In Depth

Using Twitter to Track User Satisfaction

Hulu, Veoh Among Companies Following Feedback on Microblogging Site

When a Hulu user posted a message on Twitter earlier this month about “terrible performance problems” on the Fox-NBC online video site, a Hulu executive replied with an e-mail address and an offer to fix the problem.

That’s because Hulu’s employees conduct daily Internet searches to learn what’s being said about Hulu on Twitter, the popular microblogging service.

Twitter is quickly emerging as an important social media channel that lets companies listen to and interact with users. A handful of television networks and shows have experimented with the service, and online video destinations such as Veoh and Hulu are actively leaning on Twitter to communicate with their viewers. Other sites, including Crackle, say they plan to devote more resources to monitoring Twitter “chatter” in the coming year.

As social media becomes a more powerful communication vehicle for consumers, savvy brands are tracking online buzz to learn what they’re doing right and wrong. For online video sites, the practice is crucial—they live and die by the Internet and need to know whether their sites are working well or not.

“If anyone has an issue with latency or streaming and they talk out to the Twitter universe, we will reach out to them,” said Jason Kilar, CEO of Hulu. “Someone said recently they were getting ready to watch Hulu and they had some trouble, so I e-mailed them [and] said, ‘I’d love to hear more about it,’ and connected them to our chief technology officer. That’s something you couldn’t do without Twitter.”

Hulu also uses the microblogging service to post occasional updates on new features and content. In addition, Mr. Kilar tracks Hulu mentions on Twitter via the Twitter search service Summize.com. He said Hulu now generates about 30 mentions on Twitter every hour compared to 30 per day earlier this year.

That sort of heady word-of-mouth uptick is one of the reasons Hulu usage shot up in October, when the site delivered 206 million streams of video to 9 million unique users, up from 142 million streams to 6.3 million unique users in September, according to Nielsen Online.

Veoh executives also chat with users via Twitter, blogs and forums. Earlier this month the site’s founder, Dmitry Shapiro, posted a Twitter update asking for feedback on the redesigned site.

“Our executives and employees frequently follow the conversations about Veoh on social media services like Twitter,” said Gaude Paez, a spokeswoman for the company. “We encourage all Veoh employees to share new Veoh content and features with their friends through their Facebook and MySpace networks.”

Advertising executive Scott Lackey has informally tracked the Twitter usage of several TV network and online video sites, such as CBS News, HBO, NBC, Hulu and Web-to-TV software service Boxee, and found that Hulu and Boxee were among the most interactive of the group. “What impresses me is how they are tracking comments and they pick stuff up and message you back with practical, pragmatic, helpful advice. It’s great customer service, it’s proactive and it builds tremendous trust and goodwill,” said Mr. Lackey, co-founder and strategic director of Jugular Advertising.

Traditional TV networks haven’t harnessed the back-and-forth of Twitter, with a few exceptions, he said. Some shows, such as Showtime’s “Californication,” have created Twitter accounts for characters, and the host of MSNBC’s popular prime-time news show “The Rachel Maddow Show” interacts with followers via Twitter, posting updates about the show and her personal life.

Other industries are increasingly monitoring discussions that take place on Twitter, said Andy Beal, founder of Trackur.com, a social media monitoring service. “Comcast, Dell and Zappos are all examples of businesses that are actively listening to conversations on Twitter and using corporate-branded Twitter accounts to interact with their target audience,” he said.

Twitter allows brands to talk directly to customers, which is why it should be part of a social media monitoring strategy, said Raquel Krouse, practice lead for social media for the IPG Emerging Media Lab. “Monitoring social media allows marketers to determine how positively or negatively people are currently talking about a brand, and to identify issues and opportunities,” she said.