Bill Gates Mixes Business with Pleasure
While Bill Gates may prefer his 365,000 Twitter followers to focus on his philanthropic activities for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation instead of comparing his table-dancing style to Paris Hilton's, it's all part of joining Twitter, the Internet's most popular site for up-to-the-minute news offered in digestible 140 character bites.
Twitter started as a service for ordinary individuals to share their answers to "What are you doing right now?", but has since evolved into an effective public relations tool for celebrities.
Corporate America's experiments with Twitter, however, have been less successful. A November 2009 study by Weber Shandwick Communications revealed that nearly three-fourths of Fortune 100 companies have a Twitter account, but half of them had fewer than 500 followers. The study concluded that while companies recognize the importance of Twitter, it remains a missed opportunity for many of them.
Part of the reason could be that many company Twitter accounts are impersonal and the updates are relatively unexciting, consisting mostly of business updates. Contrast that with companies like Toyota, which uses its Twitter account (@Toyota) to communicate directly with customers in a personable manner and even address concerns about its recent vehicle recall. This approach has allowed Toyota to attract more than 14,000 Twitter followers.
Likewise, the former CEO of Microsoft has also proven himself a master of mixing business with pleasure. Gates Twitter followers appreciate his unassuming humor: “Just finished w/Jon, a good talk about the letter and always fun with him. you'll need to tune in to see if I stayed in my chair this time!” posted minutes after leaving The Daily Show with Jon Stewart set; as much as his foundation work updates: “Great meeting w German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Again encouraged by what a strong and enlightened leader she is on intl development.” Both types of messages are delivered with the familiarity of a friend.
"Twitter has really changed the way businesses operate," said Brian Watkins, the social media strategist at software firm Adobe. "In order to be authentic, you have to divulge some personal information. I don't want to connect with a logo. I want to connect with a person."
Mix business with pleasure
Logos can't talk, but people can. If a company, philanthropic or otherwise, is going to be successful on Twitter , it requires an identified voice who talks not only about their company and industry-related news, but a little about their own activities as well.
"Those that are the best have found the right mix of business and personal tweets," Watkins told TechNewsDaily. "I recommend two business related tweets for every one personal update."
For most of us, Twitter can offer a peek into the everyday lives of people that would normally be out of reach. Few of us can claim Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, or Oprah Winfrey as personal acquaintances, but we can get a glimpse of what they’re thinking and doing thanks to Twitter.
Although CEOs from Zappos (Tony Hsieh), Google (Eric Schmidt), and Virgin Group (Richard Branson) may not be household names, their use of Twitter has put a voice and a face to their companies. The website exectweets.com allows users to find executives and leaders of their own industries to follow on Twitter.
A report released by the research firm Gartner last year reminds companies that "Twitter folks like a personal touch. A whole bunch of self-serving, self-promotional tweets can actually damage their reputation."
Some companies have been hesitant to jump into the Twitter stream, fearing negative comments from followers or even by their own employees. Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann recommends companies establish a clear Web participation policy for employees.
In a recent Gartner blog post, Mann acknowledges some companies have difficulty with social media like Twitter, but says, “Participating in social media rather than a medium the corporation control invites negative comments. Too bad. You have to do it anyway, or risk something worse: irrelevance.”
When it comes to negative comments from the public, if consumers wants to complain about the company, they will. "Wouldn't you rather be a part of the conversation?" said Adobe's Watkins.
When Twitter is used properly, brand advocates emerge, committed followers who can't be bought. Followers may jump in to defend a company, before the company spokesperson even has a chance to respond.
"Twitter really scales when your community says the message you'd say," said Watkins.