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April 30, 2008

Listening with Summize and Tweetscan

by Josh Bernoff

Summizetweetscan As Twitter swells, at least in the minds of Groundswell thinkers, you have to wonder what people are saying about you.

It's easy enough to track that (in theory . . . more on that later) using tools like TweetScan and Summize. I had been using TweetScan for a while but @samlawrence kept telling me to try Summize, which has a few more features. Both are free, of course, and they work in the obvious way -- searching the entire public record of all Twitter posts and finding instances of words you request.

There are plenty of examples of companies that have connected with customers using these tools. Mashable describes how a vendor called Disqus solved a customer's problem after noticing a Tweet about it. Amy Worley monitors twittering about taxes for H&R Block. And Comcast is getting started with responding to customers in the space with @comcastcares.

But do these activities scale? What if your brand is huge? Conversation is nice and everything, but what you should you do about it? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Start monitoring. It costs nothing but time. Go to Summize and type in your company's name. Or your product name. Or your name. This is hit or miss -- if you name is Fred Smith, or your company's name is Global Communications Corp, you're not going to learn much. But you'll learn more if your product is called something unusual like Kindle or GTA (those are links to Summize searches). This is especially valuable for new products, where feedback can be useful in changing features, positioning, or marketing messages. I've found it extremely interesting to watch people talking about Groundswell, for instance, which has a name sufficiently unusual that about 90% of the tweets that mention it are about the book.
  2. Respond carefully. If your product is just getting started or has a tight niche audience, then it's valuable to respond to many of your customers, with an @yourtwitterhandle type reply. This can have a "voice from the sky" quality so open the conversation carefully, e.g. "Saw your tweet, hope you are enjoying our product, tweet back if you have questions." For customers having problems that you can solve, this may be a great way to turn a detractor into a fan (if you can solve the problem, of course). Why is it worth it to nurture these individuals? According to my colleague Peter Kim's report on the topic, Twitter users are more likely to be open to advertising and talk about products, magnifying the result of your efforts. When I see someone twittering positively about Groundswell, for example, I may tweet back and encourage them to write a review at Amazon.com or BN.com.
  3. Get ideas. Above are three tweets I pulled from a Summize search on Home Depot. What a fascinating peek into people's relationship with this retailer! I can imagine a commercial based on each one (although the 4-year old with the nails is a little creepy). What ideas are your customer's contributing, for free, that could benefit your company or your marketing?
  4. Don't get fooled. People who use Twitter are not typical. Based on last year's survey, this group skews young, male, affluent, and early adopters of technology -- and while Twitter has grown since then, it's certainly a mistake to think that Twitter members are typical in any way. So take their ideas, but don't imagine that they are representative.

There is an emotional component to Twitter. The people using it write in a very natural way about their lives, since they use it so frequently. Blogs, discussion forums, the wall on Facebook -- these are all slow-motion conversations. Twitter is a real-time conversation. I must admit to enjoying watching people tweeting about ordering Groundswell, getting Groundswell, reading Groundswell, and buying Groundswell for their friends and clients. Whatever your product is, you deserve that experience, too. So crank up Summize and start listening.


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Mark McClennan

Great and helpful post. I also make heavy use of Twitter's Track functionality for real time intelligence. It can be overwhelming for large brands, but for more niche topics its a great thing to have running in the background.

Josh Bernoff

Thanks Mark. For those unaware, if you tweet "Track Xxxx" you'll get updates on tweets that mention Xxxx. Tweet "Track off" to turn it off.


Thanks for the links (Abdur from Summize here). We are continuing to build out great ways to share the conversations and opinions people have on the web.


Great post, Josh. Good intel is required to participate in this space.

The ability to leverage the channel for customer service makes twittering an easy decision (for most organizations). The structure of the system itself should keep people fairly honest (e.g. spammers, stay away).


I couldn't make Summize work when I tried it a few weeks ago, but Tweetscan rocks for me ...and that Twitter Track feature, how good is that?


Eric Schwartzman

I'm currently making a slide to add to my New Media PR Boot Camp tomorrow based on this post. Thanks!

Josh Bernoff

I find it fascinating that a post on Twitter generates such short comments compared to my other posts.

I guess this 140 character thing is addictive.

Nick Ayres

Very interesting post and very interesting examples for The Home Depot (full disclosure - I work in interactive marketing @ The Home Depot.) I do agree - at the very least we can monitor and listen... it's another great customer input for us.

Incidentally, I purchased Groundswell tonite and look forward to reading it soon as well as catching your session at the bazaarvoice summit in late May.

Steven J.

Thanks for your blog. We enjoy reading it.

From one writer to another...

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