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Social media success: How about a little Twelp?

twelpforce11I’ve recently started a quest to find social media success stories that have nothing to do with Motrin Moms or Domino’s Pizza. Face it, though these are interesting examples of the importance of listening and reacting to the conversation, but these examples are just plain old!

By the way, if you’re doing a presentation on social media and brands any time after today, please delete any reference to these two brands or you will be officially labeled, by the official Labeling Office of the Web (LOW), as “old school.”

As part of my quest, I called the folks at Best Buy to check on the health and/or success of Twelpforce.

For the sake of transparency, I count many at Best Buy as friends. That said, my first impression of the name of this initiative and its marketing campaign around the Twelpforce didn’t rank high on my cool-o-meter. To me, social media are all about one-to-one contact, and I didn’t necessarily think a TV ad depicting a stadium of Blue Shirts (Best Buy employees) yelling out answers as the best way to showcase a concept and effort that is so darned positive and forward thinking … just sayin’.

I was curious and anxious to have the conversation. John Bernier, a social media manager at Best Buy, and the one overseeing the Twelpforce initiative, was happy to spend some time talking about it. This in itself is a good sign that a level of success is being attained.

via TweetStat

For those of you not familiar with Twelpforce, the concept is quite simple: enlist a legion of customer service representatives from the ranks of Best Buy’s employees to respond to questions and concerns about Best Buy products and services that arise in the Twitter stream.

Twelpforce, as John noted, is a “tool to talk with as well as talk to” the Best Buy customer or potential customer. He goes on to say that it’s in keeping with the overall focus of Best Buy to deliver “dream support.” Whatever that means. Ultimately, of course, one has to assume that the goal is to increase business and customer loyalty.

John outlined a bit of history as well as some numbers to demonstrate where Twelpforce is today. After three months (the “hard launch” with marketing via TV started July 19) the original size of the Twelpforce has grown from 400 members (Best Buy and Geek Squad reps) to 2,200. They have responded to more than 13,000 very public questions, concerns, and opinions. @twelpforce counts more than 10,000 followers (13,404 followers and 2,059 following as of this writing), with about a 50/50 split between addressing actual break/fix issues and opinions.

“We have made people realize that a year ago there was one voice (of Best Buy), and now they know that there are thousands of voices.”

TwelpForce daily tweets

So, how are they measuring the response to Twelpforce as they seek to deliver a tool that provides value for Best Buy? John noted, as do so many when you start talking metrics, “There is nothing that we can buy into that measures success.”

So, Best Buy needed to build its own dashboard to at least assemble measurable pieces of the puzzle. That dashboard, of course, includes monitoring the number of followers but goes beyond that. The volume, or the pace and number of questions — now numbering between 100 and 125 per day, according to John — the number of active Best Buy reps per week, the number of new reps, keyword sentiment, re-tweets and “follow Friday” posts are also monitored. Other tools include Twitter StreamGraphs and TweetStats (many are pictured) that will “create a way for the business team to see trends.”

via Twitter Screen Graphs (Click for current graph.)

So how are those thousands of voices answering those questions? When Twelpforce rolled out and I made a point of following the questions and answers, I noted that many answers were of the “Stop into our store and we can help you with that” type answers. John deftly answered that he couldn’t say how “many” answers there were like that, he did note that “Some answers will require a store visit.”

He also noted that “the 140 character format of Twitter doesn’t always allow for a complete answer.” In fact, Twelpforce has developed some logical extensions to better respond without asking the customer to come to a store. “We’ll link to the Best Buy Forum to facilitate a more extensive answer, and we’ll also link to a brand page and sometimes other info sources (like Engadget). We are the facilitator” moving people form channel to channel. According to John, “You know what we know as fast as we know it.”

So, just who is answering these questions and concerns? What does it take for a Blue Shirt or Geek to be part of the TwelpForce? Are there restrictions or criteria to become a more audible voice of Best Buy? According to John, “There’s no real restrictions.” The fact that those that want to be part of the “force” are employees means “they have been vetted by HR. We provide some training, as well as a wiki, that helps TwelpForce members best provide service.” He goes on to say, “We expect to be very good, not perfect,” at addressing customer needs. “There will be varying degrees of success.”

Moving forward, John highlighted where TwelpForce will be going. In the short term, there will be more engagement, especially over the holiday season, and much of that will be driven by another round of TV advertising. In the longer term, the hope will be to move it beyond just Twitter. “We’d like it to be platform agnostic.”

Of course, when I asked how that might impact the name TwelpForce, it was pretty obvious that it was a topic of much discussion at Best Buy. (FelpForce on Facebook? YelpForce for YouTube?) John also hopes to use initiatives like this to accelerate the adoption of social media by both employees and customers. “It’s provides us with the ability to prove ourselves every day. It’s not a campaign, it’s a commitment.” says John.

So can this be considered a social media success story? One that might rival that maternal pain reliever or pizza purveyor dust-up? Without having an associated video, it’s probably not as sexy, but anything that enables the conversation between brand and customer, as this clearly has, must be considered a success. John adds, “We’ve been able to meet our customers at the crossroads of need and time … Being there when and where they need us.” I’d say that qualifies.

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