Which Twitter account is better for business? Brand or personal?

by Morgan Siem on May 4, 2010

in Uncategorized

I get this question a lot: When using Twitter for business, is it better to use a person’s name or the company’s name as your handle?

Research articles (or just common sense and spending a bit of time on Twitter) will tell you, accurately, that people tend to engage  more with personal accounts. Makes sense. We like to know with whom we’re speaking. Names are also a better fit in the syntax of some tweets: “Discussing Twitter for business with @morgansiem.”

Having a company account is important for branding purposes like building awareness and increasing share of voice. However, if you have a small or local business, people usually want to know who YOU are. You might consider having both a brand AND a personal account. For instance, If I’m tweeting about a local business, I want to be able to @mention the business name in a tweet, but I also want to know who I’m talking to.

“Hey, @ZackTM! Thanks for hosting the #Raleigh #SEO meetup at @HuntersOakCity!”

or

“Dear so-and-so, try contacting @ericboggs of @argylesocial – he can answer your question”

The people behind small brands are incredibly important.

If, on the other hand, you are a large, recognized brand, people care less about with whom they are speaking and more about getting their question answered (or maybe they’re just “checking in” or giving props).

“Dear @BofA_Help (Bank of America): Here’s the problem (1, 2, 3). Please help, or I’m outta here.”

or

I love my new @crocs!

These are perfect examples of when it’s important (and better) to have a branded account. These customers want to interact with a brand and are less concerned about what person they reach. In the first example, Charlotte might even be worried if a response comes from a person’s name rather than the company’s name.

Another example I can give comes from my experience this morning. One of the trending topics on Twitter was “Times Square bomb.” I clicked the topic to get a quick update on the case (what’s the news since the failed bomb attempt last night?). There were hundreds of tweets, mostly repetitive, and I found myself scrolling, eyes scanning, for recognized branded accounts. I skipped faces and scanned for logos. I stopped on “trusted” news sources and read.

My own behavior was interesting to me, because I typically do the opposite (when skimming through my Twitter feed, I tend to skip logos and scan for faces).

So, to answer the question, it depends. There is value in both. Know your business, know your audience. This is part of having a strategic plan in place for your social media efforts. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellie May 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm

It always gets back to having a strategy – what is your business, who is your target, what is the message and who is the audience in the community and what do they use the community or the tools for – you have to know the answers for all of these things and more if you want to successfully target a relevant message in the social channels. Good post Morgan!

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Michael Hubbard michaelhubbard May 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm

So I’m pretty outspoken internally about my feelings on this, so it only makes sense for me to comment from the “brand” perspective, or just as importantly, the CEO perspective.

We just returned from a lunch with a few UNC Students who were asking what the advertising industry is like, and one of the questions came up about if an agency loses an account, is it true that anyone working on that account ends up being layed off? Although it’s not true in all cases, it’s definitely an all-to-familiar scene for all of us – so my advice to them was to make sure they controlled their own digital footprint. Make sure people know you, make sure they know you know the space, the technology, make sure you’re employable. I want everyone here at Media Two to be looked at as the smartest, cutting edge employee’s that everyone wants to steal away.

That being said – do it on your own time. Yes, the people are who makes the company, but it’s the combined people and not you alone. A great example of this is Linda Craft Realty… For a year (or more) she was branded as the top ReMax sales agent, she was sponsoring RBC Center, she was everywhere in ads. Then the following year, she was no longer Linda Craft of Remax, she was Linda Craft and Team. All of that money and investment ReMax made in her (disclaimer – I don’t know, maybe she paid for it all) is now gone. What would happen to your business if everyone went elsewhere like Linda did? Would the rest of the employee’s be ok? Smart move for Linda, but not so great for Remax.

My point is simple… The Brand itself is what should be promoted, and it should be promoted collectively by everyone that represents the brand. If your brand becomes just one person, then your brand ceases to exist.

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Dean May 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Michael is dead on. It’s about the brand not the individual. Develop your own brand on your own time.

As an aside, I believe a hybrid model is an effective approach and @salesforce does a great job of allowing personal brands to live under the umbrella of one corporate brand. Their social media approach is the most seamless I have seen.

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Morgan Siem May 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I really like the @salesforce example, Dean. You’re right – it seamlessly integrates brand with personal. I love it! Another good one to check out is @TWCableHelp.

To Michael’s point, I agree whole-heartedly with building the brand, but I think it makes sense to build a personal brand in addition to a brand account if it’s what your audience is looking for and if it supports your business’s needs. If you choose to build a “personal brand,” do it with the business brand in mind. If you are bringing in business because you’ve developed an online personality that people relate to, then, the bottom line is that you brought in the business. Sure you can then take your personal brand with you elsewhere, but it’s like sending your CEO to speak at an event. If people like him/her, they may decide to do business with the company. If not, they might choose to go with a different brand/agency/etc., which means that the person behind the brand matters for many businesses (especially small businesses). That’s why I think that using a personal brand can really enhance the business side of things (IF you do it right, and IF it’s right for your biz/audience) – you put yourself out there, people like you/relate to you, they decide they want to work with you, your company wins the business.

