(Originally published in Social Media Explorer)
Social media thrives on one thing: accessibility. Whether it’s seeing the biggest stars’ daily routines or scoring the scoop from a trusted reporter, people want to feel in touch and informed — down to the second. Your Twitter followers want all of these things from your brand. But they want something else, too: They want to know you’re human.
That’s why an automated Twitter response is such a disappointment for your followers. It tells them your brand is unavailable, or worse, “too big to care.” But there’s a better way to keep your followers engaged and excited, as well as give them a taste of your brand’s more personal side: Treat Twitter as a place for humor, play, and experimentation — in real time.
Risk and Reward
Personifying your brand is important because it helps you build a personality, not just a brand voice. And the first step toward building a personality is universal: finding a sense of humor. That’s exactly why Twitter fans love wacky jokes and clever retorts from brands they follow. Here’s a great example: Someone tweeted a snarky barb at Smart Car, criticizing its flagship product. So what did Smart Car do? It tweeted back an informative infographic and a witty reply. This seems risky, right? But it actually hit the mark perfectly — and scored media kudos as one of the “funniest replies from a brand yet.”
A quick look at Smart Car’s followers would show that this move isn’t as dangerous as it seems: The car brand’s fans are daring, they like to break convention, and they loathe “corporate speak.” This retort was spur-of-the-moment, smart, and real, which means it’s a perfect fit — even though it seems off-the-cuff. (Imagine what might have happened if Smart Car’s comeback had been scripted instead: “We’re sorry you feel that way. How can we help?” It would have been a disaster.)
Rules of the Game
There’s a clear strategy at work here: Be spontaneous but informed. But, like any bold move, the risk should be calculated, authentic, and, most importantly, true to your fans. So how can big brands balance those three traits without incurring too much risk on a public social platform? Here are a few ideas:
- Make your partners — or even your competitors — look good. Losers try to discredit their rivals and end up discrediting themselves. What if Microsoft complimented Google instead of running its infamous “Scroogled” campaign? Brands should use Twitter to expand their audience and engage new people, not alienate the ones who already follow them.
- Know your audience. If you have a lot of engaged, vocal followers who like more wholesome, conservative brands, you’re better off staying on the safe side. Be nice, like Coca-Cola, which answers every tweet with a “thanks.” But if your brand is more daring, like Red Bull or Virgin Airlines, you can push the limits instead. (DiGiorno’s “cheeky” commentary during “The Sound of Music” is a great example.)
- Get your timing right. We’ve all seen these infamous tweets, like Kim Kardashian’s ill-timed product promotion in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado. These mistakes might be understandable to marketing executives, but they’re absolutely mystifying (and that much more tone-deaf) to Twitter users. Be careful about what you respond to — and when you’re responding, too.
You can achieve this fun, playful engagement across all kinds of media, but some are far riskier to your brand — and your budget — than others. Here’s an example: TV is expensive, and it involves planning, testing, and round after round of review. And that means that, on TV, being “wacky” is a bigger gamble than ever.
Twitter, on the other hand, is fast and low-risk, which makes it perfect for “testing” new voices and ideas. Why? It is low-cost, low-effort, and, unless you’re attracting the wrong kind of media attention, has a pretty short memory. There’s also a wealth of social information for you to access, so you can tailor your experimental tweets to fit your followers.
Start with a solid analysis of your brand’s target audience. Some of the limits and guardrails that you’ll create for your Twitter presence are intuitive; other times, you’ll have to rely on data to tell you where your followers’ interests lie. Crunching numbers on what they care about, what they’re listening to, and what they’re watching will give you key insights into what’s likely to trigger a laugh or a retweet — and make a lasting impression. And the more data you have to inform your social worldview, the better your off-the-cuff tweets will be — and the better response you’ll get from your followers.
After all, Twitter is made for play, not work. And that’s why you should make your followers feel like they’re connecting with a person, not a brand representative. Don’t be afraid to experiment and engage your followers in new, innovative ways — and have a little fun doing it, too.
Segment your audience in hours — not weeks or months — all without asking questions. Craft campaigns and products that appeal to their personalities and unique interests.