Nate Says: Why So Serious?

TwelpForce by Best Buy

July 19, 2009 is a date that has already taken on meaning to all Best Buy associates. For them, it is the official launch day for getting paid to tweet to existing and potential customers – the day @TwelpForce goes live, according to Bloomberg.

Twelpforce is Best Buy’s answer to leveraging employee downtime to harness a little social media power with the intent to bring more customers in the doors. One awkwardly positive post praises Best Buy for their innovation in this initiative, though it should be noted that Dell actually pioneered this form of customer service in 2007 well before the Twitterverse explosion and saw a ROI of over $3M (source). But of course, I’m writing this because I’m not so optimistic for the ol’ boys in blue. Especially not after today…
I started digging and saw Best Buy Marketing Manager and TwelpForce launch supporter Mr. John Bernier’s tweet that nearly 600 people signed on to the program already. I thought, “Great! Time for a test-drive!”

I hopped on search.twitter.com, dropped in “TwelpForce”, and checked out who was already chatting it up. One ambitious employee was clearly happy about being paid to tweet, but I wasn’t sure why he’d attach the #TwelpForce hashtag to that post. I didn’t dwell on it long before I came across what appeared to be a hashtag-highjack, rather loudly proclaiming:

GET A NETBOOK FOR 99CENTS, REAL TALK! ASK ME HOW. #twelpforce
-RainbowSoulPoet

Voice inside my head: “Wow, spammers have already picked up on this hashtag?!” Again, didn’t dwell on it too long, until I saw the same spammer posting a suggestion to her fellow TwelpForce associates to add a pic and bio to their profile appear more personable. This recommendation coming from this profile page:

Now listen…. I’m a pretty open-minded guy, but I’m fairly certain that without too much work I could find some people who wouldn’t appreciate a Best Buy associate name tag explaining they’re a 27 year old black lesbian who uses biblical love making to define her relationship to music. And if somehow that didn’t ruffle some feathers, perhaps her wandering around the store talking about “ass cleavage” would do it. Further, let’s not forget the spammy $0.99 laptop post that nobody on Twitter wants to see (even though it was a legitimate BBY Promo). Are you here to help or here to sell?

Am I picking on one person? Yes, but it was just so easy. If this person managed to sign on and get paid for being derogatory, it’s worth mentioning, right?

Ok, enough about that, let’s see how it works. . .

I saw a few imaging associates seemed to be signed on, so I thought I’d ask a very specific imaging question about something that is actually not very well defined online despite many reviews on the product. My question as seen to the left was posted at 10:48am regarding what format the HD video records in for the purpose of loading it into my video editing software.

The response came exactly 20 minutes later and was in fact exactly right. Though I would have like to have received a little more specifics like, “1080p @20fps and 720p @30fps”, I was satisfied with the response and it didn’t take too long. This did however bring up another concern.

Notice the reply is not threaded. Whether this was the fault of the responder or a fault of their program’s API coding is unclear, but this poses two problems for the program.

  1. Linking answers to questions is important for people to see the process working.
  2. It is important to ensure clarity in communication (depending on the time lapse, I may be well into another conversation).

But then this morning, another problem arose that I thought their system would be handling when I saw John Bernier re-tweet my question to his team at 12:26am last night. If Best Buy’s administration isn’t tracking responses through their system, what is to keep me from getting 100 responses across the entire TwelpForce crew and all associates being oblivious to it? Then I thought back to the case of RainbowSoulPoet and wondered if Best Buy realizes that if their employees post something inappropriate, it can be deleted from the associate’s feed, but is already permanently indexed and can forever be found by search (plus, if any of the links in this post magically go broken, I have screen-caps already uploaded to my server to replace them).

My overall feel of TwelpForce quickly faded from poorly-polished to poorly planned and ill-fated. Social media is a tricky beast. Direct sales are not welcome. It is purely about building brand and trust. But that’s a post for another time.

Best Buy has already been laughed at for their Senior Manager job posting, citing a 7-year degree and 1-day on Twitter as a requirement (help them rewrite it?). But now it is becoming increasingly apparent what that position was created for and that maybe Best Buy really doesn’t know what they’re doing, nor are they aware of how damaging this can be to their reputation instead of augmenting it.

I’m sure some good folks from Best Buy will read this eventually, and I encourage you to sit down and study Dell’s process as an example. If you’re branding “TwelpForce” as “Twitter + Help + Sales Force”, I’m sorry, but you’re doomed already. If you’re going to help, then help. Don’t sell. And if you’ve made the mistake of hiring someone who claims to be a “Social Media Expert”, then I feel extra sorry for you.

I can be reached by any means on my contact card if you want to talk. Otherwise, good luck to you, and I trust you’ll use this as food for thought!

Update: John Bernier has demonstrated some terrific character in handling the response to TwelpForce’s launch, even going so far as to tweet this post to all of his employees and encourage them to re-tweet it. It’s refreshing to see a company respond effectively instead of launching a cover-up campaign. I applaud John and his team for the massive amount of scrutiny they’re taking on with this project and again wish them well!

  • Love it.

  • Hello there –

    Thought I’d qualify this post with a response from the Best Buy @twelpforce team.

    We appreciate your feedback – really. I say that because we realize we’re a long way from our utopia, which is using twitter to contribute to our customer’s lives in a meaningful manner, and help them realize their tech-dreams. But, we’re learning… Every day brings more knowledge to our associates as they figure out “what’s right/good” on their own. Certainly we have guidelines for participation (www.bestbuy.com/connect), but we’ve purposely left out of our training any kind of “Here’s how it should look when you tweet” manual because authenticity is key, that wisdom will come from actually “doing”, and from peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

    Doomed? I respectfully disagree. We’re still organizing the troops, and will soon be rolling out some technical tools/widgets to our associates that will make manual searching for questions a thing of the past. As well, we’re working on a bug that prevents responses hashtagged with #twelpforce from appearing in the @twelpforce feed (Hence, the re-tweet of your question that had already been answered within one hour by another associate). Glitch or not, I’m glad it seemed to work. With regard to your question as to whether you may get 10 answers to your question, we actually expect that. Each associate will have a POV, and 1 or 2 may be more suited for your needs, but at a minimum, you are armed with (free) info before you buy. That’s the point….

    Because Twitter is such a public forum, we are not granted a grace period to work the bugs out, unfortunately. I say to our team it’s like getting dressed in a glass house. Sure, we’ll make mistakes, and they will be public mistakes, but the effort is genuine, and the voices authentic. We’re leveraging our biggest asset, our store employees, to try and deliver a great experience. We expect (and planned for) there to be some glitches, and we’re actively coaching our employees on what good looks like.

    I’m proud to work for a company that supports the idea that we can, and should, harness the power of our employees, and share our POV’s freely with those who solicit a question. My hope is that you and your readers will give us some time to evolve before writing this effort off. It’s got potential to play a part in a help change the perception of the way brands, the people that make them up, and customers create and maintain relationships.

    Respectfully
    @bernierjohn

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