Corporate Twitter Entities – Yay or Nay?

There have been some interesting discussions lately – both online and off – around the business value of Twitter. As part of those discussions, we’ve noticed some varying opinions on whether or not corporations should establish their own entity on this rapidly-growing micro-blogging community.

When we first established @PerkettPR, we were immediately called out (coincidentally by PR/marketing competitors) for a few incorrect (on their part) assumptions:

1) That we had just joined Twitter without research, or a “lurking” phase

2) That we were only joining Twitter to promote our involvement in bringing TechCrunch MeetUp to Boston

3) That we would spam people (which in and of itself is an inaccurate label to use, considering the way Twitter works)

4) That we would not use our corporate entity wisely and that a “corporation” was not a “person” and therefore couldn’t participate in conversation

A few months later in March, some of these same naysayers have not only set up their own corporate entities (although most have yet to actually update/use them) but they have encouraged others to do so. That leads us to today and our questions to you:

1) Can a corporation participate in conversations on Twitter?

2) Are there certain types of businesses that should not establish a Twitter presence?

3) Do you follow any corporations on Twitter?

4) Why or why not?

Most, if not all, of our staff has individual entities on Twitter (mine’s @missusP if you’d like to engage). We spent months on Twitter watching, conversing (about business and personal issues) and getting to know the landscape before we established our corporate entity. We use @PerkettPR to share interesting developments that our constituents – those who choose to follow us – may find of interest. This can range from client news to agency news to events, interesting articles, blog posts and more. In doing so, we’ve developed new and stronger relationships with reporters, bloggers, clients – even new business prospects and competitors – as well as insightful feedback and new awareness opportunities for clients.

We believe our participation at an individual level helps us to truly understand the community and that we can engage both as indiviudals and as a team – just as in real life. This quote from Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang also reaffirmed this belief for us:

“I can’t imagine ever advising a client to deal with an advertising, PR, or interactive team that doesn’t get social media….agencies must demonstrate they can participate before they can ever help clients with it.”

We have several clients who have Twitter identities. @mzinga and @Q1labs are the two most recent to join. It remains to be seen if all types of corporations can participate in – and benefit from – Twitter as much as individuals do, but obviously we believe great potential exists. What do you think?

Examples of businesses on Twitter:

@JetBlue

@CNN

@ssldl (This is a local library in one of our staff’s Midwestern towns. How cool is that?!)

@mahalotravel

@hawaiianshirts

@suddenlyslimmer

@hockeygiant

@speedypin

37 thoughts on “Corporate Twitter Entities – Yay or Nay?

  1. I think corporations certainly can and should participate on Twitter, but so far I’ve mostly seen cases where it was done badly. Many start with a blatant attempts to get me to follow a company with which I have no existing relationship or interest – the Twitter equivalent of Spam. If a corp is going to start following me, at a minimum it should have a profile that tells me why I should be interested. Last time I checked, I had 15 such outstanding follows, and half of those companies appear to have gone out of business or at least stopped updating Twitter.

    The most effective use of Twitter is from other social media businesses such as Seesmic and Techcocktail. I would welcome tweets from products that I use telling me of new features or new content that might be of interest. That’s much less intrusive than getting emails from them.

    I can imagine getting updates from airlines or stores telling me of sales, but I’m not such a shopper and would probably not follow them myself.

    The tricky part of corporate use of Twitter is how much should the corp be listening as well as broadcasting. We all claim to like companies that are responsive to customers, but the idea of Walmart listening to all my tweets is a bit creepy.

  2. Christopher, thank you for the thoughtful response. Clearly, some is personal preference (as you mentioned, airlines, shopping, etc.) and a lot still has to be learned. Some companies (most, hopefully) are actual people behind the Twitter account and some are bots. We found two more great examples after this blog post, thanks to our Twitter friends:

    @HRBlock and @DellOutlet

  3. The sites you’ve listed don’t give an encouraging picture of business use of Twitter. Of the 8 listed, only 2 have any followers to speak of.

    It’s easy to see why CNN is followed. Their product (breaking news headlines) fits Twitter’s paradigm perfectly, plus it’s something people want, and they’re giving it away.

    I’m sort of at a loss to explain why JetBlue has over 1000 followers. Reading back on the timeline, most of their posts are promotional, which on Twitter typically doesn’t fly (so to speak). It does seem to be coming from one person, which is good, and the more recent ones seem to be reaching out for opinions and suggestions. But many corporations do the same thing with no repsonse. Do you have any insight on this, Chris?

