Bird ShoutingI read a recent article on the N.Y. Times “Bucks” blog discussing how some big banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, etc.) tend to struggle to interact with customers on Twitter. These banks have a hard time giving out quick responses to customer questions and interacting efficiently with customers on Twitter – if a customer contacts their bank via Twitter and asks, “Why can’t I access my bank account?” or “What is my ATM PIN,” the bank cannot easily respond.

In part, this is because banks have strict standards for customer confidentiality. For example, banks are not supposed to publicly name their customers or acknowledge that someone is a customer. Banks also have to be careful not to disclose confidential customer information – you can’t give out your bank account number on Twitter, for example.

However, aside from those explanations and financial services industry-specific limitations, I think this article points out an important truth: lots of big businesses don’t “get” social media.

Some big companies have Twitter feeds that get a fair number of followers, but these companies still don’t seem to know how to use Twitter to serve their customers better. Instead, Twitter often becomes just another way for big companies to advertise themselves. The big companies too often are missing the point of Twitter – and they’re missing opportunities. In the worst case scenarios, some big companies make major social media faux pas – like this list of the “8 Worst Corporate Twitter Fails.”

Why are big companies so bad at Twitter?

Often, they put someone in charge of the corporate Twitter account who doesn’t really have any authority to make things right for customers. As this Consumerist article points out, there are too many “toothless social media reps” who can’t actually do anything. Many big companies don’t seem to know whether to use Twitter for Marketing or Customer Service – so they wind up falling short on both levels.

Other big companies are afraid of Twitter. They don’t want anything to get posted online that will damage the company brand, so they don’t take any risks or offer any genuine interactions.

The good news is that if you are a small business owner, Twitter and Facebook are still offering big opportunities for smaller businesses to connect with customers, build a following and a fan base, and be more nimble to run circles around the “big players” in the market.

When you run a small business, you don’t need layers of bureaucracy and documentation and “how-to manuals” for how to do every little thing. You don’t need 8 levels of permission to be able to post something on Twitter. You can just go out, engage with your audience, and watch it grow. Someday big businesses will catch up with smaller businesses in terms of Twitter/social media skills – but for now, the small businesses have a big advantage.

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