Handle with care: managing the Twitter presence of your professional services firm
There are not many firms these days without one or more corporate Twitter handles (Wellmark included). In larger firms, these accounts are typically managed by the marketing and BD team, with the aim of building a social presence that drives website traffic, attracts new talent, and improves the reach and influence of the firm’s content.
With many senior partners and practitioners still refusing to acknowledge or engage with these kinds of channels via their own personal brands, a corporate-led account is often the only way marketing and BD can maintain a social presence for their firm.
But using a social platform designed for people, not brands, is no easy task for firms. For obvious reasons, ‘talking logos’ typically gain less traction in the Twittersphere than ‘talking heads’, particularly if the firm’s handle serves as little more than a glorified newsreel. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common trap for firms driven by fear and/or ignorance; content is either over-conservative (read: trite) to mitigate all possible reputational risk or lacks value because marketing persists with old-fashioned ‘push’ messages in a channel designed for ‘pull’.
It’s a common scenario played out in many firms across the country, so what can you do in your role as a marketing and communications specialist to make your corporate Twitter presence a meaningful one?
- Understand the space: Appreciating the difference between buyer-centric (high value) and brand-centric (low value) information is key to a strong social presence. Your firm will put its best foot forward socially if it allows its brand to take the back seat, but this requires a very different mentality for marketers used to pushing out ‘we are great’ messages. This is about posting high-quality content that actively demonstrates your firm’s expertise by addressing buyers’ key challenges and concerns. By doing this, you not only create immediate value for prospects but also enable them to come to their own conclusions about the quality of your firm’s service offering. Make ‘show, don’t tell’ your mantra in this space.
- Work hard to understand what information your audience seeks and values: You are more likely to gain a following for your firm and nurture these followers throughout the buying process if you post content that meets their information needs. This requires that you take the time to get to know your audience through your practitioners’ eyes and develop and curate content accordingly. Make it your mission to help and educate your target audience about the issues that matter most to them (rather than just crafting ‘sell’ messages about your firm) and you will prioritise content that does exactly that.
- Avoid being a passive broadcaster: As the marketing team, it’s easy to post news alerts about the firm all day and ignore the hard stuff, i.e. building the internal systems and processes you need to generate a constant supply of original, high-quality content from within the firm. Your firm’s insights and opinions are what matter most to potential buyers. By ensuring your posts represent a good balance between ‘news’ and ‘views’ – weighted towards the latter where possible – you will give buyers the information they need to assess your firm’s credibility and authority.
- Don’t rest on your brand’s laurels: If you are a big-name brand, you will quickly attract a lot of followers on Twitter without doing much. However, it’s wrong to assume that you will continue to build and maintain a following just by being present in this space. On Twitter, you only get out what you put in. You can get an understanding of your true following and the likely ROI of your efforts by regularly auditing your followers and grouping them into categories that are meaningful to your firm’s marketing activities, e.g. industry influencers, competitors, media, prospects, talent and spam (and blocking the latter so you don’t artificially elevate your numbers).
- Don’t take on more than you can handle: Managing one Twitter handle consistently well takes a concerted effort. Don’t create a smorgasbord of handles (e.g. representing different areas of the firm’s expertise or offices in different states) if you don’t have the time or internal support to manage them. Similarly, consider whether there is a genuine strategic rationale to invest in another handle or whether you would be better off putting all your efforts into a single account only. A single account is likely to be preferable if you are just starting out on Twitter and already have a steep learning curve in front of you.
- Don’t leave your account in the hands of someone without any marketing nous: Your account is a direct reflection of your brand. Its activity needs to be led by a seasoned marketing professional, not a keyboard monkey. You will only build the right brand associations if the person managing your account has an intimate understanding of your brand and strategic objectives – or is getting adequate direction and oversight from someone who does.
- Don’t hide behind your logo: Treat Twitter as you would any face-to-face networking event. You need to put your best foot forward at all times, have something interesting to say and make sure people remember your name. Just because you are representing a corporate brand doesn’t mean that you are excluded from basic social etiquette or from personal interaction. Make it obvious that there are one or more actual human beings behind your logo. Include in your Twitter bio the name of the employees tweeting, e.g. ‘Tweets by Sarah Hall, Marketing Manager, and Daisy Chain, Innovation Director.’ Thank people for following your firm or retweeting your content. When you direct message another Twitter user or reply to a tweet, encourage engagement by including your name at the end of messages, e.g. ‘Thanks for the RT, Sarah.’
- Think community: The very nature of Twitter means it is an excellent vehicle for co-branding. So be strategic in the way you tweet. Mention other Twitter users or employ trending hashtags (where appropriate) to increase the probability of retweets and thereby enhance brand reach and exposure. Monitor the Twitter accounts of any employees tweeting professionally, and make a point of retweeting their content and encouraging them to do the same with their colleagues’ content (where relevant to their area of expertise). You will only build a community by acting like part of a community.
- Learn to write for this space: Your brand is less likely to be seen as a gatecrasher if you speak like a local. So don’t be afraid to use Twitter slang and abbreviations like ‘h/t’* to encourage rapport and conversation. Craft your messages so that it’s easy for followers to identify whether the content you want them to click through to is relevant to them or not. Similarly, put the focus of your message on the benefit to your follower. Your content is about them, not you. Craft your tweets accordingly.
- Reflect your brand: Imagine what your brand would be like if it was a person, and behave accordingly. Bold and fun? Professional and cultured? Slick and sophisticated? It doesn’t matter which you are, so long as you are true to it. Your tweets build an expectation about your brand. If that expectation falls flat in real life, you are failing your brand promise.
We spend a lot of time these days talking about how the online environment gives our expert professionals and knowledge workers the opportunity to be much more visible than they traditionally have been. But the impact of online exposure is also profound for marketers. Never before have marketers represented their firms so readily or so often in such highly accessible (and unforgiving) public forums – tweeting and posting multiple times a day. Building and maintaining one’s own online presence (let alone that of a corporate entity) is no easy task. So I give a h/t to any firm that pays social media management its proper due by putting it into the same category as strategic brand management – and handling it accordingly.
*Hat tip (h/t): to figuratively doff your hat at another user.
This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can follow her insights into professional services and #NewLaw marketing @wellmark_psf. You can also find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.
If you need a trusted advisor as your organisation makes the transition to a social business, Wellmark can provide strategic advice and practical coaching at every step along the way. See here for more information.
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