Over the weekend, Match of the Day frontman and former England striker Gary Lineker quit Twitter, leaving behind 1.3 million engaged followers, apparently due to time constraints. Hollywood actress Megan Fox also quit the microblogging service after just 24 hours, citing a similar reason. But is Twitter something that in order to be successful at, you have to spend most of your time dedicated to?
Brands are now employing more and more social media-facing staff to engage with customers, while celebrities such as Britney Spears have their PAs tweet on their behalf. Even the Pope is on there, although again, not punching the buttons of his smartphone himself.
“Lineker shouldn't get too stressed,” says Jim Dowling, managing partner for Havas social media agency Cake, in humour. “He [Lineker] reveals himself to be intelligent, humorous and sharp, while his appearances in tabloids, or appearing across the sofa from Alan Shearer on Match of the Day often do the opposite.”
Dowling adds that he doesn’t see a need for Twitter to be time consuming, and that the manner of interaction is entirely down to the individual user or organisation.
However Craig McGill, creative MD for consultancy Contently Managed, can understand why famous names are finding interacting on Twitter such a time consuming process, as they are being told by experts that they must engage and respond, which is likely to mean wading through a large number of tweets each day.
McGill advises that those on Twitter who are familiar to the public, but wish some privacy, use one public account and another for their close friends that remains locked. He adds that the public account should include a PR or marketing team’s involvement, but should also highlight their use as well. He also advises that accounts should state that the user may or may not reply if they do intend to interact, and that they use lists to stay up-to-date with people they really should respond to.
Scheduling tweets is another option but ensuring their relevance is key, McGill says, pointing to the recent Tesco 'hit the hay' blunder. Brands should review their scheduled tweets constantly to ensure they don’t cause embarrassment.
“Most social media is about time - it's time consuming to engage, to find good stories, to find the right platforms online and so on - but you can have a very full on Twitter presence for as little as 20 minutes a day. I know people who run very successful Twitter accounts but only ever check or use Twitter when on the toilet or public transport,” McGill reveals.
Jeremy Waite, head of social consulting for Adobe EMEA, sees walking away from Twitter as a great mistake by any public figure and cites the increase in its use by sports media in the US as a sign of things to come in the UK.
“If you look at what the National Football League (NFL) is doing - Twitter is on everything. We’ve not even got that yet. We have a hashtag on a BBC show. Formula One is getting a little bit better too. People now have their Twitter handle on the screen where viewers can talk to them – the question is what do you say when they do talk to you? Do you respond quickly? Do you respond yourself or do you have a PA doing it for you? That’s the key. It’s about looking at what’s happening in the US and realising that you’re not going to get away from it, it’s only going to get bigger.
“Viewing habits are changing with the second screen experience. If you look at the Superbowl and all the coverage from the NFL, on every single one of their shows, each show has its own Twitter identity, its own Facebook page, every broadcaster and every player has their own accounts too. Look at the cycling this year too and every cyclist – Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish – they all had their Twitter handles down their shirts. So you can be watching the Tour de France and tweeting the rider as he reaches the stage, and then there’s a hashtag printed on their kit across their chest.”
Waite advises brands and personalities to embrace the concept of investing dedicated regular time to content creation or interaction with followers.
“I spoke to a massive entertainment brand recently which questioned why it would want to spend a lot of money on media or advertising and community management because it would trend organically every week. Then, on the flip side, you’ve got the celebrities and the brands that have got a third party – why would a brand outsource to an agency unless they haven’t got the time? Why would a celebrity?
“Everyone is different. Every brand is different. If the answer is you’ve physically not got the time to do it, but you physically have to be there to receive more sponsorship, sign more deals and get on more TV shows and increase your salary, then have someone else do it for you – but make sure it’s authentic,” he adds.
Jordan Stone, strategy director at We Are Social, offers his view on what brands must be wary of when it comes to using Twitter.
"Brands need to ensure that they are setting aside enough resource to manage Twitter effectively," warns Stone. "This includes having a well-defined content strategy for the platform, and enough time to draft and publish meaningful updates. They should be responsive, interesting and have a unique personality but they need to put in the time behind the scenes to make this happen – and to sustain it.
"Brands also need to ensure there is adequate resource for listening out for comments that warrant a response. And this is not just about picking up customer service issues or other problems, but looking for opportunities to start up a conversation or generally engage with their audience.
"All of the above needs to be backed-up by some solid internal policies, like tone of voice and engagement guidelines that ensure whoever is manning the brand’s Twitter account, is doing so in line with the brand’s values."
Stone also advises that brands using social media for a customer service perspective make it 'more personal'. "Adding initials from the person that is tweeting shows a personal side, as does setting expectations as to when the account will be responsive during work hours. This can be done by signing on and off each day, or setting these times out in the bio," he explains.
Dirk Singer from Rabbit Agency is cynical that Lineker will abandon his followers for long however, with the continued growth of the platform.
“There are plenty of other high profile celebrities - for example Jamie Oliver (3 million followers) and Alan Carr (3.2 million) - to give two examples, who manage to run active Twitter accounts without it becoming too time consuming… My bet is that he [Gary Lineker] will be back, perhaps the next time he has a book or video to promote,” states Singer.
The lesson to be learned from celebrity tweeters is that while some are happy to get involved and interact, clearly they do so without realising the commitment involved. But both celebrities and brands who wish to benefit from their involvement in Twitter, which will only grow, must fully embrace the need to spend time and possibly money in order to do so.
The benefits and riches are yet to be fully realised, but those working in the media will also find it a vital part of the job in years to come.