How to be a big hitter when using Twitter

Twitter is a fantastic tool offering companies instant access to consumers, but what is it that sorts the twits from the tweets?

Whenever I watch TV talent show The X Factor, I view the programme with one eye on the telly and the other on real-time social media network Twitter. Part of my experience of watching the show live is following all the cutting putdowns posted by other viewers. We all become mini versions of Simon Cowell for a couple of hours.

Translate this to a business setting and you get the real-time media event Media 140 London, where I spoke last week. As myself and the other speakers talked on stage, a feed from Twitter picked up any messages broadcast on the site including the term “media140” and emblazoned them across a screen behind the stage.

While distracting to anyone on stage to see their carefully prepared speeches shot down in a second, this was the perfect illustration of just what the event was discussing. In an environment where people are discussing brands, products and services in real time, this is the relentless feedback with which companies must contend.

Several overarching themes emerged during the discussion but two really key issues came out of the day for marketers. What should they be using Twitter for? And who should “own” the use of Twitter?

So, what should you use Twitter for? Companies know that they should probably be using Twitter, but they’re not all clear on why or how. Should it be a vehicle through which they send out promotional offers, build the brand’s voice or even answer customer service queries? Ciaran Norris at Mindshare illustrated some differences in how a variety of companies use the network. Recent Mindshare research, for example, shows that Innocent drinks uses Twitter to talk in its distinctive quirky tone to its consumers about a variety of casual topics. Mindshare calls this brand-building approach “values in action”.

Compare the Market, meanwhile, uses its advert meerkat character Aleksandr Orlov to front its tweets. Orlov’s “bad English” tweets aim to give life to the meerkat ads beyond the TV set without bothering those consumers who are uninterested. The research calls this campaignfocused approach “brand engagement”.

British Airways takes a quite different approach with its tweets, using them more as a broadcasting tool for deals. Those people who sign up to follow British Airways are getting exclusive offers rather than a glimpse of the brand’s personality. Mindshare sees this tactic simply as sales promotion.

A brand such as mobile operator O2, though, uses real-time social media as an extra service tool, replying to customers’ concerns as they occur. This is a similar approach to brands such as US airline JetBlue, which famously monitors Twitter to spot grumbles about its service and sort them out immediately. The research calls this the “customer service” approach to Twitter. But which of these methods is the best?

Mindshare’s research shows that like all good deals, promotional messages are the most likely to be passed on from one user to another. But for brands that do not have offers built in as standard, this technique may not be so fruitful.

Another important issue is who owns the brand identity on Twitter. Even if you understand exactly what your brand wants to achieve, who should be responsible for it? Is it the public relations department? The ad agency? Everyone in the marketing department? Amelia Torode from VCCP explained how her agency controls the Twitter feed for its client Compare the Market. Of course, VCCP and Compare the Market have an advantage because Aleksandr the meerkat is a fictional character. As long as someone understands the character’s tone of voice, there is no need for the brand itself to control the Twitter messages.

This is not the case at Innocent drinks, says Ted Hunt, its digital communications manager. He claims that brands should not let anyone external control their social media presence as all tweets must be in the context of the business’ overall goals. This is not something that should be outsourced to an agency.

Companies know that they should probably be using Twitter, but they’re not all clear on why or how. Should it be a vehicle through which they send out promotional offers, build the brand’s voice or even answer customer service queries?

But even when the brand itself controls the information on Twitter, should you have multiple individuals tweeting under their personal names or one corporate account? The Ford global communications team recently attempted to consolidate some of the brand’s multiple accounts, such as FordDriveOne, under the overarching singular Ford name. After all, don’t multiple Twitter accounts simply confuse consumers? If someone wants to buy a car and they’re looking out for offers from Ford, then they don’t want to visit multiple Ford accounts to find the right one. They just want one official representation from the brand on the platform.

Richard Baker at Virgin Trains, who has his own Twitter account, disagrees. He uses his own Twitter account to interact with customers as well as the main Virgin Trains account. He thinks that both accounts offer something different. He says that personal Twitter accounts help give consumers something less corporate and more humanising, which can only be a benefit. Inevitably, the speakers at the event raised more questions than could be answered in either 140 characters or even an entire day talking about social media.

But one nice little anecdote comes from the end of the day. Many of the sessions had cited Habitat as an example of a brand that had used Twitter badly when it exploited unrest in Iran to drive traffic to its products.

It seems the team there may have learned its lesson. At the end of the day, the Habitat UK team tweeted: “Hope everyone at ‘media140’ is enjoying themselves. Our ears are burning.” Now that’s how to do it.

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