Following on Twitter

Non-traditional media is quickly grabbing the attention of the mainstream. Twitter is one such example of this, because while the service was initially created as a means for individuals to tell their friends (and the world) what they’re doing at any given moment, corporations and other non-personal entities have started to populate the Twitter-sphere too.

The Power of Non-Personal Marketing

While professional bloggers and Internet entrepreneurs spend an inordinate amount of time online, a growing segment of the general population is getting addicted to the web as well. We may not watch as much television as we have in the past and we may not read as many newspapers, but we do dare to be entertained and informed while online.

A great way to “reach the masses” is through some sort of online medium. Put out a good viral video on YouTube and you’ll become Internet famous in no time. Regular people are getting their voices heard through online petitions too.

Corporations are starting to understand the power of social media and they are aiming to exploit it. Some companies have taken a passive approach — Apple has enjoyed a fair bit of coverage from gadget blogs for the iPhone — whereas others are taking a much more active approach with their online marketing. It’s time to expand beyond banners and text links.

Examples of Non-Personal Twitter Accounts

Getting back to the subject of Twitter (follow me!), you’ll find a growing number of companies and organizations who have Twitter accounts of their own. These don’t necessarily follow the actions and thoughts of a single individual, but rather work as a key component to a larger marketing and branding campaign.

To help counter the massive attention that the iPhone receives, it appears that Samsung Canada has set up a Twitter account for the Instinct. To be available through Bell Mobility (and already available through Sprint in the USA), the Samsung Instinct is a touchscreen phone that competes directly against the iPhone. Its Twitter bio reads: “Ignore the hype. Trust your Instinct.” There’s also an Instinct YouTube contest going on.

Other notable non-personal Twitter accounts that I have noticed are those of CNN, ESPN, Slashfilm, and even JohnCow. These are business accounts and not really the lives of a single individual. I even followed a couple of politicians — Barack and Hillary — for a while. Unfortunately, both of those accounts are seemingly updated by some PR firm meant to keep us up to date on the campaign trail. They are not the personal thoughts of Obama and Clinton, as far as I can tell.

Glorified RSS or Added Value?

Should you follow non-personal Twitter accounts? Well, that depends.

Some Twitter accounts that are seemingly non-personal are actually updated by a real person, offering real value. For example, BlueFur has a Twitter account managed by Gary Jones. Much like the BlueFur blog, it is not simply a marketing machine for a great web hosting company. It actually provides real value, answering questions and participating in the online community.

Other non-personal Twitter accounts are truly impersonal. They have no personality whatsoever, because these accounts act as little more that glorified RSS feeds. You cannot look to the ESPN Twitter account to help build some office camaraderie, because it’s a bot and not a person. You get a feed of the latest sports headlines and not someone who will actually reply to your queries and comments. By contrast, the Samsung Instinct Twitter account mentioned above actually acts like a real person. I even got a free link from it.

Legitimacy and Exploitation

Another issue with these non-personal Twitter accounts is that you have no way to verify its legitimacy. It’s far too easy to make a “fake” account, so what’s stopping someone from posing as Nike, Samsung, or Toyota? The answer, simply stated, is not much.

Do you follow non-personal Twitter accounts with a distinct corporate flavor? Where do you draw the line between social marketing and exploitive advertising?