For many marketers, Twitter marketing is a balanced mix of intuition, personableness, data analysis, and good content to share. It’s a formula that works for the majority of brands, providing the sincere-feeling interactions users seek through social media. But, according to a recent study from the Harvard Business Review, not every brand has found this sweet spot—including, surprisingly, some very popular brands.
Before diving into the worst accounts, it would be best to see which Twitter accounts are succeeding in their roles. For the purpose of this study, the Review created a method by which Twitter posts were measured for empathy. To do this, a number of factors were taken into account so that a typically qualitative attribute could be, instead, quantified. This was done by looking for factors such as how frequently brands engaged in extended conversations on the platform, how frequently or infrequently posts used repeated language, and whether brands sought to reassure their followers (which happens, for instance, when a brand interacts with negative posts or criticisms).
Who seems to excel in this? Unsurprisingly, a number of retail brands top the boards, taking up three of the top five spots. An interesting appearance came from American Airlines at number four. It’s certainly a massive brand, but while many airline brand perceptions are plagued by frustrations from delays, cancellations, and other travel hassles, @AmericanAir appears to prioritize personally engaging with its followers, effectively combating much of this negative perception and allowing the brand’s more positive offers, services, and messages to come through. It is important to note that this is much easier to do on Twitter, where second-to-second interaction is the norm, as opposed to a platform like Facebook, which is more about broadcasting a singular message or piece of content. In this way, other social media platforms present some empathetic difficulties as opposed to Twitter marketing.
Given this look at a healthy approach to Twitter marketing, what do bad accounts look like? Some obvious trends were apparent for these bottom-of-the-bucket brands: boilerplate copy, infrequent or slow conversational interaction with users, or just general, obvious disinterest. But some other tendencies came out as well. Using algorithms from the University of Pennsylvania, the study found more successfully empathetic posts tended to be gender neutral, while the least successful posts tended to posture with more aggressive, masculine language.
Further, companies that allowed some measure of emotion into their posts, either through evocative language, vulnerability, or emoticons, were more successfully empathetic than constantly sterile or to-the-point brands. Unsurprisingly, for this reason many consumer-facing brands performed better than their B2B counterparts on Twitter. But this did not protect some hugely recognizable brands—such as Nike and Johnson & Johnson—from falling to the bottom of the list. But the true surprise fell to Starbucks, coming in at 299 out of 300 on the list.
At the end of the day, the key to Twitter appears to be more intuitive than anything else: People respond well to people, not template posts or copied-and-pasted text, aggressive posturing, or impersonal broadcasting. Putting even slight effort into making your account personal will go a long way toward improving in this respect.
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