Why Brands Are Unsuccessful in Twitter

Rodney Rumford bluntly points out in this latest post about 33 Brands That Suck on Twitter (be sure to read the comments for more color). Most of them have been “Hijacked” (their corporate name scooped by an individual) and many remain dormant. Having a successful brand in Twitter is few and far in between, and here’s why.

Why Brands Are Unsuccessful in Twitter:

Brands are slow to the party
Who knew that Twitter would become a phenomenon –esp among the social media circles and media? Most brands are too late to come and squat on their names, some savvy individual had the foresight to get the name (either deviously, or out of brand passion) brands like @disney, @marlboro are already reserved by individuals.

Corporate domain: “out for lunch”
As Rodney points out, some of the brands have registered their domains, but choose not to participate, they’ve just quietly reserved it, unsure about how to wield this slippery conversational tool.

Not personal enough
If a brand is lucky enough to have parked their domain, they’re now ready for the next challenge: producing relevant content that resonates with the audience. What should they tweet about? Obviously there ‘s a business driver, so announcements, re-echoing blog posts, and responding to direct (but safe) questions make the best bet. In many cases, there is no individual tied to the account (listed or picture) and no one knows if they’re talking to an intern, or the CMO.

Too personal for you
Yet brands have another challenge? Do they get into the minutia of the daily life as many Twitter users do: “updating my brand guidelines to include twitter rules of engagement”, or “attending marcom meeting about next week’s big acquisition”? Brands are at risk to either alienating followers –or just looking well, fake.

Campy persona wears thin
Some brands may take their brand too far, acting out the brand persona with pro-brand content that after awhile sounds like a trite recording of “want to feel better @jowyang, buy our product for relief” -soap style messages.

Big brother is watching
Some brands have started to ‘follow’ other members, hopefully to increase the rate of them following back. While complete normal protocol in Twitterville, many users get ‘freaked out’ when a brand follows them.

Hybrid brands of personal and corporate won’t last
In the case of both Oracle and Dell (and others I’m sure) many of their employees straddle both their personal sharing, as well as representing their brand (rather well actually). They choose names like @OracleJulio or @RichardatDELL, and really add to the conversation, both being personal, and promoting the attributes of the company. Unfortuantly for @OracleJulio’s situation, he moved on to greener pastures, and had to somehow get a name change, he’s now @socialjulio.

ROI unclear
What’s the ROI from Twitter? A very difficult question to answer, yet you’ll find the solution if you can also measure: “Whats the ROI of a conversation in real life”. Since many brands have an objective (return profit to shareholders or owners) ensuring this is a high priority task will be difficult for many corporations. (read more on broadstuff)

No one gives a care
Some brands, regardless of how they use twitter, their profile pictures, or what they talk about, no one will care. Either their product isn’t known, or not releavnt, or the brand hasn’t done due diligence to first find out if their market is even in Twitter, as a result, tweets go unheard in the forest, yet no one minds. (Update: I’ve added this one a few hours later)

Despite these many challenges, there are a few brands that are doing it right, take a look at ComcastCares, one who’s received press attention for responding to angry twitter community members. Of course, the real challenge is if they can make real long term changes to company’s products –or are they just a mouthpiece to dampen the social media amplifiers.

Got other reasons why it’s a challenge? Or have solutions? Leave a comment…

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  • They need to delegate a Twitter Spokesperson. Someone who just sits on his can and tweets about what’s going on in the company. I can also see Twitter as an venue for customer relations; got a problem, send us a Tweet.

  • The good news for those brands that have been hijacked is that they can, in theory, get their names back by contacting the Twitter directly and proving that they have been misused – although I’m not sure how long this process takes.

  • Nice post. And it’s a very interesting issue for me. As you know, I’m here on the IBM side (which made Rumford’s Suck list). I think we sit, right now, in your second category, “out for lunch.” Well, actually, it appears that way (and perception is reality i suppose) but it’s been thus far a deliberate decision to take a complete decentralized approach (see below). But I think there’s room and need for a mixed approach for Twitter at this stage. We are very open to suggestions… here was my response on Rumford’s post (which is still awaiting moderation… arg):

    **************
    hi rodney. Adam from IBM here. The IBM twitter account no longer asks folks to DM them – that was when it was hijacked (we didn’t know who owned it). Twitter gave the account back to us at IBM. That said, the account is dormant, which has been an active decision – so far.