That’s not to say you don’t also need the brand account :)

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Evan R. Murphy February 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

@balsamiq’s is clever too: they use an animated avatar that cycles through various members of their team (branded photos with logo captioned to the left).

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Morgan Siem May 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Here’s a question/scenario I’d love to hear feedback on:

You’ve got a brand that you want to build up on Twitter. You’ve got 100 employees who are each fabulous and who each want to start talking up the brand on Twitter and want to engage audiences on Twitter on behalf of the brand. They each have very unique personalities. They will each relate to different audience members.

How do you handle that? If they all tweet the to the same brand account, then the individual personalities are lost, but if they use personal names, then you loose the followers when you loose the employee.

What do YOU do that has or hasn’t worked?

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Jessica May 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I think that, in that situation, it’s good for each individual to handle their own twitter account but also have a separate general company account maintained by one-to-three people at most. VMware does that, and I believe Rackspace does as well. Each individual might tweet about different things pertaining to their area of work, but also tie it in to the main “home” account tweets should it be of topic.

I think more that three people tweeting on one brand account gets you into a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation. Even three can be difficult at times. Coordination is key (with whomever will be tweeting for the main brand account), and general dissemination of that information, for your “satellite tweeters” and other employees is also important, though not necessarily 100% relevant for their follower base.

There’s a lot to take into account indeed. Tying your personal in with your work can give you a better dialogue with clients and people new to your brand. They get to know you as a person, but also understand perhaps what your product is a bit better as well.

As far as companies trusting their employees to tweet appropriately, we all know that tweeting in appropriate content is irresponsible and can get you in hot water or just plain fired. With great power (Social Media) comes great responsibility (not tweeting nonsense)!

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Lorana May 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Morgan,
I now have both a personal and a business account. I think it is important to have both. I put different information on each, but it is evident that I am the one posting. We are also entertaining breaking out other branded accounts so people can have conversations with experts from different departments. That isn’t going to roll out right away, but I definitely see the benefit to it, especially if it is clearly defined as to who is tweeting in the bio.

I am unsure about having employees tweet on their own with personal accounts that are connected to our brand. There is a certain level of trust that goes with that, combined with the time needed to monitor some of their content. I think I am a little too type A to be able to deal with that.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.

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Morgan Siem May 4, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Very good point about the trust issues. Please do keep me posted when you roll out the department accounts for your brand. I’m always interested to hear how it’s working out for other brands. We have department accounts under our @mediatwo umbrella account that Michael runs. They include: @mediatwo_social (Morgan), @mediatwo_design (Rachel, Dave) and @mediatwo_search (Nick) – as well as @mediatwo_oh (Sheila).

When it comes to trust, though, I might argue that it’s riskier to have personnel tweeting as the brand name than tweeting as their own name, which is tied to the brand. This is definitely where we bring up the importance of having a social media employee policy! :)

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Lisa Sullivan May 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Morgan…this is an excellent discussion, so much so that I’m going to weigh in as well.

I think everyone has interesting points. I think the bottom line, as Ellie said, is know your audience, do your research, set your goals, & then embark on your trek in the social media space.

Michael has a good point in that when it comes down to it, it’s the brand. On the other hand, Morgan brings up quality examples to back up her point while I also like Dean’s “hybrid approach”. In fact, I think the hybrid approach might be the way to go for MOST brands.

Here’s how I look at it. Social media is meant to be just that – social. People are social with people. Plain and simple. However, from a business standpoint there is definite value in utilizing the social media space. I think we can all agree on that. :) My point, I think most (if not all) business models need to “tone down” the business in favor of the personality to ensure authenticity behind what the brand stands for.

I think of it kind of like being a doctor. Remember the days when doctors made house calls? (OK…some of you may not remember that.) The reason you chose *that* doctor was simply because you trusted him/her, you valued their technique, and you valued their expertise. Because of all that, you told your neighbor, who told their neighbor, so and and so forth and before you knew it, your chosen doctor had more patients going to him/her.

Hello! That’s social media. People engage with people. Brands need to be people in order for the engagement to work. I don’t care if that’s “collective” people (to Michael’s point) or if it’s individuals (to Morgan’s point) but bottom line, it’s gotta be people.

I believe that as long as the parameters & policies are set within a company and there is a system of checks & balances to ensure that they are being maintained, then why not let the individuals engage on behalf of the brand while still letting the brand engage on behalf of the brand? There IS a way to do it.

One more thought and this is an example of a successful branding campaign…I think anyway.

Take St. Supery wines. They hired Rick Bakas as their Social Media Manager after seeing his submission for the Murphy-Goode wines campaign last year. He already had a well-established online presence. He brought much of that with him to St. Supery & began the process of integrating his approach in with their strategy.

Since that time, he has gained more followers on Twitter and built up a Facebook Fan Page on their behalf, among other things. I began following him on Twitter, I became a fan of St. Supery on Facebook, & even attended their in-store wine tasting a couple of weeks ago here where I also bought my first bottle of St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite frankly, don’t know that I would’ve ever tried it elsewhere because it’s also out of my price range, for the most part. But, now, yeah, I’m a St. Supery fan!

