How to twitter if you are a corporation

Twitter, for members of my family and those other 4 people that read blogs and have not yet discovered it, is a microblogging service that has just hit the main stream media. By definition it is therefore passé, but in the meantime we may as well use it well.

Examples: How not to twitter.

@NZStuff (sorry) sends through groups of news, either at 530am or during the day. The 530am news is from when the news is posted to the website in an overnight process. The news sits unreleased until the morning so that the newspapers are not scooped. I don’t agree with this approach as to me news fails to be news when I can read it somewhere else first.
The ones during the day are the ‘most popular’ (I think), and also released by a bot (I think). By definition they are already out of date when they are tweeted, and almost by definition the audience of active twitterers will have already read them.

Rather than @nzstuff’s automatically redundant articles, instead follow @NZStuffEditor, who is not very prolific but at least sends out news that is timely – and timeliness is a vital component of the definition of “news”.

Examples: How to Twitter
While the Wall Street Journal (@wsj) also twitters articles, it does so very rarely in groups of three, and most often the tweets are through the day. Almost invariably their tweets are before anybody else’s, and are therefore news in the truest sense. @NYTimes is not quite as quick, and will sometimes deliver in clumps, but they tend to beat the local alternatives and like the WSJ also link to longer articles on interesting and topical things.

What all so far are missing is the human element.

I’d really like to see @NZStuff reply to people’s twitters, and to give a bit of extra juice that we don’t get from the website. Stuff and others need to remember that their customers are not just people that read the news, but people that evanglise their services and want some inside scoop, people that want to send them news (but need to know it will be looked at) and, most of all in these times, people that are thinking about buying advertising,

Rather surprisingly the best corporations at Twittering in New Zealand are the telcos. I’ve had conversations in public and private with @TelecomNZ, @VodafoneNZ and ISP @orcon. They reach out to customers and help them – often walking down to the customer service folk and asking them to resolve an issue. Indeed they have each helped solve (or at least help me understand) a personal customer service issue, and their corporate reputations with me are all a lot better for it. Here they are earlier today each helping someone out:


I’d like to see them extend this beyond the corporate communication people – especially to Customer Service and also to the real tech-heads.

Air New Zealand’s  @flyairnz does well – sending out specials, but also being a human – replying to questions and making comments – such as welcoming @johnkeypm to Twitter.

Trade Me has  unleashed a few people – with twitter names like  TradeMe_Ross , TradeMe_Jay, TradeMe_Jobs along with Trademe_NZ and Travelbug. The latter has a combination of background tweets and specials. Kudos for this topical tweet:

This stream from TradeMe_Jay is an exemplary example of how Twitter can extend your corporate PR reach well beyond what a PR team can do. In four tweets Jay helps a member (and ex Trade Me employee admittedly), personalizes the continuous development work that Trade Me does and links to an ‘expose’ video that most corporations would cringe to see appear on YouTube.

However Trade Me’s main twitter account is dormant, and we have yet to see Motors, Property or Customer Service make an appearance.

Google allows their staff (it seems) to twitter as they like – here’s Webstock speaker Pamela Fox announcing the release of Google’s new analytics Data Export API – something that I think has tremendous potential to change the advertising scene in NZ and elsewhere.

I’ll point to @powershop and @lingopal as two other examples, but to be fair I am involved as a supplier to the first and shareholder with the second. That shouldn’t stop you following them though :-).

Enough of the examples – what should you do if you are thinking of twittering?

How to take advantage of Twitter

The real power of Twitter is the 1-1 interactions, and yet there are only so many people that sit in corporate relations units. Moreover their job should not be to look after every tech nerd’s customer complaint, nor to understand every bizarre happening on the internet.

To me a great corporation would have three things on Twitter:

  1. A corporate voice – run by the corporate relations unit and staffed by a person. They would tweet press releases, reply to tweets that discuss the bigger picture (investor, employee relations, big stories) and generally have a slower beat but positive and official response.
  2. An active Customer Service voice – this would be staffed 24/7 but owned overall by a single person. That means that while a number of people will answer the tweets, the owner would make sure that there is consistency, speed and humanity behind it. The CS twitterer would continuously search for good and bad experiences from the organisation’s products and give thanks or help accordingly. They are the front line and so would have a very quick response time. They would deal with problems in public, take them to Twitter direct messages and ultimately call the customer directly.
  3. Unleashed individuals. Great companies would unleash everybody inside their organization to tweet about what they are doing, engage in conversations and show a genuine human face (warts and all) to the company’s customers and the public.This last one is scary.

    However if you are concerned that some employees will somehow destroy your company and brand then perhaps instead you need to do some serous internal navel gazing – and ask yourself “why would they do that?”. Even if some employees do tweet negative things, then see it as a fine way to take the pulse of your staff – and also fix the underlying problems.

    While I would put in place simple guidelines, most of those would already be in any employee contract. The main things not to tweet would be things like investor-level commercially sensitive information, competitively sensitive pricing and Apple product development news.

The progress made by the companies above is pleasing – and I hope we will see more of this as the use of Twitter and other tools expands.

Published by Lance Wiggs


18 replies on “How to twitter if you are a corporation”

  1. Like everyone else, I come across lots of material in my day job that I know will be relevant to others. As much as I like to try to refer it on to people when I can, email now seems is a clumsy way of doing so. Even as a relative n00b to twitter, the time saving for me in not having to go into Outlook, find a list of people who I think might be interested in something I have found and then “spam” them from my work desktop, is huge … and as much as I liked to do it, the reality was that that hassle was a barrier to me doing it. Not only that, but with twitter, in return, I get people whose views I value and who I can opt into by following them, effectively filtering the net for material that I can be almost sure will be of interest and useful to me.

