Monday, March 2, 2009

Brands on Twitter: What's the best approach?

By now, most of us have seen the lists of brands on Twitter. We know all the major players and early adopters. The Comcasts, Southwest Airlines and Home Depots of the world. But, which brands are really engaging the right way? And how are they positioning themselves on Twitter?

It's important to note at this point, there are no clear-cut right or wrong answers or best practices--at least not in my humble opinion. We're all still learning about this space. The smart brands are just figuring it out faster than others, that's all.

What they're learning is that Twitter represents a people-to-people experience--not an organization to millions of customers experience (mass media model). This is one-to-one. These are real conversations. This is genuine engagement. Are companies ready for that? Some are. Others are terrified. Most are in between and testing the waters.

So, what's a brand to do?

Before your organization starts on Twitter, it needs to make decisions about how it positions its brand. Does your organization tweet under the corporate flag or do you take a more personal approach by letting an employee tweet on the brand's behalf? Or, do you use a hybrid model? Here's a few examples and thoughts about each approach including challenges and potential opportunities:

* PGA TOUR (corporate). One of my personal favorites. The TOUR positions itself publicly as a corporate brand on Twitter--even though some savvy followers know who's tweeting behind the curtain. PGA's bio reads like this: "Golf. Official tweets of the PGA TOUR, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour."

Most of the time, the brand is live tweeting right from the course during tournaments from week-to-week (since I don't currently subscribe to the Golf Channel, this is how I keep up-to-speed on golf results now), but they mix in general golf and TOUR-related news and information from time to time. Obviously, the TOUR is using Twitter as a way to keep its online legions of fans up-to-date on news and tournament information--as it happens. For me, this is a hugely valuable service. The only downside to this approach is I don't see PGA TOUR engaging with its fans much. That's a missed opportunity in my view. They could learn from their fans. Hear their stories. And connect in a more personal way.

* Ford/Scott Monty (personal). The opposite approach is to enable one of your brand champions to speak on behalf of the company. Enter Scott Monty at Ford. Now, keep in mind, Scott had a very strong personal brand prior to joining Ford. But, for all intents and purposes, he is the face of Ford online. Scott's bio reads like this: "Head of social media at Ford Motor Company, husband, dad, host of and a generally nice guy. Formerly from Boston."

Scott's personal approach humanizes the Ford brand on Twitter. Take another look at his bio. From that short snippet we know that in addition to working for Ford he has a family, is a Sherlock Holmes wonk and hails from Beantown. Feel like you kinda know the guy already, don't you? And online, Scott has worked hard to keep his reputation as a "generally nice guy." And, as a result, he represents Ford in a different way. At times, he speaks on the company's behalf. Other times, he's building personal relationships with other Twitterers (and potential Ford brand advocates). And he's always working to shape the conversation around Ford and its products. This approach puts a more personal touch on the one-to-one conversations that happen on Twitter. After all, isn't this space all about personal interaction and two-way dialogues? Scott knocks it out of the park, in my opinion. Wish more brands were engaging this way.

* Kodak (hybrid). This is the combo platter. The corporate brand is in the Twitter handle title, but we see a name and face associated with the brand as well. In this case, it's Kodak's chief blogger and social media maven Jennifer Cisney. Kodak's bio reads like this: "Jennifer Cisney-Kodak's chief blogger. Design Geek. Photography Nut. Check out"

From this short bio we learned a little about Jennifer personally, which "warms up" the brand. But they're also careful to point us to a corporate Web site where you can find a slew of Kodak social media "assets" through sites like FlickR, YouTube and their various blogs. This is an interesting approach as you get the best of both worlds. Personal, face-to-face interaction (Jennifer's photo is part of the Kodak avatar) and tried-and-true corporate branding (Note: To be clear, Scott/Ford to take this approach to an extent--I just tend to think Scott does more personal tweeting than the Jennifer does).

Many brands have gone this way--Home Depot, Southwest Airlines and Dunkin Donuts just to name a few. Jennifer does an outstanding job as she really takes the time to engage with her followers--as evidenced by the 1,500-plus updates. In addition, I notice a lot of replies (@s) on Kodak's Twitter page--which in my mind, is a good thing. It means Jennifer is listening and engaging with Kodak's fans. Remember the 80-20 rule? 80 percent of your time should be spent listening and engaging. Only 20 percent pushing our original "content." Kodak seems to be following that guideline to the letter.

So, which model do you think works best? And which brands, in your opinion, are executing best on Twitter?


Anonymous said...

Very timely post, Arik, especially in light of this morning's Skittles stunt on Twitter.

I think an interesting take on this is celebrity brands on Twitter.

Lance Armstrong and Shaq are brands in and of themselves, but they definitely become more human through their use of Twitter.

Lance seems to be more of the PGATour approch - giving his message about LiveStrong and its efforts and sharing news about his training rides and upcoming races, with personal updates thrown in now and then. But there's not a ton of engagement with followers (except for the other cyclists on Twitter that he knows in real life).

I'd say Shaq is more like Kodak. He's engaging with lots of people and really building his own community of loyal fans on Twitter. He shares info about basketball and his games but also a lot of personal info, too. I don't feel like I'm following the Shaq "brand" on Twitter - I feel like I'm following the real person.

Then there are countless celebs who have an account but likely have someone else update for them, don't interact/reply at all, and use it to push out their own info/agenda. I'm thinking Britney Spears here. At least her account is somewhat transparent in the fact that Britney isn't necessarily making the updates herself.

Great post and I think you're definitely right in that brands are all still trying to figure this out - there's not a right answer yet!


Kasey Skala said...

Another quality post, Arik.

Two that I enjoy 1)the Molson crew 2)RichardatDell.

The Molson crew - @MolsonFerg & @toniahammer do a great job engaging and aren't pushing their product. I think Molson is doing some great things in general and these two are the catalysts. They do a great job getting the "what" & "why" out there and in the end, because they do such a great job, you personally figure out the "who".

@RichardatDell - Again, another one that doesn't push the brand down your throat. Actively engages in communication with others. You know he has good intentions when he's helping the #endautodm crusade.

Like you and others have been preaching, those that come and engage with their communities are going to get a great return. Social media is going to be the difference between companies that come out of the recession with momentum and those that barely squeak by.


The Sports Ace said...

Nice, Arik!

We've talked before about how companies can help themselves by tying their products/services to an experience - using emotion to help the selling process. This is where I think Twitter can really help a company succeed.

Any company out there can engage followers on Twitter and enhance their consumers' experience with the brand. But this could be especially helpful for companies whose products/services are less "sexy" or don't lend themselves as well to an "experience." Having someone come across Twitter in a human way, while still sending out relevant information on the company and the industry it plays in, can be a huge asset to a company.

Of course, the key is not bombarding the follower with a sales pitch and "following the rules," as you've noted several times. The more human and real the interaction, the more authentic the experience the follower will have and the better the brand will resonate.