Friday, February 4, 2011

Keep it Real: Welcoming Friends and Family to Twitter with Open Arms and Retweets

As somewhat of a social media geek, Twitter has been a big part of my daily life for a while now. Recently, my social media social life has been overlapping with my good old fashioned social life more so than usual. My friends and family, who have perviously made fun of me for my love of Tweeting, are starting to sign up for accounts. I was thinking about why that is, and then I started noticing how much it's showing up in mainstream media, not just in my work and online circles.

When I say mainstream media, I don't mean celebrities Tweeting. I mean that Twitter is being talked about in venues that my friends will actually pay attention to - their TV shows. Two weeks ago Grey's Anatomy included Twitter as a main theme of the episode, as Dr. Miranda Bailey Tweeted her surgeries live. On the Big Bang Theory, it was a main theme when Sheldon Cooper's lecture became a trending topic. They even discussed supposedly well-known Twitter acronyms like KMN - for kill me now - to convey boredom. These were both main themes, but I've seen Twitter mentioned in many other shows as well, even if it's just a passing comment here or there.

Now, as a lover of Twitter, I get excited seeing these themes in a few of my favorite shows, and I even point it out to my roommate with a quick, "See, I told you Twitter isn't lame." But I had to step back for a minute and ask myself, are they setting the expectations too high?

In PR, of course we'd love to have all of our clients become a trending topic each day, but that's just not always plausible. These shows make it look simple, when it isn't always. Is it realistic that while live-Tweeting a surgery, a fellow surgeon would Tweet a recommendation that leads to saving a life? And would a boring lecture from a nerdy physicist really become such a trend on Twitter when there are so many exciting things going on? Isn't it more likely that a compelling human interest story or massively-engaging current event will trend?

It's certainly interesting to think about, and maybe it could be some day, but I think we're still a long way from these things becoming reality. Maybe I'm wrong though, maybe a Tweet can save a life. There is that case of the girls who updated their Facebook statuses and were thereby rescued from a storm drain in Australia. Of course, my thought was that if they had her phones, it probably would have been more efficient to dial 911, but maybe I'm just being old-fashioned that way.

Twitter's great - I love it for real-time updates on news, staying connected with friends and people in my industry and so much more. I welcome my friends and family to the social network with open arms and retweets. But when my friend has to ask why she doesn't have as many followers as me after only a week of Tweeting, I think it's important to keep our Twitter expectations realistic. That's my PR thought for the day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brand Loyalty: Starbucks' Die-Hard Customers

Some more on branding here, with the coffee that made many of us feel a bit out of our league the first time we stepped foot inside a store and the aficionado in front of us ordered his "tall, nonfat, iced caramel machiatto, upside down - oh and no whip." When I entered my first Starbucks, my palms were sweating as I looked the sizes up and down. That guy just ordered a tall, but it looks kiddie-sized.

"Can I take your order, miss?" I'm interrupted by the service rep, oops, I mean the tan, preppy yet punk, barista with the green apron, stylish glasses and nose ring behind the counter.

"Umm," I stutter. I fumble. I fear exile if I order wrong. "A medium coffee?" She doesn't blink, she just gets her cup and writes my order on it. Did I order correctly? What about cream and sugar?

Okay, I eventually figured it out. And now I can order my fancy drinks with the best of 'em. But what kept me coming back for more after that initial culture shock? I think it's got a little something to do with the focus on the experience more than the actual product. The brand experience creates loyal, committed customers.

As committed customers, these die-hards don't just view Starbucks favorably, but they tend to actually undervalue competitors. If you ask a Starbucks customer if they’d like a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, you're likely to receive a dirty look, and possibly a small amount of judgment as they quickly answer “No.” Starbucks doesn’t just make coffee, they’ve created a brand with steadfast enthusiasts. Customers like this are valuable in times of crisis. It's probably why Toyota came up with the ads about "Asking someone you know who drives one." This was conveniently right after the recall crisis last spring. They relied on their committed customers to defend their experience with Toyota.

When you walking into a Starbucks, there's a certain mood and ambience. There's a sense of reciprocity that if you're loyal to your cup of Joe in the morning, it won't let you down. It's also about the human connections that Starbucks has created in the store. Unlike some coffee shops that are more about getting in and getting out, Starbucks has a more inviting atmosphere with their friendly baristas. And after you leave, the interaciton continues through its many social media channels. They have committed Tweeters who answer questions, plenty of engaged Facebook fansand they were one of the first retailers to offer rewards through Foursquare. Starbucks does this because they tend to know their audience, the ones who are likely to interact and crave that extra attention through a shout-out in a Tweet. They're the trend-savvy early adopters who like change and innovation. Sitting in a Starbucks today, I even looked around to notice that out of the five of us on our laptops, four of us had Macbooks. (Maybe there's a potential partnership opportunity in the future for Starbucks and Apple?)

Brand loyalty isn't brand popularity. It's long-term dedication from a large number of customers. It's what separates Starbucks from Dunks, and all of their other competitors. That's my PR thought for the day.

*Image found through Google image search.
*Disclaimer: I'm impartial to Starbucks or Dunks - I drink both.