    Here’s why:

    IBM is nothing more than a collection of a gazillion individual IBMers. Really smart ones for the most part, I think. And thousands of those folks are on Twitter. So rather than have a centralized – yet generic – IBM account, we’ve opted for a decentralized approach and let those many individuals be the IBM face to the Twitter world.

    I realize this has some significant limitations – people looking for the official IBM word on Twitter won’t find it easily. And having a dormant IBM Twitter account doesn’t necessarily look the greatest (as evidenced here in your post). But I think the power of twitter are the voices of individuals, so we’ve opted to go this route. Plus, since we don’t sell anything the consumers, it isn’t a customer-service vehicle for us.

    Now, all of that may very well change. And the folks reading this are welcome to provide their suggestions on how we could/should be using the @IBM account more effectively. We are listening and up for suggestions. Either let us know here in the comments to your post, or send a Twitter reply to @adamclyde.
    ***********

  • I can see it now: Will Tweet for food! no, seriously, thanks for highlighting these issues, it really takes someone who is with it and on top of it and intelligent and discerning and tactful to be able to get it right as a corporate Tweeter, representing the company brand

    and of course with the difficulty to measure ROI and provide hard figures to management it’s kinda hard to get people to pay someone to sit and goof off on the internet all day Tweeting on behalf of their brand, those that get it right are few and far between, unfortunately

  • J.O, the first question I get from clients about any social media, including Twitter, is how does it help generate leads and close sales? Makes sense, right. The disconnect, however, is that veteran sales and marcomm people – even some more cutting-edge folks – still see lead gen and sales too myopically. There has to be an offer and a way for action to be taken. Twitter, which really requires that you share over time, isn’t really right for that paradigm. That said, I do believe that brands who understand Twitter (and other SM) and return to the white board to redefine what lead gen is in this new age can discover value and deliver measurable returns. We’re just not quite there yet.

  • I actually like the take on IBM, having their employees be the brand, being that there are so many of them. With that said, someone still needs to be the face of the company and provide updates as to what is going on. What one person feels in one department may have another department putting out fires.

    Companies that are slow are just using excuses. Twitter is not the end-all-be-all of communication, but it is an open communication system that can have an impact on your bottom line, just ask some community managers out there.

  • I’m a nurse who uses twitter on a regular basis and I’ve often thought it would be a great avenue for companies to start a conversation with nurses who use their products (e.g. J&J – wound care products, GE – telemetry products).

    The biggest reason why this probably won’t happen for some time is simply that there aren’t many nurses who use twitter. I regularly search the term “nurse” in twitter search to find other nurses but so far I have found less than 100.

    So starting a conversation about your brand on twitter in the first place seems like it would only be useful if (a) your brand is already ubiquitous or (b) you have a product that you want to market to the tech savvy set that is using twitter.

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  • The answer is: focus.
    New product? Line up bunch of fisrttime users and ask for their experiences.
    Public company? hook up journalists and feed them with new press release warnings.
    Idea search: put it out on the web and hook up twitterers…

    So big (or smaller) brands may end up with 10 or 2o twitter accounts….

  • I’ve been on Twitter for months now, and recently got a Twitter name for the company, @AAAnews. Yes, @AAA was taken but it isn’t being misused and it’s actually the person’s real initials, so no argument there. Anyway, @AAAnews hasn’t updated much yet because we are still in the process of figuring out what/when/why the corporate entity would tweet. It’s likely to be news, events, research info and the like that will be tweeted. And, although I’m the one who sends updates now, it’s likely that it won’t always be that way — so it’s not that anyone is trying to hide who they are, we just don’t know at the moment who will handle the @AAAnews updates on a consistent basis.

