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Twelpforce: A Look Behind the Curtain

Posted on  22 June 10  by 

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Best Buy’s Twitter-based customer service tool has created a lot of buzz over the last year. We asked John Bernier, Best Buy’s Social Media Steward, what makes it work behind the scenes. John is the Digital Product Line Manager and Social Media Steward at Best Buy. He develops digital products and tools for Best Buy employees and customers, while shepherding social media initiatives, such as Twelpforce.  He has worked at Best Buy since 2004, playing a variety of roles in marketing communications and marketing strategy. We spoke to him early last month.

What makes Twelpforce the right social media investment for Best Buy?

“First, it meets consumer needs. We sell stuff that can be hard to understand and consumers don’t want to do all the learning themselves. Second, competitors will struggle to replicate Twelpforce because it will take a long time to gain the experience we’ve collected over the years. When we say our employees are at the center of our strategy, we prove it in an initiative like this.  The more we demonstrate our savvy and offer this support service, the less consumers are willing to waste time working these things out themselves. That gives us an edge over the competition.”

How did you accelerate network growth (of both Twelpforce staff and consumers)?

“We used traditional media, such as TV ads and point-of-purchase notes, to accelerate consumer uptake. Internally, we tapped existing employee behavior and leveraged passionates.  It wasn’t a hard sell for staff who were already on Twitter.  We said, ‘You guys are already out there, would you like to help customers in this space while you’re working?’ That helped us get to critical mass quickly.”

Are there any incentives to encourage staff to participate in Twelpforce?

“Through heavy participation in Twelpforce, staff earn the right to help provide input to some of the strategic decisions made in the social space.  We’re also seeing more and more of our Twelpforce team members stepping into experimental “social” roles in-store that they are now more prepared for.”

What training do you offer Twelpforce staff?

“At the start, coaching took a lot of time and effort.  We had to keep reiterating that Twelpforce is about helping not selling.  Now though, the @twelpforce team is largely self-governing.  Those that have been with us for a while will mentor and coach those new to the effort.  While I lead the implementation of broad-reaching tools, the 1:1 coaching is a shared responsibility across the group.  If a new employee posts something suboptimal, someone will say ‘check out this FAQ on tone’. I make myself available for help at any time, but it’s rare that I step in and handle “issues”, as those are largely handled by the team.”

How do you help staff share knowledge?

“We have a tool – www.bbyfeed.com – that captures every interaction taking place on Twelforce (and will soon be expanding to capture interactions on a variety of platforms). It has simple search features that enable staff to pull up every conversation on a specific topic.  For a retail company, turnover is a fact of life, and knowledge sharing is essential.  Additionally, staff can post extra information without being bound to 140 characters. So, if one employee says, ‘I identified a new virus and found out how to box it in,’ another might add, ‘I found this cure for it…’ while a third could say, ‘and here’s how to prevent it.’”

How do you measure the returns on Twelpforce?

“We look at cost displacement (calls avoided) and quality and speed of service, as well as revenue influenced, and positive press generated. Although Twelpforce isn’t about Marketing or PR, we still measure its value in traditional Marketing/PR terms to demonstrate its full worth.”

What role did your CMO, Barry Judge, play in setting up Twelpforce?

“Without Barry, this stuff doesn’t happen. He put his capital on the line to pilot Twelpforce when it was an unknown idea. He is largely responsible for getting senior leaders on board and getting us involved in this space.”

Speaking more broadly, how do you see social media changing the way brands market to consumers?

“Social media is about relationship building, not marketing and not even relationship-based marketing. You could say that Twelpforce is marketing without marketing. It uses other parts of the enterprise to fulfill brand promises. There is a time and place for broadcast, but it isn’t here – here it’s about providing value and relevance. We give more than we take, but ultimately that will lead to more purchases.”

Check out the latest advice on Twelpforce here: http://twitter.com/TWELPFORCE

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