Social media has become a bit of an obsession for me. Not so much as a participant, but as an observer. I’m the technology equivalent of a bird watcher. I’ve been observing B2B marketers in their natural habitat. Noting their behaviours. Sketching and documenting the different species I see. I call them ‘Twitologies’ and I’d like to share an outline of them here.

It all began with a study Circle Research conducted for B2B Marketing late in 2011 to establish the ‘state of the nation’ in B2B social media. And after more than 250 interviews with client-side readers we had a solid benchmark.

Amongst other things we knew what success looked like and this gave rise to my first set of Twitologies. Analysing the number of Twitter followers reported in this study reveals five types of corporate account based on success:

  • Most (43 per cent) are Dabblers (<250 followers)
  • One fifth (18 per cent) are Niche Attractions (250 – 500)
  • A similar number (20 per cent) are Rising Stars (500 – 2,000)
  • Just one in ten (12 per cent) are B-list Personalities (2,000 – 7,500)
  • Only the elite (7 per cent) are A-list personalities (>7,500)

Having a large number of followers certainly seems like a sensible idea. Not only does it boost the ego, but it can increase reach, influence and the odds of positive word-of-mouth spreading. However, the benefits are only realised if quantity is matched by quality. There’s no point having thousands of followers if they’re not listening and engaged.

Quality over quantity

A number of quality measures are battling it out for dominance at present. Each has its own fans and critics, but they all work on a similar principle. Take Klout as an example. It harvests data from a user’s social media accounts and crunches it to establish three characteristics:

  • The number of people actively engaging with the user
  • The influence that those engaged with a user have themselves
  • The extent to which the user’s messages are shared

The result is a Klout score that shows the quality of a social media personality on a scale of 1 – 100.

If you’re a pop star @justinbieber is the gold standard at 100. If you’re a world leader @BarackObama sets a tough benchmark at 86 (poor old @camerondirect scores just 47). Consumer marketers envy @cocacola’s score of 72.

Interesting, but what’s a good score for a B2B brand? I took this question and embarked on a second exercise.

Every year The Centre for Brand Analysis publishes a list of what are, in the opinion of its Expert Council and the 2,000 business professionals surveyed, the UK’s most admired B2B brands. Those making the cut receive the accolade of Super Brand.

Analysing the Twitter activity of the top two hundred B2B Super Brands reveals some useful quality related benchmarks for us mere mortals. Gain a Klout score above 44 and you’re out-performing half of these Twitter accounts. Score above 50 and you’re in the top quartile. Seventy or above and you’re matching the top 10 per cent.

In conducting this analysis I discovered some new Twitologies. Not only did these Twitter accounts differ in their quality, but they differed in purpose and style.

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The Chameleons

Just over one half of these B2B Super Brands have multiple Twitter accounts. One quarter have three or more. Alongside their main account, or indeed instead of a main account, they have adopted multiple identities each focussed on a different audience or subject. I call them ‘chameleons’.

Professional services firm Ernst & Young is a good example. Group-wide company news and thought leadership is shared through @EYnews. Specific marketing activities have a dedicated channel (e.g. @EYTMagazine). Local business units and specialist practices have their own separate voice (e.g. @EY_UKI, @EYIntlTax). And those contemplating a career with the firm can follow @EY_CareersUK.

Seven different styles

Another set of Twitologies becomes apparent when we look at the different styles adopted by these B2B brands on Twitter. Most tend to default to one or a mixture of seven styles:

  • Sleepers: Dormant accounts awaiting the right time to take the plunge or until squatters have been evicted.
  • London Buses: A variant of ‘Sleepers’. Resource constraints, a lack of strategy and perhaps a loss of interest causes these accounts to Tweet in concentrated bursts before again becoming dormant. Just like waiting for a bus, there are none then they all arrive at once
  • Pub Bores: Accounts providing frequent updates on themselves and little else.  Because the broadcaster has little of interest to say or report, they turn off followers
  • Raconteurs:  A positive variation of the Pub Bore.  Their updates may relate to themselves but because what they are doing is of interest, so are their tweets
  • Mavens: Accounts sharing summaries of and links to deeper content (their own or others). Their success depends on the relevance and quality of content as well as their ability to convey its core message in Tweets
  • Philosophers: Those taken to sharing 140 character observations on the world, their business niche or life in general. Some are of course more insightful than others
  • Socialisers: These gregarious accounts use Twitter not to broadcast, but to engage. They hold conversations with followers, those followed and the wider ‘Twitterverse’ either to resolve customer service issues or build bonds

Of course, there’s no one right or wrong approach but Mavens with high quality content and Socialisers who genuinely engage seem to thrive in a B2B context.

What kind of Twit are you? What kind of Twit do you want to be?

Find out what kind of Twit I am: @andydalg

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) branding research.

One thought on “How B2B brands approach Twitter

  1. It is the best study I’ve read about B2B brands on Twitter.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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