Ad agencies on Twitter: the rights and wrongs

Getting the right tone of voice on Twitter is a fine art: Paul Domenet, ECD of Johnny Fearless, offers ad agencies some tips, plus picks his favourite ad tweeters.

Getting the right tone of voice on Twitter is a fine art: Paul Domenet, ECD of Johnny Fearless, offers ad agencies some tips, plus picks his favourite ad tweeters.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (51 characters)

Men always want to be a woman’s first love – women like to be a man’s last romance. (65 characters)

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much. (48 characters)

Yes, Oscar Wilde would have been a demon on Twitter. Tapping away on his smartphone as he languished in Reading Gaol. Followers: 1 million. Following: 0.

No coincidence that his number one devotee, Stephen Fry, also enjoys a huge Twitter fanbase. They are both witty. They are both bright. They know how to write. But they know/knew how to write long format. You know, books and stuff.

Writing pithy, concise, entertaining, provocative, inspiring bon mots that people quote as they did in Oscar’s day and RT as they do in Stephen’s time is not achieved without a bit of application. Brevity takes time.

So why do so many companies assign their Twitter feed to the intern, the most junior member of the marketing team or in the worst cases, the linguistically challenged? Hence the proliferation of crass utterances – “we’re having Cake Friday!” or “take a look at our new reception, Coolio!” – where tweets become desperate cries through the bars of the office walls to portray the company as ‘fun’ or ‘dynamic’.

Alternatively tweets become dry and dusty PR punts to promote the latest achievements. Look what we’ve done. Look what we’ve won. Well, woop di doop.

What your company is like or what it has achieved is something to be rightfully proud of and worth shouting from the highest laptops. But how you tell people, says even more about you.

Tone of voice may be an archaic phrase but it’s still an art. And nowhere is it more important than social media.

Words are a tricky clay to work with and if you want your company to be seen or read in a favourable light you need someone who knows what they are doing. So why entrust it to anyone other than someone who understands the dynamics, the cadences, the nuances which are involved in constructing the perfectly engineered sentence?

Not every tweet has to be a pearl. But if you are tweeting on behalf of a company and that company claims to have a point of view or point of difference, then at the very least the words should be well chosen. As should be the person who tweets them.

Admittedly not many companies employ an Oscar Wilde. Given his dilettante nature, you probably wouldn’t employ him anyway. And HR would have a fit. But there are plenty of writers out there who are fluent in syntax. A century before it even existed, Oscar understood social media.

‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.’ (80 characters)

My favourite ad tweeters:

There are plenty of brilliant Twitter feeds from individuals in advertising and design but this list sticks to company feeds, to agency brands that get it, mostly, right. While the majority of agency tweets are execrable and nearly always say ‘our new spot for blah blah breaks tonight’, here are the exceptions:

AIS London @aislondon
This one works because it’s compelling to follow an agency with a spring in its step linking to really good stuff. Sample tweet: “Excited to see Mad Men back on your TV? Here are six interesting vintage-style posters for signature eps of the show. ‪”

The Brooklyn Brothers @TheBKBrothers
The independent agency provides consistently amusing observations from the advertising world. Sample tweet: “From a local delivery company: ‘Jesus is speeding your order to you’. Odd way to announce the second coming.”

DigitasLBi UK @DigitasLBi_UK
A frequently updated feed that shares a plethora of strong content alongside some amusing stories and good writing from the agency. Sample tweet: “If you are experiencing a mid afternoon productivity slump, go into the nearest board room & reenact the dance scene from Risky Business.”

Imagination @Imaginationlabs
This one stands out among the leading design-led agencies for not only puffing its own brilliance but also sharing interesting writing and thinking. Sample tweet: “Could cassette tapes make a comeback? With the ability to hold 185 terabytes of data, Sony seem to think so…”

Lean Mean Fighting Machine @fightingmachine
Lean Mean Fighting Machine may have sold to M&C Saatchi but let’s hope the new corporate sheen doesn’t restrict the scope of this entertaining feed. Sample tweet: “Some of us had lunch with ‪@hughbon‬‬‬‬ & Ralph Fiennes. It’s no big deal. They had 2-4-1 pizza. We paid full price.”

Leo Burnett London @LeoBurnettLDN
Tongue-in-cheek links to news, industry events, and discussions combined with a sense that the agency is enjoying itself. Sample tweet: “A smelly fork, a £135k hotel room, a blob of water. Three things that caught our eye this week. ‪ …‬”

A surprisingly sharp and spiky feed, combining comment on industry news, TV shows, with general mad stuff. Sample tweet: “Omnicom rolls over, blinks, stares perplexedly into the sleeping face of Publicis, thinks: My head! Where am I? I remember Champagne…”

The Partners @the_partners
An agency feed that doesn’t mind sharing ideas and listening to its followers. Sample tweet: “Celebrate everyday design brilliance! All this wk, tweet us and instagram your favorite yet undervalued well-designed objects ‪#TheMoMu‬”

Wieden and Kennedy London @W2Optimism
While issuing a pretentious Twitter handle alert on this one, its mix of agency news, great work from around the world and amusing events in Shoreditch is well worth following. Sample tweet: “Just had an all-staffer asking people to stop steaming broccoli in the office. Weird new low.”

Anecdotes, worthwhile content links combined with the occasional offer to problem-solve (see tweets below). Sample tweets: “We want folk to tweet us their problems/briefs, and we’ll try and solve them in 140 characters… Could be ad briefs, but we’d rather get stuck into more interesting stuff. Need to sell your car? Want a cool way to dump your better half?”

Paul Domenet is a founding partner of Johnny Fearless which he began in 2011 after working at DDB, Y&R and as a creative director and head of copy at Saatchi and Saatchi.

Top illustration by Marcel Ceuppens.

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