Evolve CommunicationsShould an Agency Tweet?

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Should an Agency Tweet?

A few days ago, I was asked this interesting question in a meeting with a potential client. Actually, the prospect asked me if I tweet as Evolve Communications. (In case you’re wondering, I don’t. I tweet as myself.)

Up until recently, I held the belief that agencies should tweet. All the time. After all, it’s a way to establish connections, showcase work, and also establish a foundation for thought leadership (yes, I DO believe thought leadership can be accomplished in 140 characters). There’s certainly no shortage of ad agencies on Twitter.

I believed this until I attended the #140 characters conference in DC. During the panel discussion called Emergency 2.0, NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin was discussing a request for donations of food, clothing, etc. that he tweeted during the Haiti crisis. He tweeted through both his own personal account (@acarvin) as well as the NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) account. Andy has approximately 15,000 followers. NPR has close to two million followers. What happened next was fascinating.

Andy received more responses from his personal account than the tweet through the NPR account. This lead to the observation (I’m paraphrasing here) that the connection Andy has with his Twitter followers is much stronger–and possibly more powerful–than the connection between a mainstream media outlet and its followers. NPR, like many other news outlets of its stature, never interacts with its followers (to the frustration of many, I’m sure).

For all the talk of “engagement” and “conversation” that social media offers, it seems rare for mainstream media outlets to use it as such (side note: the fine people who manage the Baltimore Sun’s Twitter presence (@baltimoresun) do an excellent job of interacting with their followers on Twitter). Most of them still use it as a broadcast model.

Which brings me back to the question of whether or not an agency should tweet. After hearing Andy’s story, I say no. Let your people do it for you. They’re your best spokespeople. They’re the ones who either talk with clients every day, or produce amazing creative, or create powerful marketing strategies, or even pay the agency bills, or answer the phones. The human connection is what we are all striving for when using social media. Let people be people, I say.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a social media policy. More on that later.


Comments

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Brody Bond Reply

What if it serves your followers to tweet as an agency?… new blog posts, new portfolio work, funny photos, etc.?

You’re point about having your people represent your agency is very well taken – we need to do a better job at that. I don’t think that means not tweeting as an agency is wrong, though.

Daniel Reply

Good question and excellent point. I didn’t mean to imply that it was wrong, rather that it was less effective. Sure, you can do branding and have personality in your agency tweets. And some people might find that interesting and entertaining.

The measure of success, though, isn’t number of followers, RTs, or anything like that. I believe the true measure of success is having a real-world, offline impact.

For example, do you think it was your personal network that helped your raise $80,000 for Blood:Water Mission or your agency’s network? They might be similar networks, but most likely your personal request for participation was more powerful than your agency’s.

Brody Bond Reply

What if it serves your followers to tweet as an agency?… new blog posts, new portfolio work, funny photos, etc.?

You’re point about having your people represent your agency is very well taken – we need to do a better job at that. I don’t think that means not tweeting as an agency is wrong, though.

Daniel Reply

Good question and excellent point. I didn’t mean to imply that it was wrong, rather that it was less effective. Sure, you can do branding and have personality in your agency tweets. And some people might find that interesting and entertaining.

The measure of success, though, isn’t number of followers, RTs, or anything like that. I believe the true measure of success is having a real-world, offline impact.

For example, do you think it was your personal network that helped your raise $80,000 for Blood:Water Mission or your agency’s network? They might be similar networks, but most likely your personal request for participation was more powerful than your agency’s.

Andy Carvin Reply

Hi Daniel,

I actually don’t see it as an either/or situation – I think it’s important to have both personal accounts *and* organizational accounts on Twitter. First, let me offer a correction – NPR actually interacts with people a lot on Twitter. We have over 100 staff on Twitter and the vast majority of our shows, blogs, and even some of our news desks, have their own accounts. Check out accounts like @morningedition, @scifri, @waitwait, @planetmoney on any given day and you’ll a robust conversation taking place.

