Web Strategy: The Evolution of Brands on Twitter

Last week, I listed out 9 reasons Why Brands Are Unsuccessful In Twitter, and other microblogging technologies. Companies are caught between the minutia of the discussions and their willingness to be human or add value to the conversations. Although a one-sided view of what’s going wrong, now let’s focus on what’s going right.

I’m watching –and talking– to many brands that are choosing to engage with this seemingly endless stream of personal thoughts, updates, and conversations within Twitter.

Web Strategy: The Evolution of Brands on Twitter


First, identifying if this is the right marketplace
Brands need to first evaluate if the community members within Twitter are the audience they’re trying to reach. Although we’ve yet to see any formal survey produced from Obvious corporation, most could identify these members are technology early adopters, media fiends, social media practitioners, and those interested in future communications.

Next: Listening to glean insight
Some brands are using the somewhat accurate search tools formerly known as Summize, or even Twitscoop to track graphing of potential terms, or to find influencers. Companies like Visible Technologies are mapping out the discussion in Twitter for tech giants like Dell –they’re likely going to provide a list of influencers and detractors in order to determine who’s the best way to approach them. In the case of the New York Times, Twitter is yet another opportunity to source stories, and potentially find out about breaking news or emergencies. Not only is this key for determining what’s being said by customers, prospects, and competitors, but to ensure rogue employees aren’t speaking on your behalf and potentially causing brand damage.

Registering the namesake
Once a company has figured out the conversation in their marketplace (assuming this is one for them) they should next secure the key domains related to their brand. There has been some impromptu indexes that show that many companies don’t have ownership over their individual brand on Twitter. Since registration is limited to one account per real email address, and companies will never be able to register every potential variant, the process is still limiting.


Decide on persona: corporate and/or individual
Brands will next need to decide on their online personas, and how they want to be perceived to the world. There are only a few variations and among them include: 1) A branded approach, void of personal interactions. In many cases, brands are unsure how to approach this conversation and most speak on behalf of the company, void of a personal reference of the publisher. Companies like Popeye’s chicken don’t readily indicate who’s behind the account, although they are very engaging conversing with others. 2) Some brands indicate who the user is, and go so far as to encourage individuals to represent the brand, RichardatDell takes this on with ease, as he both engages in personal interests as well as evangelizes and defends the Dell brand. See the NYT’s Communication department as they list out the personal contacts right on their twitter page. It’s assumed that brands that have engaged in option 2, also have corporate accounts listed in type 1.

Decide on method of engagement
Next comes the interesting part, how brands will actually publish, interact and communicate with others. There are three major options that brands can use: 1) Publish content in a ‘push’ style. Marketers, corp comm, PR folks and media companies can choose to use Twitter as a publishing system, as those who opt-in to follow can now receive updates from the latest story, press release or update. 2) Dialog: Some employees engage in relationship building with community members by responding, answering, and asking questions of those around them, see this large list of Oracle employees who are using these tools. or the ‘classic’ case example of Comcast Cares and Zappos shoes interacting and supporting customers 3) As we’ve indicate above, some may use these tools to glean insight –mainly listening rather than talking.

Examine the digital communications policy
Often known as ethics policies, blogging policies, or communications policies, the world of online publications continues to grow and brands must be prepared for these changes. Brands that have employees using social media (that would be just about all) must ratify their communications policy to: 1) Define what’s an official representation or have acceptance in the gray area of online communications 2) Define what the difference is between someone who is a company spokesperson and someone who’s acting and represents the company. Last week, at a client meeting, some employees at a enterprise IT networking company expressed concerns of employees who were on Twitter would talk about their personal beliefs around politics, culture, or preferences. Potentially some of these expressions would negatively impact other partners or customers in other regions or cultures, and didn’t know where the definitive line was between work and personal was.


Integration with other tools
Seeminly rare, most brands don’t integrate these tools with their other social media or even traditional website. With the recent case of brands being brandjacked by twitter domain registrars a new need came up of brands wanting to validate their twitter accounts. In fact, some have sent me emails from their corporate account asking me to confirm they are ‘real’ accounts. Of course, the most effective way to overcome validation from third parties and to enhance other tools is to cross link from various web properties, which Tyson foods has recently done. Take for example Dell, which has listed out many of their twitter accounts on their corporate website, now segmented out by verticals, products and regions. Brands should cross link their twitter account from their corporate blogs, traditionally websites, and vice versa.

Aggregation and joining conversations
The next step in this evolution is to watch how the conversations will fragment, spread, and be aggregated on different websites. The conversation isn’t going to be limited to Twitter, it’s search clients, but will start to aggregate on other websites. Take for example Get Satisifaction a ‘universal’ support site that is aggregating twitter conversations on their page, in this instance, Comcast. The conversation about the brand has now spread off the site, and will sputter off new threads of discussions on other websites. Brands like Dell will aggregate those same conversations right on their mainstream site –bringing the engaged audience closer to their site.

