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Twitter brand smackdown: The winners and losers

Twitter brand smackdown: The winners and losers Rodney Rumford

Although Twitter has been all the rage for the last few months, there is still a huge gap in how well brands are executing on this opportunity. Many brands are doing a fairly good job, and others are clearly out of the loop and need a reality check with regard to how they are using Twitter -- if they're using it at all.

It is important to note that Twitter is not an island of communication. Rather, it is a communication channel that quickly jumps its own confines and lives in multiple places online (Facebook, blogs, widgets, etc.). However, a very small percentage of companies are fully integrating Twitter into their marketing and communication strategies. Just having an account on Twitter does not mean that you are leveraging its fullest potential. Significant additional effort is required for Twitter to become a top-performing part of your communications and branding strategies.

In this brand smackdown, I'll be highlighting several sets of competing brands across various vertical categories and comparing the effectiveness of their overall Twitter strategies. There may be instances where I have missed a particular brand's other presences on Twitter, in which case, it is merely symptomatic of the fact that the company has not integrated its Twitter presence into its main brand web presence and marketing and communications strategy. Such integration is essential to helping consumers easily find what they are looking for.

Ford vs. Nissan

Ford has a clearly defined Twitter presence that handles brand and reputation management for the company. In short, the company listens and responds quite well. It shares news, product information, and points to resources, news items, blog posts, etc. Ford has also segmented its presence into multiple accounts (seven, to be exact), including handles such as fordtrucks, fordmustang, and forddrivegreen. The company's social media manager has a Twitter account that is used for both listening and interacting. Ford has presented itself very transparently on Twitter for quite some time, and overall, the company has done a good job in its execution.

When it comes to Nissan, we could only locate one Nissan account -- NissanCube -- and its updates are nominal. The company is failing to interact at all with its audience. Rather, it uses Twitter as a broadcast channel. Notably, there is no way to find the company's Twitter presence from its website.

The automotive industry is hurting across the board. Interacting and extending their brands via Twitter is a fiscally smart move that all automotive players should be embracing.

The winner: Ford

Nike vs. Zappos

NikeStore is Nike's main presence on Twitter. It is used to promote store specials, discounts, and new product announcements. The company does not make any efforts to interact with consumers on Twitter. Rather, it uses the channel as a pure distribution model. The company has done 34 updates in seven months, it is followed by 3,400 people, and there is no way to find Nike's Twitter presence from its site. In short, the company's Twitter efforts represent poor execution that doesn't seem to be well thought out or integrated into any broader communications plan.

Zappos, on the other hand, is a brand that is regularly held up as a great Twitter use case -- and for good reason. The company uses Twitter as a support channel, it listens and engages, and its CEO actively tweets in a very transparent manner. Zappos is very real and provides a phenomenal level of support through Twitter as a communication channel. So if you want a good example to follow of a brand doing very interesting, compelling, and effective communications and engagement on Twitter, I suggest you watch Zappos closely.

Also of note: The company has a directory of every employee Twitter address on its website. This is a best practice that all companies should follow.

The winner: Zappos

Dell vs. Apple

Dell embraces Twitter and has integrated it into its broader communications strategy. The company has a cohesive and integrated Twitter strategy -- one that can be held up as a case study for how to leverage Twitter correctly for a large consumer brand. The company has more than 30 Twitter channels that it uses intelligently to communicate to very specific audiences. It exhibits a strong penchant for listening and responding, and the company does an amazing job on Twitter from an engagement and distribution perspective, as well as a great job segmenting content for the specific desired audience.

Apple, on the other hand, appears to be missing in action. As one of the world's premier brands -- a technology brand, nonetheless -- its absence on Twitter is puzzling to me and many others.

The winner: Dell


The NFL's presence on Twitter feels like a third-string effort. You can't even find a link to the Twitter presence from the main NFL web property. Its tweets are a bit sporadic and limited. The engagement factor is virtually nonexistent. The league did do a good job covering the drafts in real-time, with links to the picks. But beyond that, the NFL's use of the platform is very minimal. The league was virtually silent on Twitter on Super Bowl Sunday and blew a huge opportunity (the league had about 1,000 followers). It responded to no one and totally abandoned the Super Bowl account hours after the game. The league is using Twitter in a pure distribution model. It appears to not have a game plan on what it is doing across the league for each individual franchise team. And seriously... users can only take so much of NFLprguy's PR-slanted tweets. (The fact that I have three times the followers that he does might be indicative of his reach.)

MLB has two accounts on Twitter, MLBTV and MLBlogs. It primarily uses the MLBlogs Twitter account in a somewhat conversational mode and does respond to people. You cannot find a single reference to Twitter anywhere on the MLB website. While there are MLB baseball players that are using Twitter, finding them is like finding a needle in a haystack -- one that no one is even willing to look for. Why the league is not making players easily findable via a directory escapes logic. MLB certainly appears to be hanging in left field.

Rare is the brand that inspires passion like professional sports teams; thus, the opportunity to tap user sentiment and passion is high. Major pro sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB, and the NBA need to get their acts together and get granular and engaged on a team level. I challenge all sports franchises to reach out to their fan bases and designate several "official fan Twitterers" for each team. They are called fans for a reason -- they are fanatics. Leverage them. 

