Twitter is good for defensive branding; Facebook fosters engagement.
For a week or so it seemed that the number of articles in the news about Twitter was going to surpass the number of articles relating to swine flu.
What is it about Twitter's mini-diarists with their 140-character missives that have gotten our shorts in such a twist? What is it about the 14 million users, and counting, that has this newest form of social media fast closing in on Facebook for popularity? Will it replace this longer-form venue as the public's desire to share information, both trite and practical, intensifies? Or has it reached critical mass?
I'm not in the business of predicting stuff like this, and that's not what I'm writing about. I am, however, in the business of helping marketers understand how to use media channels, digital and otherwise, to build their brands.
And I think Twitter and Facebook can both play a role in a branding strategy. Having said this, I also think that just as users think about Twitter and Facebook differently, so too should companies as they go about their branding efforts.
Before I get into the difference between how one digital tool should be used vs. the other, however, let me begin with the one major role both play in building strong brands.
Both Twitter and Facebook enable organizations to learn about what people are thinking and saying and doing about their brands, and about life in general. And the first step to achieving brand success is getting insight about human thought and behavior. The better the quality of the insights, the better the chance of establishing a brand promise that genuinely meets consumer needs and expectations.
Great insight enables a company to meaningfully set its brand apart from others in the minds of consumers and in the marketplace. Monitoring consumer opinion in the high-speed modes now available, also gives organizations a better chance of fixing any situations that need fixing before they get out of hand. The closer organizations can get to their customers, the more opportunities they have to enhance brand experiences; make them more relevant, and more valuable to those who matter most to them. Organizations that make monitoring and sharing Twittered and Facebooked commentary part of their operational infrastructure have a much better chance to responding to customer needs faster and better.
Having said this, what distinguishes these two digital tools from each other as branding devices is a measure of time and depth. I think of it this way: Twitter is an early warning system. It lets marketers know instantly what's going on as it happens. It gives them the opportunity for rapid response.
For example, when people caught wind of what they thought was an attempt by Amazon to remove books about gays and lesbians from its sales rankings, the immediate and intense tweeting and re-tweeting acted as a warning flare enabling the company to swiftly jump in and address the untrue claim.
Another case in point, Sam Decker, chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, a firm that helps organizations gain efficiency by assessing online word of mouth, told me about his experience with the rapid response capabilities enabled by Twitter. Phoning the customer service department for the retail Web site Zappos, he was placed on hold for what seemed like an eternity. He sent a tweet to an acquaintance saying he was surprised that this usually responsive company had him waiting so long.
Zappos, with its fine-tuned digital monitoring system, picked up news of this disgruntled customer, sent him an e-mail with an apology, an explanation of the customer service snafu, not to mention a nice coupon toward a future Zappos purchase. More important, it used the information to its--and its customers'--advantage and made the necessary improvements to its customer service operations.
Virgin Atlantic Airlines, a well-known early adopter of digital technology for marketing efficiencies, uses Twitter to alert passengers of flight delays and other negative events. It also tweets about positive goings on, such as special travel promotions.
It also recognizes the power of Twitter to get people to self assemble and become impromptu, impassioned marketing machines. "Virgin Airlines is now serving Absinthe in-flight. No kidding. Great brand move for the demographic," wrote one impressed Virgin Twitterer to thousands of others. Virgin makes regular engagement with Twitter users a part of its branding strategy--in its usual cool and colloquial voice--and both brand and fans reap the benefits.
Back to time and scope. Facebook is the social media tool companies use when a deeper dive into details is appropriate to a branding strategy. While Twitter is super for defensive branding initiatives, Facebook is a great forum in which to engage consumers in a more significant way, to share more and to get them to share more of themselves in the process.
A brand's Facebook page is a public profile that's likely to get more thoughtful conversations going between company and consumer, and consumer and consumer, yielding enhanced insight. While some Facebook pages are of a more practical nature, like Southwest Airlines' which literally asks its loyal fans what they would like to see relative to making the Southwest brand experience more comfortable, affordable and fun, others like Red Bull's and Mountain Dew's are more about entertainment value, befitting their brand personalities and branding strategies.
One of the most recent examples of how companies can use in-depth conversations on Facebook to create better brand experiences relates to the upcoming U. S. introduction of the Ford Fiesta. While 2008 was a pretty nasty year for most U. S. auto manufacturers, Ford Motor Co. undertook an initiative with this European award-winning car to launch what CEO Alan Mulally called the "first totally global platform car."
In my conversation with Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford, he told me, "We wanted to get feedback from drivers in the U.S. before our planned U.S. Fiesta launch in 2010. To do this, we took 100 Euro-spec vehicles, made them available to 100 key digital influencers from a variety of places across the Web in the U.S. and asked for feedback. We've been getting it. It's going to be a remarkable case study in listening to customers to drive product improvement and better value into our vehicles before spending money."
The copious feedback, shared on its Facebook page, also saved the company money on marketing. Facebook, the Petrie dish for word-of-mouth that it is, is a fantastically efficient tool for creating brand advocacy.
From a branding professional's vantage point, it's no contest. Marketers should not be asking "Twitter or Facebook?" They should ask how each of these digital tools can be used as a part of an overall branding strategy in the appropriate way.
Above all, the key to success is being able to understand how each is being used by consumers and to adopt branding behavior accordingly. In fact, as digital tools continue to evolve, marketers should continue to ask how each one, in its own way, can help them become part of something bigger; to connect with the public and help the public connect with each other as a way of bringing greater value to their lives.
As has always been the case, organizations need to use whatever means are available to listen and learn as a way of helping them differentiate their brands in ways that matter.