    I think Twitter would be a great contact point for a company ombudsman. Someone to listen to customer’s issues and get through to the right people inside. Nothing makes me more frustrated that the usual stonewall you get from a corporation. And conversely, nothing makes me connect to a company more than when they treat me like a human being and are transparent. Putting a human face on an otherwise cold and uncaring corporation is a worthwhile use of Twitter, I think.

  4. Joe,

    Thank you for your comments. Certainly the businesses we identified are still figuring out their Twitter strategies – and, like any smart company, treading carefully. It takes time to build a “following,” as I know you know, and as corporations, they need to be especially careful – so not to offend or “spam” the community. This is a big challenge for businesses trying to use Twitter.

    What is the best way to let your constituents know you are on Twitter? What is the best way to expand awareness of why you are on Twitter, when Twitter is so new to so many? How does a corporation choose who to follow and still keep its reputation intact?

    These are all questions that we are helping clients and prospects explore and understand. Feedback from community folks like you is so helpful and appreciated.

    As for JetBlue – they have the advantage of brand preference. I prefer to fly JetBlue – so while their current message stream is not yet at the value I’d prefer (I like the promotions but I’d also like more real time updates on delays, weather, etc.) – I follow them hoping that they, like all of us, will continue to learn and refine the way they communicate in communities like Twitter.

    Another interesting company that was brought to our attention yesterday is @HRBlock. They, too, are exploring the use of Twitter. We were pleasantly surprised to hear back from them – almost immediately – and to discover that their Twitter stream is run by actual people (not a bot). I could see a great deal of value from a company like H&R Block in terms of tax tips, tax reminders, etc.

    I agree with you on the “customer ombudsman” idea. It’s a great one! The challenge is – identifying whether or not your customers are on Twitter and finding them to let them know that you are also there, and available.

    Of course, hire the right PR firm and they can promote your Twitter presence in the right way to the right audiences – and help make it a useful and valuable initiative. :-)

  5. Joe,

    Check out my little library’s feed: @ssldl – I actually learned about phone in story time and some other local events through them – I honestly cant believe they are this progressive and they have a tiny following (I mean, how many people in South Lyon, MI even know what Twitter is) – but they have the right idea – good information to interested parties, not spamming.

    I like that companies are giving this a go.

    –Lisa

  6. Chris,

    Great post and even more interesting discussion in the comments. We (Mzinga) are just trying out the corporate twitter presence thing and it’s hard to know exactly where we’re going with our journey. At the end of the day, like PerketPR we are planning on announcing upcoming events (mostly social), educational webinars, podcasts, etc. Definitely no spam involved.

    Given the fact that the three voices behind our corporate @mzinga address are Jim Storer (@jstorerj) Colin Browning (@crbrowning) and myself (@astrout), we felt comfortable moving forward with a corporate presence because:
    1) we’re being transparent about it
    2) we’ve all got a decent amount of service time/experience with Twitter so we weren’t going in blind.

    So far, the response has been mostly positive. We’ve tried to make it fun following @mzinga by giving away schwag but I think a lot of people have followed because they’re interested in seeing what we have to say. Many of the followers are friends or colleagues of Jim’s, Colin’s or mine.

    There has been some interesting conversation going on about this topic on Shel Israel’s blog (see the comment’s) – http://snurl.com/23k7x.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post. Great topic!

    Best,
    Aaron (@astrout)

  7. Aaron, thank you for the comment. It will be an interesting year to follow Mzinga’s journey as well as other corporations on Twitter. We’re all learning as we go and I think given the nature of the community, we’ll all learn FROM each other as well.

    As you know, Jeremiah Owyang has been driving a lot of great discussion about corporate activity in social media. A recent interesting post – specific to corporate social media policies – is below.
    http://tinyurl.com/5qz5se

  8. Christine,

    Interesting post. I’ve blogged about Twittering from a PR perspective here:
    http://pr-media-blog.co.uk/how-do-you-tweet-yours/

    I’m continually exploring the advantages and uses of Twitter from a PR point of view but personally I don’t yet buy into the idea of a corporate identity Twitter feed.

    If anything, it’s the extension of the standard RSS press office feed which only appeals to brand advocates. You’re not going to follow a brand unless you’re a brand follower already.

