JazzI love the Sonos multi-room music system.  It's a ridiculous luxury to have and I could fill up another blog post apologizing for it, but it's too much a fulfillment of the dreams I had as a kid about what the households of the future could be like to pass it up.  "Wait, you mean I can have N-Trance's Set U Free blaring in every room of the house at once, perfectly in sync?  OMG!"  I used to do this with FM transmitters, spaghetti audio wiring, and various mediocre gadgets - not any more.

But I'm not here to indulge in gadget lust, I'm here to tell you how Sonos, the company, is making great use of Twitter for its public relations and customer service efforts (and, by extension, how Twitter is turning out to be pretty useful for that stuff.)

Thomas Meyer (who is hopefully a real person) is the voice of Sonos on Twitter, and here's all the stuff he does right:

  1. Having a presence at all. By being available on Twitter, the company can engage its customers and users directly and immediately about their experiences, requests, and concerns.
  2. Having a real person as your Sonos personality. A lot of companies set up their Twitter accounts and post anonymously as "The Company."  That can work, but it's even better when the voice is that of a real human being.  Thomas uses "I" statements, and has some personality in what he posts (as much as is possible in 140 characters).
  3. Looking for customers to engage. Thomas seems to regularly scan the public Twitter timeline to find mentions of Sonos and related keywords, responds to their tweets if appropriate, and then "follows" those users.  This happened to me when I posted about my system a few weeks ago - it hadn't occured to me to look for Sonos on Twitter before that.  Again, this creates an instant, direct connection that is pretty hard to find with many product-oriented companies these days.
  4. Looking for potential customers to engage. In addition to scanning for direct mentions of Sonos, Thomas also looks for folks who are out there talking about gadgets, audio, music, and related topics, and knows when to gently respond with "hey, have you thought about Sonos?"  It's not pushy and I don't think it qualifies as spam (since, in one sense, everything on Twitter is spam), it just creates some awareness.
  5. Suggesting value-added ways to get more from the product. Thomas regularly posts about ways you can get more out of your Sonos system without spending money - free music that's available for download, cool tips and tricks from other users, etc.  It's clever, friendly, and useful all at the same time.
  6. Responding effectively to questions and concerns. If someone mentions any sort of feature request, concern or question about Sonos on Twitter, Thomas is right there with either an answer, or with his e-mail address so that the conversation can continue directly outside of Twitter.

This is probably the best corporate use of Twitter that I've seen in my limited time participating in ITS limited existence.

If you're thinking about using Twitter for corporate/institutional communications, a few related things to note:

  1. You HAVE to make time for it. Engaging the Twitterverse seems like it must be a major component of Thomas's job description, and I can't imagine he could do what he does just "here and there" on top of other responsibilities.  If you want to use Twitter at this level, make sure you allocate the people time to do it right.
  2. Is Twitter reaching the right target audience for you? It's no coincidence that there's overlap between people who have time and Internet connectivity to mess around on Twitter and people who buy ridiculously luxurious audio gadgets.  If you sell animal feed to rural farmers, you are probably not going to have the same level of engagement on Twitter.
  3. Don't get too close to your users. I think it's possible to over-do the directness of the company-consumer relationship, such that the expectations will be set unreasonably high for the kind of response any one person can get from you via Twitter, possibly resulting in a backlash if something does go wrong.

I remain skeptical of Twitter, now more out of curious fascination in the context of many other cultural trends that worry me, rather than cynicism about this particular tool.  But within the scope of what it means to offer good customer service to a base of product users, I can appreciate that there's a way to do it right with Twitter, and Sonos has that nailed.