What’s next
Although we’re still far from seeing this implement, I expect to see a tie with location aware devices that will integrate twitter with marketing, communication, and support. For example, as one approaches a product, or store where that product is, alerts, the ability to ask questions or receive special offers could automatically trigger to a customers account (most will be opt in, savvy marketers will figure around it). Expect savvy companies to further monitor discussions and respond to support or help questions using these micromedia tools.

While there are many variations and some companies skip from step to step, these are the major evolutionary phases of how I see companies adopting micromedia tools like Twitter. I’d love to hear your feedback on what you’re seeing, and where it’s all headed.

Update: Dawn Foster has a great actionable plan for brands on Twitter, as does Tara Hunt, read, and bookmark both.

127 Replies to “Web Strategy: The Evolution of Brands on Twitter”

  1. Agree with you on the stages to go on Twitter. Those steps are the same for most of the social networks you want to join though (in real life or web). But some barriers make me believe Twitter would not be used by many companies (small businesses focused on tech and web business mainly):
    1. User profile: web “power” users
    2. Twitter penetration rate: 0,23% for the USA using the following calculation http://tinyurl.com/6qw9sy
    3. Understanding of the tool
    4. Amount of time required to fully complete customer care using Twitter

    Major companies won’t join the community due to those barriers and the really low penetration rate. But tech savvy companies would know how to turn Twitter into an interesting brainstorming pool.

  2. Hi Jeremiah,

    I started using Twitter a few weeks ago so that I could get a better understanding of how companies are using this tool to communicate, but also because we were in need of some help (a web developer), and I thought I would reach out to the Twitter community in hopes of some recommendations.

    I think my biggest challenge thus far has been an issue you addressed above. Although I am using Twitter persoanlly right now, the fact that I will eventually be “the voice” of my company, leaves me a bit hesitant as to how/what I should give feedback on and what approach I should take in doing so. A

  3. Awesome Post Jeremiah! I’m surprised more companies are not linking up there twitter account with their traditional websites. It would add some validity that they are “real”.

    Nicole: I can definitely see where it could seem like a daunting task to be the voice of a company, and how to handle the negative issues.

    Richard Kannegieser
    Twitter @Richardk138

  4. However, I think it is ultimately important to remember that I was brought on board here for a reason and that my personality/personal opinions are valuable and fit with our company’s mission and approach. So why not give both, my personal opinion and feedback as well as on behalf of my company? I truly believe we are using these types of social platforms just for that reason–to make that human/personal connection with our audience.

    I love when companies use a face on their Twitter account versus a corporate logo. Why not have an employee with a Southwest hat instead of just a big logo? It’s so much more personal, and I can feel like I can relate to the person on the other side on an entirely different level. Last thought, I think it is important to make sure you are engaging in and contributing to discussions as much as you are pushing out corporate info.

  5. Rubbermaid has been using Twitter for a few months. We started slow, but just last week things took a quantum leap.

    I created a post that listed the professional organizers I (Rubbermaid) was following on Twitter. This in turn generated huge buzz within the professional organizer community and, BOOM! The connections became very solid. Online conversations turned into phone calls. Invites to meetings were offered. Discussions about Facebook groups started, etc..

    Below is a comment from a professional organizer who summed up the events nicely.

    @ProfOrganizer: @DrDeClutter Yep, @rubbermaid gave super buzz to Twittering professional organizers & linked the few of us who aren’t already pals. Yay!

  6. Jeremiah
    Thanks for a great post. I’m going to predict things are changing so rapidly with Twitter you’ll be able to revisit this subject in 4-6 months with enough relevant information for a new post.

  7. Thanks Jeremiah. I think many brands just know they need to be on Twitter without having thought through how they want to position themselves there.

    Your points are all dead-on and are questions businesses should be asking themselves. What’s interesting is the low number of companies who are doing it all right…hopefully that will change as comms and marketing pros get more educated.

  8. I think the challenge for my company is finding an audience on Twitter. We have such a niche group of products and services that there just isn’t much conversation that would warrant a significant following. But, that has not stopped us from setting up a corporate Twitter account and developing a small local following.

    We are banking on the day when having a Twitter account will be a real benefit. At the moment, it doesn’t cost us anything, so why not have it and at least open another avenue of communication?

    Ideally, we’d love to have a large following of engineers and researchers on Twitter that would be interested in our work, but that’s not the case yet. There are, however, investors and local residents interested in what we are doing. So, we plan to promote not just our business, but our eco-friendly initiatives, our community outreach programs, and other activities in which people may be interested.

    We are also using Twitter as a way to solicit feedback from anyone who has questions about the company. We see it as being a potentially valuable tool in the future, so we decided to go ahead and get on board before we missed the train.