Sports leagues are also all missing a huge opportunity for photo sharing via Twitter from fans at ball games. Everyone has a phone at these events and frequently share their photos with friends. Give them a common channel for submission, sharing, recognition (i.e. a website and the Jumbotron), and online distribution, and you have a winning combination on your hands.
How these professional sports leagues don't have a unified and cohesive Twitter engagement strategy escapes me completely.

The losers: All pro sports franchises

Dunkin' Donuts vs. Starbucks

Let's end on a high note, shall we? Both companies in this section of the smackdown listen effectively to what people are saying about their brands. They respond accordingly, in a timely fashion, to both the positive and negative. They also both embrace a personal touch that is very authentic and seems to be serving their audience well. They use Twitter for sharing news, product launches, interesting stories, and they do it in a very authentic, non-self-serving way.

What is interesting to watch is how each brand has grown its following of Twitter evangelists who step up organically and respond to other people's mentions of the brand and help people out.

No matter what your brand size, these two companies are representative of how a retail brand can use Twitter to provide excellent customer service and fully engage with consumers by listening effectively -- while at the same time carefully managing their brands' reputations.

The winner: Starbucks, by a sip -- and only because it has substantially more followers

It is important to note that the world is quickly shifting to the real-time web. Consequently, consumer expectations have shifted upward. Online immediacy, engagement, and accessibility are becoming even more paramount in how your brand is being judged by your customers. You no longer have the luxury of responding in a matter of days. On Twitter, a firestorm can erupt and spread far and wide literally in minutes. That is the beauty, genius, and double-edged sword that is Twitter.

When major news outlets like CNN make Twitter part of their reporting experience, it is clear that this communication channel is here to stay. The recent Oprahfication of Twitter has moved the adoption rate into the stratosphere. As a point of reference: Since Oprah joined Twitter a little over a month ago, the service's North American monthly unique users have doubled to more than 19 million.

It is important for you to start thinking about how you should be fully integrating Twitter into your business. You might very well need several accounts that serve discreet and specific functions to specific audience segments. Take a lesson from the winners described in this article, and you'll be well on your way to reaching new levels of engagement among your target audience.

Rodney Rumford is the CEO of Gravitational Media and author of "Twitter as a Business Tool." You can follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/rumford.

Rodney Rumford has 21 years of experience in helping brands engage online and is the Author of the Book: “Twitter as a Business Tool”. His agency Gravitational Media has extensive experience in ideation, strategy and technology build for facebook...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: healthy energy

2009, June 02

Social media is almost intoxication. Twitter & consumers are looking for the wave of the future opportunity, with this new economy, and the new economy is going forward for upstart companies to find the people and resources they need. To learn more continue to http://energydrinkclub.blogspot.com

Commenter: Mark Mulholland

2009, June 01

Here is an effective social media (twitter, facebook, blog) strategy used by Nissan for the launch of their new Cube car in Canada. Rather that using a Nissan corporate twitter account to engage the market in conversation, they gave the job to 500 creative individuals identified as influencers http://tr.im/n3Zu .

Commenter: Jeffrey Levin

2009, June 01

I love your articles and share them with my Tweets.

Commenter: Rodney Rumford

2009, June 01

Craig. Thanks for the kind words. There customer support at twitter does need to improve but they do a pretty good job of using getsatisfaction. If you have a hijacked brand/trademark contact them and they will help you regain control of it's use.

While there is some strong anecdotal evidence that twitter does in fact move the meter in the areas of brand perception and customer satisfaction; hard numbers will follow. I would strongly disagree that companies are "losing their shorts" by engaging on twitter. The costs for using it for support/service can actually be quite efficient if it is incorporated into the business process properly.

I would think that hard numbers will be forthcoming in case studies in the future.

Commenter: Scott Hetherington

2009, June 01

Interesting article and a good read...however, it completely ignores the bottomline. Sure, Ford, Zappos, Starbucks, etc. are using Twitter in what you and I both believe to be the correct way, a way to open a positive dialog with their customers, but...and this is a big but...

How is it effecting their bottomline? Are they creating more loyal customers? If so, is it enough to make up for the expense of being so active on social networks? These companies may be "doing it right", but they may also be losing their shorts. Without this information, it's impossible to say who's the winner and who's the loser.

Commenter: Craig Peters

2009, June 01

Good stuff, Rodney, but there's a very crucial issue missing from the mix: Sometimes the brand smackdown comes from Twitter itself.

As I posted to my blog yesterday (shameless plug: http://www.lohad.com/?p=3489), a brand's presence on Twitter can be hacked, and a month of emails to Twitter to correct the issue may go completely ignored. The result: the brand's social media strategy is obliterated.

As we learned at TWTRCON 09 yesterday, Twitter has precisely 45 employees -- which explains why their customer service is *ahem* subpar at the moment.

Twitter has a valuation of $250 million and has raised $57 million to date. They need to spend a few bucks on some real customer service before brands can be confident that their Twitter presence will be a stable one.