Here’s the point that drives it home – Rick is a great guy, completely knowledgeable in his industries (social media and wine), and as much as I trust him, if he left the company, would I stop enjoying St. Supery wine? Nope. Not unless they started making tasteless product. Would I follow him elsewhere? Probably. BUT, I would still drink St. Supery wine…and equally as important, I’d still follow the brand.

So to wrap this up – I agree with Morgan. It depends. It depends on so much that there really isn’t a “yes” or “no” answer.

And that’s my bottom line. :)

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Karl Sakas May 5, 2010 at 9:13 pm

It depends on the degree of anonymity the company (and the customer) wants. When I need help from an airline or the cable company, I don’t care *who* specifically solves the problem. When I’m interacting with a consulting firm or agency (where employees’ ideas are the company’s primary “product”), I’d prefer to communicate with the actual people.

Sometimes, an individual’s brand *is* the company’s brand. For instance, at a previous employer, the brand was as much about Amy Domini as it was about Domini Social Investments. That type of blurred line can be a dangerous, from a brand continuity perspective.

When the individual is the owner and CEO, that isn’t a huge issue. But when a high-profile individual might leave at any time, management would that be wise to ensure that the company’s brand is growing, too.

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Joshua Sweeney May 6, 2010 at 11:45 am

I’m a little late to the party, but I want to share a personal note for this debate.

Michael brings up something that I’ve been mulling over a lot recently. I’m the face of my company right now… in fact, if I weren’t doing what I do, there’s a good chance nobody on Twitter would know about us by now. My personal Twitter account IS the business Twitter account. My personal blog IS the business blog.

My bosses asked me recently if I decided to leave, how would we sustain the company’s reputation? I’ve got a business Twitter account that I’ve put on mothballs because we’re just not active enough to justify a dedicated account yet. If the time comes that I leave, I can always turn it over to someone else at the company and start announcing to my followers that the official account has surfaced.

The blog is on Wordpress and pointed to a subdomain on my company, so I can always export my posts, turn the blog over to the company, and continue my writing on my own.

Luckily, the entire website and the people who work here are on a similar page: we’re all slightly less than serious, very passionate about our product, and enthusiastic and social people, so I believe the brand will transfer relatively seamlessly from me to someone else if that time comes.

I think it’s a good thing that I’ve got such a personal stake in the company. If I weren’t so enthusiastic about what I do, it might be better to keep it separate, but I’m pretty sure I’m growing the company brand while I grow my personal brand. I wonder, rather often in fact, how true this really is. Am I stunting the growth of the company because it’s so directly tied to me? Should I begin tweeting from a company-specific account and distance myself from the company brand, treating myself as more of an evangelist and less a representative?

I feel like I’m on the right track right now, but I’m constantly learning and catching up to the curve in social media. There’s a possibility that I’ll have to drastically rework my strategy in the near future.

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Akira Morita May 14, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Morgan, everyone,
Really thought-provoking thread. Thank you!

My 2c: I think Lisa brings up a great point. As one of our clients recently quipped in our conversation about their brand: “People buy from people.” And, social media and Internet is making things _very_ transparent. It’s easy to surmise who’s with whom, which brand’s helped by which social media celebrity, etc.

My opinion is that individuals as well as brands gain much from developing an on-line presence (therefore, my answer to the initial question: “both!”). Developing a strong personality for your brand is a bit more tricky, though – it needs a substance beyond the amalgamation of individuals who work for the brand. There’s definitely a symbiosis between the individuals and their collective umbrella, but the umbrella has to remain after some members move on.

Coming from a owner/operator, entrepreneurial camp, I do take a little exception to Michael’s comment “do it on your own time.” That sounds a bit like an old school employer/employee relic. Who’s watching the clock these days, really, esp. in the creative field? Isn’t your staff working for you day and night? What are you doing to ensure the mediaTwo brand stand on its own regardless of what your team members bring into it?

Brands benefit from having good personalities associated with them. Would the opposite be true? Ensuring that is part of our work (as branding professionals), right?

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PB June 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm

The catch is looking at it from the customer perspective. People form bonds with PEOPLE. Take the hair dresser perspective, do you trust the person who cuts your hair, or the logo on the door?
Do Lady Gaga’s fans care what record company she is signed with at the moment?

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Dean June 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

@PB

A couple questions for you…

What kind of car do you drive? Who sold you the car?

Who spilled the oil in the Gulf? Who is their CEO?

My guess is you can answer the first question but not the second in each case.

Brands still matter.

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PB August 6, 2010 at 8:25 am

I didn’t say brands don’t matter, I’m saying people rarely form an emotional bond with them. Of course there are exceptions: Apple, Harley-Davidson, etc.

But most of the time people will trust someone they can connect with way more than what a brand is telling them.

To Answer your questions:
1a) Honda 1b) A sales guy I don’t trust.
2a) BP 2b) The old guy is/was Tony Hayward, and his personal speaking blunders will haunt BP long after he is gone!

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Steve Longoria November 25, 2012 at 3:26 am

I’ve been working on building up my brand on Twitter, and I’ve been thinking about creating a personal account. I didn’t know what I’d tweet, but now I think I have an idea!

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