Be careful what you tweet for

Compulsive Twitterers might want to think twice before sending a quip about JetBlue, Comcast, Whole Foods Market, or any other major brand name through "microblog" cyberspace; you might get caught off guard by a customer service representative's timely response!

With a 140-character limit, your update (or "tweet") could be as simple as, "what's with the line system at Whole Foods?" and in no time at all, a Whole Foods twitter representative will message you in response. With Twitter's word tracking and search features, companies can easily access thousands of public postings that have mentioned the brand, whether in passing, in complaint, or in praise. At its least intrusive, it's simply another way for major companies to moniter customer reviews, more casual and impulsive as they may be. At it's most intrusive, it almost feels like "The Man" is getting on your case.

But if approached in a respectful manner, I can see Twitter being a great way to provide service to troubled customers in a time of need. For one thing, it saves the customer the additional hassle of going through official complaint channels like the ever-frustrating automated message machine on the customer service line. Continuing on that train of thought, I've always felt that going out of one's way to ensure good service guarantees a strong, lasting impression. Yet the real issue here is how to ensure that this impression is a positive one. For those of us who truly embrace the idea behind microblogging by registering our cell phones to send and receive Twitter updates, it may seem a bit too creepy and personal when a JetBlue representative suddenly decides to send a friendly hello after we've just tweeted about a flight delay. But then again, the counter argument is of course: how much privacy can users realistically expect if they choose to keep the intimate, up-to-the-minute details of their lives public?

The two keys to Twitter success for those brands that choose to engage this daunting online community are to 1) remember your ethics and 2) be a microblogger. First and foremost, it's important that any Twitterer acting as a representative for a brand name introduce themselves as such. Second - and certainly not something to ignore - is the importance of actually being a microblogger. None of this "drive-by customer service" nonsense; if it's important enough for you to send a direct reply to a customer's tweet, be prepared to have a conversation! It is more than possible to comport oneself professionally and naturally at the same time, and it's having a personality that will ultimately distance the rep from the dreaded "invasive" image.