How NOT to create a Twitter feed

This one is difficult.

When I do these "How NOT to" posts I try very hard to obscure all identifying elements in the source material because my intent in posting is to educate and improve the level of of digital communication, not pick on or smear any particular company. This Twitter feed, however, is very strongly branded - one of the things they did right! - which makes it hard to discuss without revealing their identity. The screen shots will have more redaction than I would usually like, and I may have to be more vague than I would like in the discussion.

On with the post...

As @DesignHousePlan said in a recent webinar about blogging, "[Readers] can get a commercial anywhere; that's not what they come to your blog for." The same is true of Twitter feeds. There is enough advertising already online that if all you ever post are ads for yourself there is no incentive for people to follow you. This means walking a fine line, because if you have no branding or links to your site there is little value to you in using Twitter. The trick is finding the balance between being overly generic and blatantly self-promotional.

Case in point, this morning I was invited to follow this Twitter feed:

As I said, the original is very well designed. They have a distinctive company avatar (which I replaced), good colors, and background on both the company and the person posting, making it personable yet commercial. Their template is slightly mis-sized for the new Twitter format, but I have found it to be much more difficult to design for the new format as it depends so much on the viewer's monitor size, browser window size, etc.

Looking past the design, though, the content is problematic. Every one of their tweets on the front page was of the format, "COMPANY NAME has useful new information at our website." The overall effect, rather than appearing expert and helpful, was very commercial. As in radio commercial; loud, repetitive, and overplayed. I like that they are making use of white papers, but the links all look like they just lead to sales literature, which I had no interest in reading.

Which is really unfortunate, because when I did click through a few more links for research purposes about half actually were useful, objective research papers that I found very interesting. Unfortunately I could not tell which links led to those resources, and which led to their "Contact us for information about our services!" landing page.

If the tweet had been "Learn about the physics behind [Material] in this white paper", I absolutely would have clicked. And so would a lot of architects, engineers, and contractors who like learning about materials and processes on that level. It was the addition of the plug for the company that ruined each tweet.

Branding messages do not need to go in the body of the tweet. You only have 140 characters to work with; better to use them for content. If your profile is set up correctly, the branding will be provided by your screen name, avatar, and home page design. One of the best new Twitter features is that when someone retweets your message it is still identified with your name and logo, with a small message underneath stating who retweeted it. This frees you from the need to include branded content in the tweet, because it will be permanently associated with your name.

Bottom line is this: it is easy to get a lot of followers on Twitter; getting useful, engaged followers is harder. No one turns on the radio to listen to commercials; be sure your tweets are the songs everyone wants to listen to, and not the commercial interruptions.