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Twitter Works, but Is It Working for Your Brand?

(This is a special guest post from Douglas O’Donnell, Possible Worldwide Associate Director of Measurement & Analytics. The other day we were trading emails about how many brands fail to think about how to use Twitter the right way, and he took the initiative to write up the following point of view. Please enjoy and reach out to Douglas directly on Twitter, of course.)

Most brands have no business on Twitter. They apply traditional push marketing strategies and spend large amounts of money on irrelevant content that annoys customers. Most are on Twitter because it’s cool or to be on par with their competition.

The problem is that brands do not humble themselves for the new medium, nor do they consider how their strategies might affect operations challenges. My favorite southern saying is, “Big hat, no cattle,” and it applies here. If you don’t connect with customers in a human way, they won’t buy what you’re selling.

6 Rules of Humanizing Your Brand

  • Be human and humble (this should come naturally).
  • Follow the 80% (value add content)/20% (marketing) rule.
  • Establish Twitter-specific objectives, strategy, and measurement, and optimize.
  • Seek out your advocates and follow them first; don’t make them find you.
  • Interact with customers, like you would with a friend in a coffee shop.
  • Be relevant to their interests, be available to address their needs, and embrace negative comments as opportunities.

(Bonus rule: Fire your legal and editorial departments–unless they are solution biased.)

The Issue

Your brand is a snob. It expects that people will automatically love it. This approach doesn’t work in the social media space, especially on Twitter. The whole premise of Twitter is real-time, relevant interaction, and this is where brands drop the ball.

Let’s talk some psychology and consumer science. Your brand wants to be loved and talked about, but this does not happen in a vacuum. People like exclusivity. Access is the reason Twitter a la Southwest or Zappos (or Lady Gaga) is interesting. It’s an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a company (or celebrity) that interests you. This plays to social media’s other strength, voyeurism. It’s the direct connection to someone or something you otherwise have no access to. So make it interesting. Who cares about your new product push? But it might be interesting if you tell me you’re the VP and post a picture from the manufacturing plant while finalizing the “new product” nobody knows about yet. For your followers, it’s a ticket to the party.

Twitter vs. Facebook

Brands struggle with Twitter because the people pitching content do not typically use the medium. Twitter is a completely different mind-set than other social media platforms. Twitter is public as opposed to Facebook’s walled garden. Twitter is about the conversation, in real time. On Facebook, conversations are fragmented over time based on when you access and check the posts within your social circle. A community manager on Facebook will have a planned strategy, a content calendar, and some guidance on occasional real-time interactions. A community manager on Twitter should be on call, like a doctor. This doesn’t necessarily equate to high-maintenance or time-consuming tasks. But Twitter must be monitored consistently for it to work as intended. Some brands such as @DellCares actually put the hours up of their social media outreach team on their Twitter profile, which is completely acceptable.

Provide Valuable Content

Nowhere is an 80% value-add and 20% marketing approach to content more important than on Twitter. If a brand is churning out coupons and a weekly pre-planned “buy our stuff” Tweet, they should not be on Twitter. If a brand is not committed to interacting frequently, each week with their customers or fans, they should not be on Twitter. If a company’s legal department can’t get over itself and its 1970s processes, the company must either educate legal on a real-time communications tool or not be on Twitter. In short, being on Twitter badly is worse than not being on Twitter.

Who does this well? There are good case studies and they’ve been exhaustively covered so I won’t rehash. But I will say that @southwestair (customer service strategy) and @zappos (transparency strategy) are two of the best. They are directly and intimately connected to their customers. They actually know them. They study them–not their ComScore profiles–but the actual customers and what they discuss. Also the “tweeters” are actual human beings, not mascots or faceless brands.

The Human Touch – @RoadID

In 2009, I launched Road ID on Twitter, a maker of identification gear for endurance athletes. We built a following by first seeking out and following people already interested in the brand or common interests that aligned with Road ID offerings. Engagement was instant and in six weeks we had more than 1,000 high-quality followers. Road ID is smart, tracking promotions to the sale so they truly understand how Twitter interactions influence sales. And they do.

