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Without The Right Message, Twitter Is No Better For Your Brand Than A Fax Machine

Why brands have this endless fascination with social media is one of the more fascinating phenomena in business today—especially since many are missing the one key ingredient that, if ignored, will turn their most choreographed efforts into social media hell.

When it comes to branding and the ever-changing social media phenomenon, you’re not a mushroom. In other words, you shouldn’t be kept in the dark and fed a pile of...well, you get the idea.

Every once in while, a certain business mania surfaces. As you saw in the video above, history is filled with these blips: The telephone. Radio. TV. The fax machine. The Internet. And now social media. Within social media, it splinters further—it seems like there’s always a shiny new network. Before Pinterest, there was Google Plus. Before Google Plus, well, you know the drill. And on and on.

Yet all of these breakthroughs have one thing in common: They’re all channels of communication. And only channels of communication.

Channels won’t make your message or content better. They won’t save your brand if you have nothing to honestly say. They won’t be the silver bullet that restores brand value. They won’t "connect you with your audience" if you’ve got nothing to connect with. It’s like a blind date: Yes, it helps if you arrive and sit at the dinner table, but without something worthwhile to communicate, you'll both be anxious to get the bill and exit through the nearest door at the first opportunity.

You’re Only a Stepping Stone

So while all of these "shiny new toy" channels and options seem wonderful and sexy, the vital missing factor that’s vital to remember is that a true, valuable, passionate message is more important than the media channel it is transmitted across. Once you’ve got that nailed, then choose your channels to share it, as long as you focus is on who you’re helping and what they’re getting out of it.

In other words, if you have nothing more than empty, stupid, self-serving drivel to share that’s transparently doing nothing more than serving your needs, social media only opens the door to telling more of the world faster than ever before how shallow you and your brand really are. A real thrill.

When comparing notes with cartoonist Tom Fishburne on this trend, Tom captured this point with great precision here:

The Great Disconnect

Some brands, based on their actions and deliverables, stand for certain qualities. I wouldn’t go to Ferragamo for discount shoes. That would inconsistent with their brand. I wouldn’t go to a certain chocolatier for friendly, local items if all they made were fine European truffles served with an air of snooty servitude. Nor would I go to certain big box electronics stores in search of the same aesthetic customer-centric service I would receive at an Apple store.

Yet businesses compromise their brands with inconsistent signals and messages just to acquire the almighty "follower," choosing shotgun approaches that try to be everything to everyone. Only to end up standing for nothing to nobody (bad English, but more to the point). The important factor is not the "follower" or the "fan" or the "like." It’s having an experience worth sharing that is consistent with your brand in the first place.

You're Not More Important Than Your Audience

 Your brand is a means to an end. Otherwise, your brand is expendable. Fail to be that bridge and you fail to be relevant. 

What this means in social media is sharing what is valuable to your audience, not what is merely valuable to you (unless that value that you champion is shared by your audience, something we see displayed very well with master chefs and their loyal patrons of their restaurants. In the tech side, this was one of Steve Jobs’ brilliant abilities. He never became a geek at the expense of the customer’s views.). Adding another social media channel to your network will not make an anti-social brand more social. It will simply increase your efficiency in alienating more people with greater speed.

The Lesson Social Media Gurus Forgot to Mention

Your brand is a means to an end. Your brand exists to fulfill a purpose that others value.

The moment you fail to connect those points is the moment you should stop any social media correspondence until you sort out WHY you’re doing what you're doing, who it is helping, and why anyone should care.

A well-rounded brand has sorted out all of that before they engaged in mass communication of any sort—and not just via social media channels.


Thanks to Tom Fishburne, founder and CEO of Marketoonist, a content marketing agency that develops cartoon campaigns for businesses such as Unilever, O2, Kronos, and the Wall Street Journal. He was previously a VP at Method, the innovative home care brand, and led brands at Nestle and General Mills. He learned how to draw cartoons at Harvard Business School. Sign up for his weekly marketoons at

—This is the fifth in a series of posts on HELL and escaping its grasp. Stay tuned for upcoming installments including, How to Escape Innovation Hell, How to Escape Social Media Hell, and How to Escape Logo Hell. 


David Brier is a brand identity specialist, package designer and branding expert. His firm's work can be regularly found in blogs, publications and award annuals. David is also the author of Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise. David's series of videos shed new light on real branding in these short TV interviewsSubscribe to his YouTube channel which routinely provides inspired and thought-provoking videos such as: What do consumers have to say about false advertising? and The Harry Potter video on branding. Request your own free copy of David's eBook, "The Lucky Brand" here.

