Scott Hanselman

When Word of Mouth Got a Permalink - Companies, Customers and Twitter

May 27, 2009 Comment on this post [17] Posted in Musings
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iStock_000002294470XSmallDerek Powazek dropped this little piece of truth on Twitter recently:

Twitter was more fun when I could b*tch about a company without them replying to ask how they can provide me with excellent service today.

Things have changed since Word of Mouth got a permalink. When I'm complaining about a company to my friends or while walking down the street, no one seems to care. When I'm calling a company and complaining one-on-one, I don't always get excellent service. Boy, but if you mention a company on your blog, or even better, on Twitter, you'll likely get a reply in minutes.

It's getting to the point that I get better customer service (and hence, satisfaction) on Twitter than I do calling a 1-800 number. I'll spend less time on hold as well!

Where's my Mower?

I recently ordered a Lawn Mower from and was bummed when I realize that HomeDepot is NOT Amazon. By that I mean, not every online retailer ships virtually instantly like Amazon. Seems like Amazon has your package being prepared while it's still in the shopping cart. Click Checkout and walk to the mailbox, bam! With other retailers, not so much.,

With my Lawn Mower, it wasn't available anywhere locally so I ordered it online. I was bummed when checking the order status that it was still "processing" four days later and I complained (lower-case "c") on Twitter at 1:26pm on May 19. Sarah from Home Depot replied first thing the morning of the 20th offering to look into it for me. That's pretty cool, so kudos to HD for offering to help.

There's 100s of brands on Twitter (here's the top 100). I'd say, that Comcast got on board first, as I recall, and made really good use of Twitter for customer support. Twitter's also nice for customer support as it's (almost always) clearly a human behind the account. Twitter's not just for customer support, but also for collecting feedback and posting coupons, offers, etc. It's a brilliant medium because of it's elegant publisher-subscriber model and the its brevity constraint.

Why doesn't Home Depot (or any company, as HD isn't the point of this post) jump when I complain on Facebook?

One word: Permalinks.

Facebook is a walled garden, as you likely know. My facebook posts aren't indexed on Google and even within Facebook, they aren't easy to search and very hard to link to, IMHO. On Twitter, tweets are easy to search and you can bet that every one of these folks are using Tweetdeck to hunt for mentions of their brands. That's no doubt how HomeDepot found mine. You don't need a lot of followers, you just need to mention their name.

I've said before, don't give bile a permalink. Brands with an online or social media presence live in constant fear that you will, and it'll be about their brand.

They know that the spark of a negative tweet can fan the flames of rebellion. The threat of RT (retweets) or blog posts about tweets only pours gas on the flames. Even worse, tweets can end up in newspapers and if the company doesn't handle it well, it's over.

Consumer-driven > Company-driven

To Derek's point, yes, it WAS more fun before. I'm not sure I like the reframing of my relationship with these (often global) brands being based on fear, especially their fear of a global uprising based on potential negative publicity. I do like the idea that not only is one not complaining alone any more, but also that Twitter allows the customer (me) to reassert my role as the driving force behind the relationship.

My  question is, however, is this going to scale? I can't see how. There's only, what, 10 million people on Twitter? It's nice now, while there's so few people on Twitter, but it'll be really interesting when Twitter becomes Customer Service Central for every brand on the planet.

I still think it's lame that it took 4-5 days for my Lawn Mower to ship, but I think it's cool that Sarah at Home Depot offered to help me out.

(I got the Toro Personal Pace Mower, on sale at the time, plus a coupon, if you care.)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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May 27, 2009 2:57
As soon as I started reading this entry I was pondering your last statement. It's 10 mil now, what happens when it is 40-50 Million? I suspect it will become just as useless as the 800 number. The reason is simple, you add all the idiot complainers that have or don't really seek an objective solution, they're just there to complain and boom, the services will disappear. I suspect one reason Twitter has also garnered so much attention from companies is the relative importance of people who Tweet. Most people on Twitter aren't the lower middle class income earners, but instead the upper income brackets. Companies have always and will always want to satisfy those people, often because one can satisfy those customers because they know what they want - generally.

Great entry, really dug it, interesting thing to think about for companies and individuals.
May 27, 2009 4:40
>> Boy, but if you mention a company on your blog, or even better, on Twitter, you'll likely get a reply in minutes.

Yes Scott, maybe your blog. Not all of us have 12k + readers, you know. In all seriousness, if for one second you don't think that makes a difference, you're deluding yourself -- or, as I like to call it, suffering from "Joe Stagner Syndrome"...
May 27, 2009 4:54
I personally like the fact that companies who otherwise would not have cared about my dissatisfaction before twitter has to pay attention now. You said it yourself Comcast was one of the first to jump on board. It's nice to have a voice again. It's not like you're dealing with your local grocer that relies on your satisfaction to stay in business.
May 27, 2009 9:25
Check out Visible Technologies. An entire business built on scanning social media for any customer issues, so companies can go protect their reputations. CSRs at the company get a dashboard with streaming new mentions of their business, workflow to go deal with it, etc. Your post may not have been discovered like you think - may have been even more methodical than that!
May 27, 2009 11:16

I find it ironic that some companies now pay more attention to customer feedback which went through channels like Twitter than through their own feedback channels (e.g: online feedback form or email). They are worried about the bigger exposure.

