As I was interviewing companies for my story on how they are using social networking sites to reach out to customers, I learned that some of them, such as the online investment firm Scottrade, dedicate an entire person to Web outreach. Amber Talbot, Scottrade's online public relations specialist, manages the companies' two Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, and a YouTube account. She responds to customers' questions and sometimes connects them to the customer service department. She also lets other parts of the company know what people are saying about them.
"It's making sure [customers] know we're not just a company -- I'm actually a person, and getting to know them and help with with any questions they have," says Talbot. She estimates that she spends a good four to six hours a day online interacting with customers.
Not all companies like Twitter. Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle, says he finds it pretty limiting and doubts if it's really the next "big thing" for corporate America. He Tweets at http://twitter.com/chipotlemedia, where he lets people know about Chipotle activities such as its sponsoring of free Food, Inc. screenings or when the company's founder testified in Congress against the use of antibiotics in livestock.
But the company also has an imposter, http://twitter.com/chipotleinc, which has no relation to the real Chipotle. That's one of the biggest drawbacks to the social networking sites, says Arnold. "Anyone can register any name they want and say whatever they want," he says. Fortunately for Arnold, his imposter has made only one update -- although somehow he has more than twice as many followers as Arnold himself.