Elon Musk acquisition of Twitter raises questions about future use of platform for customer service

Will Elon Musk's Twitter takeover kill the platform as a customer service channel?


The Tesla founder's $44bn acquisition of Twitter has raised the possibility of fees for its business users and discussions about the future value for brands providing customer support on the social platform. 

28th Oct 2022

Elon Musk has finally completed his $44bn acquisition of Twitter.

Speculation has run wild in recent months as the deal appeared to be destined for court, with the multi-billionaire objecting to the original terms of the takeover. 

But while the acquisition may be complete, the speculation will not end there. Musk's first official comment on the completion of the deal hints at his aspirations for change at the social media giant. 

And with reports indicating that he has already started firing top executives, he is clearly wasting no time in implementing his vision. 

So how is Twitter likely to change under his ownership? And how could it impact businesses that have used it as a valuable customer service channel for years?

One likely outcome of the takeover is that businesses will be charged for their presence on the platform - something Musk has been vocal about in the past.

What does a possible subscription fee mean for businesses’ future use of the platform as a customer service channel?

Recent Sprout Social research suggests that users want more brands to be engaging with them on the platform, with 30% of consumers stating they “want to see brands using Twitter more” in a recent study.

And Twitter itself claims 64% of its users would rather DM message a dedicated support handle than call a business.

Tom Jarvis, CEO of global social agency Wilderness it is for these reasons that he believes a prospective fee could be beneficial to big brands: 

“The suggestion from Elon Musk that he may look to charge businesses for their use of Twitter could actually be a good thing in that it will force brands to consider whether this is a comms channel they want, rather than one they have by default.

“I think it would also ensure that brands dedicate the right resource and training to responding to customers on the platform if they are paying to access those comments or direct messages.”

And James Dodkins, customer experience evangelist for Pegasystems adds: “This argument really comes down to value. If Musk and his money ensures Twitter can provide tools, data and expertise for businesses to better serve their customers, many will welcome the move.”

Bye-bye brands?

Despite the perceived benefits of Twitter as a service channel, a number of big brands have been discouraged from using it in recent times, thanks to the ever-increasing expectations from customers around response times.

Among those to leave Twitter are Wetherspoons and Lush in the UK, as well as Apple and Smartfoods in the US, although both Lush and Smartfoods continue to have a presence on the platform for some form of interaction with customers.

Certain industries have had to bear the brunt of customer rage via Twitter more than most. Travel, for instance, experienced a huge backlash from customers on social platforms in the early stages of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The need to rapidly respond to high volumes of service requests via social media has put a huge strain on many customer care teams and some industries – such as travel, and indeed hospitality and utilities – continue to firefight. Many may yet decide leaving Twitter entirely is their best option if a business fee is introduced.

There is a concern that smaller businesses will be discouraged from using the platform and engaging with customers altogether, if fees are involved. “Some may take other routes to tackle this and circumvent the fees by activating an army of fans to answer certain questions and grievances on their behalf,” says James Dodkins, but many may deem the exercise too resource-heavy.

“Planning resource is the most important thing,” says Tamara Littleton, CEO of The Social Element.

“Customers want a response on Twitter within about 15 minutes (that doesn’t have to be a resolution, just an acknowledgement) compared with Facebook within an hour. If you’re likely to get a high volume of Tweets, as a brand you’ll have had to consider a dedicated channel so feeds don’t get clogged up with service-related posts which can be costly to oversee.”

Data from Twilio, via its 2021 Customer Engagement Index which conducted social listening of customer engagements via Twitter for 100 of the UK’s top brands from July 2020-July 2021, found that genuine customer service interactions are actually on the decline on Twitter, despite there being more overall interactions between brands and customers in the same period.  

Financial services saw a 62% reduction in Twitter service conversations from July 2020 to July 2021. Retail brands saw a 46% reduction and fashion and clothing a 36% decline in social media customer service conversation volume.

Business research conducted by Twilio last year (surveying 2,500 global enterprise decision-makers) found that many brands were only dealing with service interactions via Direct Message or encouraging new communication channels altogether.

93% of UK business leaders plan to add new communications channels in the coming years. Businesses plan to add an average of 3.5 new communication channels to their customer engagement strategy, perhaps further highlighting the decline of interactions on social media channels overall.

Marie Barrance of Asendia UK says, “If Twitter becomes reputationally damaging for brands to be associated with it, there will be a much brand flight from the platform. The posited move to a subscription model may discourage certain users and these people will probably prefer to complain on other channels.”

“One thing customer services specialist are well aware of is the performative nature of Twitter complaints, often people complaining on the platform are playing to an audience. This can make it more complicated for brands and their operatives to resolve issues sensibly.

“Generally, people on WhatsApp are politer and brands find the one-to-one nature of the communications easier.”

For the big brands the decision on whether to leave Twitter or not, unfortunately for them, is not in their hands

While a number of high profile users deleted their accounts as soon as Musk's bid was accepted and more may follow now the deal is complete, according to a BBC report, the protracted takeover has actually dramatically increased Twitter’s user numbers, adding 30m new profiles since talks of acquisition began despite reports of a mass exodus from the platform.

Indeed, consumer insights company Toluna surveyed 1,036 adults aged 18+ in the UK about their thoughts on Elon Musk’s impending acquisition of Twitter. 78% of all respondents said it won’t impact their Twitter usage. 14% of active users said they will use Twitter more, compared with 5% who will use it less or stop using it altogether.

It is these reasons, says James Dodkins, that will ultimately dictate whether Twitter remains a channel for brands to provide customer service on, irrespective of Elon Musk’s ownership:

“The reality is, for the big brands the decision on whether to leave Twitter or not, unfortunately for them, is not in their hands, it’s in the customers. If the customers are there, they will have to be too.

“I think this discussion misses a vital point. We need to look at the root cause of Twitter customer service demand in the first place. The reason customers use Twitter to contact businesses is because they have found that they get a quicker response than traditional service routes. If you fix your ‘non-Twitter’ service experiences…you fix the problem.”

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Rob Lancashire, CEO, Opinyin - Customer Satisfaction Survey Software
By Rob Lancashire
16th May 2022 10:53

"78% of all respondents said it won’t impact their Twitter usage." How many of them don't use Twitter at all in the first place?

James is spot on with the comment about fixing the issues that drive people on to Twitter. I would only ever go to Twitter because a brand is non responsive on other channels and I am looking to turn up the heat up on them. Yet I know brands don't reply on those other channels quickly enough because they don't have the resources and probably don't have insight to what is causing the issue in the first place. Having brands deploy resources to fire fight on Twitter does not really serve my long term objective as a customer of getting better service from a brand I have chosen.

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