A new study says that big companies just don't get Twitter (PDF file). Of course they don't: They're not paying anyone to get it.
The study, performed by Weber Shandwick, says that only about three-quarters of Fortune 100 companies have Twitter accounts, and of those, many were either inactive or mere placeholders to fend off name-squatting. Few of the companies were following Twitter "best practices," says WS--that is, retweeting pertinent messages, @replying, and using hashtags to mark topical tweets. Most corporate accounts had fewer than 500 followers, and fewer than 500 tweets.
But look at the "account purpose" question in the study, pictured above. It found that many corporate Twitter accounts exist to promulgate "brand awareness." Huh? If you're already a Fortune 100 company, "brand awareness" is probably not your biggest problem. Another big raison d'etre was "news feed." As if customers care about the minutiae of your products.
Look at the people who are most popular on Twitter; let's take Ashton Kutcher as an example, with three million followers. People listen because he doesn't tweet for "brand awareness." He tweets because he likes tweeting. (Below, a typical Ashton tweet.)
Ashton is just as much a brand as Coca-Cola or J&J. When I worked at Red Bull, we were constantly taught about the company "personality." Who is this "Red Bull" guy and what would he do at parties? On New Years'? What does he listen to? Where does he live?
To succeed on Twitter, I'd bet that companies need do no more than ask those questions--and then hire that person to tweet about anything but brand awareness and product news. Twitter is so popular because it's so personal and so direct; give one person the keys to your brand's castle, and they'll go out and connect. But don't try to drag the whole board-room table.
That said, don't feel bad if your company hasn't yet found that person. It was big news when Twitter itself hired an outsider who got Twitter.