The Tweet Life of CMOs

Now trending: CMOs who tweet. And blog. And spill their thoughts on Facebook.

Lord knows, it’s a social media free-for-all out there. CMOs—and in some cases their marketing brethren, from “brand ambassadors” to “chief social marketing officers”—seem to be spending more time tweeting than the Situation does tanning.

“We’ve all had to learn to be copywriters,” says Marian Salzman, president, North America, Euro RSCG PR. “And [tweeting] has to be 140 characters, minus a hashtag. And it can’t be self-promotional [and has to have] just enough creativity that it doesn’t look like a commercial sponsorship. It’s a very interesting juggling act.”

So why even do it? “I think it can make a difference in categories that are poorly understood or that have had challenges, like automotive and retail banking,” says Dorothy Crenshaw, head of Crenshaw Communications. “Done right, it’s very humanizing, a way to be authentic and a way for followers to engage and find common ground.”

Obviously, there are many CMOs who get it, and they are too numerous to mention. But some lesser knowns—as well as a usual suspect—are being social in ways others might find helpful to learn about before (or after) jumping into the world of social networking. The most important quality that unites them: the ability to relate to their followers. Steve Fuller, CMO for L.L. Bean, walks the line between professional and personal in pretty much a pitch-perfect way. He has a scant 980 followers, but, more interestingly, he says he follows (and presumably listens to) about the same number.

Sometimes, for things like customer complaints, Fuller gives specific responses. He also manages to blend the personal with the not too promotional while still pushing the L.L. Bean brand image, such as with this tweet: “The woman sitting next to us at the airport is making earrings. They look remarkably like Royal Coachman fishing flies.” And this one, which included a photo: “Thursday night climb of Mount Fuji with Japan staff.”

Another nice approach comes from Lisa Gavales, CMO of Express, the lower-priced fashion brand. Gavales, who has 20,689 followers, even weighs in on fashion choices: “Totally agree, very difficult decision! Lovin’ everything about that coat!” She also responds to very specific customer product questions: “Just heard back curcumfrance [sic] 375 mm (14. 76 inches) for our mini wedge boot.”

She often offers a “Pick of the Day” that no doubt helps sell the line, and occasionally posts codes for discounts and coupons.

The only cavil I have with Gavales and Fuller is with their choices of avatars: Fuller uses a copy of the catalog and Gavales the Express logo. To really connect with their followers, they should be less corporate and use photos of themselves—the human face of a brand.

When it comes to the art of the tweet few surpass Ted Rubin, chief social media officer of OpenSky, a site that helps to monetize the businesses of mommy bloggers. His life is an open book, and this includes his frank discussion on his blog of his very painful divorce.

Rubin’s best known for building the cosmetics company e.l.f. (eyes, lips, face) with almost no media budget by using the Internet and his rabid, indefatigable social media skills. He built powerful relationships with mommy bloggers and YouTube posters, and “met” magazine writers in the Twittersphere, which translated to print profiles. In turn, he leveraged the power of his followers to get a brick-and-mortar foothold in Target. Now he’s doing the same kind of networking for OpenSky.

When tweeting, Rubin, who has more than 30,000 followers, likes to fire off nuggets of wisdom that resonate with his audience. One example: “Women hold famly shoppng purse strings, so no mattr what ur product, u shud b talkng 2 women.” (When keeping things to 140 characters, the English language sometimes suffers.) He also gives advice, such as: “Dont expect to build trust if ur only responsive to ur audience every now and then.”

Barry Judge, CMO at Best Buy, was an early advocate of social media. This led, in part, to BB agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky developing the award-winning “Twelpforce” (a combination of “tweet” and “help”) campaign, which draws on the power of some 2,500 employees to answer consumer tweets. (The service seems to work better on Facebook, but I guess “Felpforce” doesn’t have the same geeky ring.)

Two years ago, in an in-house video, Judge said, “For our brand to be relevant … we’ve got to live digitally with our communication and the products we sell.” But the reality is that living digitally can be difficult to keep up. Judge discovered the inevitable, recently noting in his blog, “Writing a blog gives you newfound respect for journalists who do this for a living. It’s hard work!”

And that’s not a bad thing—if it helps to weed out those with little to offer.

Or the ones looking for powers in numbers: Before you know it, a few innocent answers to “What are you doing?” can lead to wearing epaulettes and a messianic drive to have more followers than Ryan Seacrest. For the record, he has more than 3.4 million. (Are they called tweeps?) At a Yahoo presentation at Cannes this year, Ben Stiller joked that Seacrest tried to sell him his list. Actually, it’s a list not a few marketers wouldn’t mind having.