Generally speaking, Twitter users prefer to follow personal accounts to branded accounts. 18 of the top 20 twenty Twitter accounts (as of end of November 2012) are personal accounts, with only YouTube and Twitter representing brands.
This isn’t surprising. Branded accounts retain the official corporate line. Personal accounts go beyond (or give the illusion of going beyond) the controlled publicity to see what an individual is really life; fans can follow their idols, and vicariously get a feel of what their lives are like.
With TV and radio programmes, there is also the issue of scheduling – celebrities live their lives 24/7 whereas programmes have a limited run. News is the exception to this – and this is borne out by accounts such as BBC Breaking have higher follower counts than individual reporters, who while prolific ultimately will work in shifts.
Does this mean brands should forego official accounts, and instead concentrate on a mixture of staff accounts and hired celebrity spokespeople? No. Branded accounts have a useful role to play, albeit perhaps not on the scale of celebrities. Examples of successful branded accounts include:
- The QI Elves: Interesting facts and trivia, and upcoming scheduling information, to complement the broadcast
- Waterstones: Quotes, offers, and information about book signings
- Betfair Poker: Mostly irreverent, comedic posts entertaining in their own right
These accounts work because they retain a consistent tone of voice that is coherent with the brand, but offer value in their own right.
However, brands can and should try to work alongside personal accounts, to tap into their legion of loyal followers to help amplify key messages.
Unfortunately, this isn’t without its dangers. The good, the bad and the ugly of Twitter personal accounts runs something like:
- A picture of Barack and Michelle Obama after re-election is the most retweeted post of all time (817,00 and counting), highlighting the power of the personal touch
- One Direction updated their millions of followers about their appearances on Children in Need – this tweet from Harry Styles, which included their official account, was retweeted over 23,000 times
- Modern Family utilise Twitter’s curated pages to bring together their cast for live-tweeting, increasing the allure of the live broadcast (which helps advertising and ratings), and improving audience engagement with the content
- Question Time capitalised on the popularity of the Twitter conversation to introduce an Extra Guest account, to help further the debate around the hashtag #bbcqt
- Accuracy can not always be verified, as people such as Sally Bercow have found to their potential cost
- Enthusiastic tweeters may send out information that their employers would rather they didn’t, such as when Lewis Hamilton tweeted sensitive information around his telemetry
- Twitter can take control away from the brand or individual, so initiatives such as hashtags shouldn’t be encouraged when there is considerable ill-feeling, as Steven Gerrard and adidas found out
- Individuals tend to carry their phone with them all day, which means they have the potential to reach to Twitter when they are off-duty and inebriated. Huey Morgan had to apologise to his Radio 6 Music colleague Lauren Laverne after a drunken rant.
- The asymmetric nature of Twitter means anyone can reply to anyone else – whether it is good or bad. There have been notable incidents of people leaving Twitter (such as Helen Skelton, who later returned) due to the abuse they received
- The opposite reaction is to retaliate. This is rarely for the better, as it can distract from the initial offensive incident – as Rihanna found out.
- A lot of abuse is hurtful, but in some instances it can border on illegality. The highest profile incident of the past few months was with regard to Tom Daley
- The internet doesn’t forget, and some individuals can often find past incidents repeatedly mentioned. He may not be the most repentant of individuals, but Chris Brown is often reminded of domestic abuse.
While there are many benefits, there are also many obstacles to using personal accounts. This doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t seek to work with key individuals. But it does mean a lot of caution is required – both in ensuring editorial best practice is maintained, but also in ensuring that the individual’s well-being remains protected. Both of these can be achieved through up-front training and periodic reminders.
PS This is my first time using the new WordPress post layout, heavily “inspired” by Tumblr. Once I got over the surprise, I realised I quite liked it.