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February 16, 2009

Activating A Brand On Twitter

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Do you like speaking with humans or inanimate objects?  I think most people prefer to speak with humans, and that’s especially true when it comes to interacting with companies. In fact, customers get frustrated when companies limit or dehumanize interaction, especially when product or customer service is involved.

That’s probably why personal blogs authored by employees often resonate better than official corporate blogs. And why corporate blogs that include more human elements, including strong personal profiles, resonate more than ones with less.

All this makes me wonder about micro-blogging, specifically Twitter. I’m not going to debate whether your brand should be on Twitter. I’ll just say that your brand should be where your customers are, and that often is on Twitter.

But what’s the right way for a brand to activate itself on Twitter? Specifically, is it better for companies to actively engage on Twitter with a brand profile, or a human profile?

To be sure, some companies use their standalone brands for their Twitter username, the core element of a profile. Consider Southwest Arlines, or  @southwestair, widely considered successful and useful to customers.

Other companies use a hybrid of brand and employee names. Consider Zappos, another success. Its main profile username is @zappos, but it clearly indicates in the bio and profile page that the author is Tony Hsieh, the company’s CEO. There also are companies that have profiles that use hybrid usernames, incorporating employee names and the brand. Consider Lionel Menchaca at Dell, whose username is @LionelatDell.

There are also companies that activate on Twitter only via employees’ personal profiles, either by design or accident. Consider AdWeek with its ubiquitous digital reporter,  or http://twitter.com/bmorrissey @bmorrissey.

Which form is best? It depends on your objective and the relationship your customers have with your brand. Ultimately, you should use any social-media platform in whichever way works best for you. But marketers must consider that customers usually prefer interactions that are more human, not less. I found this out through my own experience on Twitter.

Here’s my story: I’ve been on Twitter a few years and have remained an active user with my personal profile,  @maxkalehoff . When I joined Clickable, my search-technology startup, I immediately claimed our company’s profile and username on Twitter,  @clickable. When we launched our product commercially in late 2008, I began using our company profile to alert customers and other stakeholders to company news, including new product features, service updates, and events, among other.

But I also started using our company Twitter profile to conduct customer service and business development interactions. Whenever I identified problems and opportunities through monitoring, or received inbound questions, I’d respond. And that’s where I noticed the limit of a brand profile. Compared to my personal profile, interactions simply were not as engaging or rich. When I reverted to my personal profile to conduct Clickable business, I found receptivity to be far higher. This was especially apparent with Twitter members whom I’d never interacted with before.

As a result, I now maintain our company profile on Twitter, and use it primarily as an alert channel. But if I need to interact with customers or other stakeholders, I’ll defer to my personal profile, which clearly indicates my company affiliation. At first, I was reluctant to mix my personal profile directly with work. But I eventually realized that maintaining two identities not only is increasingly difficult, but artificial. We are who we are and we have to bank on our own transparency and common sense.

While our strategy works for our startup, I acknowledge we’ll need to adapt it as social platforms and our company mature. But however we grow, I’m committed to maintaining as much humanity and personality as possible. People prefer that, and we’d rather connect with our customers in a more meaningful way.

What form of Twitter profile works for you?

Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Clickable, a search-marketing solution for small and mid-size businesses. He also writes AttentionMax.com

3 Responses to “Activating A Brand On Twitter

    avatar Agitationist says:

    Not sure if this is the kind of “brand” you’d want to activate, but it seems to be working:
    http://agitationist.com/hookers-love-twitter

    Ok Max, I’ll take your word for it and jump off into the abyss of Twittering. Not sure i have time to even think of enough pithy statements all day long as i run from meeting to meeting and brainstorm to planning sessions. But as head of marketing for a web based company i guess i gotta get with the times. If it doesn’t work out I know who to blame. :)

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