  • I think the key for brands, or actually what the deciding factors for brands joining Twitter will be, is their ability as you’ve said Jeremiah, to measure it. Particularly ROI. There are some use cases that we all are pretty familiar with, those being,off the top of my head- Zappos and Comcast in particular and Richard@Dell to a certain degree. But the failures it appears, far outweigh the successes. Partly because there is no playbook yet. As soon as it occurrs, the flood gates will open. One of the deciding factors will be as soon as the mainstream public starts to embrace Twitter. The question is when? If ever.

  • I was recently followed by @slamonline because I mentionned the NBA in one of my tweet and have been hooked since. Slam magazine (online) is a great example of good use of tweets. They know and understand their target market well. Whoever tweets for @slamonline asks a lot of basketball related questions (mainly asking for opinions), tweets rumors, news and comments about basketball (a lot from the olympics right now).

    More importantly, @slamonline engages in a conversation after it asks the questions. It is not a one way street.

    @slamonline use of twitter gets 2 thumbs up from me.

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  • Excerpt from my response to Rodney’s post below:

    I like Twitter for the group think, and the ability to listen to and engage with some very smart people in various subject areas. I lose it when experts realize that the best use of Twitter is to pimp their business interests. That’s kind of what’s happening with many so-called experts in PR and social media, especially. They view Twitter is a way to build their brands so the conversation becomes slightly disingenuous.

    Corporations have parked themselves at Twitter and have failed to engage, I agree. Maybe that says something about the impact of Twitter right now vs. other corporate customer channels. Twitter is huge in the bubble where its value and potential are known, but only starting to engage at the edge of the larger marketspace thanks largely to tech writers who play here.

    I feel @RichardatDELL (Richard Binhammer) gets it right and I worked with him in 1998 when he was analog. Richard is creatively executing social media at the Dell scale. Fun to watch. Still he has 1500 followers. How many of them are truly Dell-centric or Dell customers vs the social media, marketing, and tech enthusiasts who live at Twitter? Read through his tweets; he is rarely dealing with customer service issues. Rather, he’s genuinely promoting Dell (he is a PR guy), and listening and responding to anything that comes his way. But how many of us ARE Dell customers?

    I like the idea of using Twitter as a customer service channel, but the numbers are not really there for a major corporation to care. As part of a multi-platform social media strategy, sure. Richard has made that work for Dell.

    My favorite Tweets are from the first couple of tech – @KenCamp and @SherylBreuker. Quoting Ken’s last tweet: “@SherylBreuker Come with me my babydoll. Enough online stuff for today.”

    And lastly, where would Twitter or Jaiku or Plurk be without @LeoLaporte? His audiences followed him onto each platform and got the ball rolling.

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  • Great post and some good thoughts from other posters (enjoyed the IBM one, excellent!)

    I think Twitter is just one of many channels a company can use in Social Media – but a company does need to choose. Trying to be present on all isn’t necessarily a good investment.

    It’s like marketing planning – source the right channels for the message and invest in them, then watch for the return.

    Marketing is a managed investment. So is Social Media marketing.

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  • Webconomist, well put. Brands should first find out if their market is in Twitter (or well be) before doing anything else.

  • Jeremiah – great post as usual. While we @mzinga haven’t hit the ball out of the park on Twitter yet, we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. There are 2-3 of us (depending on the day) who are the “tweeters” behind that handle and we are completely transparent about it. I think having experienced folks on Twitter behind your brand can only help (in our case, @jstorerj and @crbrowning are the other main contributors).

    Best,
    Aaron | @astrout

  • Jeff

    For most business using Twitter or other, attempting to create and maintain a “personality” and/or attempting to “engage” the audience will largely be an enormous waste of time.

    In my mind the two primary reasons an individual would want to follow a brand are; A) To keep up on new products / special offers / selected company news, and B) To Bitch. Re B – if you want to spend all your time responding to unhappy customers then by all means engage all the nut jobs out there.

    My point here is that for the vast majority of corporate users Twitter should be used as a speaker for specific/well-defined content and as an alert to monitor community activity related to unexpected developments related to the brand.

