Jun 15, 2011

The Brand on Twitter, and its Supporting Cast

Who owns the audience and other questions brands need to consider when building presence on Twitter

 The fourth in as series: Integrating PR and Social Media

ReadWriteWeb asked a number of tough questions after Sanchez left CNN. Click the image for the RWW story.

Twitter is undeniably an important communications channel for brands and communications pros.  It’s developed into an important news channel, and is a great way to connect with peers and to listen to what’s being said in your industry.

Before we start talking about tactics to use when adding Twitter to your communications mix, however, let’s first consider some of the ins and outs of building a presence on Twitter.

Before you jump into Twitter, think for a few minutes about what handle you’ll use.  It’s an easy decision for a brand – in most cases, the brand name will work well.  But what about employees who will be supporting the brand on Twitter?  While many people advocate using a personalized branded handle combining a brand reference and a name – e.g. @SuzieAtDell or @PRN_Sarah.  However, doing so poses a risk – if the person behind the handle leaves, the brand can lose that audience.

A good example was the situation at CNN when Rick Sanchez was abruptly dismissed.  His Twitter account, @ricksanchezcnn, had more than 140,000 followers – built on CNN’s time, under CNN’s brand, by Sanchez through his own personal efforts.    At the time of Sanchez’ firing, ReadWriteWeb summed up the situation, asking “Did CNN lose out on the social media investment they put into Sanchez’s personal account over the years? Ought they have driven all followers to an official company account instead, in case something like this happened?”

How did this shake out?   You can change your Twitter handle and keep your followers, and that’s what it appears Sanchez did – he’s now tweeting under @RickSanchezTV, and has 138,000+ followers.   In this case, he took his audience with him when he left CNN.

My own advice for brands is to stay clear of the grey area a personalized branded handle represents.  Have employees use either their own names (e.g. @sarahskerik) or a branded handle that can be easily portable between people (e.g. @CompanyNameMedia).  Though you can change handle names, there’s some value in an established brand handle.  Either way, it’s very important to work out issues around ongoing account control and succession with your social media teams (and your legal and HR departments) before becoming really invested in the social layer.   The division between the brand and the employee needs to be clear.

A snapshot of PR Newswire's presences on Twitter. Click the image for a complete roster of our employee and brand Twitter presences.

Here at PR Newswire, we have a lot of people tweeting under their own names, myself included.  We also have our flagship @PRNewswire Twitter presence, along with a number of other branded handles, including @ProfNet, @PRNalert, @MeetTheMedia and @MultiVu, to name a few.   While we do risk losing a little traction if an employee leaves the company, the upside for us is that we have a number of advocates for the brand, some of who tweet very actively about PR, investor relations, social media and marketing – our core business areas – and in the course of their own tweeting, they often choose to amplify company messages.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.  Find her on Twitter: @sarahskerik

Fill in your details below: