I Want To See Your Face, Not Your Logo
As social media has been catching on and commanding mainstream attention, as legions of folks started following the tweeting Oprah and Ashton Kutcher, businesses have started to adopt social media into their marketing, PR and operations mix. Because social media is not a silo, but rather cuts across multiple organizational silos and departments (if that’s not your social media approach, you are doing it wrong), oftentimes there is more than one Twitter account tweeting on behalf of a company. Some companies like Zappos, have several accounts for various people and functions, such as @Zappos, @Zappos_Service, @inside_zappos etc (additionally lots of Zappos employees tweet on their own). Some other companies like Ford and Dell are represented by its employees. When several employees represent a company, the nomenclature varies widely: some append the company name to their own name (such as ComcastBonnie and RichardAtDell), while some other ones like Scott Monty are just themselves. Comcast has an interesting approach with its chief social media person, Senior Director of Customer Service Frank Eliason, aka ComcastCares; it’s a Comcast account, but it’s very much about Frank, and is written in Frank’s voice. The reality is, there is no one set approach, and each company should adopt what works for it.
Committed to thought leadership in the social media sphere, we decided to run our own experiment to see what works for a company like ours. Here’s some background: we have our main Twitter account from which we engage with social media measurement professionals and thought leaders, tweet about interesting company news and share industry articles. The goal for this Twitter account is boosting awareness, building and strengthening relationships and establishing thought leadership – in other words, big picture, “marketing” stuff. There is also a more tactical side of Twitter. Although social media purists tend to cringe at the notion of using Twitter for lead generation, the ability to be helpful (not spammy) by reaching out to folks who are looking for products like yours, is starting to come front and center as more businesses enter the realm. The reality is that awareness, long-term engagement and producing quality content, will probably do more for your business in the long term than any tactical lead harvesting. But businesses, especially the ones with robust sales forces, want to see leads, and they want to act on them immediately. So just about any business has two major objectives for social media engagement: the long-term, big picture stuff and shorter term tactical stuff. And this is where the art of a social media ambassador within any organization comes to shine: how do you keep all groups happy without compromising either mission?
I am not opposed to promotional and lead gen tweets coming from any company account, but there has to be a balance of these tweets to tweets that aren’t so focused on your company. I cringe when I see those types of tweets exceed 30% (this is a very generous allowance), and everyone has his / her own level of tolerance. Needless to say, I wasn’t comfortable with the Biz360 corporate account reaching out to 20+ people per day, offering to help them with a demo or answer questions as they evaluate various platforms; it’s OK to do a couple, but not more. Ryan and I started to think about the best way to separate the two voices, without necessarily severing the link between the two. The options directly in front of us were: 1) transitioning all the tactical and sales gen leads to the sales team, while we keep doing the longer term stuff, or 2) creating a new Twitter account just for sales to access as a team via Co-Tweet. Since we hadn’t seen #2 done well, we decided to experiment with it, although we had concerns about people wanting to interact with a company avatar (I have the same concerns about tweeting as @Biz360, which is why Ryan and I do a lot of our outreach through our personal brands). After we created the account, trained the sales team, and set them up on Co-Tweet, the strangest (but expected) thing happened. People did not want to interact with them the same way as they wanted to interact with the salespeople themselves. The same tweet sent from a sales rep’s personal account went a lot further than a tweet from a company account. This was a fascinating and eye-opening piece of news that actually proved exactly what we thought: people want to interact with people, not company avatars.
As much as this finding can help companies fine-tune their approach, it also creates some challenges, which must be carefully thought through and addressed:
If account reps are tweeting with prospects, you need to figure out how to ensure that no prospect receives two tweets from your company. This ensures that we’ve got a broad range of the right people available to reply throughout the day while still allowing them to focus on their primary jobs. We also use our own workflow tools to make sure that specific tweets are routed to the best person to reply. This way we can empower the reps while respecting their client and sales territory assignments.
You need to decide whether or not you even want to have a company Twitter account. Since people connect better to people anyway, should you even have one? How will you use it? I do recommend getting a business account, to create a “home” for your brand on Twitter, so that if someone wants to talk about you or to you, you can easily engage (even if you don’t receive your @ replies, you will most certainly receive all mentions of yourself, provided that you use a monitoring platform like Biz360). It’s also a great place to share news about your company and industry.
Is your social media evangelist tweeting from her/ his own account and the company account, or just one or the other? The approach that I recommend and have adopted for Biz360 is: both. As I mentioned before, the marketing folks use our own accounts to tweet alongside Biz360. Each has a bit of a different voice and a bit of a different purpose. Really deep and meaningful engagement is easier with a personal account.
Because your social media evangelist engages on behalf of the company (#3), it can be a bit scary to have such a large part of your social media identity wrapped up in a person. What if they leave? What if they say something stupid? Regarding the latter: you need to vet your hires carefully. Regarding the former: that is the risk you have to take, which you can mitigate by making it an environment that your social media person can be passionate about (it is pretty impossible to be an evangelist with a product or company you don’t love). Remember that your evangelist also runs a similar risk by identifying their identity to your company’s, so they will do their best to make sure the partnership is a fruitful one.
You should have a basic list of social media best practices for your organization to use, but you should also trust your people to do the right thing on behalf of the company, whoever they are – sales or marketing or customer support or engineering. Discerning hiring should take care of the trust factor.