Let’s face it, getting customers to follow you on Twitter is a big ask. Brands who dominate Twitter use the power of weird and don’t allow imagined boundaries to limit their vision.
ill never rinse my farm fresh vegetables. its the responsibility of the greengrocer to rinse my God damn food and if i get poisoned so be it
— wint (@dril) February 25, 2016
Weird Twitter revels in being hard to define, but can be very loosely described as surreally comic and not too closely tethered to reality. Buzzfeed has attempted a summary, but really, you need to experience it to understand. If you’ve read a tweet and found yourself sniggering, without entirely understanding why, and at the same time feeling rather unsettled, chances are you’ve stumbled across Weird Twitter.
man, the last 20 ghosts in a row just squawked and pooped and pecked us. i’m starting to doubt this ouija bird — bandit (@UtilityLimb) March 11, 2012
It might not be obvious that the same brand of off-beat humor is brilliant for fuelling engagement, but if there’s one thing Twitter loves, it’s the non-obvious.
Let Your Freak Flag Fly
Traditionally, brands would curate their public image very carefully, taking care never to appear unprofessional. But this laced-up approach just doesn’t translate to social media. Instead of clinging to dignity at all costs, brands who use Twitter successfully tap into what their brand means to their audience. For example, toilet paper isn’t exactly glamorous and marketing such a product is trickier than more “traditional” goods and services, but by playing to their strengths, Charmin has amassed nearly 70 thousand followers. What are those strengths? Come on, it’s toilet paper. Rather than attempting a to project a dignified image, they revel in potty humor; and judging by their “poopularity”, appealing to everyone’s inner three year old is a tactic that’s working for them. If they didn’t, they’d just be another bland, safe corporate account. And that would be a pity.
Red Lobster showed that the safe approach is obsolete in their lackluster response to Beyonce’s shout out in Formation. Being referenced by Queen Bey is the advertising equivalent of winning the lottery, but their response was so blah that the world cringed at the missed opportunity.
But to be fair, this kind of engagement requires incredible agility: developing the perfect witty comeback and posting it within the eyeblink timeframe of Twitter can be a tall order. It’s also possible that Red Lobster were worried about offending their more staid customers: a real risk, considering it was a blatantly sexual lyric in a song with an uncompromising message. However, brands who have invested the time and talent into an offbeat and daring social media presence are being rewarded with unprecedented reach and a revitalized image. It’s hard to picture Denny’s making the same blunder: their brilliantly weird social media presence blends popular memes and original humor, while always remaining at least tangentially diner-related.
don’t know much about this radiohead guy but it sucks he got a radio for a head instead of like, a huge tub of nachos — Denny’s (@DennysDiner) March 18, 2016
isn’t it kind of a spell when you tell the waiter what you want and your magical words force his hand to write down your desires?? — Denny’s (@DennysDiner) September 10, 2015
prank: fill your friend’s omelette with glitter — Denny’s (@DennysDiner) September 15, 2015
A big part of their success was hiring the right talent. Creative strategist Amber Gordon told The Daily Dot “I was hired to use the social networks as I would my own. That’s our strategy, having that diner feel. You’re just happy to be there. We’re trying to show that we’re the same thing, but on social. It’s not supposed to be advertising in your face.” As well as reinvigorating well-known but dull brands, this strategy can catapult smaller entities into the big time. Orkney Library’s twitter account, which delights in making fun of the stranger books on its shelves, has more followers than the population of Orkney. Yep, we couldn’t believe it either, but it’s true: at the time of writing, @OrkneyLibrary has 24.8K followers, while Orkney’s population was reported in 2005 as 20,100. And it gets even better. The library located on nearby Shetland is also on Twitter, and the two have a hilarious “frenemy” dynamic, reflecting the Islands’ real life rivalry. This recently reached its peak when JK Rowling paid Orkney Library a visit, which they didn’t hesitate to rub in their rival’s face.
But without that initial interest created by their zany Twitter account, would JK even have made the trip?
Getting The Job Done
Presenting your brand in an offbeat, informal way is a great way of driving engagement with your customers. And having fun with social media doesn’t mean compromising on the serious business of making sure your customers are satisfied. Quite the reverse: British Airways followed up a tweet from a disgruntled customer who had been kept on hold for too long with this playful response and offer of help:
@mrdavidwhitley Hey David, off the top of my head it was about, 3rd June 1997. Seriously though, is there something we can help with? ^Jamie
— British Airways (@British_Airways) October 26, 2015
The result? A happy customer and several retweets.
But Is It Art?
The sky bleeds black. The scorched earth is littered with dead ravens. A man shouts “HASHTAG BEAUTIFUL GIRL” into a void. The world burns. — Betfair Poker (@Betfairpoker) May 18, 2013
And if you really tap into the Weird Twitter ethos, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it might be what makes you immortal. Twitter might be a more ephemeral medium than the posters of the past, but the surreal humor that Denny’s and betfair Poker revel in has an unsettling effect which makes you think about their brands in a new way. Being part of their world is an experience — and experiences make memories. There’s certainly enough historical precedent to show that art is quite comfortable veering into the sphere of advertising, and vice versa.
Andy Warhol buying Campbell’s Soup at Gristede’s supermarket on Second Ave, 1964 pic.twitter.com/z98BYVwHY8
— ClassicPics (@History_Pics) March 5, 2016
Performance art pushes its format’s boundaries and shakes up the audience’s thinking: it’s arguable that when brands tweet something that doesn’t quite add up, and requires a reread to make sure you read what you think you did, they successfully force you to spend more time thinking about their brand and their brand message. Their aim might be different, but the effect they have on the viewer is the same.
Really don’t feel like going to school today… Think I have a plan
— Ferris Bueller (@ferris_bueller_) May 7, 2010
Great art communicates something with the viewer and makes them feel something. Taking a look at some of the above tweets, they certainly fulfil those criteria. Instead of dryly tweeting unexciting info about the company, they’re doing something new and interesting, which can’t fail to draw attention.
So how can your brand get a toehold in the curiously compelling world of Weird Twitter? Remember that the average Twitter user isn’t on there as part of their professional life: they’re there to have a laugh, chat with friends, and be entertained. Twitter’s water cooler ethos gives a new meaning to “corporate personhood,” in that brands can mingle and chat with real people. Like THINX CEO Miki Agrawal says, the key to nailing a brand personality which flourishes in this space is to “pretend like you’re texting your friends. How would you say things and how would you write things? What are the hashtags that you would use that are funny? It has to be just colloquial. It shouldn’t feel like an ad.” And just like when you’re talking with friends, take time to listen. Switch from broadcast mode to engagement mode: the aim of your Twitter shouldn’t be to get people to hear what you have to say, but to get their input.
By daring to be imaginative and even a bit cheeky with your social media presence, you could turn your customers into fans.
Longneck and Thunderfoot offer social media management services to build a vibrant audience for your brand across all media channels. Learn more about social media and PR here.