Why the hell do brands have Twitter feeds?

Screen Shot 2012-06-18 at 18.55.18I laughed my socks off at comedian Ross Noble's comments on how brands use Twitter, or rather mis-use it. He was a guest on one of my fave TV programmes The Graham Norton show and asked:

"Why has Doritos got their own Twitter feed?!

What can they say?

They're still cheesy.

They're still cheesy, again.

So, we bombarded them with thousands of stupid questions like 'I have a much loved family moth that's injured its wing. Could you use a Dorito as a replacement wing?

Or 'Can I use a Dorito as a plectrum to play a spaghetti guitar?'"

Ross is right when he asks what the bloody hell a brand like Doritos is doing with a Twitter feed. Already, the role of Facebook for consumer goods brand is questionable. But the role of Twitter is even less clear. This is shown by the Top 10 UK brands having a Twitter following which is ony 1% that of their Facebook following. Twitter is tiny, not just in the 140 character limit on tweet lengths, but also in the reach it can deliver.

Twitter is about personal communication. And, thank god, people are more interested in Twitter updates from celebrities like Katie Perry (21.5 million followers) who was on Graham Norton with Ross Noble, sports stars and friends than from Doritos (1,299 followers).

There are two roles that Twitter can play for certain types of brand.

1. Helpline

It's funny how there was never a queue of marketing folk wanting to man the phone help-lines, nor open and reply to consumer letters or emails. But now its called social media, they’re all over it.

Using Twitter as a helpline is especially relevant for complex service brands where stuff goes wrong, or where there are lots of questions. The great thing about using Twitter in this way is the possibility of showing some sort of ROI, by demonstrating the reduction in costs from cutting down on helplines. Also, is some cases Twitter is much more effective.

For example, my brother works for a local council who have found Twitter to be highly effective at finding homes for stray dogs here. On a much bigger level, US retailer Best Buy uses a ‘Tweepforce’ to reply to customer questions and enquiries.

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2. Celebrity CEOs

Brands that have celebrity CEOs can get a decent Twitter following through the CEO's personal Twitter feed. For example, 2.1 million people are following the Tweets of Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson. This is over 10 times the number following British Airways. A whopping 2.4 million follow the CEO of US retailer Zappos, Tony Hseieh. This is almost 200 times the following of Zappos.com at 13,000.

Where brands get it toe-curlingly wrong is when they try to invent celebrity status for their products. Greggs' CEO, Ken McMeikan, pushed the story that the creation of Twitter profiles for each of a new range of donuts (e.g. @coconut snowball) played a key role in their successful launch. He told reporters: "Through social media marketing we gave each of the doughnuts their own voice where they were talking about themselves and interacting with fans." However, its hard to see how a Twitter following of c. 800 people per donut had much to do with shifting the 1.4 million donuts sold in the first five weeks of the launch.

Focus on great marketing

The other role that Twitter plays is to be a place where people can talk about interesting marketing. If you make your brand mix interesting enough, you might be lucky enough to have someone famous Tweet about you. Or, more likely, you may have users of your brand who Tweet about you to their friends and family. But I suggest this is the cherry on the cake your brand marketing mix. And as social media experts are slow to point out, a tiny 10% of word-of-mouth happens online, with most of it still happening face-to-face.

In conclusion, the answer to Ross' question "Why does Doritos have a Twitter feed?" is simple. Fashion and fads.