Strategy & Flair Twitter White Paper


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Strategy & Flair Twitter White Paper

  1. 1. Strategy & Flair: The Effective Use of Twitter in Corporate Branding Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  2. 2. Strategy & Flair: The Effective Use of Twitter in Corporate Branding Introduction Twitter is a fast-growing microblogging platform enabling “one-to-many” communication. While it is possible to set a Twitter account to reach only approved “followers”, the vast majority of Twitter updates are available to all Twitter users, making this a highly public exercise. As such, the appropriate and considered use of Twitter, along with established guidelines for internal use, is vital to brand integrity. For instance, users who “follow” a Twitter account automatically receive that account’s updates, but all non-private updates are available to anyone via Twitter’s search utility, on the Twitter website, and elsewhere. As of this writing, the Bing search engine also enables real-time Twitter search. Many active Twitter users avail themselves of various Twitter- related applications from independent developers; the featuresets on these applications vary, as does the current Twitter API, rendering individual experiences of Twitter activity unpredictable. It is best to assume that whatever your brand is doing on Twitter is highly visible. Twitter’s user uptake has shown a huge surge in the first half of 2009, largely due to the use of Twitter by celebrities and other high-profile brands, and by the role of Twitter in breaking news stories. Twitter has proven a very useful communication tool for brands to reach their customers in varying ways, including enhancing customer service. Twitter can also be used very effectively to alter brand perception, particularly in the areas of brand approachability and “two-way” communication between brand and customer. In this paper we examine the effective use of Twitter as an essential piece of your brand mix and provide guidelines on the use of Twitter throughout an organization. For a brief tutorial on Twitter use and individual tools with a focus on corporate executives, please see the Strategy & Flair deck Twitter: Mastering the Conversation. Twitter and Your Company In order for Twitter to be an effective and positive tool in corporate branding and communications, it is vital to first assess who tweets and under what auspices they do so. Logically, your company use of Twitter will fall into at least these three categories: Executive Twitter Use (usually C-level) Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  3. 3. Customer Service Tweeting Marketing Tweets Individual Non-Branded Tweeting With regard to marketing, your internal PR/media relations/marketing resource within the company will often already be active on Twitter, at least on a personal level. From a brand communication standpoint, you will need to decide how vocal this staffer or staffers will be in speaking for the company. In some cases the executives are such a strong voice for the brand that a second very active voice from the marketing arena can blur the message. We suggest that a media- responsive staffer be at least active and available enough to handle inquiries, as Twitter is increasingly used by media outlets to source stories and reach out to contacts. Executives on Twitter Twitter, almost uniquely among new media/social media tools, has proven very effective in putting a human face upon a corporation or brand, creating at least the illusion to the consumer and media that the leaders of the company are accessible and approachable. This provides a unique opportunity for corporate executives to communicate vital messaging. In general it is wise to have one senior executive be the “brand voice” on Twitter. This will usually be a CEO or President: CEO activity has become so common in the Twitterverse that not having access/visibility to the company leader is perceived as something less than open brand communication. Strategy & Flair has established clear guidelines to executive Twitter presence. These include: Making a commitment. The senior executive does not need to tweet constantly, but a consistent commitment to a flow of messaging is necessary. A rough guideline would be at least a few days per week and a few updates per day. Share, don’t sell. Hype and relentless promotion is not effective within the Twitter community. The power of Twitter is to humanize your brand, to create a dialogue between brand and consumer, and to allow your company to participate in the conversations that are inevitably happening around your brands and products. Leverage these advantages and; leave the advertising to other forums. Executive Twitter presence puts a face to the brand and allows you to share personal insights and values, which may not directly correlate to the brand or company, but which enhance the validity of the overall brand message. Be real and be yourself. Your advantage here is that individual executives are individuals. Use your personality and experience to your advantage. Your voice should already be an integral part of your brand mix in other areas. Share what Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  4. 4. you have learned in your personal and professional life. In this way you add value to the community and authenticity to your voice. It is important to decide and to be consistent in what kind of information you share. If you post about your family life, don’t do it once a month: keep your followers engaged in the story you are telling. If you have a personal value system you’re communicating, check in with yourself now and then to ensure that you’ve reinforced the message regularly. Don’t be afraid to be funny, to tell stories of day-to-day business which are humanizing, or to be self-deprecating to a point if that’s your personality. Again, the easiest way to be authentic is to be yourself. Don’t create a forced persona- as well as feeling inauthentic, it will be too much work. Twitter means responsibility. This is a serious endeavor. When a chief executive or other corporate leader communicates on Twitter, she or he is taking responsibility for communicating the core values of the brand and product and for keeping the brand promises. An ideal executive Twitterer creates confidence in consumers by conveying belief in the company and product, passion for the job, and responsiveness to consumer opinion. Know your roles. This paper was developed partially in response to this guideline. It is key for everyone in a company who is active in social media to understand what their role is in conveying overall company messaging and in adding dimension to corporate perception. A chief executive will not have time to respond to customer service issues, so do not set up that expectation. By participating in the Twitterverse, you have created an expectation of responsiveness; make sure there is someone in the company delegated to handling consumer questions and complaints who has the time and ability to do so. Use your writing skills. In the end, Twitter is another extension of your marcomm and, like all your materials, should be well-executed. If you are a skilled writer, show it. If you are not, pay attention to grammar and be clear and concise in conveying your message. Customer Service Tweeting When a brand/organization becomes active on Twitter, it is immediately assumed to be responsible and expected to be responsive. The company will need to actively monitor all mentions of the brand on Twitter. Have an assigned person or team in place to handle complaints, questions, kudos, and the occasional emergency. The scope of work here will vary significantly by industry: airlines in the Twitter era, for instance, are expected to be quickly responsive to delayed and cancelled flights and even to seating or minor experience issues. If there is a time element to your customer service communications, it is essential to have someone available to respond as close to Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  5. 