Here’s the key. The account was attributed to Edward Wimmer, the cofounder, not a mascot or a brand. Ed is a human. The company and the content match the personality of the customer. He posts relevant content about sporting events, sponsorships, and highly engaging contests tied into Ironman or Tour de France races. Content his followers appreciate. He also interacts regularly when people tweet about his product, thanking them or taking on a customer service role if there is an issue. When you execute the 80% well, people accept the 20% marketing because it’s genuine. Transparency is key.

Paradigm Smashing


“It isn’t about who follows you; it’s about who you follow.”

This process works well on Twitter, but is completely counterintuitive. You must seek out and follow your customers first. Likely, people are already talking about your brand. Find them. Not with a social listening tool, although those can be helpful (Radian 6, Crimson Hexagon), but manually. Get intimate. See what people say over a few weeks time (content is different each time, as this is real-time search). Follow those people. Interact with the ones who say something clever or relevant.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Why should I follow a brand? Offers? Coupons? That creates a pretty shallow relationship with your customer and you condition them to expect “deals.”

However, if I get followed by a brand the reaction is: “Interesting, Brand X just followed me, cool!” Especially if it was in connection to an @ response to something I posted. You got my attention because you didn’t sell me something. Instead, you engaged with me and thanked me, you told me what I had to say was interesting, or you acknowledged my frustration, humanly. You reached out to me in context and for that, I’m more likely to follow you back, brag to my friends, or even defend the brand. The brand must humble itself as a new kid in town. Get out and meet people!

“Remove traditional editorial and legal barriers.”

How many lawyers understand that that offensive tweets do not appear on a Twitter brand account, like they do on a Facebook page? The problem is editors and lawyers do not use the mediums they police. The premise of Twitter is real-time human interaction wrapped in authenticity. Timely interaction is what makes the ecosystem hum. Tweets that require legal review or editorial proofing before posting are useless. The opportunity has passed. If you’re a brand that cannot let go of editorial and legal control to an expert community manager you hired for their expertise, cancel your account today. Being human requires human attributes, like trust.

“Negative comments are opportunities. Embrace them!”

This is rooted in public relations and referenced frequently by David Meerman Scott, author of Real-Time Marketing & PR. Acknowledge issues as they unfold in an authentic way and you have the potential to convert a bad customer experience into a great one or an annoyed customer into a fan. It’s powerful when a brand directly contacts a customer who has an issue via Twitter (instead of requiring the customer to contact the brand). Goodwill is extended to the brands that try.

“My brand must be followed by important people to gain clout!”

If by important people you mean your customers, then yes. There is much talk about clout, or Klout the social influence aggregator. Both are nebulous, subjective, and changing daily–just like judges’ scores at the Olympics in figure skating. I have a striking example of clout on Twitter, Sarah Slowik.

Sarah (@lovelybutton) is a nice girl from Michigan and was randomly chosen by Conan O’Brien to be the only person he follows on Twitter. Conan has nearly 3 million followers. He follows one person, Sarah, who originally only had a few dozen followers. When Conan followed her, her followers increased to more than 45,000. So her clout by association is substantial. There’s value in being followed (or endorsed) by an influencer, but that rings true in life as well. And influencers are more likely to endorse you if you have something relevant to offer. Again, human rules apply.

So take a step back and truly understand why Twitter would make sense for your brand from a business standpoint. Then align that with the needs of your customers, humanly. Are you committed to establishing a long-term, meaningful relationship with them? If the answer is yes, then Twitter can be a powerful tool to improve your brand’s business performance.

2 Responses to “Twitter Works, but Is It Working for Your Brand?”

  1. Steve Poppe says:

    Douglas and Bob — I’m really digging your Twitter advice. Excellent counsel all the way around. The one area I might question is “be human.” Act as humans act, yes. Advocate as a human would advocate, yes. If a person tweeting on behalf of a brand, be a person. But let’s not pretend brands are people. Benjamin Palmer of the Barbarian Group says smart brands let their hair down in social media and that’s a smart take — in sync with yours. It allows social to do some interesting things never done before. But Possible knows — better than most — that brands need to be managed. Governance within a brand design/brand strategy is key. Perhaps I quibble. Wonderful stuff.

  2. [...] “Twitter Works, but Is It Working for Your Brand?” by Bob Gilbreath (@mktgwithmeaning) [...]

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