Got a question about consumer electronics? Ask the Twelpforce (twitter.com/TWELPFORCE). Launched in late July, this was Best Buy’s idea for leveraging Twitter. The company now has 2,100 of its employees (known as “blue shirts”) on hand to respond to customers’ tweets. At press time, the Twelpforce had delivered advice in the form of 12,314 tweets to its 13,398 followers. The brand has also recently retooled its entire Facebook strategy. Its new efforts have netted 850,000 fans. Now that it has a large audience to broadcast to, CMO Barry Judge is readying three new holiday apps. Even the company’s prodigious offline advertising will have a social media twist. New ads, from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, will star the Twelpforce answering customer questions to the tune of Christmas carols. Judge recently talked with Brandweek about his new apps, ads and the chain’s prospects for this holiday season. Below are some excerpts.
Brandweek: What was the impetus for the Twelpforce?
Barry Judge: The old model of we’re just shopkeepers, the doors are open and we wait for people to come to our stores or Web sites has changed. We, of course, still do that, but now there’s an opportunity to go where people are talking about technology and entertainment and be a part of that conversation. The concept of customer service 3.0, if you will, is to go where the conversation is happening...Our people can help before, during and after the sale. We’re a chain of a lot of people who are dedicated to that mission, and Twelpforce is a great metaphor for that…We get tested all the time by bloggers and everybody else. We know we’re not perfect, but it works. We were on the cover of TechCrunch, and the guy who started Twitter wrote on his blog that this is one of the ways companies should be using Twitter. Those are nice validations for us especially if you think about us being a brand itself that sells technology; we should be using technology to communicate with people. And another part is Twitter is hot right now. We should be using Twitter. Twitter is the place to be.
BW: What else are you doing?
BJ: If you’re not on Twitter, you’re on Facebook. Recently over the last three months or so, we’ve rethought our approach on Facebook. First of all we thought about social shopping. [Offline] you bring your friends to go shopping at the mall, Best Buy, wherever. We’ve got two activities that are on Facebook that are very unique for the Facebook world. We have a gift finder where you pick who you are buying for and you check what she’s interested in. Then you pick the kind of products that fit. That gets posted to our and your Facebook page, and you get all different kinds of advice from people. Another element is that, say, you’re interested in buying a television. Through our applications, you pick four televisions you’re interested in, and those televisions get posted to your Facebook page. Then your friends weigh in on what they know about these TVs. They give you advice. They say, “Here’s what you’re looking for.” Those two applications have taken us from 28,000 fans in August, with a little bit of advertising and new approach, to now having 850,000 fans. That has become a great platform for us.
BW: What’s next?
BJ: We have three more applications that we’re launching that we think are going to be huge. One of them is the old Secret Santa game. Interestingly no one else is doing that on Facebook right now. Another one is called “the hint dropper.” The idea is that you have things you want to get for Christmas, and you want to make sure people know about them. The third thing is a cartoon, a takeoff on Elf Yourself. We enable you to simulate what Christmas morning might look like if you get a certain gift from Best Buy. You pick who you want to be on your postcard, you pick what room and other things you’re interested in like your dog. You’re either really happy or not happy based on what you got. We have other things we’re planning. These are the first three.
BW: Any big offline holiday efforts?
BJ: We’re going to spend quite a bit of money. We’re on television with a much bigger presence than we were last year. We’re running about 10 different executions for the holiday time period. Our strategy is to communicate that our people are the difference. We’re accessible. You can reach us through the Web, store, social media, and we like to help before and after the sales. That is our strategy, continues to be our strategy and will be our strategy next year. We’re communicating this on television, leveraging the Twelpforce as a metaphor for our people. We are launching the Twelpforce carolers for the holidays. We have customers asking us questions. We have the best singers from the Twelpforce army singing back the answers in familiar Christmas jingles. [It breaks] in the middle of November.
BW: What kind of sales are you expecting?
BJ: I’m optimistic. We’re through bad times. The consumer confidence numbers are up a little bit which is positive for us. The consumer electronics category performance in September was the best we’ve had in 12 months. On the product side, e-readers are going be big this year. We’ve launched them into our stores. It’s a new category for us. Windows 7 launched, and we’re thinking that will help Microsoft gain more traction out there than Vista did. There are lots of new entries in the phone category especially in the smartphone category. With TVs, the LED products are interesting. There is a lot of conversation around how our product is relatively more important than maybe a trip or maybe a car. We’re all fighting for the dollars of consumers.