    That’s about all you need to do for now. As Twitter and the microblogging/social media markets mature there probably will be more opportunities to leverage. Everybody take a deep breath and relax……

  • Jeremiah,

    Thanks for highlighting my post.

    The funny thing is that I wrote this post over 90 days ago and sat on it and was optimistic that brands would get smart.

    Bottom line here is I raised awareness and so did you for big brands. So thanks for that.

    Cheers!
    Rodney Rumford

  • Many big corporations have failed to grasp that using microblogging or other web 2.0 marketing strategies means they have to give up some control of their brand. The reason corporate Twittering isn’t effective so far is that they are approaching it from a traditional marketing perspective (company dominates) rather than from a new marketing approach (customer dominates). They have yet to figure it out.

    Some corporations have harnessed Twitter well though. My favorite is Magnolia which uses the microblog to actually provide a service (unlike most of those capitulators mentioned in your article). They Twitter when there are problems with the service to keep users up to date.

  • I’d seen this post and not commented earlier, but when @nvineberg pointed out his mention of Sheryl and I in the comments, I came back to engage more fully.

    I think the idea of brands succeeding on Twitter is a fallacy to begin with. Twitter’s core question is “what are you doing/” It’s the foundation of what that community built on.

    So what is it brands *do* actually? They broadcast. They spam. Business brands and personal brands are quite different. Twitter success is based on personal branding through relationships. Sheryl and I surely do have a brand and business, but Twitter is about relationships. Our personal brand of open sharing and communications is how we use Twitter. That’s very different than a business meeting about how the “first couple of technology” can help your company realize new success.

    I think it’s all about expectations and expecting a medium like Twitter to be used as a corporate branding tool assures two thinge – great personal relationship building for some individuals who use it well, and a combination of failure and frustration for traditional business/media cluetards who want to use new tools in old ways.

    Using Twitter as the traditional business hammer to pound old school nails is simply not using the tool well.

  • Ken

    Well the thing is, many don’t use Twitter for ‘What are you doing now’ some use it for a conversation and a dialog –two way, not just one way.

    That’s the difference that can be an opportunity for brands.

    (great writing style btw)

  • Hi Jeremiah

    Excellent post and the usual strong commentary as well. By the way, Rodney updated his post here: http://facereviews.com/2008/08/12/dell-eats-twitters-lunch-with-22-twitter-channels/ and I have commented with additional info.

    Neil Vineberg, there are far more Dell customers among my followers than you imply and their feedback and interest is great. I appreciate them all :-).

    And, I work with a great team that helps me on the customer service issues that arise, many through DMs because of private customer data.

    Of course I straddle my personal world, blogs, the Dell world, photography, our customers and I sometimes think other worlds too….but conversations on Twitter or at a dinner party are not one dimensional.

    Lets also not forget too, its not about how I use Twitter for Dell. Twitter provides a value to me in many of those dimensions, keeping me in touch with friends, dell customers, blogs and so much more….its not just what I do…its what twitter does for me.

    Just some thoughts 😉

  • Thanks Richard. It’s always great to hear from you, you’re one of the few that can straddle both camps –with ease!

  • Thanks Jeremiah. I agree that Twitter is a great enabler of two-way conversation. Maybe that’s the crux of it. How many “brands” use it for one-way and then struggle with it not being beneficial?

    Conversation is the key. But I still believe conversation is person-to-person (Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined). People don’t converse with brands any more than they converse with systems.

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  • Ken:

    You’re absolutely right that people don’t actually converse with a brand; they do talk to the people behind the brand, though. And if those conversations are done with a genuine voice — i.e. we know there’s a real human being(s) behind that brand — then those conversations can be meaningful.

    Now on Twitter, this really does get tricky. When Twittering for my company (events I’m attending, community/social networking posts I’m reading, etc), LiveWorld, for example, do I use:
    * My personal Twitter account (@BryanPerson
    * Our corporate @LiveWorld account?
    * Cross-post to both?

