I have been studying a presentation that Brent Payne made earlier this year and can be found here, entitled How to Connect Great Journalism with the Greatest Possible Audience.
Payne is in charge of the search engine optimization efforts for the Chicago Tribune Web site, and knows a lot about what he speaks. The presentation is chock full of a lot of great stuff, and I would urge you to download it and study it as I did. One particular section bears further discussion, and that is how to deploy a corporate Twitter strategy.
Payne talks about several different Twitter account types that are part and parcel to any business use of the popular microblogging service. And until I saw them delineated, I didn't realize how important it is to keep them straight. The four basic types are:
News feeds -- Here is where you automate posts from your blog sites and other RSS properties to this account. Don't follow anyone or send any direct messages from it. An example of such an account is @ccnbrk, the breaking news feed from CNN.
Celebs – You should force them on Twitter and give them the freedom to be human and Tweet about their personal lives and follow/respond to their followers. If you want some extra assurance, work with Twitter to have these made into verified accounts so people will realize that they are legit. @Andersoncooper and @oprah are two of these, I am sure you can think of dozens more. If your company doesn't have a celebrity spokesmodel, then don't worry about this.
Brand Personae – These are characters or avatars or Twavatars (I just made that up), something that your customers can identify with and lead brand awareness and perception on Twitter. This is the social media face to the public of your brand. They can engage your audience and represent you in the Twittersphere. Think of what Spencer the Katt did for PC Week back in the heyday of the PC era. And as we did with Spencer, we protected who it "really" was that was writing that important back-page rumor column as a trade secret (no, I never penned the column while I was there).
Ordinary folk – For the rest of us that don't fit into any of the above categories, it is still important to be on Twitter. Make sure you set some ground rules about how people will participate and what they will and won't Tweet that is part of your corporate acceptable use policies. Make sure you give employees some basic training in libel laws and also mention that they should be able to Tweet about competitors and speak honestly. Understand that mistakes will occur and that sometimes human resources might have to help out here. Don't get too heavy-handed though.
Finally, make sure you promote your Twitterers. List their IDs on their business cards, in their email sigs, and on your corporate Web site right next to their email addresses in your contact page. What you don't list email addresses on your Web site? Hmm, that is the subject for another day.
When you think about it, the different Twitter accounts is similar to the different ways that companies use blogs too: the difference is that with 140 characters, a Tweet can be a lot more flexible than a longer blog entry in terms of developing a persona.
David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom's Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. He currently writes regularly for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv