Mad Men, Zappos, O'Reilly: Brilliant use of Twitter for Marketing Doesn't Look like Using Twitter for Marketing

On Twitter I follow several people who have profiles associated with their brand. Not because I want to know how they use Twitter or even because I was particularly concerned with their company (to start, anyway), but because they have interesting things to say. That’s the key to successful marketing in this medium.

Even though I have a professional interest in how they market with Twitter (I’ve given talks at conferences on the subject), I’ll get bored with them quickly and stop Following if they aren’t interesting.

Through their personalities and authenticy, I’ve become more interested in their companies and bought things I might not even have known about otherwise.

One of the best examples is CEO Tony Hsieh. He posts as Zappos, but tweets less often about the company (with annual sales of $1 Billion) than the nachos he’s eating before a meeting, or to show pictures from his trip to the Olympics. He’s simply sharing himself as a real person (and several of his employees also do the same under their own Twitter accounts), or offering to buy me a drink on the roof of Medjool (thanks, Tony!). This degree of transparency is consistent with his amazing focus on customer experience. From Inc. magazine:

“We’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes….” I’d rather spend money on things that improve the customer experience than on marketing. If someone is looking for a specific shoe and we happen to be out of stock, we have employees direct those people to competitors’ sites…. We interview people for culture fit. We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about–service. I don’t care if they’re passionate about shoes.

(For more about building that culture, Harvard Business explains how Zappos even Pays New Employees to Quit. They mention the marketing success: “It’s not good PR, it’s humans acting humanly.”)

Transparency allows Tony to market by sharing what he’s doing (and letting his customers do it for him), and allows him to directly get feedback crucial to understanding how he can continue to improve experience. He replies personally to those who reach out to him. The human face he wears makes him feel like a friend, and makes the business things he passes on just more sharing himself and his passion.

Tim O’Reilly is CEO of O’Reilly Media, but also contributes to many businesses I didn’t know about before I started following him on Twitter. He’s another brilliant example of Twitter used perfectly to a marketing effect. You never get the sense that he’s thinking about marketing, just being himself. I know about his daughter’s wedding, his political views and many other small details of his fascinating life.

Very small details since tweets all fit in 140 characters. Which is also part of why this works so well. I have a small degree of intimacy and connection with folks who I know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, in such tiny slices that Tim has taken maybe 5 or 10 minutes of my time total in Twitter over many months (though I’ve also heard him talk at conferences or read articles he’s linked to). I can afford that time across more people than I could otherwise follow in blog posts or other long forms.

Each person tends to use Twitter uniquely in some ways. A great thing that Tim does particularly often is to Re-Tweet, passing on interesting things that he sees from people he follows on Twitter. I learn things about who and what he finds interesting and see that he clearly uses this tool for himself personally. He is listening, not just broadcasting.

If someone posts too often with stuff I don’t care about deeply, I tend to Unfollow. Tony and Tim both post more frequently than most of the people I Follow in Twitter, but I don’t mind at all. They’re so spot on about the variety of things they post on and how open they are about sharing their true selves. I’m glad they post often.

But some posters put them to shame with volume. The latest, biggest example of how a brand is promoted effectively using Twitter unfolded over the last couple days and involves the hit TV show Mad Men.

Twitter accounts for each of the folks on the show shared aspects of their fictional lives and responded publicly to comments from other Twitter users, always perfectly in character. I’d been following Don_Draper (after my friend Betsy at FocusCatalyst told me about him over tea) and then was followed by many of the other characters. Already a fan of the show, I thought it was brilliant, despite the volume being heavy, and not choosing to follow most of the characters myself, and told several other people about it.

I was ready to congratulate the show on a stroke of genius. They’d extended the fictional world they’d created on TV (through meticulous research leading to nailing every details of an early sixties ad agency and office life). They’d allowed interaction with the characters, commentary from the characters. They’d done it in a short form that made it practical even for the volume that a major TV show can generate. The Word-of-Mouth was about to go through the roof.

Then I found out that the accounts were being deleted. It seems that they weren’t actually from the show, but were a kind of fan fiction, and the AMC network served Twitter with DMCA takedown notices. Those who’d taken on the characters were fessing up.

Fortunately, this turned around in less than 24 hours:

Deep Focus, the Web marketing group that works for AMC, tells us that they gently nudged their client into rescinding the DMCA takedown notice they’d sent to Twitter.

See, in Web marketing parlance, the Twitterers assuming the names of Mad Men characters are actually “brand ambassadors” meant to be cultivated, not thwarted. “Better to embrace the community than negate their efforts,” says a Deep Focus spokesman.

I’m back to calling it brilliant. Once you’ve created something worth talking about, people will talk. Share in the own conversation or get out of the way, but this isn’t about control. It’s about letting go. Letting go of controlling the message. Letting go of the sense that you have to be perfect — embracing the humanness of making mistakes, of listening, and of responding appropriately and without ego.

Update:Thanks for extra info and credit in your post over at CNET, Dan.

Update 2 11/2008: @Don_Draper revealed: Confessions of a (Fake) Mad Man