Use it or lose it. That was the message from Twitter when it said inactive accounts would be deleted and the associated usernames put up for grabs.
While the social media giant paused the plans following a backlash "until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts," social media experts say brands need to be ready for the inevitable purge.
"To keep your account active, be sure to log in and tweet at least every six months," it reads. "Accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity."
Chad Latz, chief innovation officer and global president for digital at BCW, says that "this policy will force companies to routinely check their inventory of handles and make the decision to either log in and tweet or let the account lapse and risk having it removed."
For some large companies, that’s a big exercise because they may have created many accounts for all their business lines that they may not even use.
"Hence, they sit dormant," Latz adds. "I recently spoke to a PR lead of a large retail brand who mentioned the company had created more than 400 social profiles."
To deal with this, Latz recommends a consolidation strategy to reduce digital clutter. "It creates greater clarity and definition around a brand’s social identity," he says.
Re-engaging on Twitter
Not every company or brand has multiple Twitter accounts. Some have even let a seemingly primary handle go dormant. In-N-Out Burger hasn’t tweeted since 2011, despite having 51,400 followers. Play-Doh last tweeted in 2015. And there are others.
Twitter would be doing them a favor by wiping away their history on the platform, contends Kate Ryan, U.S MD for Diffusion.
"It’s far better for end users to discover a brand’s presence on social platforms it cares about and is active on as opposed to stumbling upon an obvious failed social media experiment and a graveyard of tweets that received little to no engagement," she notes.
Contrary to popular opinion, not every brand needs to be on Twitter, especially given the sheer number of social media platforms, notes Lindsay Riddell, SVP of executive and corporate comms at Hotwire. But if a brand is going to return, she says they need a strategy and reason to do so, not just because they want to keep the handle.
"It’s OK to re-announce yourself on Twitter with something like, ‘We’re back and better than ever’ and making a celebration out of it. Humor also plays well on the platform," she says. "But first you need to prioritize the channel by making sure you have the resources to support it and setting measurable goals with content and engagement ladders that up to them."
At least one brand has stirred awake. Smartfood had tweeted once since 2015 – until recently. In September, the PepsiCo brand suddenly became active again to say that its Flamin’ Hot White Cheddar popcorn was back and to introduce a 100% whole grain product called Smart50. The brand has tweeted two dozen times since early September.
Tracey Williams, senior director of marketing for Frito-Lay North America, said via email that Smartfood’s Twitter revival is part of a strategy that includes new packaging. Both its packaging and social media channels feature the same pop-art-inspired illustrations.
"Our social channels got a makeover," she says, noting the illustrations are paired with captions and other content that "emphasize the fun, playful personality of the Smartfood brand."
"Twitter users in particular closely align with Smartfood consumers in that they are plugged in to current events and social by nature," adds Williams, citing a figure from Hootsuite that 65% of Twitter’s top 10% of users by tweet volume are women, a sweet spot for Smartfood.
#Smartfood has more than 1,240 Twitter followers. "As the platform continues to grow, we’re looking forward to expanding our own use of it in 2020," she adds.
Release of dormant accounts
Twitter’s plan to sweep away abandoned accounts would not just push brands to clean house. They could also try to grab once-dormant and newly available handles to protect their trademarks against imposter and spoof accounts.
General Motors, for instance, might want to snap up @generalmotors.com, as is the case with U.S. Bancorp and @usbancorp. Both handles have exactly zero tweets. @Amex has no followers, and could be of interest to American Express.
"These are brands that could benefit from the re-release of inactive handles," says Riddell, who notes that these accounts could already belong to the corresponding brands, except in the case of @usbancorp which states it has no affiliation to U.S. Bancorp.
"Scooping up handles might still be a strategy to protect," even if that means logging in and tweeting something on them every six month, says Latz, adding that the process could be "tedious."
A bigger opportunity: newer and smaller brands could get better Twitter handles. As Courtney Spritzer, cofounder and co-CEO at Socialfly points out, finding good, available Twitter names for some clients has been a real challenge.
"We have experienced this situation many times when helping new brands create accounts. It is certainly a pain point when the ideal Twitter account handle is taken and inactive," says Spritzer. "If accounts that have never been used are deleted as a result of this process, it can create opportunity for other users who plan to be more active with those handles."
Nathan Allebach, social media manager for Steak-umm PR partner Allebach Communications, agrees.
"Brands that don’t spend enough advertising money on Twitter to have a dedicated rep have had their company handles taken, so this is their chance to make moves," he says. "It’s an opportunity to be creative and strategic, considering hashtags and future campaign activity."