Friday, 29 January 2010

QuickBooks: a critique of how not to use Twitter for business

There are plenty of individuals using Twitter for friendly banter with their mates. And, if your followers are your mates, that probably works well.

There are also plenty of professional people using Twitter for pithy, concise business commentary. That also works well.

What doesn't work, I don't think, is where professional people exchange idle banter with their business followers, as if those followers are their mates. That's just embarrassing. If I am following a business on Twitter, I'm looking for commentary and insights about that business, its products and its industry.

I'm going to pick on Intuit / QuickBooks here. Intuit in the UK has three Twitter accounts: @rebeccaintuit, @intuitUK and @QuickBooks_UK. As a big fan of QuickBooks, I want their Twitter stream to put me on the inside track. I want to hear serious commentary about upcoming QB releases; discussions about why QB does things one way rather than another; their view on the cloud-computing revolution sweeping through their industry; and so on.

But instead I get this kind of thing:

Even the rare business-related tweet is delivered in a breathless too-much-punctuation SHOUTY tone of voice:

Hiding amongst all this chatter is a very occasional snippet actually aimed at QuickBooks users. But blink and you miss them:

I think Intuit is seriously missing a trick here. They could be using Twitter to keep their core followers working as advocates. Not to dispense trivial chatter.

Intuit might take the view that the vast majority of accounting software users don't give a monkey's about technical intricacies like: why setting up a chart of accounts by manually grouping together sets of non-continuous numeric codes (Sage) is much more time-consuming than setting up a hierarchy of items and sub-items (QB).

Or why it is practically impossible to investigate a month-on-month variance in your P&L using Sage, but trivially simple in QB and most other accounting packages.

Or why very rapid data-entry is always likely to be quicker in a locally-installed package (like Sage or QB) compared to a web-based package (like KashFlow or Xero).

Or (on the other hand) why sharing data with your accountant using a locally-installed packaged (like Sage or QB) can easily turn into a version control nightmare, but is trivially easy in a web-based package (like KashFlow or Xero).

And they'd be right.

Most people don't give a monkey's about this stuff.

But I'd imagine most people don't much care what time RebeccaIntuit went to bed, either.

Those people that find the intricacies of accounting software interesting are the same people who talk to their business contacts about accounting software. I've lost count of the number of people who I have bored to death about why, very specifically, Sage isn't a very good accounting package. And why, very specifically, Quickbooks is better.

And I have also been vocal about things I don't like about QuickBooks (as anyone who has ever searched for information about QuickBooks sunset policy on Google will know.)

(As it happens, I currently use Xero. Mainly as an experiment. I still prefer the very rapid data entry that is possible with installed software and which web-based accounting products can't yet offer. But it is great that any number of users (including my accountant) can access data simultaneously from anywhere.)

Coincidentally, I participated in a QuickBooks usability test last year. The story behind the features they were testing, and the challenges they had to overcome to get these features usable for all their customers, was fascinating. I can't tell you this story, because I signed a non-disclosure agreement at the start of the test, but this is just the kind of inside commentary QuickBooks could share with their loyal users.

Some more examples: when Intuit released QuickBooks 2003 there was a serious bug in that you couldn't enter YTD employer's NI amounts when setting up payroll for the first time (or something like that, it was a long time ago now). There was probably a good reason for, and story behind, that bug. If I'd been privy to that story, I'd probably have been a lot more tolerant of the bug.

And there was a substantial change to the way VAT was processed in the 2005 upgrade which, if you didn't read one particular dialog box carefully enough (I didn't), you ended up with a serious crapfest of a VAT reconciliation to perform. Again, being privy to the story and background behind that change would have made me much more tolerant of it. I would have delighted in explaining to other cross users why they really didn't need to be so cross, and how they could do the reconciliation they needed without spending entire days on it as I did.

For any business, it is the core of passionate users that really count for word-of-mouth marketing. For Saturn it is the people who famously show up at meets to discuss their (frankly quite dull-looking) cars. For Zendesk, it's those customers who turn up at bars to chat about helpdesk software. For Fiskars it is those people who log on to Fiskateers to talk about, er, craft scissors. For WD-40 it is those guys who join the WD-40 fan club to exchange tips about a funny lubricant in an aerosol can. And so on.

Twitter is the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing tool. QuickBooks could make better use of it, giving their customers stories to talk about. Or they may just start talking about other things. Like Xero. Or KashFlow. Or Clear Books. Or FreshBooks. Or FreeAgent. Or ...

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Jo Jamieson said...

Great post - thanks. I do think there's a place for some personal chitchat on Twitter, otherwise it can come across as a bit dry and boring. I'm immediately turned off by companies that just try to sell at me. But an inane stream of consciousness rapidly turns me off and I'll reach for the "unfollow" button.

I think it comes down to making a conscious decision before you dive into Twitter as to whether you are a brand or an individual. I'd rather get to know people, so I elect to tweet as myself, @jojamieson, rather than @Jo_BerkeleyPR or something similar. Hopefully I manage to avoid tweeting too much in the way pointless drivel, but convey some of my personality as well as professional insight to my followers.

Bruce Greig said...

Jo, thanks for your comments. You are right, there has to be some banter, otherwise Twitter would just be a stream of PR-generated corporatespeak.

I guess we all need to work out where the correct line is between banter and, well, drivel.

Rory said...

It's the same as any media channel. The problem is the cost to entry is so low anyone can do it and therefore planning around the use of twitter is minimal with few companies realising the potential for damage.

I'd bet if there were three monthly magazines on the newstand called intuit x, y and z the company would be monitoring and controlling them tightly. They wouldn't have some intern filling them with their social life and each months publication would be planned carefully. Ironically it would probably have a smaller readership as well. It would cost significant money to put together and therefore demand the companies commitment.

The fact that it takes ten seconds at no cash cost to start publishing on twitter means the company does not value it. Only when they start getting fall out from bad PR will they come to realise the danger and commit resources to maintaining quality over output.

Bruce Greig said...

Rory - thanks for your comment. Great analogy.

Rebecca said...

Hi Bruce,
Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback on how Intuit UK can improve online. We are still very new to the social world and are learning everyday how to best support our customers and small businesses in the’s a steep learning curve! And any insights and recommendations from our followers are a really important way to help us refine and improve moving forward.

We have three Twitter accounts that serve different purposes and appeal to different audiences,

• Intuit UK – Designed to share relevant news for Small Businesses in Britain, such as developments in government that impact SMEs, valuable tips from other resources, etc. A recent example is the 12 days of Christmas campaign (#12doc), where we asked our followers to reply with their tips on managing top small business pain points. We collated all the great information and put in to a free ebook where other SMEs can learn from their peers. Feel free to take a look

• QuickBooks_UK – Product related news, such as practical tips for dealing with the VAT change or product promotions and deals.

• RebeccaIntuit – my personal account, this account is a support account to our Intuit/QuickBooks pages but does reflect my personality outside of the corporate bubble. I actually used to be a small business owner, so I feel great empathy and passion when it comes to helping small businesses. I run this account as openly and as friendly as possible to encourage followers that would not generally approach a corporate brand but would prefer to engage with a real person.

Your post provided some valuable points and food for thought. I will definitely take this very seriously as I look for ways to evolve and improve the Twitter experience for our followers. I’d welcome a personal chat to further discuss your thoughts. Please feel free to contact me on the details below

Kind Regards,

Rebecca Hollis (aka RebeccaIntuit)
DD: 01628590850

Bruce Greig said...


Thanks for jumping in.

We are all new to social media. I'm certainly not an expert, but by all means drop me an email if you'd like to chat further (