Personal vs. logo Twitter accounts: Must they be mutually exclusive?

Not every branded logo would be better if it contained a real person’s name.

Not every branded logo would be better if it contained a real person’s name

A debate several years ago—during blogging’s heyday—centered on the wisdom of introducing “character blogs.” These aren’t fake blogs.

They’re very transparent in their use of a fictional character as the blogger. Some experts defended the practice while others insisted that it could never be a good idea. I fell somewhere in the middle, advising against them in nearly all instances but acknowledging there might be a time when they could work.

An example would be Dwight Schrute’s blog. Schrute is the character played by Rainn Wilson on “The Office” (a show I don’t watch, by the way). Posts are written in character. None of the readers of the blog actually believe a fictitious character is actually writing it. (At least, that’s my fervent hope.)

The argument against the character blog is simple: Wouldn’t it be better if Rainn Wilson blogged?

The fact is, he does. He has a Posterous blog and a Twitter account (with nearly 2 million followers). If it’s authenticity you’re after, Wilson makes plenty of it available.

Why do these concepts need to be mutually exclusive? People don’t read Schrute’s blog (originally penned by Wilson himself but now in the hands of ghost writers) to interact with the actor. They seek a means of staying connected with a favorite TV show in between episodes. And it works.

I have frequently noted that I’d become a loyal reader of any blog under Eric Cartman’s byline. I got the same argument in response: Wouldn’t it be better if “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone blogged? It would be good, yes, and I’d probably read it. But I’d still expect to laugh my ass off reading a Cartman blog.

The debate seems to have shifted from blogs to Twitter. A number of experts dismiss what they call “logo accounts”—tweets sent under the brand name and not associated with a specific individual. Twitter, they argue, is best when it’s personal.

My answer shouldn’t surprise you: It depends.

The vast majority of the Twitter accounts I follow are individuals because, it’s true, I’d rather hear from people than brands. But I do follow a handful of logo accounts. With those accounts, I honestly don’t give a damn who’s writing it. My motivation for following in the first place was the timely receipt of information.

CNN is one example. I follow the account because I want to get headlines fast. I’m a news junkie, always have been, and getting a tweet that notifies me of the latest events satisfies my craving. I have no interest in what reporter wrote the story or what he thinks of it. I want the 140-character news hook.

Twitter cnn

Nearly 1 million people are happy to get the tweets from CNN without that personal touch.

The Dell Outlet is another example, with nearly 1.6 million followers who want only the latest deal they can get. There is a name attached to the account—@StefanieAtDell can be reached with questions or problems. But the account itself serves just one purpose: notification of special offers on “refurbished, scratch-and-dent and previously ordered new Dell product.” Would it be a better account if it were named @StefanieDellOutlet?

I don’t think so. First, who cares? The personality just isn’t an issue if my goal is simple notification. Second, what happens when Stephanie leaves? Yes, I know the account can be renamed while maintaining its followers, but some degree of confusion would surely follow.

At Intel, two employees are identified in the profile as the handlers of the account. If those responsibilities change, the account stays the same while the profile gets updated. Why not just give each Intel tweeter their own account? In fact, several Intel employees do tweet. In fact, both of the employees currently listed on the @Intel account are identified by their Twitter handles, and the company actively encourages employees to connect with each other via their Twitter accounts. But @Intel is the official, authoritative account that serves as the corporation’s statement of record.

That’s an important distinction.

And there’s no reason—none at all—that Intel can’t benefit from adopting both approaches.

When discussing Dell, the example of the dozens of employees with NameAtDell accounts is usually presented. I agree that there is huge opportunity in having real people like my friends Lionel Menchaca (@LionelAtDell) and Richard Binhammer (@RichardAtDell) building relationships and personifying the Dell brand.

But there’s no denying the power of 1.6 million people anxiously awaiting the next notice of a special deal compared to the fewer than 2,000 to 10,000 people following the average Dell employee.

One of Twitter’s strengths is its flexibility. It can be used for just about anything you can dream up for it. In most instances, I agree that the authentic human touch is important. But to suggest that it’s a requirement, that every branded logo account would be better if it contained a real person’s name and avatar, is a mistake. It locks organizations into an approach that may honestly not be the best way to achieve their particular goal.

And what about all the people following brand accounts? Are we to assume they just don’t get it? That every time someone reads a tweet form @Starbucks they’re thinking, “This would lock me into the brand more if I could see the face and read the name of the person behind it?” Somehow I doubt it.

Besides, a logo account is often the means by which companies take their first tentative steps into Twitter. Nervous, they set up an account to which a number of authorized employees can post. When the sky doesn’t fall on them, they screw up their courage and let a few employees open personal/business accounts.

So don’t be too fast to dismiss logo accounts on Twitter. If they serve the purpose for which they were created, there’s no reason to fall victim to the punditry that suggests they’re some kind of misguided, clueless mistake.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology and blogs at a shel of my former self. Follow him on Twitter @shelholtz.

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