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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

How to be Social: Part 2 – Twitter

April 1, 2010 by Jacoub Bondre

Illustration by Brian Ross & Haley Fiege

Welcome to Part 2 in our series on “How to be Social.” Part 1 covered the basic rules of social interaction for brands. Part 1.5 looked at a recent incident where a brand didn’t follow the rules, and the consequences of that decision. Over the next few posts in this series, we’ll introduce some of the key technologies and venues at play in the social space.

Let’s start with a technology that has recently been suggested to deserve a Nobel Prize for its role during the 2009 Iranian election unrest.

Twitter, like many social-media technologies, is called a “micro-blogging” platform.

From the everyday minutia of your life to the big ideas behind life, you can broadcast whatever you want on Twitter – all in ultra-short bursts. You can draw attention to your latest blog posts by sharing a link. You can start a topic trend with a hash tag (“#”). And you can speak directly to another user by using the “@” character.

Every time you Tweet something, those 140 characters are sent out and appear in your follower’s twitter feeds. Conversations on Twitter resemble a disorganized classroom:

Jane Doe shouts something out, and if someone finds the little chunk of an idea interesting, they may shout back with an @ or a #. But for all the promise of “conversation,” real conversations are rare on Twitter. For the most part, users shout out thoughts, ideas, and commentary in a one-to-many ratio.

So, how does a brand get in on the action?

It starts with this insight: people follow people (or brands) when they are interested in what that person (or brand) has to say.

Well branded Twitter feeds need to serve at least one of three purposes. They should be either:

1. Entertaining
2. Informative
3. Useful

1,600,000 people follow @ThatKevinSmith because he is funny.
27,633 follow @CBCNews because of the information it provides.
I follow my apartment building so I can be updated on issues pertaining to the building (utility).

People follow me, I hope, for all three reasons, though it could be out of pure unadulterated pity.

Let’s take a look at two brands and how they use Twitter:

@myStarbucksIdea
Starbucks combines offers (Useful), new product information (Informative), and thoughtful/thought-provoking ideas. They have more than 12,000 followers, and are following about 12,000 people. Next, let’s look at Skittles.

@Skittles
Skittles has about 1,000 followers, and are following 0 people. They have a steady stream of clever and often funny Skittle-related Tweets. Skittles also based their entire interactive campaign in the social space, putting ad dollars and press releases behind the initiative, which brings me to my next point.

The rules I outlined in Part 1 apply here too. In other words, it’s not solely what you do, but how you do it in the social space. Starbucks has nearly as many followers as it follows. It has a reputation of responding (and quickly) to mentions, and actively engages with its followers.

Skittles did/does not. And just as quickly as the press releases came out promoting its social media efforts, so too did the articles about its apparent failure. Just type “Skittles social media experiment” into google and you will get a slew of them. Here is one I just randomly picked out: When Skittles Met Twitter. Skittles not only broke the rules, they didn’t even apply them. They ignored the social aspect of social media.

Another way a brand can interact in the Twitterverse is by joining mass conversations. Twitter has trending topics. When users attach a # or @ to a key word in a post it becomes searchable by Twitter and other users. When many users use # or @ on the same keyword or phrase, the topic begins to trend up.

You will often also see people post something to the effect of, “Great conversation about the Olympics here: #Olympics.” Users and brands can then search for #Olympics and join a mass conversation about it. This, in my opinion, is a huge untapped opportunity to engage users and gather more brand stewards. If a brand starts or joins into a mass conversation about a topic relevant to that brand’s core audience, the opportunity for meaningful engagement is massive.

As with all social media marketing, a brand needs to be agile and skilled to exploit these opportunities. Active mass conversations occur spontaneously and sporadically and usually last from 30 minutes to a few hours. Some conversations last longer, for example, those that correspond to major events such as the Iranian elections or the earthquake in Haiti.

Brands also need to be cautious about the type of mass conversations they engage the public in, and how they interact in those situations. My suggestion would be to act like an MC, guiding the conversation, and contributing in small benign ways, allowing the public and your stewards to really drive the conversation.

Twitter is a unique and powerful social interaction tool. It is a potent combination of widely broadcasted ideas, and small personal interactions. This unique mix provides interesting opportunities for brands. Happy Tweeting.


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6 Comments on "How to be Social: Part 2 – Twitter"

  • j.f.
    April 2, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    you raise a lot of good points, but you’ve got the facts about one of your examples mixed up.

    the skittles article you linked to, and the backlash against their use of twitter, were from march 2009. that’s when all tweets with the hashtag #skittles appeared on the front page of skittles.com, and a lot of people used it to be vulgar and offensive.

    the @skittles twitter account didn’t even launch until december, when it was part of some new site design they launched, to *replace* the version that got bashed in those articles.

    so they should be following people, yeah, but that’s not what skittles has gotten criticized for.

  • Cecile
    April 2, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

    Thanks for the feedback on the @MyStarbucksIdea Twitter account. We love hearing from you and look forward to collaborating on more idea generating!

  • Jacoub Bondre
    April 3, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    @jf Good catch! I was trying to illustrate the shortsightedness in general when it came to thier social strategy. Not nevessarily using the article to highlight their lack of social interaction.

    Clarity was needed and not provided, and that is my bad. Really during the time that the Twitter feed was on their homepage, their biggest mistake was blindly broadcasting all skittles mentions before establihing a community. And as you can see they still haven’t.

    @Cecile Just by finding and commenting on this article you guys show your understanding and commitment to the media and your audience. So kudos, and thank you for reinforcing my article :D

    Jacoub

  • Umar Ghumman
    April 4, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

    Thanks for the insights! Looking forward to read more of theseries. I hope you cover ROI and KPI’s for social media as well!

    @MyStarbucksIdea I guess they are really paying attention to their Google alerts! Bravo!

  • Amy
    April 18, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    you raise a lot of good points, but you’ve got the facts about one of your examples mixed up.

    the skittles article you linked to, and the backlash against their use of twitter, were from march 2009. that’s when all tweets with the hashtag #skittles appeared on the front page of skittles.com, and a lot of people used it to be vulgar and offensive.

    the @skittles twitter account didn’t even launch until december, when it was part of some new site design they launched, to *replace* the version that got bashed in those articles.

    so they should be following people, yeah, but that’s not what skittles has gotten criticized for.

  • Jacoub Bondre
    July 18, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    LOL Hi Amy. I responded to this comment back when your name was j.f.

    “@jf Good catch! I was trying to illustrate the shortsightedness in general when it came to thier social strategy. Not nevessarily using the article to highlight their lack of social interaction.

    Clarity was needed and not provided, and that is my bad. Really during the time that the Twitter feed was on their homepage, their biggest mistake was blindly broadcasting all skittles mentions before establihing a community. And as you can see they still haven’t.”

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