As Cerebra expands its client base with big brands including the likes of Vodacom, Samsung and Toyota, we’re learning valuable lessons about what works when it comes to engaging customers on Twitter.

No two brands are exactly the same. Every brand has a different message, culture, strategy and even audience. There’s no arguing that Twitter offers brands a unique opportunity to reach and converse with a captive audience in a relatively personal space – not only to sell but also to learn – but not without a handful of strategic challenges that must be navigated early on. This series of posts will hopefully highlight, and give clues to overcoming, these headaches.

The first challenge you’ll face when venturing into the Twittersphere is exactly how to present your brand. Twitter is after all a space that was designed for individuals and brands have had to adapt to that environment. I’ve been asked, “do we use a persona?”, “should the CEO be tweeting?”, “should multiple people tweet from one account?” etc. The truth is none of these are right or wrong, it’s just that certain options are better suited to some brands than others.

As I see it brands have four (broadly) possible options when deciding on their identity Twitter. Here they are in no particular order, I’ve picked examples for each option that were correct at the time of publishing:

  1. As a brand
  2. e.g. Huggies, Woolworths

    Companies can choose to present themselves as a logo with a voice. This voice can be authored by an individual, a team of individuals or even an agency. Regardless, the individual / consumer on Twitter is never introduced to the origin of the voice.

    On the plus side, this approach allows you to build a team behind the Twitter profile and spread the responsibility of publishing and interacting across a number of individuals. It also will be the option most closely aligned to your CI, and ensure that your brand logo is seen, literally, every time you tweet.

    On the negative side this approach is rather impersonal, and gives the average Twitter user the feeling they are speaking to a big grey building rather than an individual, or group of individuals, who genuinely care about them and their concerns.

  3. As a team behind a brand
  4. e.g. Ford

    In this case a brand will choose to present themselves as a logo but use the Twitter bio or background, or the tweets themselves, to introduce the individual team members behind the content and interactions. The bio from Ford’s Twitter account does this very nicely:

    Drive One. This account is run by @ScottMonty (^SM) Digital Communications & @AHall32 (^AH) Technology Communications, with occasional help from our agency team

    Tweets end with either ^SM or ^AH to indicate who authored them. This adds a personability and approachability to the account while maintaining the brand identity through the constant appearance of the logo. At Cerebra we highly recommend this strategy, as a change in personnel behind the account is less disruptive. Some of our team accounts have up to 7 or 8 people working on them at one time, using tools like hootsuite to co-ordinate efforts between them.

  5. As a (real) individual
  6. e.g. Comcast (Bill Gerth)

    Some brands elect to present themselves to the Twittersphere through a single person in the business, often from the marketing or executive teams. Everyone who follows the account is followed in return and engagement is often encouraged to be offline (Bill will ask people with complaints to DM him directly, thereby taking the conversation out of public scrutiny.) This ‘offline’ approach is not unique to these kinds of profiles though, often employed by teams or brands too.

    The major disadvantage with this approach, provided of course that Bill is actually a real person sitting behind a desk at Comcast, is what happens the day he decides to leave the company. That personality he’s spent so much time building up at Comcast is suddenly rendered useless. I guess a team or individual could pick up the account and run with it behind the scenes but that would just be odd.

    So what you gain in personability and approachability using this approach you lose on the risks of having your brand associated with one person’s name. Even if it’s the CEO, it’s a risk.

  7. As a (not so real) individual, persona or character
  8. e.g. FNB (R. B. Jacobs)

    In South Africa we have an exceptional example of the fourth approach to Twitter branding – the persona. FNB, a local bank, uses an identity known as @RBJacobs, who is touted as an individual and speaks as an individual even though he is clearly not real (R. B. Jacobs is the generic name printed on credit cards in FNB advertising).

    This account is managed by a number of people behind the scenes but we are never introduced to them, nor are we aware at any point in time which of those people we are engaging with. This is not a bard approach as one can be quite creative with the creation of a persona, and can have a team working on it.

    The disadvantage is that it is clearly not a real person, which is sometimes a drawback for certain users on Twitter – a bit like telling the Ronald McDonald statue that your burger is off.

Once again it’s important to note that none of these approaches is right or wrong. Which direction you take as a brand will depend entirely on the resources available to you and your willingness to be vulnerable and open in social media.

Regardless of what you decide make sure there is a workflow and strategy for addressing issues brought to the attention of your Twitter profile so that you can deliver on the ‘immediacy’ expectation so characterised by these channels. Users will expect you to react as though you’re sitting glued to the screen all day, with nothing better to do than solve their problems. Good luck!