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  • Lee Therriault

    Fabulous! If there was a "Love" button, I'd click it. The "me, me, me" theme is particularly seen over & over again on Twitter. I can't find words to express how SICK & TIRED I am of getting direct messages offering to "grow my business." I'm not on Twitter to grow anything, to sell anything or to buy anything. I'm there to find interesting people with interesting ideas and different points of view who are sharing information that's important to me. I'm there for conversation and connecting. Thanks for the highly entertaining video that conveys your points with humor! You've gained a new fan/follower!

  • David Brier

    Thanks Lee for the comment. 

    Glad to have you as a "fan/follower" and I'm not just saying that so I can later "sell you something..." ;-) Shine on!

  • Kira Kirk

    True,true, true. It's like getting pushed out onto a stage without any script prepared. "Umm, okay, Hi, you can all see me, but I am not sure what I am here to say."
    Brands need to define/refine/filter who they are and what they stand for. Then, when absolutely what they mean to be, they need to relevently share through the best communication channels for that particular brand, who they are - and in the right context that can bring further value to their brand, If it's not building it; it's weakening it.
    One question, David: When you said, "They won't save your brand if you have nothing honestly to say." Did you mean, "They won't save your brand if you honestly have nothing to say"? I think the meaning is a bit different, and I am thinking you meant the latter? Just checking!

    I love reading all you have to share...thank you so much!!

  • Malori

    This is so true.  I'm a soon-to-be college graduate with my degree in marketing and in one of my internships my superiors looked to me as a social media guru because of my age.  Sadly, they didn't understand that simply having a presence on Facebook & LinkedIn was completely missing the point.  In my time with the company I encouraged them to interact with their fans using these tools.  The key with these channels is positive interaction and engagement.  Otherwise it's essentially an extraneous branded website.  Fabulous article!

  • Riki Dugenske

    This is great. People feel like they are so far behind if they do not have a SM profile and are way to eager to get out there. They have this mind set that "if you build it they will come", but what happens when you build it and you have nothing to say? 

  • Abby Klanecky

    Fantastic read!  Favorite line: Adding another social media channel to your network will not make an anti-social brand more social.  Agreed!  And since when are brands social?  People are - the culture of the brand needs to empower the people to be 'social' -- and explorers of content, not just passive 'listeners'. The most rewarding work I've done lately is getting our marketers and PR professionals focused on being community managers - and empowering our curious, passionate scientists to be the ones discussing, interacting, communicating -- as themselves - in the channels where the people they care about already hang out.  If they do this well, it will be a wonderful reflection back on our brand. 

  • Gerry Jacobs

    Best article I've read in a a HUGE breath of fresh air. So much hype and excitement surrounds SM channels, almost to the point of panic. Brands feel the need simply to have a presence, rather than thinking through what that presence reflects. Thanks for reinforcing that the "message is the medium."

  • Tim Wright

    David - good point well made about being clear on messages and brand but......what is most often forgotten about social channels is that they are NOT broadcast models which is what distinguishes them from other communication methods. They are essentially listening and conversational, so a significant proportion of all SM activity must be reactive not proactive. It is an approach that is very novel to most traditional marketing norms and why so many just don't get it. Of course that point is captured in some of those great cartoons - would love to use some of them in our workshops :o)

  • David Brier

    Interesting point. But like any conversation, there is a give and take, which is why some use SM successfully delivering useful content, etc, which itself is proactive.

    To passively listen and only react leaves it a bit one-sided, whereas this dialog you and I are having is give and take, and each of us is passionate about our views on the subject.

    Long live intelligent dialog! Thanks Tim.

  • Sandra Furlan

    Excellent....& so, so true David!! "only channels of communication..channels won't make your message or content better.."  Everyone wants to get their message out so quickly but is it worth sharing , is it worth twitting?? Rethink....focus...

  • David Brier

     Thanks Sandra! Yup, it's one of those things that, in the flurry of day-to-day craziness, everyone loses sight of the fundamentals...

  • Chad

    I think the worst offenders of this are self-appointed marketing experts that have their heads collectively up their rears.  It seems that in an effort to jump onto social media platforms, any consideration for deliberate brand strategy goes out the window.  I talk a little bit about this phenomenon here:

  • ezeep

    Great read, David. A means to an end - excellent way to put it. Too many brands are too focused on quantity over quality when it comes to social media. 

  • David Brier

     Glad you enjoyed it David. It's such an easy point to lose sight of.

    On the oxymoronic side of things, this post about Social Media only being a channel has gotten more social media play and sharing than some other posts. The universe works in mysterious ways...

  • Kat Gordon

    Brilliant! So many brands rush to "distribution" via these content channels, without having any meaningful content to share. I have told countless clients bent on "let's start a blog!" that if they can't answer their phones, they shouldn't start a blog. Social media isn't fast or free. It's slow and purposeful. You nailed it, David, and Tom's cartoons are inspired. Glad to discover you both via this article.