Media140: personality and social media – do you need one?
The panel I chaired at Media140 in London felt like it could have run and run (it almost did) as the question as to whether “brands need a social media personality to engage consumers” or not sits at the heart of what a lot of companies are trying to do on Twitter.
If you get this wrong you fall flat and fail. Drew Benvie, managing director of 33 Digital (@drewb), said that getting that personality right was incredibly tricky, which is why there is so much “fake and fail” out there. He said that it comes down to how you use that personality and that it should come from both the brand and its people”.
Part of my question was also can you in that personality mix the personal
and professional — can you give customer feedback in one breath and holiday
plans in the next?
We were lucky to have Richard Baker at Virgin Trains as he does mix it the personal and professional, helping people with Virgin enquiries when they ask, but also dropping in other comments as well.
He’d told me previously that in the context of social media his emphasis was “social” and that “without a personality you can’t have a conversation and without a conversation you can’t have a relationship”.
When he is dropping in personal or non Virgin Train related comments he is having that conversation and inviting people to respond. Maybe as a result of that, he said that people were less likely to have a go at him than the VirginTrains Twitter account.
Will Mcinnes, MD of NixonMcinnes (@willmcinnes), made a strong point about addressing the root of your brand in order to work out what is right and what is going to work or not. You can see the brands out there that have not done this, not been rigorous in examining their brand roots, as those are the ones failing. It isn’t enough with Twitter and social media in general to simply launch on the world in the way you might with a single piece of marketing.
Candace Kuss, director of planning at Hill & Knowlton (@CandaceKuss), addressed this when she said that social media “it isn’t just marketing and isn’t just customer service” and that is what makes it so tricky. It’s because of this that big companies do not always win out because they make basic mistakes.
What’s been fascinating about Twitter in part is how and social media has allowed companies when they get it right to punch above their weight. This has helped brands in the US such as Southwest Air outplay the likes of the bigger and better known likes of JetBlue and Virgin America.
Several of the panellists made the point about how screwing up in social media means screwing up loudly and publicly as both Bestbuy and Habitat have found out.
Best Buy’s chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, perfectly exemplified this when he got into a spat on Twitter with blogger Doug Meacham in an incident that tore across the blogosphere and Twitter. Likewise in the UK with Habitat and its intern which was mentioned throughout Media140. It only takes one time and then you’re a case study in bad practice.
Habitat did do something right, however, on its return to Twitter: it did listen. Marketing Week’s Ruth Mortimer (@MarketingWeekEd) spoke about the importance of brands listening and that the voice on Twitter can not simply be about pumping stuff out.
Although countering Will Mcinnes felt quite strongly that when brands do respond listening isn’t always enough.
It is a good point, brands do have to act, but increasingly I wonder if in this always on world of social media expectations are raised too high when you have such instant access? As with instant access comes the desire for instant response and resolution. Ruth Mortimer commented here that it highlighted the need to closely manage expectations.
Richard Baker (@richard_baker) said that he tries to respond and do what he can, but clearly that only goes so far. He can’t fix broken trains, but he can keep customers posted. Listening might not always be enough from a customer perspective, but the importance of it can not be underscored enough.
This addressed my point as well as to whether you have a real person and a human face, such as Richard’s, or you can as easily have a cute marsupial as your voice on Twitter? As long as there is understanding and the brand is listening it seems okay to have a meerkat in the case of Comparethemarket.com or the duck in Aflac’s case in the US (both are social media successes stories). The Barry Judge/BestBuy example illustrates clearly enough that people as well as cute little creatures can get it wrong.
Towards the end of the panel we moved on to discuss another potentially tricky issue relating to brands and personality in social media: who owns the voice?
Candace Kuss mentioned Scott Monty the head of social media at Ford. He has built a major Twitter presence (32,000 plus followers). What he is not is Scott@Ford. Sure, Ford has other Twitter accounts, but none have become as well know as Scott Monty who is a social media brand of his own.
When Monty leaves that brand and personality he has built up goes with him and could be a major benefit to his next employer. Candace suggested that she would advise brands to go down the route that others have done (such as Dell with @Dell et cetera) where there is an association between the individual person tweeting and the company they represent.
The same is true for Richard Baker who readily admitted he had given the issue some thought of where he and his followers might end up next. Partly to address that Richard has set up @VirginTrains, but it is an account that has far fewer followers than he does personally…