Forget About Brands on Twitter, Follow Their Executives

By David Arthur

In today’s world, brands have to be on Twitter. It makes sense. It’s a good place to share new products and deals, manage your corporate image, and connect with consumers. But let’s be real for a minute, most people are rarely going to follow all of their favorite brands on Twitter…they’re more likely to not follow any brands on Twitter.

Take me, an urban based consumer who falls into the generational demographic that starts with an “M” and ends with “illennial”, for example. Now, I like a freshly scented apartment as much as the next guy, but give me a brisk smack to the head if you ever see me following @Febreze_Fresh on Twitter (sorry Febreze, I truly love your “Meadows & Rain” scented candle and, oh baby, don’t even get me started on those Fresh Cut Pine MELTS). I find very little value in following them and am sure as hell not going to ruin my follower:following ratio to see tweets like:

Come on Febreze, you’re not even trying.

What can companies do to spice up their branded social media activity and make their presence actually worth something? Not much more than they’re already doing. Creating engaging and relevant content is important, and distributing this content via social media is something pretty much all brands are already doing as well as they can.

The Social Executive

So what is to be done? Focus on what Twitter, the platform, does best—allowing people to easily connect with people. Instead of focusing on your brand, focus on your leaders behind the brand. This is the interesting content. People fundamentally want to connect with other people. Take a look at a brand’s mentions on Twitter, most people only will engage with a brand if they want to yell at their customer service team.

Think business leaders are boring? Think again. Bill Gates has 32.8M followers on Twitter. Every NFL Quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl dating all the way back to Super Bowl I in 1967 has a combined 12.58M followers on Twitter. Yes, I manually calculated this. No, I don’t care for efficiency or opportunity cost. The Quarterback with the most, Russell Wilson (2.86M) comes nowhere near CEOs like Elon Musk (6.58M) and Richard Branson (9.22M). Yes, athletes and recording artists still pepper the list of most followed Twitter accounts, but there’s undoubtedly demand for CEOs and other executives as well.

Not only are consumers more interested in hearing what the executives of companies have to say over the brand themselves, but these voices feel far more trustworthy to consumers than a logo.

This can be beneficial for both executives and the consumers. Just a few weeks ago, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky decided to go directly to the consumer to find out what people would like to see from his company in 2017. By openly asking his Twitter followers what their wishlist of features for Airbnb would be, he is not only doing valuable market research from consumers but also creating a dialogue.

Airbnb-ers didn’t even have to have their own question answered, for many it was enough to see that Chesky was in fact engaging and discussing the features of his company with real users. It was apparent from his responses that there was a real human being behind the keyboard. Consumers are tired of brands’ cookie cutter tone.

Recruit & Retain Talent

There are a number of reasons for executives to be on social. A study conducted by Weber Shandwick found that 52% of employees are “inspired by socially active executives”, meanwhile 70% of executives believe that having a social presence has a positive impact on business. Anyone who runs a business knows how important it is to both attract and retain talent. Many executives lead companies that have employees numbering in the hundreds or thousands. It’s difficult or even impossible to maintain a personal connection with employees in organizations of this size. By creating a social presence, executives can connect and engage with employees digitally, while also projecting a positive image of themselves and the brand.

In today’s divisive, critical, and technologically advanced world, real people don’t care about the ultra-positive, idealistic tone of voice brands use on social anymore. We—the real people—want the real thing.