How to Not Suck as a Brand on Twitter

Posted by Huw Jenkins 16 Feb 16

Mark Weir Twitter

Twitter may be going through dark days: but the extraordinary power of the tool to connect brands with customers, build loyalty and drive engagement is indisputable.

We caught up with self-confessed Twitterholic, Mark Weir - the social voice of popular brands such as GBK, Jose Cuervo and The Kraken - over a coffee and a half eaten croissant to explore how brands should champion Twitter voice for business success.

We chat about shielding your brand from almighty PR storms, injecting personality into 140 characters and top Twitter hacks.  

How important is Twitter for brand success, really?

Mark: It’s huge. Twitter is the hardest social platform to use. It’s the nosiest, but it’s also the most rewarding if you get it right. A lot of businesses still don’t understand the basics of how to reply to someone or what content to put out there: approaching it from a marketing perspective as opposed to a social perspective will never work.

I love the fact that Twitter limits us to 140 characters, there’s a real skill in writing something that’s punchy. When you consider how many people use Twitter - the sheer noise is daunting. You’ve got to put something out there that cuts through the noise and makes people listen.

Twitter’s a great (and sometimes treacherous) CRM tool because it’s a public forum - a great way for customers to hold power to account and make sure they’re heard. You’ve got to listen and get involved, or be seen as unresponsive and irrelevant.

Key takeaways: 

  • The conversational, public, real-time and distributed nature of Twitter makes the tool a natural habitat for users go to get customer service: be visible and responsive or you will be irrelevant.  
  • Research from McKinsey states that to increase relevance brands should integrate social data into existing CRM systems - you should consider linking social media accounts with internal account numbers and customer IDs.

What's you recipe for social success?

Mark: There are two schools of thought: you’ve got the ‘let’s tweet as much as possible and retweet everything and HEY EVERYONE LOOK AT US!’ school of thought, which can feel a little desperate. Or the ‘let’s tweet when we’ve got something to say’ way of thinking.

Two very different schools - I prescribe the latter.

Never feel obliged to say something on social media just to fill in the gaping void in your twitter feed. Instead, say something valuable. Say something that you’d like to engage with yourself.

Once you’ve got something to say, and you want to dip your tweet in the water(?) - you’ve got to think about how you’re going to say it in 140 characters (or 115 if you include a picture). Razor sharp copy, short sharp sentences, and a good, retweetable image will all help your cause. And humour. If you think of something and the corners of your mouth go up? Tweet it.

Be consistent. If you tweet at a specific time (for instance if you’re a coffee shop and you tweet in the morning) people will develop an expectation of when you’re going to tweet - so they will look out for your messages.

Another thing: jump on hashtags, as there are always hashtags that could suit your brand.  (‘#ThirstyThursday, #FridayFeeling”). But it has to feel natural. A lot of brands jump on a hashtag that has nothing to do with them.

I’ll usually use hashtags ironically (to sum up a tweet) or legitimately (to become part of that larger conversation). But use too many hashtags in one message and it screams ‘rookie user’.

Don’t make your tweets feel forced, make it natural, make it look like it’s written by a human - not somebody in marketing who’s just trying to sell more product. The beauty of social media is that it’s ‘social’ and there are still too many accounts run by number crunchers, looking for metrics rather than fostering a community.

Your social account has got to have some personality. Tweets with personality are guaranteed to do better than a hard sell.

 Combine all those elements together then you’ll get somewhere.

Key takeaways:

  • Favour tweeting something when you've got something valuable to say rather than tweeting to fill an empty void. 
  • Use razor sharp copy, short sharp sentences, and a good, retweetable images to drive engagement.
  • Consider establishing a brand-specific time to tweet in order to catch your relevant audience and begin building customer expectations. 
  • Jump on (relevant) hashtags to help propel visibility. 
  • Tweet with personality, or risk alienating your followers. 

Your tweets are always on point, where do you find inspiration?

