Brands keep a tight grip on Twitter to avoid miscues

With recent miscues by Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase on Twitter in mind, brands are making sure employees who run company accounts are clear on standards and practices.

Experts agree that almost all brands should have a Twitter presence. Yet with recent miscues by Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase on the platform in mind, they add that companies, regardless of industry, need specific strategies, goals, and crisis plans in place.

Twitter offers organizations the chance to interact with people who are probably already talking about their brand online in some way, says David Reiseman, VP of communications at Gold's Gym.

“It's not so much weighing the cost of being on Twitter; it's weighing the cost of not being on Twitter,” he explains. Reiseman adds that Gold's Gym assesses all its Twitter content by asking the question, “Is it making people's lives better?” The company narrows its posts to fit four pillars: health and fitness tips, access to exclusive workouts, motivation and inspiration, and news and updates for members.

Reiseman says that having a plan in place for Twitter has helped the brand build its voice on social media and engage fans. He contends that even companies in regulated industries can benefit from having a social strategy.

For example, Reiseman says a financial corporation may see huge value in presenting the brand as an expert on financial subjects or a category leader.

However, last week, JPMorgan cancelled a planned Twitter Q&A after it received thousands of angry responses when it asked followers to tweet questions to an executive using the hashtag #AskJPM. The bank, which saw nearly 6,000 taunting tweets in seven hours, responded with a post that said, “Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled. Bad idea. Back to the drawing board.” Many of the tweets referenced missteps by the financial institution, such as the “London Whale” scandal or the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Defining who has control
Earlier this month, Home Depot faced an onslaught of consumer criticism after its Twitter handle posted a tweet featuring two African-Americans and a third person dressed as a monkey with two beating drums and asked, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

The company, which deleted the tweet, posted an apology online saying it terminated the agency and individual responsible for the post.

Home Depot did not return calls seeking comment.

While Gold's Gym works with its agency partners to monitor and strategize for Twitter, all posts are done internally by a “very limited number” of staffers who have a clear understanding of the brand voice and direction, explains Reiseman.

Atalanta Rafferty, executive MD at RF|Binder, says some clients provide the firm with guidelines and give them the freedom to tweet on their behalf, while others give the agency pre-planned topics, but the posts must be approved before they are published.

“Some people find Twitter really scary,” she explains. “They've seen some of the mistakes and they look at it as something that is very time-intensive. They also don't know who should be doing it or what the voice should be.”

To avoid mishaps, Rafferty says brands and firms should have a content plan in place, as well as an issues-management strategy. Companies should also make sure to be sensitive when responding to particular issues online, such as controversial topics or disaster situations, to make sure the brand isn't promoting itself while a touchy conversation in happening.

Rafferty adds that brands across industries should approach Twitter differently by assessing “what types of risks and issues one might face before entering the conversation.”

Hyatt Hotels uses different handles on Twitter. Yet regardless of the profile, the tweets are posted by the company's in-house team, explains Daniel Moriarty, director of digital strategy at Hyatt.

When an agency partner does craft a tweet, it is still reviewed by the hotel chain's internal staff before it gets published, he adds.

Hyatt says its social media team understands the voice and objective of each handle. The goal of the Hyatt Concierge Twitter account, for example, is improved guest relations and utility, which can include answering questions about the wine at the hotel bar or the best trains to take to a nearby city.

Moriarty says the handle allows Hyatt to be jovial if guests are tweeting something fun or serious if a guest is unhappy with something.

The Hyatt Tweets page, on the other hand, is focused on posting useful and uplifting news or travel content for guests. 

“Certainly, most businesses would find a use for Twitter,” says Moriarty. “How deep you go into it and how proactive versus reactive you'll be are different levers you can pull based on the industry you are in and where your focus is.”

More than just the news
Twitter is a “very unique medium because it's so unfiltered and uncontrolled,” and newer, youth-oriented brands are adapting to this concept more easily than other companies, explains John Hellerman, cofounder of Hellerman Baretz Communications.

When a company decides to launch a Twitter account, Hellerman warns that it cannot use it solely as a broadcasting platform for news about the organization. The company needs to understand its audience and create dialogue with consumers and stakeholders and be persistent with tweets in order to build influence.

One mistake many companies make is “just diving right in” to a social channel without a plan, says Alan Marcus, SVP and head of the New York office at Shift Communications.

The best way to prepare for Twitter is to have a content calendar in place and figure out how communicative the brand wants to be on the channel, he says. Companies should also decide if the internal team will handle it or if an agency will hold the reins.

There may be more pressure on what can be tweeted or who should control the handle in more regulated industries, such as financial or healthcare. Yet Marcus says that a major company, such as PepsiCo or Coca-Cola, has just as much at stake since all it takes is one small mistake on Twitter for something to go viral and cause backlash.

Once strategies and plans are in place, Marcus says Twitter can offer brands a great opportunity to “take away the veil of being a big corporate giant and become something that is much more humanized.”

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