Twitter enters the mainstream for brand communication

Stephen Fry Twitter
Stephen Fry Twitter

LONDON - Its celebrity posters have put Twitter well on the way to becoming a powerful brand.

The early adopter phase for Twitter is seemingly over. UK web traffic to the micro-blogging site has increased tenfold over the past 12 months and critics can no longer banish it to the geeky realms of the self-exhibitionist technophile. Twitter is gaining traction with a mainstream audience, thanks, in no small measure, to celebrity fans boosting its profile.

Launched in San Francisco in 2006, the venture capitalist-backed site has a simple premise: it allows people to update each other via web blogs and mobile messages in response to the question 'What are you doing?'

Stephen Fry's wry, amusing answers have gained him more than 130,000 'followers' interested in conversing with him about his 'manbag' and being stuck in a lift. Jonathan Ross (60,000 followers) used the service to speak to fans during his recent suspension from the BBC, while Barack Obama (240,000 followers) 'tweeted' to encourage people to vote in the US election.

 Brand presence

Computer brand Dell, an early convert to the site, has 80 Twitter groups, includ-ing Dell Outlets to tell people about specific deals and drive them to its websites to buy, and a Direct2Dell blog, which stimulates customer reviews and debate. 'Being direct is in our DNA,' says Bob Pearson, Dell vice-president of communities and conversations.

Other brands are starting to cotton on to Twitter as a means of having a genuine one-to-one chat with customers. Coffee chain Starbucks started its @mystarbucksidea Twitter account last July as an offshoot of its customer site to get customers to share their ideas with the brand. It now also has a general company Twitter account. Starbucks' 'principal Tweeter', Brad Nelson, says: 'It's like a virtual barista on Twitter; sometimes it's about coffee, sometimes it's about the company, and a lot of times it's just about life'.

Even the Labour Party is encouraging its MPs to talk to constituents via Twitter. One could argue, however, that putting brands, or politicians, directly in the firing line is a dangerous move.

Last week, for example, BBC news-room head Peter Horrocks made what he called 'an embarrassing cock-up' by announcing senior staff appointments in a Tweet to a colleague.

A Labour spokesman, though, insists that 'people have always been able to engage with their MP through older communication methods - such as by letter or in person - and this is really no different from that'.

Dell's Pearson says the concept of Twitter being dangerous to privacy or reputation is 'a myth of corporate America'. 'If people are upset, we are glad to hear about it because then we can do something about it,' he adds.

Robin Grant, managing director of social media agency We Are Social, agrees that, if used wisely, Twitter can help reduce negative word-of-mouth online and assist with brand building. We Are Social client Skype, for instance, uses Twitter to 'respond to people bitching about bad customer service or people that are asking questions', according to Grant. 'If we can respond, they tell their friends what brilliant customer service they have had from Skype.'

Ford took more of a campaign approach to promote its latest Fiesta. It backed its 'This is now' TV campaign with blogs and Twitter activity encouraging consumers to submit photos and art and design-related discussion posts. Despite Ford's Twitter activity, though, the car marque's communications manager Lisa Brankin claims Twitter remains 'niche in its appeal'. She adds: 'By itself it is not strong enough but it can be valuable as part of a wider campaign.'

Twitter's growth is heading in the right direction, but as We Are Social's Grant argues: 'Brands need to think carefully about what impact any commercial use of Twitter is likely to achieve before investing any significant resources in it.'

At present, brands can use Twitter at no cost because they simply sign up for a free profile like any member of the public.

Dell's Pearson says his company would not be happy to pay. 'If it becomes a complicated and costly model, our instinct would be to move elsewhere,' he adds. So Twitter, be warned - for brands, a revenue-generating model could end a beautiful relationship.

For its part, Twitter has stated it will hold off on such action while its 'business model is in a research phase'. Brand owners, though, should enjoy this while they can. Biz Stone, Twitter's co-founder, indicates a plan is afoot to charge for commercial accounts.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug