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Twitter Strategy: Branded vs. Individual Twitter Accounts


A frequently asked question in my social media boot camps is whether or not organizations should tweet from a branded Twitter account with their logo as the profile picture, or just have employees use individual accounts.

It’s easy to see why someone would be skeptical about having a conversation with a counterpart hiding behind a corporate logo. It’s an issue of transparency and attribution. Logos don’t talk. People do.
But what about an organization that wants to use twitter to unload closeout merchandise by tweeting out sales prices? Or what if an airline’s decided to use Twitter for exclusive fares that they might need to sell very quickly? In both these cases, I could see following those Twitter accounts with no expectations of a two-way conversation.
From a strategic standpoint, the concept of limiting an organization’s interactions with its stakeholders solely to a branded, logo Twitter account is probably unwise. So how should organizations structure their Twitter identity?

The subject is addressed in more detail in Shel Israel’s “Twitterville,” one of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject of social media engagement, who likens Twitter to the Land of Oz, where regular folks tweet behind their logo as a sort of curtain. But I had the chance to dig a little deeper into this subject in a recent discussionwith Shel, which is available as a podcast.
And here’s my take away. There are some instances where it makes sense for organizations to tweet under a branded, logo account, and there are instances where individual accounts work better. In this blog post, I’ll suggest how organizations can decide between which approach makes sense for them. But first, consider these examples:
Branded Twitter Accounts
@FEMAinfocus This branded Twitter account from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency is used to broadcast links to information from state and local agencies, mostly about disaster relief. The Twitter account conveys objective information to interested parties, and according to John Shea who directs social media at the agency, most of the links they distribute lead to .gov domains, because, according to Shea, there is a credibility gap between information distributed via social media, and that same information when it resides at a .gov website. He calls it “back-ending” his social media communications. But either way, no conversations happen here.

@Toyota Toyota’s Twitter account is staffed by a team of employees. A custom JPEG background image that they’ve created and uploaded to their account includes a sidebar listing the names of those employees tweeting there, their subject matter expertise, as well as their individual Twitter IDs.
When objective information, such as links to press materials or other official company news is broadcast over the branded Toyota account, the tweets are left unsigned. But if, however, any of these team members engage in conversations on the branded Twitter account, they assume responsibility for their tweets by signing them with their initials. Extensive back-and-forth conversations can be transitioned to their individual accounts at the employee’s discretion.
As a point of disclosure, I have done a good deal of social media strategy and online communications technology work for Toyota, but I cannot take responsibility for their Twitter strategy.
Individual Twitter Accounts
Dell — The Dell Computer model for social media engagement via Twitter makes it easy for the company to introduce new employees into its “customer service as PR” fray by mandating that employees tweet from account IDs that using @first-name-atDell. This means first, that if you engage with a Dell rep in Twitter, it’s clear you’re dealing with a Dell employee. And second, since it’s easy for Dell to introduce more Twitter reps, there’s less of a chance that a single, branded account will become so overwhelmed with @replies and DMs that it becomes unmanageable.
We can only truly engage with so many people in any given day, and with thousands of followers, sooner or later any individual could drown in requests. The strategy lets the company introduce more social media activists to the front lines as existing company representatives get maxed out on followers, and in so doing, limit the possibility that its stakeholders might suffer from one-way intimacy.
@ScottMonty As head of social media at Ford Motors, Scott Monty has used Twitter to help the car maker manage its reputation and increase market share. He is well-known and respected among social media advocates. Scott has more than 37,000 followers and is frequently singled out as an example of effective social media engagement.

But it’s easy to see how an organization’s human resources or legal department might feel uneasy about an employee tweeting on behalf of the organization under an individual account that does not recognize their affiliation in their twitter ID. At some point, most employees move on and HR and Legal work to preserve organizational intelligence in those circumstances. When Scott moves on, he takes his 37,000 followers with him, even if Ford believes he attracted many of those followers because he was an employee.
Best of Both Worlds
There is inherent tension between objective and subjective information.
It is precisely that tension that led news agencies to erect to a Chinese wall between news coverage and opinion. And it’s my belief that appreciation and healthy dose of respect for that tension should be incorporated into an organization’s Twitter strategy.
The problem with branded, logo accounts is usually a lack of transparency because the tweets are not attributed to an individual, and we all know brands can’t talk. But as Toyota’s approach demonstrates, this issue is easily resolved by replacing out the background JPEG in the Twitter account with biographical information about whoever is tweeting on the organization’s behalf.
When a branded, logo account tweets company information, no attribution is required, because it’s like the company is distributing their own news coverage. And we all know official company news is created drafted and approved by committee. In the absence of a branded twitter account, the news would have to come from individual Twitter accounts, and the suggestion that company news can be attributed to one individual is a bit peculiar.
The problem with individual accounts that do not incorporate the name of the organization in the twitter ID, at least for employers, is that individuals are in a position to benefit by attracting followers at the expense of their employer, particularly if the employers sees business value in the number of Twitter followers an employee has.
The scenario is laden with potential conflicts of interest. A better case scenario would be one where self-interests and company interests are one in the same.
From a practical standpoint, the setup that offers the most flexibility is Toyota’s, because they have the ability to preserve the followers to their corporate Twitter feed when team members transition, they are able to release company information without having to imply that it might be attributed it to an individual, but they are still able to transparently attribute conversations to the team members who staff the account.
Have you seen an organization with a better Twitter strategy for discerning between branded Twitter accounts and individual Twitter accounts? If so, I’d appreciate hearing about it. And if you have other thoughts about anything I’ve written hear, I hope you’ll let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks.

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