Meanwhile, we also have a handful of twitter accounts we run as news feeds, just so people who wanted to use Twitter as a news wire could get our content that way. Among these accounts is @nprpolitics. It’s not purely a one-way feed – we use it for conversations during political events and the like – but its primary purpose is sharing links to our politics coverage. About a year ago, Twitter added the account to its Suggested Users List, which caused the account to jump from 18,000 followers on inauguration day 2009 to 1.8 million users today.

Our largest Twitter accounts are primarily used for news consumption, and this was reinforced by getting on the Suggested Users List, in which thousands of people would follow the account simply because Twitter encouraged it. It’s great to have these additional followers, but the SUL created an artificial sense of influence. People joined because they wanted the news, not because they felt a one-on-one relationship with those particular accounts, as they do with our staff or show accounts.

So on those occasions where I’ve reached out to Twitter users for help via the big NPR accounts, the results have been mixed. In the example I gave at #140conf, I wasn’t asking people to donate food, clothing, etc. I was asking people to help me find eyewitnesses to the Haiti quake and other potential sources for our journalists. This is a major distinction. When you have a personal twitter account, or one run by a group of people (like our radio shows), it’s much easier to establish relationships with other Twitter users and attract subject-matter experts – something that’s very important to those of us in the news business. Because I’m interested in disaster relief and talk about it on Twitter, I’ve amassed a number of followers with similar interests. So when I asked people to help me find sources in Haiti, they were able to help, because many of them worked for aid agencies and the like. In other words, my personal account had specialists who developed a vested interest in helping me out, because they got to know me and I got to know them. Our largest Twitter account, @nprpolitics, lacked these factors, so the exponentially larger size of that account still wasn’t enough to compete with the density of influence and relationships that exist via my personal account.

What if I’d asked a different question? Well, the results might’ve been different. For example, there have been times where I’ve used twitter to ask people to do things in response to disasters and spread the word about it, such as help edit wikis related to the disasters. In cases like this, the large NPR accounts actually *are* very useful, because you end up getting a lot more people retweeting you, including the occasional twitter celebrity. So while my personal Twitter account is more effective at getting people to answer my questions or solve problems, the large NPR accounts are better at getting the word out, simply due to the greater potential for many more retweets.

So if you were to ask me if you should pick either tweeting as an individual or as an organization, I’d encourage you to figure out a way to do both. They each have pros and cons, but they both have enough pros that it’s worth doing both. And for orgs as large as NPR, departmental Twitter accounts (or in our case, radio shows and news desks) are often an important middle ground, because they have the power of their brand name to attract many users, plus the intimacy of small-group conversation.

andy

DanielDubya Reply

Andy,

Thanks for your very thorough and thoughtful response. I think you raise a very good point about the relationship between size and quality of your network. As you say, your personal network has many like-minded people, who were more likely pitch in vs. the @NPRpolitics account where people are more using for news gathering.

I think your comment touches upon the burning question of the past few years: What is the role of media in the age of Twitter/social media? Is it still to spread news or is it to create community? Those are two very different functions, and I would argue media should be doing more of the later and less of the former. If you think back to the early days of newspapers and news organizations, community building was an integral part of how they functioned. Today, of course, the bottom line is far more important to most news organizations than community building (probably less so for NPR than other news organizations).

Lastly, I think there's a significant distinction between a news organization and a marketing/ad/pr agency. While I haven't looked at every agency's twitter account, I would wager a guess that very few of them use their account to interact and more to show their work or point to other related articles around the net. I think the strength of an agency tends to be in the strength of its people (as is the case in most organizations). It's the people that are creative. It's the people that interact with clients, and it's the people that drive the business success or failure. That's why, for agencies, I think it's better to have their employees tweet rather than the agency itself. Or, perhaps it would be better to say that agencies should use their employees more as online ambassadors.

I think it'd actually make an interesting study to see how agencies are using social media and the degree to which they're interacting with their friends/followers.

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