Twitter is a great tool when used creatively, but, don’t forget, it’s just medium like any other and the same rules apply.  There are a few brands that really work social networking and a few celebrities who bolster their brand by entertaining us in this new media space, but I find the majority of tweeters, in reality (because I think Twitter brings out the “real” in everybody) a bit of a let-down.  So, while we marketers push our clients into social networking, I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t a bit like giving a firearm to a toddler.

Quite smart people fail to fully understand what they are doing with Twitter.  For instance, I decided to follow the dragons from the TV series Dragons Den.  After all, they are accomplished business people so my expectation – reasonable I think – was that I might pick up a few business insights and maybe the inside track of a few Dragon’s Den stories.  How wrong could  I have been?  I can live with the fact that Deborah Meaden hasn’t used her profile.  At least she isn’t wasting my time or contradicting her on-screen brand persona.  Theo Paphitis started Tweeting, but gave up after a week.  Probably too busy counting his money – fair enough!  While James Caan seems to have grasped the golden rule of Twitter – If you haven’t got anything to say, shut up! Peter  Jones and Duncan Bannatyne, in contrast, must have done untold damage to their personal brands (although my guess is that Peter Jones’s brand equity had already been drastically diminished by his appearance on that ghastly TV commercial for insurance or something) by resorting to a drawn-out and vulgar public game of  one-upmanship – a constant barrage of claims and counter claims about whose holiday was most lavish and who had the most money.  A mistake on so many levels and very much in the realm of failing to deliver their brand promise, which, as any marketer knows, is the number one no-no for any brand.

You might argue that Stephen Fry, raconteur, wit and professional twit, has less to lose.  I’d expected a few one-liners maybe, clever use of 140 characters and elegant satire from him, but instead when opening my Twitter home page I was greeted each day with a torrent of meaningless and undecipherable text-speak, all from him.  I quickly “unfollowed”.

The BBC newsreader, presenter and journalist Susanna Reid might fall toward the “homely” end of the newsperson scale, but for heaven’s sake, a morning TV presenter is supposed to be smart.  On Twitter she appears decidedly dippy and spent three days last week canvassing advice on how to set up her i-Pad – hardly the place to get into a long forum-type discussion and definitely not one where a serious newsperson should be seen struggling with household appliances.  Very much out-classed by her co-presenter Sian Williams, who, at least, sticks to business.

Apart from shattering a few of my illusions, these Tweets, I have also just discovered, are having another more significant impact on my own brand.  Because my Tweet history is linked to my LinkedIn profile where they appear for everyone to see, I find I am inadvertently breaking one of my own basic rules for brands – “beware the company you keep”.  As I have said many times, consistency is the secret of a strong brand and the company it keeps, which means other brands, distributors, retailers, famous people and more, are taken as stong indicators of your values and beliefs.  The same applies to personal brands.  I should waste no time in acting on my instinct to unfollow the Tweeters that I have ben unimpressed by.

If I was disappointed by individual Tweeters corporate users have proven no better.  There are no brand communities more potent than those of retailers, but so few really get the Twitter and FaceBook thing.  I was talking about this to the head of marketing for one of the UK’s biggest restaurant chains a few weeks back and I’ve been sensitive to the way the sub-sector uses social networking ever since.  There are quite a few retail food chains that include Twitter and FaceBook in their communications portfolio, but the way they use the medium is very mixed.  For instance I have always considered Nandos to be a fun brand, ideally suited to Twitter, but a couple of weeks ago a bunch of international sportsmen were larging up Nandos on Twitter and there was no reaction from the company itself – an opportunity missed.  Similarly Taybarns had a load of  Tweets about a Carling promotion they were running and failed to leverage the opportunity.  This smacks of the old one-way communications habit that I thought had died out a few years ago and is the antithesis of what social networking is all about.  Twitter is for listening as well as talking.

Half using social networking is about as realistic as being a bit gay.  The fact is, either you are in or you are out and leveraging just some elements of Twitter doesn’t mean that the remaining elements aren’t working, it’s just that you aren’t controlling them. This applies to businesses and celebrities.  Maybe a Twitter account should come with a health warning “WARNING. TWITTER CAN SERIOUSLY JEPARDISE YOUR CREDIBILITY” or an induction course on how to, at least, avoid committing on-line hara-kiri.  The BBC at least seem to have spotted the dangers here and have sent Susanna Reid to it.  I know because she’s Tweeting the entire content live as I write this!  Probably the most interesting Tweets she’s sent so far in her Twitter experience.  I hope the first of many.

Oh, the power of the media and the innocence of those who don’t appreciate that the principles of branding apply to all of us!

Michael Weaver
June 10, 2010

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