The Conversation Between Companies and Consumers on Twitter

People like to feel important. This isn’t new information, and whether you’re involved in business or not, you probably know it to be true. Social media sites, especially particularly engaging ones like Twitter, can be great places for businesses to take advantage of this simple fact and acknowledge their consumers, but are they doing it? I took to Twitter to see exactly how a few major companies are interacting with their potential customers and how these companies could tweak their social media tactics to make them better.

Nearly every company, big or small, has a Twitter account today. You can find just about anything you’re looking for. But all companies aren’t fully utilizing their accounts. In fact, many hardly respond to their customers’ thoughts at all.

According to an article regarding customer interaction with businesses on Twitter (, 70 percent of companies completely ignore customer complaints on Twitter. Now there are probably, as the aforementioned article suggests, many reasons for this. It’s tough to respond to everyone, some people are just looking to complain without any real reasons, and sometimes, there’s likely not much a company can do. But simply making an effort to respond — even to the negative feedback — could make all the difference.

Rachel Schmitt, a friend of mine and a fellow writer for this site, recently wrote an article about how social media can connect the public with businesses and celebrities ( She told an interesting story about one of her professor’s that I find incredibly relevant to this discussion. Here’s what she had to say:

“My professor told me last semester that while at an airport, he ordered a burger from a McDonalds only to find that there was something wrong with the order (I can’t remember if they gave him the wrong burger or if there was something wrong with the food). Before boarding his flight, he tweeted his displeasure, mentioning the company in his tweet. He then turned off his phone, and fell asleep on his flight.

When he arrived at his destination, he turned on his phone to find that McDonalds had tweeted back at him, asking what had gone wrong with his order. He replied and received an invitation to DM (direct message) the company. He was then supplied with a voucher for multiple free meals to any McDonalds location.”

This story, simple though it may be, illustrates how easy it can be for a company to flip a bad experience into a very positive one. By responding to this man’s complaints in a timely, polite fashion, McDonald’s turned a complaint into a story that this customer now tells to his countless students. And many of the students probably tell their friends. And some of them even blog about the experience and then thousands read the blog… You see my point. By replying to a complaint and giving out a few free meals, McDonald’s worked a bit of public relations magic.

When you get right down to it, people just like to feel acknowledged. We all like to feel like someone’s listening. This is true for more than businesses. Recently I reached out to one of my favorite authors, Joe Hill, on Twitter. If you don’t know him yet, you probably will soon. He’s a fantastic up-and-coming horror writer. He’s also Stephen King’s son. Yeah. He’s going places. I sent a simple tweet to him the other night and got a really lovely reply. Despite the fact that he has so many followers, he still took the time to respond to me specifically. You better believe I’m going to buy his future releases. (Ok, to be fair I probably would have anyway, but now I definitely will, and I’m urging more and more people to check him out.) Business, celebrity, writer… It makes no difference. A quick reply makes all the difference in the world of social media.


Before tackling this article, I first went to Twitter for a bit of research. I had a few questions in mind that only some work “in the field” could answer. How do businesses interact with their potential customers on social media? What do they respond to? What tactics do they use?

I pretended to be a potential customer, sent a few quick tweets out to a number of businesses, and sat back and waited for replies.

My first reply came from Subway’s main Twitter account. This account seemed to reply to nearly every tweet it got, and almost every reply was even personalized with the name of the person who originally tweeted.

The reply was sent less than an hour after my original tweet, it was breezy and conversational, and it was personalized with my name, showing that someone had paid at least a little bit of actual attention to the tweet. In truth, I don’t like Subway very much. I’ve got nothing against the brand; I’m just not much of a sandwich fan, but this speedy, personal reply made me feel special. It made me want to go to Subway more. Clearly, this tweet did its job.


The next reply came from Walmart’s account. Like the Subway account, this one seemed to respond to nearly everything, but I was less than impressed with Walmart’s tweet to me.

