respond!’. Of course, that is one way to look at it, but, as I had mentioned earlier, the person’s history with our client has not been that good, so it doesn’t make sense to respond and put our client’s head in the line.

A related case is that of us talking to others about someone. This is especially the case on Twitter – when you have something to say to someone, tell them directly with a DM or an @mention. But if you notice someone referring to you, but not with the @mention, but by your name, do realize that it is done for a purpose – it is intended not to reach you, even though you could get it quite easily since tweets are public. But you need not necessarily respond to it because of the simple reason that it is intended at the tweeter’s followers, not you. You could use that to start a conversation later with that tweeter, but remember it wasn’t strictly meant for you – it was only meant about you.

Let’s see this from another perspective.

Assuming a client has a Twitter presence, for many things including customer service, should they address customer service issues not addressed to them specifically?

One way to look at it is that it is a great opportunity to surprise people – they noticing service issues not addressed to them directly, but is being discussed by people and they jump into it and help.

The other ways to look at it include,

1. Can the brand do it for all those service issues not addressed to it specifically? In other words, is it scalable? If yes, great – do it. If not, don’t. It may lead to allegations of being selectively helpful which will again tarnish the brand’s reputation.

2. What is the tone of the tweet? It is important to note if it is intended specifically for the tweeter’s followers and not intended to attract the brand’s attention. It could be a smart-alec comment on the brand intended to evoke mirth among the tweeter’s followers and if the brand responds to it, it could become the butt of jokes with all concerned.

3. Does the brand have a meaningful response? Ideally, on Twitter or on Facebook, particularly with brands, every comment from the brand should take the conversation further in some way – it could be actually helping a customer with what he’s seeking; it could be a smart repartee to impress the customer/followers; it could be a question to know more about the issue raised. The worst a brand can do is to tweet a templatized parking/holding statement – holding statements are best used in a phone call when you put a customer on hold (even there, it sounds incredibly annoying, by the way). A holding statement on social media (being watched by not just the 2 concerned participants, but a whole lot of other people) may seem silly; particularly so when the band is using the same holding statement for many people.

Twitter, in some ways, changes many things that we are familiar with in a conversation. The very nature of Twitter is talking to the world while talking to someone. In real life that would seem incredibly odd – imagine me speaking to the entire restaurant while dining with my wife. But on Twitter, that is extremely normal! But such new norms of normalcy do bring in new forms of communications unique to Twitter and that includes possible new norms for reactions and responses too!

Pic courtesy, Brian Solis’ blog titled, ‘I’m not talking to you‘!

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