NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As Twitter moves into the business mainstream -- nearing some 35 million unique global visitors, according to ComScore -- it's increasingly clear that one community has yet to fully embrace the social-networking tool du jour: agencies.
The irony is that the same people clients hire to erect communications and social-media strategies often appear uncomfortable using Twitter themselves.
One stark example: A couple of months back, Volvo struck a landmark ad-placement deal with YouTube to promote the Twitter feed for its XC60 model (@VolvoXC60). But the agency that created the innovative rich-media ad for Volvo, Havas' Euro RSCG, has an account (@Euro_RSCG) that's never been used.
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Asked what gives, a Euro spokeswoman said: "We're developing our Twitter strategy and in the meantime want to hold onto the name. It's a Catch-22: You don't want your Twitter handle stolen, but you also don't want to start using it before you're really ready."
Whatever the case may be, save for a few shining examples of shops that "get it," agencies need to catch up with their clients -- and fast.
Marketers offer better examples
Many marketers are known for successfully leveraging Twitter to boost brand awareness and interact with their consumers, among them Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (@zappos) and the chief marketing officers of Best Buy (Barry Judge, @BestBuyCMO) and Express (Lisa Gavales).
Computer maker Dell's strides in integrating social media into the company's marketing communications have been well-documented. But its lead marketing agency, Enfatico, doesn't own the handle @enfatico, and roster shop Mother, New York, has an account (@motherny) with a single update from May.
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There's no silver bullet when it comes to Twitter, but here is some common-sense logic agencies should apply to their strategies.
Don't over-promote. Of course you want to use Twitter to build your agency's brand, but don't hit people over the head with a litany of press releases.
Be human. Attach a personality -- a name, a photo -- to your Twitter feed and balance promoting your brand with some personal updates so followers can get a sense of your company culture.
Remember, Twitter is public! A client probably won't appreciate your tweeting "Ouch, got a nasty hangover" when you're late to the meeting.
Keep clients looped. Be sure to share your agency's Twitter strategy with your clients. Get permission if you want to mention one by name, and don't forget that a lot of your work is proprietary. Don't let a careless misstep to cost you the relationship.
Listen. Know what people are saying about you on Twitter. Use search.twitter.com or an application such as TweetDeck to monitor the chatter.
Respond. The point of being on Twitter is to engage with people who know your agency, as well as those who don't and want to learn more about you. If followers comment on your feed or send you direct messages, get back to them promptly. Remember, it's a conversation.
Keep expectations in check. A Twitter strategy does not make your agency "social." Try out tools internally to share knowledge, exchange ideas and -- best yet -- encourage learning that you can pass along to clients.
Identify impersonators. Accounts purporting to be someone or something they're not violate Twitter's terms of service. So if someone's got their paws on yours, let Twitter know.
-- Rupal Parekh
Sure, the argument can be made that Twitter isn't for everyone. And perhaps it's better to not be there at all than to be there poorly. Case in point: Digital shop Publicis Modem, London (@PublicisModemUK), declares in its bio that it is "one of the world's leading digital agencies operating in 36 countries," yet its tweets are sloppy, riddled with grammatical errors and say things such as "2 hours to work...not that fun."
'Thinking about tequila'
Grey has set up a Twitter account just for its interns, but it might want to keep a better eye on its content. @GreyNYInterns has informed the world it is "thinking about tequila" (at 9:30 a.m.; let's hope they're working on a liquor brand) and talked about seemingly proprietary information: "E*Trade brainstorm session. Do we use the baby or not?"
Then there's the problem of ownership of agency brands. Check out the Twitter feeds @BBDO and @Publicis, and you'll land on the pages for the networks' Dusseldorf, Germany, and Zurich outposts, respectively, rather than the pages for the motherships.
It's even worse at the holding-company level. The handle @Havas is following zero people, has zero followers and has one update: "on vacation." Meanwhile, the world's biggest holding company, WPP (@wpponline), has the biggest presence of its competitors, with an impressive 3,000 or so followers. Hard to understand why, though, because it follows no one back -- not even its own agency brands -- and the feed reads as a series of links to press releases.
Over-promotion is a big problem on Twitter. At the same time, an agency's Twitter feed should share relevant information -- not only press releases -- so the balance can be hard to find. The feed for BBDO, New York (@bbdony), for example, displays many tweets about gadgets and mobile-marketing trends but rarely posts anything about BBDO or its clients.
Still, the big agency networks often get a big rap for being staid, but at least many of them, Ogilvy and McCann, for example, have a Twitter presence and are trying to wrap their brains around it.
While ad types worldwide tweeted about hotshop Droga5's impressive showing at the recent Cannes International Advertising Festival, the agency itself doesn't have a feed, nor does founder David Droga. CEO Andrew Essex would say only: "Several individuals at the agency are on Twitter, which seems to work best for us at the moment."
Publicis' VivaKi is marginally better than some others in that it tries to attach a face to its Twitter feed, but the person who oversees the account (@VivaKi) identifies herself simply as "Stephanie" -- surely not what you'd expect from a company that earlier this year partnered with media owners to build a "Social Media Marketplace."
Humanizing your brand on Twitter with a known personality can be a great strategy, provided the person is good. Examples include JWT Chairman-CEO Bob Jeffrey (@bobjeffreyjwt). But a search for JWT's handle will come up empty. Ideally, agencies should have a company feed and a strong leader who shows he or she "gets it."
Tom Bedecarre of AKQA is a prolific tweeter, and one who's willing to put himself out there. Tweeted @tombed: "another awkward #CannesLions moment: I mixed up David Lubars and David Droga (double d'oh!)." At the same time, he uses his following to drive traffic back to his agency's feed, @AKQA.
Digital agencies, unsurprisingly, seem to have a bit of an edge over traditional shops. Interpublic's R/GA has appointed its senior VP and managing director of copy, Chapin Clark, to manage the shop's feed (@_rga). While he does the majority of the information mining himself, he also accepts suggestions from staffers.
Another, Razorfish, "encourages our employees to be on Twitter," said David Deal, the agency's VP-marketing. "Our CEO, Bob Lord, is one of those voices, and openly tweets, as do many employees on various levels. It's part of a deliberate strategy, along with Facebook, YouTube, employee blogs and more traditional forms of brand building such as speaking events. It's important we practice what we preach."
Mr. Deal said Razorfish uses Twitter to announce company news; raise awareness of thought leadership by linking to research pieces; drive traffic to the company blog; build employee morale by congratulating staffers for use of the tool; and as a recruitment tool by posting job opportunities.
It is one of few shops ( Campbell Mithun, @cmithun, is another) whose authors sign their Twitter posts, something that it does to reflect accountability and accessibility. The agency has gone so far as to draft guidelines for social-media use for staffers to help them be more effective. "I think it actually makes them more comfortable," Mr. Deal said. "Their level of blogging and tweeting began to rise after we shared [the guidelines] with them."