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How does a company use its Twitter identity?

Friday, I presented at a private event for IBM’s marketing teams worldwide, on the subject of the Digital Marketing Challenge, where I explained how to make the case for more investment in digital marketing by showing how to track the return on that investment. It was a fun event, marked with good speakers, but also a good audience. By far the most burning question of the day, asked of multiple speakers, was, “Should a company use a single corporate Twitter handle or allow individual handles for different employees?” And the answer to that question is, “Yes.”

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Clearly, the questioner wanted to know the answer for IBM, but the question is applicable to any size firm, and my tongue-in-cheek “yes” answer is really a challenge to each company to figure out what makes sense for them.
Almost any company can benefit from having a corporate Twitter presence that is impersonal, which can be used for impersonal things, such as making announcements, talking about news and events, and serving as the punching bag for irate customers that don’t know any other Twitter handle at which to direct their ire. For large companies such as IBM, it makes sense to have such impersonal handles for IBM divisions, IBM countries, IBM product families, and even individual IBM products.
But don’t stop there. If you have a small company, it might be fine for one person to be the only presence on Twitter, and you can identify who that person is even if the handle is as impersonal as the company name. But if more than one person at your company wants to tweet, and especially if your company has more than a couple of dozen employees, it makes sense to have real individual people have their own personally-identifiable Twitter handles.
Twitter is a very personal medium, so it helps to actually have a personality. Some people have been able to bring some personality to a company handle, but more typically those handles have all the excitement of a press release. For many companies, they are managed by multiple people who strain to remove any personality whatsoever from that corporate image. If your company works that way, it is even more important than ever for you to have separate handles that individuals can be themselves with–it will only make your company look human and personal, rather than cold and clinical.
But even if you have a corporate presence that lets the real human being show through, it’s still better to augment that presence with more people. Each person will have a different expertise to help solve customer problems. Each person can develop a fresh following. Each person can be part of the company’s Twitter presence, rather than one person being the whole thing.
Because if that one person leaves the company, two things happen. First, they might bring some of their followers with them, stripping some energy from the company’s Twitter presence. Second, you’ll be scrambling to support the old handle with a new person.
If you have many Twitter handles out there, you won’t be able to prevent people from leaving the company, but any individual departure will have limited damage. By having your Twitterers talk to each other, it encourages their followers to cross-pollinate, so that you’ll maintain substantial attention even if a high-profile person leaves.
It’s a serious issue to consider, because social media raises new stars from within your ranks that can walk out the door to your competitors or to other companies. Think carefully how you will cope with that end-game scenario and it will inform how you play the Twitter game between now and then.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. I agree with you.The social media is playing a vital role for the betterment of the business too…I want to know more and share more….keep sharing.

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    I find the Twitter search function to be incredibly useful, because you can find people asking questions about your product and provide proactive customer support/help.

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