  9. We have a similar challenge as Gary (#12), with one (Fortune 500) company that wants to connect to a very specialized audience. Just beginning to look at Twitter as possibility but more questions than answers at this point. Hopefully Jeremiah and/or others will write about this as co’s get more experience in this area.

  10. Keep in mind that Twitter allows you to offer an experience of ‘gradual engagement’-

    For your prospects or customers you could (this, w/o ever going to the Twitter site):

    -provide the Twitter short code for the US

    -provide the ‘follow’ Twitter SMS command for your acct

    – provide the same simple instructions for unfollowing

    -note that there will be NO spam or info sold

    -provide simple instructions for creating private Twitter acct with specific links to Twitter’s FAQ

    [It would be mandatory to limit messages to those that might actually be helpful (time/money) or interesting (data), in your industry or about your products/ services]

  11. One aspect of Twitter I think has a lot of potential is using it privately. I don’t know if the Rubbermaid example is private, but setting up an “invitation only” community in niche markets has potential. Just like some large companies have many blogs, I envision some large companies having several private Twitter communities. The same is possible with smaller businesses. It may take more effort, depending on the industry.

    I wonder if Twitter as a company will survive. Show me the money. 🙂

  12. According to Washington Post Tech Crunch, traffic at Twitter rose from .0004% of all Internet traffic in January 2008 to .0024% of all Internet traffic this month. Yes, that’s ALL Internet traffic. In the entire world. And even more amazing, it happened even though Twitter experiences massive downtime on an almost daily basis. With so much of the world connected to Twitter, and with people even turning to Twitter for breaking world news, it’s no wonder I continue to emphasize the benefits of Twitter to Indie Business owners.

    This morning, I got an email from Indie Beauty Network member Matt Hamilton at Online Labels.com. Matt learned about Twitter from me during a phone call on July 3, 2008. Immediately after our conversation, Matt opened a Twitter account and started Tweeting. I signed up as his first follower, and Matt is now happily Tweeting up a storm.Matt emailed me this morning to thank me for introducing him to Twitter, so I asked him why he likes it so much. Here’s what he said.
    dM: What did you think about Twitter when I first told you about it last week?
    Matt: I was really unsure of it and thought it might be a waste of time, but quickly realized it to be highly addictive and really effective in my business.
    dM: What good has come of your Twitter experience after just a week?
    Matt: I was pleasantly surprised at how many people found my Tweets helpful and informative. My Tweets have been picked up by some fantastic blogs that are delivering free site traffic to me.
    dM: Would you recommend Twitter to others and why?
    Matt: Twitter has opened a whole new world of business contacts and potential customers to me. It’s also a great place to learn about networking. You can pass along information to a large audience with the click of a mouse. What’s not to like?
    dM: What other social networking do you participate in, and how has it helped your business?
    Matt: I use Myspace, Facebook and now, Twitter.
    The interesting thing about Myspace and Facebook is that their networks are massive and can be cumbersome, making it sometimes difficult to connect with people directly. Twitter is great for that.

  13. Great post as always. Our B2B clients are starting ask “what’s this Twitter thing?” — the shiny object syndrome, in part, last witnessed with viral video. But as a direct marketing tool, this has huge potential. The trick is not turning it into a spam channel.

    We use Twitter a lot to do research on what’s being said about our clients. For that it’s an invaluable tool as the dialog so far is pretty raw, something it’s difficult to get through other means.

    One of our content specialists recently wrote a post on it:

  14. Very insightful and informative. Thanks for taking the time to put this out.

    Something that I did not place a lot of weight on is the 1st items you list – “First, identifying if this is the right marketplace”

    At this point i have been doing a lot of research to learn about Twitter for both personal and business use. It’s an amazing tool, but your suggestion to see if it’s the right place to ‘hang out’ for business use it a great one.

    What i now need to get a better handle on is how to figure out if it’s the right place to be. When i use twitter search (summarize) i get a lot of stuff that i’m not sure how to process yet.

    At any rate … this post is definitely helpful in helping people think through their strategy for using twitter for business.


  15. @AmwayGlobal is just starting out with Twitter as well. We’re engaging directly with consumers who’ve been prospected into our Direct Selling business with the “curiosity approach,” which we do not support.

    I figure that even if we change one person’s perceptions about this business via this exchange, I can justify the few minutes it took to send a personal message. And I hope our passion for supporting entrepreneurs and being more transparent as a company comes through.

    Our brands are just starting to twitter, too. ArtistryBeauty and NutriliteHealth. Still getting the hang of it!

    Thanks, as always, for a very insightful post.

  16. Sorry, I should clarify that “the curiosity approach” is when people try to recruit others into the Amway business without telling them it’s Amway. (A method we don’t support, and are working to eliminate.)

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