This reply, though timely, felt cold and automatic. Though it was signed with a name at the end, it didn’t seem like a real person genuinely sent it. It felt to me like I got the same reply that everyone else got. But to be fair, I guess Walmart did answer my question, and at least they replied. As it would turn out, that’s more than what most company accounts did.


I sent similar tweets to Taco Bell, Food Lion, KFC, Wendy’s, and Bojangles. I received no speedy replies and Taco Bell only replied after I sent a second, slightly different style of tweet. (Don’t judge me for this. It isn’t my actual goal in life. But I won’t lie. I was excited to get a reply.)


Looking through Taco Bell’s replies I found a pattern. This account almost always replied to tweets that allowed for witty, “hip” replies. Taco Bell tried to make potential customers feel like it’s cool to get a reply from its account, and as you can probably see from the tweet I sent, the tactic works. Taco Bell’s account is cool, and though it doesn’t reply to everyone, this method still seems to work pretty well.

My experiment proved that what matters on Twitter is genuine engagement with potential customers. Taco Bell’s tweets are conversational and very real. The same can be said for Subway’s account. But Walmart tweets feel forced and unnatural. It doesn’t seem genuine. Not getting a reply at all feels the worst.

The proof is in the numbers. Subway has the most followers of any of the businesses that I spoke with. More people are engaging and sticking with a business that makes them feel special and personally listened to. So, Subway, with its fast, conversational, and personalized reply, has the most followers.

Taco Bell, with its cool, hip, and conversational reply, has the second most followers.

And Walmart, with its robotic, impersonal reply, has the least followers of the three companies that replied to me.

The companies that didn’t reply to me at all — Food Lion, KFC, Wendy’s, and Bojangles — all have drastically less followers than Taco Bell or Subway. These accounts haven’t even cracked a million followers. However, KFC and Wendy’s both have higher follower counts than Walmart, so it seems that Walmart’s cold replies aren’t actually doing much for its level of Twitter engagement and success. An argument could be made that a robotic reply is no better than no reply at all.

Bojangles is one company that I thought was particularly interesting because it is a drastically smaller company than the others that I reached out to, yet I still didn’t get a reply from its account. That surprised me and honestly, I can’t think of a good reason for it. With only around 9,500 followers, you would think Bojangles would be able to handle its number of mentions. Maybe if the account interacted with its potential customers more, that follower count would be a lot higher than it is.

  • Subway – 1.9 million followers
  • Taco Bell – 1.1 million followers
  • Wendy’s – 558.4 thousand
  • KFC – 497.3 thousand
  • Walmart – 485.9 thousand followers
  • Food Lion – 14.3 thousand
  • Bojangles – 9,584 followers

You don’t have to be a scientist or mathematician to see the pattern here. It pays for businesses to reply to their customers on social media. At least, it pays in Twitter followers, and in today’s world, I’m betting that’s actually pretty worthwhile. The more followers you have, the more people you have instant access to, and the more customers you have.

It seems crazy to me that there are still so many businesses that aren’t using Twitter as the great resource that it has the potential to be. Small businesses in particular can build a brand just by being interesting, polite, and entertaining on Twitter. It’s certainly worth looking into for any business owners.

After completing this little experiment, here’s my final advice for you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

If you’re a business owner of any kind, make a Twitter for your company, and engage, engage, engage. Reply to your potential customers. Listen to what they have to say and actually address the problems. Personalize your replies to people. And whatever you do, don’t send a generic, robotic reply like poor Walmart. That doesn’t make anyone feel special. In fact, I found it a little insulting. Check out what companies like Taco Bell and Subway are doing on Twitter. They seem to have it figured out better than most.

If you’re a consumer, don’t hesitate to reach out to companies on Twitter. Sure, you might get a cold, unhelpful response. Maybe you won’t get a response at all. But you might also get something witty, amusing, and personalized. You might even get a few free meals out of one tweet.

As always, the key to Twitter for anyone — consumer or business — is engagement. You have nothing to lose, so get out there and tweet!

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