    For corporations out there who are setting up Twitter accounts, I can only hope it will prove successful and will encourage others to embrace this fascinating application.

  9. I landed on your website because you opted to follow my tweets, perhaps not knowing that my activity at http://topgold.jaiku.com is more lucid. My deviation from Twitter to here is probably proof of the positive effect of microblogs.

    However, I’m not following you on Twitter because I have to control the flow somehow. Instead, I’ve subscribed to your blog and that should be worth more to you than a blind Twitter following in your posse.

  10. Michael and Bernie – thank you for your comments. I find both of your insights on brand and Twitter very interesting. I want to continue the dialogue as I think not only is it fascinating to hear everyone’s differing opinions, it is also going to be a fluid discovery of value. Value will be different to everyone and it will change over time, don’t you agree?

    For example, I would never subscribe to @JetBlue or @HRBlock blogs. I don’t have that much time nor am I enough of a customer (or at all in H&R Block’s case) to have that level of interest. But I do follow them on Twitter to see how they are participating in the community as corporate entities. But if they begin to use it unwisely, and I see the value fade, I will stop following them.

    Thank you again for visiting and I hope we hear more from you both soon.

  11. I think there are definite use cases for corporations and similar entities to establish a presence on Twitter. As has been mentioned already in this thread, the key if is for content within their tweets to have value for their followers.

    I also don’t mind if an entity chooses simply to regurgitate what they are posting to their blog. Twitter is simply another medium which can be used to broadcast. People sponge their information from plenty of different sources. Some add feeds into their RSS reader. Some track Twitter. And plenty are still using TV and Radio. As noted above, CNN is a good example of exploring all the broadcast channels. I see no problem with Company X posting an item on its blog and simultaneously using Twitter to get the road out. Those that are annoyed by that duplication should probably opt-out and turn off one of those spigots.

    A recent example that is very interesting to me is http://twitter.com/redsoxcast . I have no idea if the Red Sox set this up themselves or if it was fan. Now I can already follow Red Sox game action in a tons of places…espn.com, mlb.tv, sports.yahoo.com, NESN and WEEI (if I’m lucky enough to be back in New England). Yet I started to follow redsoxcast on Twitter and have since enjoyed seeing game updates pop up in my Twitter timeline on Twhirl. It has actually replaced espn.com gamecast as my non-video means of staying on top of what’s going on in Sox games.

    But back to the use cases… One thing I’m doing at Stanford University is to help craft their Twitter strategy, a strategy that starts with Stanford integrating Twitter usage into Reunion Homecoming Weekend – an event which over 5000 people attend. We’ll be setting the organizers up with “official Stanford Twitter accounts” which attendees can follow to get updates on last-minute schedule and venue changes that inevitably happen (for example, if it rains). I think that’s a solid use case for Stanford as an entity. Furthermore, Stanford can become an enabler to connect its alumni with each other on Twitter. This strengthens the relationships alumni have with each other and, ultimately, with the university.

  12. J.J.,

    Thank you for your insightful comment. I am absolutely loving the discussions here. I also happen to love @redsoxcast. I think it’s a fan but I’m not sure – maybe they’ll tell us if I ask on Twitter!

    Your Reunion Weekend strategy sounds extremely interesting and very smart – I hope your audience will embrace it. We’ll be eager to hear how it goes – I love that even in one of America’s finest educational institutions, a medium like Twitter is being tested and vetted for value. Please keep us updated on the progress of your event – we would love to hear how it turns out. Good luck!

  13. btw…I also think that entertainment companies and studios (Warner Brothers, Sony, Dreamworks, etc) are missing the boat when it comes to using Twitter as a component in their hype machine. Folks follow @darthvader and they definitely soaked up (fake) @stevejobs.
    With the Iron Man move coming out, why isn’t there an active twitter account for @ironman or @tonystark. If there was @brucewayne existed and the tweets , I would probably follow it. Imagine how @brucewayne would become totally silent when @batman was out tweeting while capturing villans

  14. I’ve had lots of people ask what got me involved in Twitter and how effective it’s been for Zappos. I have no idea how effective it’s been for driving sales (probably not much), I just do it because it’s fun and another great way to communicate with customers.

  15. Tony,

    Thanks for chiming in. I will be very interested to see if you eventually see an increase driven from Twitter. I can imagine that it has helped remind folks what you do and, just seeing “zappos.com” makes me want to buy shoes. (But then again, I might be slightly addicted.)

