All of a Twitter

December 16th, 2008 by Jon Clements


Sorry Twitterfolk, our secret’s out now.

What was – in Facebook terms – very much a worldwide minority pastime is now gracing the pages of Times2.

Though unconvinced by Facebook or – to be precise – its “status update” function as counter-intuitive behaviour for uptight British people, journalist, Sathnam Sanghera,  is now addicted to Twitter. He says: “The banal thoughts of complete strangers are surprisingly comforting and compelling: it’s like following a thousand mini soap operas”. But when he quotes a Twitter user, @foodiesarah – someone I know personally – I realise how small Twitter world has been.

But elsewhere, the migration to Twitter is not being welcomed. Writing on web news site, Mashable, Dr Mark Drapeau is keen to see brands banned from Twitter altogether. He questions whether “one dimensional organizational brands” fit with the Twitter way of working, and concludes they don’t. As he rightly points out, people on Twitter want to talk to real people who use a recognisable identity and photo or avatar, not @DunkinDonuts.

I recently posed the question  – in response to Jeremiah Owyang’s blog post on HP Labs’ Twitter research – about how businesses could work with Twitter, as we have pulled Twitter-based ideas from PR proposals for being inappropriate to the social medium.

And that’s something that businesses should be willing to do before they feel the chill wind of Twitter derision wafting their way, which can’t help but spread online. Social media may be the latest thing, and highly tempting for organisations to get involved in. But don’t dive in without testing the water first – or getting good advice about what might be lurking below.

Pic credit: humble thanks to Rob Cottingham at Noise to Signal for use of the most apt cartoon.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

11 Responses to “All of a Twitter”

  1. Rob Permeable Says:

    Great post. This debate around brands using social media follows every *new* platform as it reaches media saturation levels. I think it’s important that *people* within brands do use social media, but in order to to give it a personal and sometimes humble touch – and allow consumers and users to own that brand too.

    What trips up many many corporates (and charities and other personal brands) is using facebook, twitter etc as a broadcasting tool as opposed to opening a dialogue. A company that does this well is @innocentdrinks. They invite opinion and feedback and you can tell it’s a human at the keyboard. I suspect (read: know) that there are many that simply url to press releases on their corporate website. This is fundamentally mis-using – nay – misunderstanding the power and raison d’etre of social media.

    If we all play nice, there is a real place for the likes of Coca Cola etc (I’d be interested to learn more of their CSR programmes for instance). But PROs and marketing people have to play fair – and give a little of themselves. And their bosses need to take a deep breath and democratise their brand a little, be open to criticism, and meet their critics with transparancy and in a language befitting of the medium…

    Now, go forth and tweet!

  2. Jon Clements Says:

    Rob – and an excellent comment.
    As Todd Defren writes in Social Media Predictions for 2009: “How does the corporation – by nature a conservative beast – confidently move forward into such a riotous environment with so few roadmaps to guide them?”

    Marketers could do worse than read all the social media predictions for 2009:

  3. Stuart Bruce Says:

    I think the crux of this is that while there are WRONG ways for brands and companies to use social media, there is is no limit to the number of RIGHT ways. Twitter is a fantastic tool and doesn’t have to be used in any one way. If brands want to use it as a ‘broadcast’ messaging system then that’s fine, because people choose and are in control of who they follow. Some of the most interesting examples of corporate Twitter is around events and conferences, where can be a great way for brands to interact with people who can’t be involved in the event – who can follow it from afar and Tweet in their own messages and questions. The key to it all is transparency. There should be a way of finding out who the people are who are Tweeting on behalf of the brand.

  4. Amusing and funny Twitter cartoon | Business on Twitter Says:

    […] From Rob Cottingham – see the full post here […]

  5. Jon Says:

    Stuart – you’re right about the events/conference Twitter usage, as your post describes (I too was following proceedings from the relative comfort of my desk!). But if brands want simply to broadcast there are long-established methods of doing that. Isn’t using social media for that purpose inherently anti-social, in that it potentially invades a social space with a big, fat sales message that’s not necessarily relevant nor welcome?

  6. Stuart Bruce Says:

    Jon, Dell’s $1m in sales from Twitter is an example of how brands can be very commercial without ‘violating’ any social media code. I would have zero interest in Dell’s sales Twitter, but it doesn’t matter as I don’t and won’t follow it. ActionAid’s current anti-Tesco campaign is a great example of a brand (charities are brands) using Twitter for ‘commerical’ (achieving its objectives) purpose.

  7. Jon Says:

    Stuart, they’re certainly good examples, though I’ve just found a quote from Bob Pearson, head of communities and conversation for Dell, playing it down: “A million dollars isn’t a lot of money, but it shows that people want to sign up for feeds.” Nice if you can be humble about a cool million!

    I guess that even when companies are using a social media platform such as Twitter for in-your-face sales promotion, the Twitterati have a choice to follow or not.

    While I’m at it, if you haven’t seen this already, Twitter has shown itself to have all manner of uses:

  8. Rob Cottingham Says:

    Hi, Jon – Glad you liked the cartoon! (I’m happy to see them used around the web – I just ask that they be linked back to their original page on the Social Signal site.)

    My heart was warmed by reading that you’ve pulled Twitter ideas from PR proposals. Too many times, I see brands jumping into spaces they don’t understand, only to be baffled when they’re treated as little better than V1agra spammers. And while I can choose whom I do and don’t follow on Twitter, the place could still easily be spoiled for me if I start getting deluged with pitches and come-ons.

    Yet I think there’s a place for brands in Twitter, and in other social media spaces. The key thing is to remember that these are conversational spaces. Yes, you can broadcast if you want to – and if you’re broadcasting information that’s valuable to your audience, they’ll listen. But the real power of the place comes when you genuinely engage with people: not just “Oh, you didn’t like Brand X? Try our Brand Y!” drive-by tweets, but true conversation… probably with a lot more listening than talking on the part of the corporate communicator.

  9. Jon Clements Says:

    Rob – thanks for the comments and please forward any Viagra spam you no longer require.

    Cartoon credit and link now in place – now I see you’ve got a shed full of cartoons, I’ll be back!

  10. Rob Cottingham Says:

    Thanks much! (And I understand that if any Viagra spam attack lasts for longer than six hours, you’re supposed to contact a physician.)

  11. John1278 Says:

    Very nice site!

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