May 15, 2009

How MailChimp Uses CoTweet

cotweet-logoWe’ve been using twitter for quite some time now (you can find us @mailchimp). At first it was supposed to be a way for me to post announcements to our customers about server maintenance. Then it morphed into a powerful tool to stay connected with our users and learn more about them (we follow our followers, print their profiles & hang them on our walls to remember our audience).

Twitter gets messy. Fast.

But as more and more customers started using twitter to talk to us, we had to get more staff involved. We even hired Amanda, our full-time CTO (Chief Twitter Officer). Obviously, giving multiple employees access to one master twitter account can get hairy (like the day 3 of us replied to one question with the same answer).

"How business does twitter"

So we looked into CoTweet (still in private beta). So far, it’s been really handy. If you run a business and use twitter a lot, you should definitely consider CoTweet. There are other reviews of CoTweet out there, but they’re from social media sites, who imho incorrectly describe CoTweet as "an inbox for tweets." Who the heck wants that?  There are other reviews from big companies managing their brand, like this post from Microsoft. Nice post, but not very thorough.

What if you’re a small business using twitter to connect with customers? Is CoTweet right for you? Here’s our review…

CoTweet’s tagline is "How business does twitter." And it really does live up to that claim.  If you’ve ever setup a Live Chat or knowledgebase and ticketing system for your company (we use LivePerson), CoTweet is like that — but for twitter.

Twitter was once a disorganized mess for us, with Amanda, Aarron, Lindsay, Jennifer, and myself all logging in to our single MailChimp account, then tweeting to our customers from Tweetdeck, our browsers, our iPhones, etc. There was no way to tell who was "on duty" and watching twitter. When we were ALL on duty using tweetdeck, I’d frequently get locked out for exceeding our twitter API limit by mid afternoon. Grr.

CoTweet lets us connect to our one master twitter account, but still use it as totally separate users.

Here’s a screenshot of the users we’ve setup so far:


Each user can log in and turn their little red switch on so that we’re officially "On Duty."

When we’re on duty, we get automatic email notifications from CoTweet whenever a customer asks us something. Like this:


I like the fact that it’s in HTML email format (see also: Converting plain-text transactional emails to HTML email), and that it’s also a digest of multiple questions. Getting them one at a time would create a real mess in my inbox.

Which leads to the next problem we had before CoTweet.

When someone posted a question for us, there was no way to tell who was going to answer it, if at all.

Furthermore, some questions are best for Aarron, because he works more closely with the product than the rest of us. Some are better for Jennifer, who manages the customer service team. Some are best for me, because I’ve written some obscure blog article that answers the question years ago, and can point them to the link. But when we were all independently connecting to twitter, there was no way to tell who was going to answer which question. Sometimes, it was a race to be the first to answer. I’d pray that the others weren’t all answering at the same time.

But CoTweet allows us to assign tweets to people:


Check out the side column, where it shows how many tweets have been assigned to me.

Not only will it let us assign tweets to specific team members, it’ll track who ended up answering the question and what they said. Something we couldn’t do when we were all using the master twitter account:


Above, you can see what a slacker I am, and how Lindsay jumped in and beat me to the punch. Thanks, Lindsay!

CoTweet has a neat little feauture called "cotags" that lets you "sign" every tweet you post with a little signature. Since twitter is limited to 140 characters, your cotag should be short. If you visit us on twitter, you can tell who’s talking by looking for the cotags (mine’s ^BC):


Clearing out old tweets

Finally, one really handy feature that I’ve grown to love is how we can archive tweets from our screen. We follow thousands of customers, so everytime they say something to us, it shows up on my twitter timeline. It can get cluttered and overwhelming fast. Cotweet lets me click this little check icon:


and the tweet will be archived. Sort of a way to mark a "ticket" as resolved.

Though I’ve never used this feature (yet) CoTweet also allows you to schedule a tweet for later:


One handy upgrade might be to schedule recurring tweets. For example, we hold a MailChimp webinar every Wednesday at 11am, then 4pm. Right now, it’s up to one of us to log in and announce that. When we do, we’ve found that it’s a helpful reminder for people (judging by the "oh crap, where do I go to watch again?" replies that we get). But we sometimes forget to tweet about it.

Violating Twitter Protocol

I admit there are still times when I’m too lazy to open my browser (that’s pretty bad I know) and log in to CoTweet. Instead, I just click on the tweetdeck icon in my dock and fire off a little tweet.


Sometimes I’ll get a slap on the wrist from Amanda for "violating twitter protocol" (it always makes me laugh when someone at MailChimp says "protocol"). But for some reason, it just feels faster to do it that way.

This won’t be a problem if you’re setting up CoTweet for your support staff, because your staff won’t have access to your master twitter account. Still, CoTweet might want to look into an Adobe Air version of their app as well. Something about it makes it feel more instantaneous. Not just in terms of the app speed, but the ability to see tweets and respond to questions quickly. Tweetdeck has a handy (okay, it’s annoying, but handy if you’re a customer service team) notification window that can play a little audio alert when you get a reply. I can see that being a handy addition to CoTweet.

All in all, we’re really happy with the way CoTweet works, and their support staff is extremely responsive during the private beta phase. If you’re a company that uses twitter, and it’s starting to get a little out of hand, CoTweet can help you manage your brand and manage the customer service experience (ahem, protocol), but still let your staff contribute to your social media efforts in a personal, human way.