    I think what the real value is right now is that seeing you interacting on Twitter is putting a human touch to your brand. For me, that’s invaluable and makes me want to buy from you over competitors.

    Keep up the innovative work – we love it.

    Chris

  16. Chris,

    Thanks for “setting the table” on a fascinating and evolving story. Like you, the folks at mzinga, hrblock, jetblue and more, we’ve established a corporate identity for http://www.spire.com (@spire was taken so we settled for our tagline “the good life shared” – @goodlifeshared)

    We’re taking it slowly now-don’t have the manpower to twitter consistently every day, but thought it would be interesting to call out the following things.

    1. A corporate twitter entity obviously needs to be transparent and (at times) engaging and personal, but we’re finding that challenging without a real “face” to the brand. @savvyauntie has done a great job of doing both, because essentially, the founder, Melanie (THE savvy auntie) is both. I think that really helps her followers engage with who and what she is. Kudos to her, she’s done a great job.

    2. We’re getting ready for our site re-launch now and being very careful not to to plug our brand. (as you point out above)The key question here is how to build viral growth of our company that is virtually unknown to most of the twitterers out there. That’s my job, and something I love figuring out.

    3. Our company is based on the idea of community of people looking to “share the good life” so we’re not just pitching a product/airfares/widgets, we’re actually talking about other people, places and things that may be relevant OUTSIDE the website and unrelated to Spire…So, imagine if people JUST wanted to hear from us just from Twitter and not via our newsletter and/or personal email? There’s a whole new member engagement strategy we get to ponder…

    So, the journey continues- learning and refining as we go…

  17. Sorry I’m so late to the game here, but I just wanted to add that my number one annoyance with corporate twitter accounts is “them” following me first – I loved how @mzinga did it and had their guys out promoting and getting people to come and follow, although I’ve noticed that the @mzinga account hasn’t actually updated lately.

    @goodridge actually did the same today with me (leading me to the corp. twitter account, rather than having it follow me first) by sharing the corporate twitter account @goodlifeshared with me after sharing this post with me when I asked about good posts on marketing/pr using twitter/LinkedIn, etc.

    I love how some companies use their twitter accounts as sounding boards and I really like that a lot of tech organizations look to twitter for feedback and issues. Wikispaces and diigo do an awesome job of using twitter searches to respond almost immediately to user concerns and frustrations about their services. More companies should take this into consideration, whether or not they have a corporate twitter account.

    I could go on and on, but I found this post after researching for my own planned post on this, so I’ll stop here for now………thanks for great insight on this topic!

  18. Tyson and Kate,

    Thank you for sharing your insights this morning. This topic continues to inspire conversation and really – that’s what we were hoping for. Hearing insights, experiments and feedback will help us all to – as Tyson said – learn and refine as we go. Doing so as a community and sharing our experiences will only make us all better at doing it right.

    Tyson – I look forward to watching what you will do with @goodlifeshared. Sounds like you are off to a great start.

    Kate, please share with us when your post is written – we’d love to read it as well. You can reach me directly @missusP or our corporate account @PerkettPR (where we share client and PR news, events updates, etc. – and for where we will now take into consideration your comments about letting people find and follow us first…I like that approach).

    Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing.

    Christine

  19. Christine -

    I’ll most certainly share the post with you when it’s written, and just wanted to second Tyson’s opinion that Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie (@savvyauntie) has done a spectacular job of using twitter to launch her new “brand” (yet to be launched site). She’s also blogging about it with great success at http://savvyauntie.blogspot.com. I have to say that one of the reasons this might be working so well is that she IS one person blogging both personal and business, but whatever it is, it’s successful.

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  23. @Christine

    - Thanks for the mention in this article. I’m actually the only one within the company using Twitter, as I handle the our online presence.

    Like many Twitter users, I began dabbling with Twitter just to see what everybody was hymning and hawing about.

    In all honestly, other than to sort of keeping in touch with those I follow and those who follow me, I do not use Twitter all that much.

    However, I do believe that with enough followers, Twitter is a nice conduit for spreading timely and targeted information. For example, affiliate managers can use Twitter to relay specials or news to a core group of their affiliate partners, or maybe even to a select few Super Affiliates.

    Love the blog! Keep up the great work.

    - Eric Itzkowitz

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