(btw, what's special about the lawn mower?)
May 27, 2009 11:52
Lee, here's a complainer with only 300 followers:
and the response

There's thousands of examples. On twitter, if you complain, you WILL get a result.
May 27, 2009 19:21

First let me say I think you're a really great tech guy and I read your blog a lot. However, I think what you're suffering from here, and many others do as well (myself included at times), is a case of the "need it now" syndrome. In society we've become used to having everything now. And I don't mean like now as in after breakfast or this afternoon, I mean NOW as in "Andy Dufresne escaped from ShawShank prison find him NOW" now. Technology has certainly helped to promote this in that we can go online, order something, and for a price have it shipped to us the next day, we can go online and read the latest news now and yes we can even watch what we're all doing via Twitter. Personally I'm not that into seeing what everyone is doing, and I've become patient enough to not need most things now. I've learned (through rigorous self-restraint) to not jump at the impulse to buy something I see online just because I can have it now or as close to now as I'd like. I'm not saying that Home Depot is right for lagging on your order, however what I am saying is that as a society, I think it would benefit us to step back, smell the proverbial roses and to not be in such a rush for everything anymore. In doing so, I think we'll all have an idea of what we should put in perspective, and realize that waiting an extra day or so for a lawnmower really might not be a big deal after all. Your underlying theme seems to indicate you can't complain anymore about anything cause someone will find out, when in reality, with where and how we live and the freedoms we have, do we even have the right to complain about petty stuff like that??!! There's my 2 cents on the matter. NOW I gotta get the latest news!! ;)

May 27, 2009 19:25
Eventually twitter will be treated as if you called and brands will not do much about it. There will be another way to actually get attention.

I just started following Boston Police and they directly messaged me saying that while they follow their direct replies, I should call 911 in case of an emergency. I almost fell off my chair laughing...
May 28, 2009 0:43
Scott, you are 100% right on. I recently complained about a piece of software my company uses. in about 10 min i was having a conversation with the CTO and was even having email conversations as well.

BUT, the proof that they are listening is they actually do something for you, or help resolve your issue
May 28, 2009 4:50
Well, I know my company watches Google groups and junk for their name. I went on a rant and happen to mention the company name that was leftover by accidnet in a script and I got a reply from corporate the next day (after a few hops around the company trying to determine exactly who it was.) They're definitely concerned about the company image/brand and don't want anyone tarnishing it --

Nevermind the post was trying to solicit help related to somethign job related that I did on my own time after hours.

May 28, 2009 9:38
but I think it's cool that Sarah at Home Depot offered to help me out.

I'm sure it feels great to actually get some customer service, but you should remember why you're getting it. You're influential - one of the people who knows how to use the Internet & Twitter, which likely to correlates to having a decent education, a decent amount of money, and a fair number of friends with the same. For a lot of these global corporations, some minute fraction of their customers fit that profile. It's smart favoritism on their part, but you should realize that while you're being whisked to the front of the line, everyone else is being pushed back one step.
May 28, 2009 16:53
Jim, he's not the only one. I've managed to get customer service and questions from places, and I'm certainly not influential.
May 28, 2009 23:31
I'm pretty fascinated by these new types of interaction twitter is enabling. Like most things I'm sure it will get tiresome once it scales past a certain point, but right now I think the power gained by consumers is worth the potential negatives.

I've written about a similar experience where a ui complaint led to a poaching attempt by a competitor. The end result is that I'm now a regular customer of both companies, one of which I had never heard of until that exchange. Not bad for a few 140 character messages.
May 28, 2009 23:50
I've mentioned good service but never had a reason to complain, but I think it's great companies are watching the cloud for negative comments and realizing they can resolve problems and end up causing people to think a lot more of them.
May 29, 2009 11:21
It is a temporary thing. Right now "everyone" does customer service on twitter because CNN and others are hyped about it. Wait 6 months and I don't think the cnn weather woman will use tweets as the source of the current weather in München or wherever. Same for the customer service thing - when more people start using twitter all those customer service tweople will disappear or be replaced by autoresponders telling people to call their 1-800-callcenter in Delhi.
May 29, 2009 21:56
Toward the end of the post (3rd paragraph from the bottom), it should be especially, not specially.

When it comes to the adjectival forms, especially should always be used. It modifies a verb, adverb or adjective and means “particularly” or “exceptionally”:

* His train was running especially late that day.
* We were especially happy to see you.
* I put the cake especially high.

Specially is becoming more common but still tends to sound rather informal, even a little child-like (“I drew this picture specially for you!”) There is a lot of debate around whether “specially” is appropriate in some cases, but if you want to be sure, stick with “especially”.
--from "Especially vs. Specially" on

Just FYI. Not a big deal
May 29, 2009 22:23
David, sorry, typo.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.