Monday, March 31, 2008

What corporations should not do on twitter

Lately I’ve been seeing more and more corporations moving into the twitter arena:. @oracle, @capgemini, @accenture, etc. I’ve been thinking whether this is really an appropriate usage for this technology. Many of these corporations just use their tweets to either announce blogs or use the platform as a mechanism to make PR-like announcements. This usage is probably more useful in an RSS feed. Some might say that the misuse of twitter to publicize such events is an attempt to use twitter as an aggregator for social networks and RSS feeds. Personally, I use twitter for a more personal reason – I like to see what people are doing and thinking. As I follow Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), I like to see what he is doing (who he is visiting, etc.). Based on his tweets, you can understand how his ideas develop and you can help influence his ideas.

Of course, behind many of these corporate accounts is one or more individuals impersonating the corporation. In my opinion, this really doesn’t make any sense. A corporate account can’t tweet about a few crazy ideas about Facebook or ask you where he/she should stay in San Francisco. For me, twitter is personal – as my followers grow I can interact with these individuals on a personal basis. Interaction with a corporation at the same level is impossible.

If I want to complain about Macy’s, then an exchange of tweets with @Macys twitter user is probably going to be unsatisfying. I can exchange tweets with others in my social network about a particular product or corporation. If I want to interact with a corporation, there are better environments such as GetSatisifaction. As James Governor (@monkchips) once said, twitter must be fun.

If you want to represent your corporation in twitter, then it is probably better to personalize your account @acme_marketing for the Marketing director of Acme widgets. Still better might be a real person with a profile that links with your company. When I check the profile for this user, I’d like to see a real name of someone and an twitter avatar with a picture of a person. If users are looking for your company, they will find you via other search-related means.

If you are planning to use twitter as a corporation, be aware of the expectations that accompany its usage. Twitter is not a blog – it is a lifestream whose usage is much more intensive. Followers expect multiple tweets per day and to see that those being followed respond to interaction request by followers. Thus, it would be unexpected to see a CEO to use twitter - although this would definitely be an interesting experience.

I just found the Editorial Policy Guidance Note from the BBS regarding their presence on social networks. In this policy, it emphasizes the importance of "conversations, participate online; don’t “broadcast” messages to users". I then checked out @bbc on twitter and discovered that it is just a news feed. I don't consider this a "conversation".

I obviously see a value in corporations joining twitter but such an association must be based on the environment’s unique characteristics and not the usual assumptions that accompany traditional marketing campaigns.


Anonymous said...

Yes... and let me give you an exmaple. I follow ESPN on twitter. One day I got about 10 twitters in a row from them about different stories. So I was left with a page of ESPN links that pushed all my other twitters away.

One, if I wanted a page of links, I would go to

Two, I want instant information, not a link to a story that happened hours ago.

In fairness to ESPN, they have gotten better lately but I would much rather have the individuals writers at ESPN posting.

Richard (Dick) Hirsch said...

I agree completely. The problem is that large corporations have so much material that they drown out the other tweets from real individuals. I unfollowed ZDnet Blogs and TechMeme, because they were producing just too many tweets.


EllenL said...

I see it differently. Like any conversation, it's only as good as your ability to converse...which means TALK and LISTEN. I "Tweet" for a company (@ribbit) that's reaching out to the Adobe dev community. We learn so much on Twitter, and share authentic inside perspectives on what's happening stuff as well as breaking news, questions, inside scoop. I hope we can do something unique w/our presence on Twitter. It's not just "corporate"'s a different setting, a more friendly place to be, learn talk. If we just treat it like a commercial, we'll miss the fun, lose our following... show we don't get it. Make sense?

Dennis Howlett said...

That's interesting Dick - I suppose a lot depends on where you 'live' in your Internet usage. I find Twitter a good way of shortcutting my need to head over to RSS on a lot of things.

John Lynn said...

I agree. That's why I've suggested Twitter "Groupings" I could have one group for real people that I want to read. A second group could be my "news feed" from ESPN, CNN, Techmeme, etc. Then, I could use twitter for life streaming and a nice news stream. Until they get this division Techmeme is off (much to my dismay).

Anonymous said...

Great post! Companies benefit from good role models and good role models use the tools for personal reasons, imho. That's what helps me and many of my pals at Intel. Work efforts can be personal, too, and I can learn from what others are sharing -- how they're dealing with tha man, or how they're truly excited about something they're working on.

And I like to follow people first, but I do follow publications and companies. If they're lame, I remove them.

Twitter as an RSS feed is not valuable to me, unless there is some funny, or catchy context preceding the link.

Wow...feel like I could go on an on. Twitter certainly has infused fun and intrigue in lots of people...and for over a year now!

Chris Kauza said...

I agree that a lot of what Corporations are putting across the Titterverse is banal, but let's put this in context:

- when they started moving their content on the web 10+ years ago, they didn't get it at first, and just saw it as a way to put their brochure-ware online. And now, they have really taken it a step beyond by...oh, wait a second...hmmmm... ;)

Seriously, eventually they'll figure it out. It's an evolutionary process. Dick, I agree w/the compromise you posited above - corporations should at least assign someone from their company an account, and have them Tweet on behalf of the company...