Monday, January 26, 2009

Customers are talking: the Blackberry Storm/Twitter project

Like a lot of people, I've been trying to get a handle on what Twitter means for businesses. My professional interest is in finding unsolicited customer stories and making sense of them--wherever they are. In this, Twitter has a lot of promise. It's easy to use, brief and spontaneous. So are customers using this forum to talk about products? I decided to find out.

My test case was the Blackberry Storm. It received an absolutely terrible review from David Pogue, the New York Times' consumer-electronics columnist. It also had very good early sales numbers--500,000 units the first month of its release, according to the Wall Street Journal. The combination of these made it an irresistible subject to study: would the Twittersphere be flooded with posts from enraged buyers?

The project was made more interesting today, when the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, "Bumpy Start for Blackberry Storm," which referred to complaints of early Storm users (but not Pogue's review), including this vibrant quote: "I found myself wanting to throw it in the ocean due to my frustration with its overall usability." The article also referred to a release of firmware soon after launch intended to address some of the early complaints, particularly response time.

I used Twitter Search to look for messages containing "Blackberry Storm" and a happy or sad emoticon (there's a button on the advanced search page that enables you to restrict searches this way). I looked at 88 English-language tweets going back to December 27. Here's what I found:

The biggest surprise to me was: where were the complaints from users? While half the Tweets were from Storm users, as opposed to people commenting on the Storm, or thinking about it, only 4 out of 44 (9%) of the users' tweets were negative, while 23 (52%) were positive.

(If you want to check out the searches I created for this project, they are here: happy search, sad search. Twitter Search has been acting funny the past few days--I'm only able to get one page of recent results, and can't search farther back. I used an RSS feed of the search over a period of weeks to gather the entire list of 88,)

From a customers are talking perspective, this isn't a terrible outcome at all for the Storm. Whether the firmware change made that much difference, or the Blackberry brand loyalists are immune to hardware glitches, or simply that devices like this aren't perfect and users expect that--they are not saying this is a terrible device. Many are saying that they like it. If I'm Blackberry and Verizon, I'm not discouraged by the Storm's initial reception.

By the way, the WSJ has already started to backtrack. On the web site, the article is now entitled, "Blackberry Storm Is Off To A Bit of a Bumpy Start."

(Disclosure, I am a Verizon customer and a Blackberry 8830 user. If you think I am a shill for Verizon, please don't make up your mind until you read this post, or this one.)

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