Brands and Twitter


So after being on the front page on Marketing the week before last, this week we’ve hit the pages of Campaign, with our inclusion in a feature article about, you guessed it, Twitter:

Three years into its existence, the recent media frenzy around celebrity Twitterers, including Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, and Barack Obama’s successful use of the medium in the run-up to the US election, has seen the popularity of the “microblogging” site increase 27-fold in 12 months.

Advertisers could learn a lot from celebrity Twitterers using the site to shape their personal branding, creating a close, one-on-one relationship with their fans without constantly filtering their thoughts through a PR sieve.

Robin Grant, the managing director of the social media agency We Are Social, which advises Fry on his use of Twitter, explains: “The advice we gave to Stephen centred on being himself and having genuine conversations with people. It’s the same for brands. It’s about being human, showing your real personality and allowing people to connect with you on an emotional level.”

The article then gets quite bizarre, with Flo Heiss, the creative partner at Dare giving this advice about who should sit behind a brand’s account:

It could be a real person, such as a receptionist, or character made up by yourself

How about an imaginary friend who’s a receptionist, Flo? On to David Bain, an ‘internet marketing consultant’:

it’s cleverer when you don’t anthropomorphise it. What if an inanimate object was to Tweet, for example?

Why is it cleverer David? And what would it say? Amelia Torode, managing partner at VCCP:

It has to be a friendly, chatty brand. A brand such as Coca-Cola would be too large in its entirety. You need to work less at a higher-brand level and go down to the actual campaigns or smaller brands under the umbrella in order to start up the conversation.

Not quite as unhinged as Flo and David admittedly, but I’d point to the examples of brands like Burger King, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Starbucks, JetBlue and even VCCP’s client O2, who are having meaningful and useful conversations at the higher-brand level. As usual, our friend Faris Yakob talks sense:

Previously we had a model of buying attention from media companies. Now we’ve got direct relationships so we have to earn that attention – we have to earn it by being entertaining, useful and also nice.

To be honest, there is no ‘right approach’, but there are some general principles that apply (as expressed by myself and Faris above) and then there is the hard won experience at the coalface, learning what works and what doesn’t, that brands doing it themselves (and the agencies like ourselves helping them) have acquired. Most importantly your approach should be built around, yes, you guessed it again, the business objectives you’re trying to achieve.

This diagram from Fallon’s Aki Spicer of six different potential participation strategies brands could use is a useful thought starter (each of which of course might be used in combination or not at all), but even the approaches I deliberately ridiculed above could be valid in the right circumstances. Fictional characters can work really well as part of a campaign as VCCP’s own Compare the Meerkat work shows, and I’m sure at least one of Zappos’ receptionists is on Twitter. Even inanimate objects might have their place – in fact I’ve been trying to persuade Kew Gardens to get their plant life on Twitter for a while now.

But deciding on a strategy is only the first and easiest step. The hard work is the day after day of micro-interactions with real people, and striking the right balance between the opportunities and risks presented by having a real person as the voice of the brand, which I touched upon in the hotly debated post on learning to speak human. David Armano brilliantly investigates this dynamic in The Age of Brandividualism and his recent follow-up, Battle of the Brands (both of which are required reading here at We Are Social towers):

For each brand on Twitter, there’s an individual (or individuals) behind that effort. It’s both business and personal. The two have become one. The tactic comes from a fundamental truth when it comes to the social spaces on the Web. People want to talk to other people. They want transparency. They want to know who they are talking to.

The potential reward of course, is the ability to spread surprise and delight, turn negative word of mouth into positive and to really engage people with your brand at an emotional level. There is no greater prize…

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NB – This is cross posted from the We Are Social blog, where there are already some insightful comments – head on over and join the debate.

  • James Cooper

    Wow, you used a lot of words to say, ‘there is no magic formula, but if you are going to do it, think about it and be honest’.


    What a load of old hogwash

    I’ve never had the desire to strike up a converstaion with a bran of washing powder or bog roll, meaningful or otherwise, the world’s gone mad!


    Didn’t someone say that ideally all sales would be conducted on a one-to-one basis and personalised to them? However, the point of mass marketing is that it can be a really efficient way to talk to lots of people if you can create the right umbrella for them all to stand under. There just isn’t the human bandwidth available within most brand marketing departments to try and engage personally with individual consumers. Even segmenting consumers can sometimes not be worth the effort/extra cost it entails. There have been attempts to ‘fake it’ eg standard responses triggered by certain words but they are just cynical and backfire horribly. Clearly the exception is for high ticket-price products. No issue engaging in extended one to ones with anyone wanting to buy a yacht. But toilet tissue, beer, car insurance?

  • Anil Kapoor

    “human bandwidth” – parlez-vous anglais?

  • John Gallen

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…. PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO ENGAGE IN BRANDS – SOCIAL NETWORKS CAME FIRST AND BRANDS INVADED THEM BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE DESERTING TRADITIONAL MEDIA (at a slower pace than is claimed) !!! People may have a giggle with a brand like the new Walkers Crisps campaign but when that’s done its over. No more engagement, like a social networking friend that can be dropped at the click of a button, Its over… Dumspville, population 1 = THE BRAND THAT THOUGHT IT WAS ALIVE AND WAS CAPAPBLE OF SOCIAL ACTIVITY. We’ve all seen The Corporation movie, and if you haven’t please vacate the industry, and that told us that if the corporation (all brands lead to corporations) were human it would be locked up for psycopathic behaviour… this we cannot deny.

    I really dislike using block caps, sorry ’bout that earlier. I was in a mood.

    Now, really people, lets do the numbers. example No. 1 above, Burger King has 1,882 followers since it started on Nov 14th 2008. That’s 1,882 over 14 weeks or 134 / week; 19 / day…. this isn’t exactly a gold rush of engagement. A TV advert properly placed can drive far more to a site; click red; send a text or whatever in just 30 seconds, job done. Not, 14 weeks.

    Example 2, Starbucks, just under 60,000 followers since Aug 14th 2008. Not exactly a landslide either.

    Now ask, How many are actually reading? How many people are active followers? How many bad comments did the moderator stop? How are you going to measure “your brand at an emotional level”? (Hilarious that one).

    Accountable? Prove it.

    Say a single Twitter brand-site cost 1 employee salary to maintain… and you can be sure it’s not BK minimum wage, its a social media expert type wage; a consultancy fee; a copyrighter to get it started; image consultancy on the look of it; moderator fee; and possible a final typist at the interface. And that’s for starters. By the time you are done and paid the wages (so far, the medium is free), do you really think that this so called engagement is doing any worthwhile good for your brand?

    At a time when the issues for brands and advertisers was how do we make things accountable there appears to be an intent to muddy the waters with wishy washy nonsense about people, wait for it…. “WANTING TO ENGAGE BRANDS !!

    Let’s just watch the investors throw money at these sites that have no way of making any and watch them get inflated, implode and die. Maybe even cause another dot com crash.

    Good to get that off my chest :)