I do a lot of ad hoc technical support for Team Foundation Server via Twitter (follow me at @JasonBarile).  As a Test Manager, I love interacting with customers directly, and I often find that Twitter is a great source for finding issues people get frustrated about but don’t necessarily get blocked by or get upset enough about to open a support ticket for.  It’s opened up a whole new pipeline of feedback for me, and I’m finding it incredibly valuable.

I’ve been doing this for several months now, and I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way I’d like to pass along.

Tip #1 - Twitter Search – Finding those in need of help

Use Twitter’s search feature with keywords related to your product to find people who are discussing and possibly in need of help.  You can use a desktop Twitter client like Tweetdeck or Twhirl to keep up with multiple keyword search streams at once.  Be careful to make sure you’re responding to the right topics!  For example, “tfs” can mean “Team Foundation Server”, “The Fashion Show”, “Transformers”, or simply “Thanks for sharing!”  Often, when a tweet shows up in my keyword searches, I’ll view the public stream and/or profile of the person who posted it to make sure they’re talking about what I think they’re talking about.

Tip #2 - Retweet helpful tips

“Retweeting” is when you repeat what someone else has tweeted as a quote.  This helps spread useful or interesting information to your followers and can also help the person you’re quoting get new followers.  Remember, in a social media environment like Twitter, helping others get visibility is a big part of building up your credibility.  When someone tweets something relevant about your product you think others might find useful, retweet it to spread the word.

Use retweeting sparingly though.  Some people are really turned off by people who do more retweeting than tweeting original content.  The same goes for tweeting links – do it sparingly.

Tip #3 – Don’t Try to have the whole conversation in Twitter

Having an entire customer support conversation in Twitter can be exhausting.  Not only are you dealing with a 140 character limit on each tweet, but you’re also dealing with delays between parties in the conversation. Often, I’ll redirect customers to post questions in our support forums, where they can include screenshots, snippets of log files, and a lot more text describing their questions.  Then, once an answer is found to their issue, I’ll tweet a link to the thread back to Twitter to help other people with the same problem find the solution.

Tip #4 – Use Screenr.com

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a screencast is worth a million Tweets!  This website lets you or your customers easily record desktop screencasts of up to 5 minutes in length and share them via Twitter. I’ve found it to be an easy way to have customers demonstrate issues or bugs they’re running into and for me to share back screencasts showing how to solve or work around the problems.  Since it’s a Java applet, Screenr works on Mac and Windows machines.  You can even record audio along with your screencasts.  Screenr lets you select the full desktop window (only one monitor though) or resize to capture just the specific window/area you want.  Best of all, it’s free! 

Tip #5 – Keep it personal

I’ve found that I have a lot more luck getting customers to engage with me on Twitter if I contact them with my personal Twitter account than with a “corporate” account.  When customers are frustrated, confused, or angry, having a personal contact to vent to helps put them more at ease.

Tip #6 – Don’t solve every problem

This one may sound counter-intuitive, but you shouldn’t strive to solve every problem.  Instead, consider holding back and letting your community of experts have some of the fun too.  When they come up with solutions, retweet their answers.  If you have a sizable customer base, you certainly won’t be able to handle all the incoming questions yourself, so encouraging others to participate in the social help community is a good thing.

Tip #7 – ‘r’ when replying

Since Twitter changed their rules for visibility on replies, your followers cannot see your replies to others unless they are also following that person. You can work around this to some extent by adding a ‘r ‘ in front of your reply.  For example, “r @JasonBarile nice to see you” as opposed to “@JasonBarile nice to see you”.  This can work to your advantage too.  More often than not, you can have a “semi private” conversation with a customer by simply replying back and forth without resorting to asking them to follow you so you can send them direct messages.  When you’re ready to surface the solution, reply back with a ‘r’ and your other followers can see your tweet.

Tip #8 – Coordinate with your other team members

There is such a thing as caring too much! If other people on your team are using Twitter and have their own keyword searches, consider coordinating who will be replying to customers each day on a per-customer basis.  Just make sure you’re not deluging your customers with multiple “we want to help you!” messages – it can be a real turnoff. 

Another angle of this tip is to make sure you’re not constantly randomizing your team with every little issue you run across in Twitter. Put together a response plan with your team’s leadership for how often you’ll escalate issues to your team and what types of issues you’ll escalate.  While it’s tempting to want to be able to help everyone, it can be a time suck, and unless this is your full time job, chances are that you and your teammates have other responsibilities too.

 

Those are my tips for now.  If I think of others I’ll update this post.  If you have more tips to share, please leave comments.  See you in the Twether!