The Best Brands on Twitter Don’t Tweet Like Brands

Even the best brands like to talk about itself on social media—that’s the whole point. But that doesn’t mean they have to do it all the time while sounding braggadocious.

Does anyone care what SpahgettiOs thinks about Pearl Harbor? Or how Totino’s feels about the newest X-Men movie? What about when Kenneth Cole joked that violent protests in Egypt were a result of the clothing line’s new spring collection?

No matter how many cringe-worthy tweets we’ve seen in the past, branded Twitter accounts seem fixated on capitalizing on the latest trend, whether it’s national tragedy or a totally unrelated movie release. So how can a brand avoid embarrassing itself on Twitter, or even shine as an account people want to follow for content?

The big thing to always keep in mind about Twitter, compared to other major social networks, is that it’s place for conversation. Hashtags and trending topics allow anyone on Twitter to contribute to a global conversation about everything from breaking news to television shows to hobbies.

But just like in face-to-face conversations, there are certain unwritten rules. Unless you’re already the focus of an exchange, trying to make the conversation about yourself only comes across as arrogant. Also if you have nothing to contribute, you shouldn’t force it. Just because everyone is talking about a recent celebrity death doesn’t mean that Four Loko has to provide the eulogy.

Playing with pop culture

What elevates the best brands on Twitter is a firm understanding of their Twitter audience. They comment on pop culture stories that interest them, rather than just using their voice to segue the conversation back to a self-serving message. For example, check out Arby’s Twitter feed, which tweets a lot about popular films and video games. The tweets have a clear audience and cleverly reference Arby’s products without distracting from the original story. With this approach, Arby’s can contribute to a dialogue rather than interrupt it. It’s a smart way to piggyback on a current trend without hogging the spotlight.

One way to pull this off, demonstrated by film distributor A24, is to let other people talk about you. Instead of constantly promoting its own work, A24 retweets other people’s positive reactions to its films. The company balances this out with a healthy amount of tweets about movies that have nothing to do with its productions. The tactic makes A24 seem like a fellow cinephile that cares more about filmmaking than pumping up its own releases.

Self-deprecating humor

An alternate approach to talking about yourself is to do so with tongue firmly in cheek. We’re at a point where people begrudgingly accept brands on Twitter, so if you’re a brand, make fun of yourself. People will want to laugh with you. One of the most successful examples of this, at least according to various video game blogs, is the Sonic the Hedgehog account. The social media editor tweets jokes at the brand’s expense, nods to its fanbase, and mentions other video game accounts in order to keep fans engaged between new releases or news. Sonic doesn’t hesitate to tweet about itself, but that’s okay when it’s the butt of a joke.

One account that relies on a weird and maybe unrepeatable version of self-deprecation is ad agency R/GA, which takes the piss out of the ad industry on Twitter, specifically making fun of social media marketing. Often cynical and arguably hostile, R/GA shows off a refreshing self-awareness by complaining about buzzwords and throwing shade and snark at poorly conceived brand tweets.

For years, Chapin Clark has run the R/GA account. In 2013, Adweek profiled him with a story titled “Meet the Man Behind the World’s Best Ad Agency Twitter Feed.” In the Q&A, Clark has the perfect explanation of what brands need to do to succeed on Twitter: “Don’t assume that because of your name and reputation people who are chatting with their friends, sharing photos posted by their favorite celebrities, and watching sneak previews of hotly anticipated movies are then going to be interested in reading your press releases.”

After all, Twitter was originally designed for people, not brands. So it stands to reason that you’ll be better off talking to followers as people rather than targets you want to manipulate. And if you disagree, well, just go read Brands Saying Bae.



Image by Getty

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