5 Ways Brands Can and Should Use Twitter

A snowy Tuesday evening and the eve of the great blizzard of 2011 and I’m perusing the chatter on Twitter. As I do I see a number of my favorite brands–some local Chicago businesses, others national brands, all doing interesting and innovative things on the platform.

I’m inspired to write this blog because I don’t think enough credit goes to marketers and conversationalists who are using Twitter and increasing brand awareness without the aide of billion dollar marketing budgets.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned from them about how brands can and should use Twitter.

1. Start the conversation. @Huggies does a good job of asking a question that really gets you thinking and is easy to respond to in 140 characters. Even better, they often RT your reply which makes the user feel heard and recognized.

2. Join conversations about your brand. I can’t stress enough the close ties between pop culture and Twitter for consumer brands. Therefore, your brand has to have a full-time voice, and eyes and ears, to remain aware of what influencers are tweeting and saying offline that could lead to tweeting. This could be an opportunity to engage a very powerful brand advocate.

3. Tie into the trends. Twitter had made it incredibly easy to see what people are talking about. Go the extra mile and tie your brand to one of these conversation topics. This is great way to be relevant and spark up a conversation. Retailers like @bluelgcrew and @homedepot are doing this as we speak, tweeting about tips, tools and sales to help those in the Midwest battle the snow.

4. Connect across channels to reach more of your audience. @JimmyFallon is a great example. This afternoon Fallon tweeted to followers to play the hashish game by sending him your worst pickup lines with #worstpickuplines. Stay tuned to Jimmy Fallon Live tomorrow night and he’ll show his favorites. An awesome way to drive his audience from Twitter to TV by offering someone 15 seconds of fame.

5. Engage followers around your brand with a regular event. Whether it’s a regular Twitter conversation like the weekly deal chat hosted by @Frugalista or the daily trending topic shared by hosts if BET’s @106andPark. The topic is posted every evening on their show and leads to hundreds of tweets by their viewers and followers.

These ideas may not be driving ROI or winning a Shorty, but they’re creative, engaging and fun. At the end of the day that’s one of the primary reasons social consumers respond to and remember brands.

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Social Presence Equals Brand Presence

I recently had a chance to spend time with some of the leading U.S. brands discussing challenges they’re facing with social media within their respective companies. In the interest of confidentiality, I cannot disclose the names of the brands or the details of thoBoldse conversations, but I can talk about over-arching themes. One theme that came across loud and clear was the relationship between brand, strategy and social presence.

The thing that differentiates social media from every other communication channel is the ability for real time feedback and reaction. In other words, consumers of this media have a voice and they’re not afraid to use it. This includes customers, net promoters, advocates and detractors. This turns social media into the ultimate looking glass for a brand–a true reflection of how people feel about your brand, every touch point and every experience–good and bad.

It also creates a tremendous opportunity that is being misused by most and squandered by many–the opportunity to get real time feedback (more than you might want) and make improvements based on what you hear. Someone once told me feedback is a gift and the brands that are ignoring social media as a way to identify and address the things they’re doing well and poorly are failing to unwrap that gift.

The Strategy

Just as social media serves as a looking glass, a reflection of how people feel about your brand, it also magnifies your brand or business strategy, or lack thereof. Hopefully, it allows brands and organizations to see themselves through the eyes of their customers–whether their focus and mission are clear and evident in how they are perceived or whether people are confused about what the brand or business stands for and what role it plays in their lives.

Now more than ever brands need to revisit this fundamental question, “What is our number one priority?” Follow that with, “Is it evident in what we do and to the people we serve?” Answering those questions is essential to having a successful business, not to mention a successful social media strategy and presence. People have to know what you stand for and that you play a role in their lives before they will embrace you, shop you, fan you or follow you.

Social Presence

So as not to turn this into Business Strategy 101, let’s bring it back to the subject of social media and how this is all interrelated. Social platforms present a very public forum for brands to succeed or fail. They speak volumes about how the brand views itself and what it means to consumers. If stock price is the measure of how investors feel about your business, then quantity and quality of social connections measures how consumers feel about your brand.

Please do not misread this as an advocacy for a social media numbers play–I DO NOT ENDORSE SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE PURPOSE OF GATHERING MORE FANS AND FOLLOWERS! Quite the opposite. If you are a brand with a clear and successful mission and strategy and customers feel good about, the fans and followers are there. If you’re struggling to find them, the problem may have less to do with social and more with your business or brand.So what does it all mean?

Hopefully it means that social media and the transparency it creates will draw consumers and brands closer. While companies often think this closeness will allow them to influence consumers, I feel it should and will be the other way around, at least for those companies that do it right. Companies and brands will be influenced by how their constituents feel about them, what they should do more of and what absolutely must stop. Hopefully we’re all better for it–better businesses, stronger brands, better choices for consumers and better customer experiences.

Follow me on http://www.twitter.com/jenpolk1 for more tips on social strategy, presence and branding or to connect directly.

Managing Your Social Brand

Social media represents a never-before-seen opportunity to build, maintain, manage or mismanage a personal or professional brand. Oh, you didn’t know you were a brand. Well, I’ve got news to share. You are and have always been a brand–essentially what people think about when they hear or see your name. Similar to your reputation. This should not be a news flash, but what might shock you is the positive and negative impact that social media can have on your brand.

I’m not talking about co-eds taking pictures at Spring Break and then trying to get a job with an uber-conservative company. I’m talking about an opportunity to build and maintain a living, breathing virtual resume; a chance to be the well-connected, professional and subject-matter expert that you say you are on paper–or the chance not to be. An opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, potential customers and employers.

Let’s take for instance a social media professional, even one with a steady nine-to-five. You cannot claim to be a professional and not use the tools of the trade. A Facebook page, Twitter handle, Linkedin account and blog are practically the cost of entry, but they’re also a chance to build your social media presence and reputation, to market your skills and expertise and make connections with others that you can teach, learn from and be referred by.

Okay so that example may have been a bit obvious, what about personal trainer, even one who already has a great gig at Lifetime Fitness. Social media is a chance for him or her to engage in genuine dialogue about fitness, share the fitness tips and training program they live by and connect with others in that industry, as well as potential clientele looking for tips today and a trainer tomorrow.

To wrap this up, think about the last blog–what is your social purpose. One thing that should be included in your social purpose is self-promotion of the thing that you’re interested in, passionate about or want to be known for. Becoming relevant in that space using social media platforms takes actual passion (people will know if you’re faking); diligence and dedication; and real interest in being providing info as a subject-matter expert and being recognized.

Follow me on http://www.twitter.com/jpolk122907 to get more tips on defining your social purpose and social branding.