Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Twitter Branding Debate

Since my last post on Twitter, there have been a couple articles and discussions going on about the whole idea of Twittering as a branded company name or using your personal name while representing a brand. I'd like to share some conclusions I have reached that would be effective for any brand, not just automotive. Here it goes...

There are three approaches to Twiiter ID naming for brand communications on Twitter:

1. Simply use the brand name like @Zappos
2. Do a hybrid that adds a friendly name with the brand like @Alicia_at_Honda
3. Name only like @SeattleGirl who Twitters for Microsoft

David Armano recently wrote an article for Ad Age titled “When Personal and Corporate Web 2.0 Brands Collide” where he reaches the conclusion of the concept of “brandividuals” where two brands come together, the personal and the corporate. David doesn’t really take a clear stance on what method is preferred when it comes to branding your Twitter ID name; instead, he just feels “people with real faces” are best for the medium. I agree. The real face matters in the Twitter medium.

The thing I am finding with Twitter is that the real face does come through from effective Twitter communicators like the Zappos CEO Tony or with Frank from Comcast, who Twitters under the ID @comcastdotnet. So, brands with interesting people who can write interesting things, do develop a following under a branded name. You basically don’t need the person’s name in the ID, just the brand name will do. The most important element is having an effective communicator for the brand and effective communication can come from either three methods for Twitter ID naming.

There are two big issues when using option #2 (hybrid) or #3 (using a person’s ID only.)

Regarding a hybrid Twitter ID, it helps personalize the communication by having a person’s name clearly there. That’s the positive. The negative is when a person like Alicia leaves Honda or moves to a new job in the company, the brand would have to change their ID to the hybrid name of the new person. Doing this would lose the thousands of followers gained under the Alicia_at_Honda account. Following is the equity built on Twitter and it would have to be rebuilt under a new identity which is confusing for the brand’s audience and would require some effort by Alicia to help with the transition to a new Twitter ID.

The same issue exists when a company leverages the social following of a personal Twitter ID like @SeattleGirl (Marty Collins). When the person leaves or changes roles with a company he or she has all of the followers attached to their personal account and not a branded ID. This leaves a very messy transition for someone like SeattleGirl where she must promote a new Microsoft identity to get her followers to move to, but they have established their relationship more with her and less with the brand.

Of course even branded accounts that have the person behind the curtain leave can suffer if the new person taking over is less effective. What’s nice about Twitter is that it is very democratic. I can simply un-follow you with a simple click if I don’t like your communication updates.

The big benefit of going with a branded Twitter ID like @JetBlue is that they don’t have to rebuild their following like options 2 and 3 do. It is also quite clear from an effectiveness perspective to see how well the brand is doing if it is gaining a large following. This is really difficult to measure when option #3 is used, because there can be a lot of reasons why a person is being “followed.” It could’ve been from a prior following, the person’s professional network, fame factor, or other things that may have more to do with the person than say an interest in the brand. So, it is difficult to tell if the brand is really effective in the Twitter medium when using option 3.

My belief is that brands should use a brand ID when doing Twitter or any social media communication. Their equity, in the long-term, will go beyond just one person if the brand is committed to social media. The number of Followers the brand is able to engage over several staffing changes will establish effectiveness on a medium like Twitter.

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