Mark: Everywhere. You get ideas just walking down the street. As a New Zealander who moved to the UK over a decade ago, there are so many different aspects of British culture and society which I really like, that can be used to your advantage.

I run a competition on GBK’s account every Friday and it’s challenging coming up with new open ended questions for people to participate in. A while back I ran a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ comp all day on Twitter, like the books from the 80s! It was completely ridiculous, admin heavy but pretty rewarding. Your users let you know when you get it right.

You can draw inspiration from anything - but it all comes down to how much creative freedom your brand is willing to give you. If they trust you, that’s key. Then the training wheels come off.

My brands know that whatever I put out there is going to suit the brand and is fun, but they know nothing is ever going to be viral for viral’s sake.

If you can’t find that creative streak in your everyday life, then take a look at what’s trending that week, look at the entertainment pages, look at what’s happening in the world and try and put a slant on it - and if you can put your product in there somewhere - that’s a very basic level of social creation that is super easy to achieve.

Key takeaways: 

  • Keep your eyes open and look around your everyday life for inspiration. 
  • Hand over freedom to a creative voice that can own the channel and run free with content ideas. 
  • Look at what's trending each week and see how your brand can slot into popular topics and conversations. 

Apart from #hashtagging #every #word, what should you avoid on Twitter?

Mark: You’ve got to trust your gut - which is something that gets easier the more experience you have. If you write something that could offend someone or could be controversial: trust your gut and don’t use it.

Understand that Twitter is a written medium - so sarcasm and other forms of human expression can be totally misconstrued.

Also, stop constantly trying to sell something. You sound like a robot and you will be switched off.

Social media isn’t about the hard sell. You want people to stop at your tweets when they’re scrolling through their feed because they know you’ve got something to say, something with value or entertaining. 

You’ve got to find different themes around your brand. You might have a new product, a new person or another item related to another product that you can talk about. It’s about developing those themes that allow you to have a continuous conversation every week.

 Key takeaways: 
  • Don't hard sell: avoid sounding like a robot and tap into the conversational tone of Twitter. 
  • Be creative, be funny, but don't be controversial and understand that stuff like sarcasm is an intricate human expression that normally works best face-to-face and doesn't fly in many cultures. 

So, you’ve woken up to an utter s**tstorm of a PR fail, how do you survive?

Mark: I’ve been through a few of these, of varying degrees. You need to touch base with the marketing team to understand just how bad it is and then formulate a plan.

If it’s white hot and it’s blazing out of control - you just let it burn. Let it go, prepare a statement, get your tweets lined up and choose an appropriate day to reintroduce yourself to your social duties.

You have to understand that on Twitter (as well as all the major mediums) if you have a controversy that flows out of control, you cannot reply to everybody.

The best thing you can do is stay silent. Prepare a response, and choose when to re-engage.

If you try and fight the fire on Twitter: you will lose.

 Key takeaway: 
  • Ride the storm, keep low and reintroduce yourself once the dust has settled with a considered response that addresses the problem, but moves on. 

Give us your top five secrets for success, please? 

  1. Use short punchy sentences with colourful language (where applicable) to grab user's attention. And humour. Humour is the best.
  2. Don’t feel obliged to say something when you haven’t got anything to say.
  3. Stop always asking questions: If you’re putting out a question in every single tweet you sound like that desperate guy on a Friday night trying to chat someone up in a bar. Keep it conversational.  
  4. Tag photos. If you’re tweeting using an image and there are five people in that photo - tag them. They will be notified and it will appear on their newsfeed: a great way to drive engagement with a simple tag and also get around the character limit.
  5. Make sure your twitter handle is consistent across all different platforms and that people can find it on your websites so they know how to find you.


When not running the social media for GBK, Jose Cuervo, The Kraken and other UK brands, Mark Weir can be usually be found near strong coffee or a basketball court. You can email him on 

Topics: Ecommerce marketing tips

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