    At this point, I’m using my personal account and keeping the corporate account at the “out to lunch” stage, but it doesn’t mean we won’t eventually find value for the @LiveWorld account. There’s more to come in a few weeks from that account (and yes, that’s a tease!).

    But as for whether branded accounts on Twitter must to be personal, I say no. I argue that it really depends on the brand, and that Twitter just might not be the appropriate conversational channel for every company.

    For example, I’m quite happy with just getting links to sports headlines from @ESPN and the offer of the day from @WOOT. That information is useful for me, and it’s no less useful to me just because it’s impersonal. On the other hand, making human connections with @RichardATDell and @ComcastCares has been valuable, too.

    So my take is that there is more than model for “Twitter success” for brands, and I’m fascinated to see how these models continue to pop up and evolve.

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  • ian

    the piece about individual owning @disney etc is intriguing, does anyone really think this will result in the same ownership issues that arise with URLs? the thing with twitter accounts is that you don’t really own anything, Twitter does. what’s stopping Twitter from just taking away the name and giving it to the brands (if the users is squatting just to make a dime)? like this http://twitter.com/Geico

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  • @Richardatdell You know I give you props, brother. You also know the metrics better than I do.

    RE: Neil Vineberg, there are far more Dell customers among my followers than you imply and their feedback and interest is great. I appreciate them all :-).

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  • I see several arts & non-profit organizations using Twitter and building brand equity in my community.

    For example – RedCross Tampa Bay – I had no idea how many amazing things they do until I met them on Twitter. Now I’m in awe of how much humanitarian relief they give locally on a daily basis.

    Another is local theater – tweeting about rehersals, opening night excitement, last minute ticket deals.

    For these organizations that contribute to local quality of life, I think twitter has tremendous potential to build brand awareness. Right now this is particularly meaningful in Florida because recent property tax cuts have resulted in scarce funding for any and all types of non-profits (environmental, arts, cultural, social services, etc). Organizations are challenged to show audiences, patrons and sponsors they are relevant. Twitter is a great tool to get us involved and engaged in their work. It’s an opportunity to get us aware of the need to help support worthwhile organizations and to be aware of the subsequent consequence of their disappearance.

  • Our Powerset Twitter Feed has been a great resource to us, in terms of responding to people on Twitter and letting people know information about the company that we’d otherwise never post to the blog. I agree with @BrianPerson that it’s sometimes difficult to decide what to post on my personal Twitter vs. the corporate Twitter, but there are certainly times when the corporate Twitter is better than my own feed. And God knows I don’t want my own feed to be the mouthpiece of Powerset, considering some of my wackier Tweets.

  • I view Twitter as another channel.

    It definitely has its own mentality, culture, style, technographic and language of communication very unlike other channels.

    I am relatively new to Twitter. I admit, it was hard to learn about it and join in. But the only way to learn was also to just practice on it.

    Remember when you were a kid on your first day going to kindergarten. It was scary.

    But many brands (they are managed by people BTW), just have not learn these yet and thus feel like that kindergartener in its first day.

    But trust, many will grow up in time when they see more success cases like the many listed by commenters. I’m just taking baby steps at this time. So let’s keep encouraging them!

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  • Hi Jeremiah,

    As always an excellent post and has fostered a good conversation in the comments. I really appreciate that you are trying to help brands do a better job on Twitter. As a big brand on Twitter @netsolcares, we have been finding incredible success from following people, but our main purpose it not to get them to follow us back. Instead, we are opening up a direct channel for them to direct message us and get into a more detailed discussion. So, while we have had a very few people complain about adding them (and also just responding to them in general), we have had many more that are shocked and thrilled that either Gerry or myself (backed up by our internal customer care Swat Team) are on hand to help them solve their problem, even if it includes moving their site away from us. We are entering all of our replies and responses into our internal Customer feedback system where we are tracking our successes, and also looking for ways to make tweaks to improve service. And our outreach will go beyond Twitter in the next few months. In general, we believe a Twitter-only strategy will fail. The idea is to form better relationships with our customers, and that requires more than just talk.
    Shashi, Social Media Swami
    Network Solutions
    smedia@networksolutions.com

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