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


Babysteps:

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.

Walking:

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.

Running:

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.