    So, for me, judiciously used, twitter beats all as a way of funneling information from me to people that I hope will want to see it and from them to me. Its like having a whole bunch of people sitting in a news service weeding out material that they know other people will be interested in!

    If dialogue and opportunity for enhanced customer service follows, then that is even better.


  2. Oh goodness – I’ve done Bernard Hickey a bit of a disservice here.

    Bernard and get Twitter more than any other media company – for pointing to their new articles, for interesting links and conversations.

    Follow @bernardhickey – enough said.


  3. Hi Lance,
    Actually I am not in corporate communications, I like to think of myself as one of those tech heads!
    However I am also one of the people on the @telecomnz address.
    Twitter works best when its an actual conversation with real people.
    Somebody once said social media people are funny looking creatures. They have huge ears, big eyes and only a tiny mouth.
    Its more important to be ready to look and listen than it is to talk.
    This has been one of the most fundamental changes that social media has brought about.
    Customers are now actively able to be part of the conversation, its all about 2 directions.



  4. The challenge if you’re a rabid multi-tasker — or simply wildly unfocussed — is to manage multiple Twitter accounts representing the different aspects of your life and interests.

    Not being much of a social media groupie (inappropriate demographic!) I hadn’t really gotten into Twitter until very recently, when researching the topic for an upcoming project. Having delved into it, however, I’ve really sipped the Kool-Aid. So far I’ve clocked up (ahem) nine Twitter accounts, most of them thankfully dormant (and set up largely to protect domain names and for future usage).

    The active (though not yet very) accounts I’m using thus:

    @eMNetwork — set this up in my new role as Chairman of the eMarketing Network, and have begun using it to (a) tell the tweetiverse about upcoming eMarketing Network events; (b) flag emarketing news items likely to be of interest to eMN members and prospects.

    @trademesecrets — I’m still finding it a challenge to blog much about Trade Me, but thought I could manage the odd 140 characters (because I do keep monitoring the site and gathering information for future editions of ‘Trade Me Success Secrets’ et al).

    @mediacounsel — essentially headlines from media news snippets as they happen, the stuff that’s too ephemeral for newsletter or blog.

    I’ve also uncovered some rather interesting Twitter usage offshore, but I’m keeping those nuggets to myself for now …


  5. Hi Lance. Ouch. However, we have to acknowledge you are right about our Twitter feeds – our auto-pubished feeds were always planned to be a temporary way of communicating and will soon be replaced by much more focussed twittering from our editors. Like most organisations, we’re still coming to grips with the best way to use Twitter and other social media sites so appreciate any feedback you give us – bruising or not!


  6. Nice review Lance,

    Radio stations in New Zealand especially the likes of Radio Live and Newstalkzb are the ones that are lacking any Twitter initiative. Sure they post their news stories via a bot but wouldn’t Twitter be the ideal way of gaining feedback from their loyal listeners. I’d love to be able to bag Murray Deaker via Twitter every night between 7 and 8.

    The best example I’m aware of is the BBC’s Radio Five Live 606 show @606ItsYourTweet.


  7. Thanks for your positive feedback about my/our presence on twitter Lance. I have found it to be a really valuable tool not only for solving people’s problems, but also for addressing simple questions and proactively soliciting valuable feedback.

    I agree with you about having a customer service presence on twitter. While I can do a certain amount customer service, having the ‘tech heads’ and support staff right there is the ultimate goal, and certainly something that I am championing internally.

    There are also several Orcon staff using twitter, often providing personal insights into what is going on here (for example Gavyn Jones, one of our developers – and Sergei Filippov, one of our customer service staff – We certainly don’t discourage anyone from posting about work, although simple common sense rules apply.

    My experience thus far has been extremely positive, and I hope that more Kiwi companies will begin to take it seriously as a way to engage with customers.

    Duncan Blair
    Head of Brand and Communications


  8. Great post Lance.

    Tweeting on behalf of a company brings up what I believe to be one of the biggest branding challenges companies will face as they really embrace social media – the personal brand.

    People want real, human communication and that’s pretty hard to have with a brand. But you can have a real, human conversation with another human being.

    The question that faces companies is, how do we successfully manage that integration between company and personal brand?

    (And, coincidentally, that’s the key question we at iJump are working to help companies answer.)


  9. Great post Lance!

    We @PocketSmith use Twitter to connect with our users (feedback, updates on product development, suggestions,etc…). It goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy of transparency and interactivity.

    The only drawback is due to the fact that Twitter is a mainstream media. We have to balance reactivity and productivity. Good challenge to tackle :)

    Francois @kaedron


  10. Thanks for a great post. I think many of us are finding our way with twitter, I know we are still refining our approach!
    Currently it is a mix with individual twitter accounts and a business one. It is great to see more New Zealand businesses embrace twitter.


  11. Lance,

    I think one of the most important lessons New Zealand businesses could learn is to listen to customers on Twitter. The really interesting story is Telstra in Australia ( Like Telstra VodafoneNZ started as a disaster forcing a message down the channel instead of engaging the users.

    You are absolutely right that Stuff and Air NZ should be people – how cool would it be if we could pitch Stuff directly through Twitter in only 140 characters (save them reading forced PR statements).

    Michael Carney I think you should just be one account – we are interested in your personal opinion, recommendations, etc instead of what you think when wearing different hats. That is the idea of social media – it is beyond the corporate and about the people.

    Dan @xebidy


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