The following comes from a presentation I had the pleasure of making last week at Web 2.0 in San Francisco about the need for careful planning to scale a brand Twitter account to a growing following.
There was a time, when I first started tweeting as @PRNewswire when the account was very intimate. The community was intimate. The people I followed and those who followed me were all part of the same industry in some way. We got to know each other quite well. I read ‘everything’ people posted.
Because I could.
I read every bio of every twitterer that followed @PRNewswire so that I could understand my audience. I spent countless evenings and Saturdays doing this. It took until around follower number 2000 before I threw up my hands and decided it was no longer possible to do this. There were just too many new followers per day to keep up.
But it was a valuable lesson in understanding that audience and I don’t regret it for a moment. On a regular basis I still look through bios of recent followers to keep myself clued-in to who this community is made up of and who I am communicating with.
At some point along the way I realized the followers of @prnewswire on Twitter were not an audience. We are a community. We share information, promote each other, cheer each other on and do favors for each other. When we meet in real life we often hug each other as if we were long lost friends. Pen pals meeting for the first time.
I sometimes miss that intimate community of my early days on Twitter, when the most followed person had around 20,000 followers, which may have been everyone on Twitter.
When PR Newswire reached 1000 followers it was a really big deal. We put out a news release! A multimedia release that included a video of me talking about why PR Newswire was on Twitter. We gave $1000 to the charity of choice of follower number 1000.
Things were intimate then and I really didn’t have any big aspirations about having a large following. To be honest I thought the fairly quick growth in the first four months to 1000 was a fluke. Surely it would take at least another year to hit 2000.
I’m not sure anyone foresaw the rapid growth of Twitter that would affect all our following.
As the followers for @prnewswire grew so did my need for structure to manage the needs of my community. I started by dividing the community into groups by creating columns on a dashboard. I made decisions about what was truly useful tweeting and what was fluff or filler. I pared down and honed my content to only that which was the most useful to the community.
I started using scheduling for PR Newswire promotional tweets to both save time on something that would be very repetitious and to make sure I was spreading them out appropriately and not annoying people.
Eventually I realized I couldn’t continue managing this community on my own and enlisted the help of the three people that were already part of my audience development team at PRN. They took to it quickly aided by some guidelines I put in place for content management, engagement, editorial duties, customer service, promotions, scheduling and how to deal with crises big and small.
People have asked me what the biggest challenge is to serving a large following for a brand on Twitter. Most think it would be customer service, but actually it’s keeping the authenticity of the voice, keeping the human touch. The greatest gift of Twitter to a brand is the opportunity to humanize it. As the following grows and the demands on the person behind the Twitter account grow, the biggest challenge is just keeping that human touch present.
If Twitter is done well, personality will replace the brand logo.