5. 24/7 as is possible. A proactive service-oriented brand will respond not just to tweets directed to one of its brand representatives, but also to any mention of the brand or product. While marketing wisdom recommends responding first to disgruntled customers or customers with questions, don’t leave out the fans. When someone tweets great things about your company, thank them or retweet the compliment (but go easy on the self-praise). Keep clear internal guidelines as to how each consumer question, complaint, or response should be handled, but remember that in many cases your interaction with one customer will be visible to all – and to the media. This is not a call center. A negative customer interaction can be seen and interpreted by others even if the customer involved does not complain. In an ideal world you will own your brand name or something very close to it as a Twitter username. This is what your customer searches for when trying to find you on Twitter, so make it easy for them. If you need to add something to your brand for a username, make it reflective of the inclusive and responsive nature of Twitter. Make it clear that this is the primary customer service contact for your brand in the Twitterverse. Having a customer service presence on Twitter does not mean that this account should be devoid of personality. In all likelihood this account will be more active, at least in responding, than the executive leadership account(s) – thus the voice that is used is a vital component of brand communication. As always with Twitter, be consistent in tone and echo the core brand attributes and personality. If there is more than one individual handling the account, it can be a nice touch to “sign” the tweet with name or initials, letting the consumer know which person is “speaking” at a given time. This works best with small CS teams. Finally, don’t make the customer service/overall brand account just about responding. Be proactive rather than reactive. Here is where core brand personality is most in the mix. The level of formality and the kinds of tweets will vary widely from company to company and product to product. If you have one individual handling the account, you may very well wish to have that person tweet about their everyday life. You may wish to tweet and retweet industry news, or tidbits related to the culture of your customer base. However it is handled, there should be a consistency with all other brand communications, while taking into account the special characteristics of Twitter: its immediacy, its one to many nature, its transparency and authenticity, and its humanity (which can often be translated as informality). Marketing Tweets The activity of your marketing and media relations departments will vary substantially according to specific corporate needs and goals. As mentioned, it is Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  6. 6. important to be aware of differing voices within your brand mix; however it is to be hoped that your marketing department, as keepers of the brand, will be highly aware of and sensitive to brand perception. Having too few voices can be a liability as well; as the perception may become that the voice of your corporate culture is too tightly controlled. It is very useful to have marketing and/or media relations active in the Twitterverse and listening to/participating in brand conversations. This can also be a good role from which to tweet industry news, interesting facts, and in general anything that reflects the company’s awareness of not just its own business but also the climate in which it lives and breathes. It is also perfectly fine for your media relations staffers to respond to media inquiries via Twitter. Being active in industry discussions will also provide media opportunities, since your marketers are perceived as a valuable part of the conversation. Since they are clearly identified as marketers, this team is expected to be brand promoters to some extent, but authenticity remains essential- Twitter is not an advertising forum. Individuals Your company is made up of individuals, each of whom has a unique voice, and many of whom will be active in social media. As with all social media outlets (and in fact all outlets of any kind) your employees’ behavior reflects directly upon the brand, especially if their employee status is visibly communicated in that forum. Individual employees who are active on Twitter but who are not part of the “authorized” messaging mix can be an advantage or a liability. In general, from a corporate perception standpoint, you do not want your company to be viewed as “keeping a lid on” employee voices, so sensitivity in this area is essential. It is important that, if employees identify themselves in their Twitter profiles as working for the company, they explicitly state that their tweets are personal and not associated with the corporation. It is also recommended that employees with whose Twitter activity you are not familiar be directed to avoid any and all tweets regarding company business, the experience of working at the company, or anything else which directly relates to the brand. You will learn quickly from employees’ Twitter activities whether they are adding to the brand essence by their communications. At this juncture you will make decisions: to authorize an employee to be more visibly “Sarah from ZCo”, to allow an employee to chat more freely about their work life, or to request that they alter their communications or remove any company association from their profile. The strictures here will vary enormously depending upon company culture and the sensitivity of your business, product, or legal requirements within your industry. Remember, as with all social media, your policies regarding employees will probably become public knowledge; so be clear, fair, friendly, and ethical. If you do have specific legal requirements around, for instance, brand promises (such as a pharmaceutical company making “cure” claims) you must issue employee guidelines regarding these and provide such guidelines to every hire. Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009
  7. 7. Conclusion While managing your company’s Twitter activities may seem complex and/or daunting, the rewards of this kind of engagement far outweigh the risks of not participating at all. Your brand is defined by the conversations your customers are having, and Twitter provides a currently invaluable tool for participating in the conversation. The immediacy of the medium requires attention, which can only be positive for brand integrity; as well, Twitter provides an unprecedented opportunity for executives to both reach and understand their consumer. Enjoy the conversation! Strategy & Flair July 2, 2009