As a follow on to our first piece by Scott earlier this week about brands on Twitter, I’d like to add an opposing view that was presented at the same conference by Jonathan O'Brien from Waterstones.

Jonathan had a refreshing take on being a social media manager, do it for the love of it. He spoke about his time over the last three years working on the shop floor at Waterstones Oxford St branch where he took responsibility for the Twitter account @WstonesOxfordSt.  We heard about all the extra hours he put into the account, about his book facts, his jokes, parody pics and videos all while holding down his day job.

Well his hard work paid off as he is now been moved to Waterstones head office communications team and from his personal profile he also seems to be social media co-ordinator for @BBCTwo and Head Astrologer for @Horr0rscopes.  I suspect the second one is a pet project.

His presentation was based around the point that the only way you get a consistent non corporate tone of voice on Twitter is to have someone take sole responsibility and run it from within the bowels of the company. Free from committee decision, on what’s appropriate for the brand and what’s not, and free from reality arguably and those pesky bean counters that go around asking for awkward things like return on investment. He went on to actually plead with us to never ever hire an agency to do this, so putting David Schneider and his mates at Th@t Lot out of a job, no matter how funny their tweets are.

But if you pull back the curtain the wizard has some issues. What is he trying to do? Has he a plan? What is his target? Is it lots of followers, retweets, likes, something else? Some of the examples he presented suggested that retweets were key but some tweets got lots of retweets and some hit single figures with no apparent relationship to the brand in question. For example we loved the down and out apostrophe picture (not much work) following it being dropped from the Waterstones logo. Witty, well we all laughed, but personally, and I may be being too harsh, didn’t really find the ‘definitely not inspired by John Lewis Christmas ad’ video quite so hilarious even though he’d put a weekend into that.

However if you want to judge him on numbers he is doing fabulously well at just shy of 68,000 followers but again it’s been a three year slog of 8,385 tweets to date, long hours costing Waterstones nothing until now. With the cost racking up does he now have a KPI or has he still got the free reign he started with?

On his point about not hiring an agency, can Jonathan’s approach be replicated in every company? How would you feel as a marketing director letting someone lose on representing you product or service? Would you insist on vetting every post or convince yourself it’s more important to be seen as a ‘human’ company?  That’s the choice for marketers who wish to participate on social channels. Farm it out, or take it from the internal rank and file. Or you can always try doing it yourself, but I’ll leave the last word to Schneider.