Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eight Lessons Learned as a Brand on Twitter

Back in January, we set up the official Blogger account on Twitter. We had a general idea of what we hoped to accomplish - better interaction with passionate users, quick communication of known issues, bug fixes, etc. - but this was not a long planned deliberate move by us. If anything, it was a bit of an experiment.

A few weeks ago I promised a post detailing what I have learned so far. In no particular order, here goes:
  1. Setting up a username makes monitoring Twitter much easier. This was a particularly acute problem for Blogger, since "blogger" is a pretty generic term. Setting up a persistent query for "blogger" yielded far too many hits per minute to be worthwhile... weeding through all of them to find the few that were specifically about big-B Blogger would take all day. Searching for "@blogger", by contrast, is much easier and more effective.
  2. Replying as an individual is sometimes better than replying as the brand: The traffic of replies directed to @blogger varies from a couple a day to a few dozen (after launches like our Friend Connect integration), and some of those tweets are pretty specific to the individual user. Learning from Max Kalehoff's experiences at Clickable, in mid-February I started replying more as myself (@rklau) when the tweet was specific to the user. This has two advantages (at least): reducing the noise from the actual Blogger account to the more than 8,000 followers, and establishing a more personal connection between the user and myself. And I'm not alone - several other Blogger team members are engaged, and reaching out directly to users. Reactions are uniformly positive: people love knowing that individuals are involved, that we care about the product, and that we are trying to improve their Blogger experience.
  3. Negative feedback and user frustration are part of the cost of admission: Not everyone is going to be thrilled with everything we do, and we needed to be comfortable with surfacing that frustration once we got active on Twitter. It's possible to turn frustrated users into fans with just a single message (see here: "Makes me sad!" "Try..." "OMG I love you!"),  but the key is to engage users when appropriate, and offer guidance if you have any to give.
  4. Users will help you do your job once you commit: This was true at FeedBurner when we used persistent RSS queries to surface blog posts and comments about FeedBurner so we could respond rapidly, and it's no less true today: once you open up this channel of communications, your users will help you spread the word. We won't catch every comment intended for us (not everyone knows we're on Twitter, for starters) - but the clusters of friends and followers often means that one of our followers will be following someone else who could use our help. When one person asks about unexpected behavior on Blogger, one of our followers will direct them to the right place. This is not a rare occurrence, and it creates a wonderful network effect that routinely amplifies our communications.
  5. Use content you've already got: At Blogger, we already had Blogger Buzz, Blogger Status, Known Issues, Blogger in Draft blog, and Blogs of Note to communicate various info about Blogger. We use Twitterfeed to route the RSS feeds from each blog to our Twitter account. This ensures that anyone looking for the latest info about Blogger - whether it's a product announcement, a known issue, or a response to a user problem - can get it without having to look in multiple places. If you've got a corporate blog, recent announcements, or other content you're already producing, use Twitterfeed or Hootsuite or another tool to automatically route that content to Twitter so your followers hear from you on a regular basis. (Bonus tip: Press release-speak does not lend itself well to Twitter.)
  6. Make sure multiple people are monitoring @replies for early warning signals. When Louis Gray notices that his RSS feed is broken due to what appears to be a Blogger bug (it was), you ignore such reports at your peril. Fortunately several of us saw the report, we were able to isolate the cause (one engineer in his hotel room in Austin, followed by one of our engineers in Krakow picking up where the other left off) and had a push ready within a day. Not only was Louis happy, it made our ensuing encounter on the plane home much more pleasant. :)
  7. Ask questions. If you wait for everyone to ask you questions, you'll be reactive and you'll set the expectation that people will only hear from you when they complain. It's increasingly clear to us that a lot of Blogger users don't know that there are lots of options for customizing their templates available on the web, so last week we asked followers for their favorite recommendations. I'm summarizing those recommendations and will put a post on Blogger Buzz later today. (Which, of course, will get posted to Twitter as well.) Important note: if you ask questions, be prepared to act on the replies you get. Readers whose replies go into an apparent black hole will not be happy.
  8. Be consistent. This is very much an extension of our "voice" online, and as such we've tried to ensure that when we do post, it sounds like us. 140 characters (the limit on Twitter messages) can be very restrictive, so ensuring that consistency is not always easy. This is particularly tricky if you're posting from multiple sources (corp blog, known issues, etc.) - so make sure some thought goes into how those posts are communicated, not just what is communicated.
As experiments go, this has been quite successful. We're reinforcing to users that we are listening and that we care about their experiences with the product (good and bad). It's no silver bullet - building and maintaining the product still require a tremendous investment of time and energy - but as part of a larger commitment to making a great product and keeping our users happy, it's absolutely a worthwhile investment.


  1. You're almost making me feel guilty for finding the bug. :)

    One thing about being a brand like Blogger (part of a very big brand called Google) is that users, myself included, are going to be more willing to speak up and highlight issues, where they might give smaller brands more slack. If you can help Blogger be responsive and have a public face, that will be tremendous.

    I personally would be very pleased to talk with you 1-1 or anybody on the team to see how Blogger plans to help make headway against the WordPress juggernaut. There's a lot of pull on me and other Blogger holdouts to switch, and I would bet it's something your team talks about a lot.

    Thanks for the help. I'm glad I saw you, albeit so briefly. We should meet for real sometime soon.

  2. What's WordPress?

    Seriously, I couldn't be a happier Blogger customer. Explain to me again -- why am I not paying for this service?

    Seriously again, I am a huge fan of Google, Blogger and rklau. Knowing rklau is like having my own personal help desk at Google.


  3. great lead about twitterfeed. going to set that one up! many thanks @inspiredjourney

  4. @Louis - You're on for lunch, would love to catch up with you about what we're up to. And while there's room for everyone (I've used every major blog platform at one time or another in the last 7+ years), hopefully I can convince you that Blogger's got a lot of room left to grow. :)

  5. Great post. I've been on Twitter and Wordpress (sorry, not blogger) for a while and enjoy both for different ways of interacting with the communities I work with.
    Your obversations are definitely in line with what I have seen on Twitter. The more you give to the Twitter community the more you get back. It's up to each user/brand to define the experience they want to have and then shape it for themselves.


  6. These are great tips for running a corporate Twitter feed. More and more companies are joining Twitter these days, but before jumping in, it's worth considering whether Twitter would benefit your business.

    I recently tackled this subject in my blog:
    "Is Twitter Right for Your Company? 3 Things to Ask"

  7. I think that this twitter company gives great informationand on comanies, and if it is possible could you respond back and tell me if I can join your company oneday when I own my own business and is there anymore steps that I have to take in order to do so and do I have to have a degree in business to join are what.

  8. Rick,

    Regarding point number two, where you said: "Reactions are uniformly positive: people love knowing that individuals are involved, that we care about the product, and that we are trying to improve their Blogger experience."

    I couldn't agree more. The more we get into this age of information and online omnipresence, the more I yearn for the days when it was easier to know that there was a human on the other end, rather than a computer. I think it goes to show that even with the advancement of technology, being human is still where it's at.

    Derek Cannon
    Webmaster - HCGLessons