Yesterday I received a seemingly simple question about Twitter handles from a member of our community–should an organization have a handle that directly represents the organization, or should staff tweet as themselves? As I thought about my response, it dawned on me how tricky an issue this can be. Really, it all comes down to your goals…

Carol’s Question:
I have a question about social media, especially Twitter. Is it better to have key company executives tweet on behalf of the organization? One of our execs wants their own Twitter handle to do her own tweeting, so it more easily shows her as the author, but she’d be talking all about things she does on our company’s behalf. What’s the best way to do that?

My Answer:
Unfortunately, I think there is no single right answer to this issue. A number of big marketing blogs suggest that having a person represent the organization on Twitter is the best way to go, that it humanizes the organization in an important way (see: However, many of these experts are speaking to businesses that need to put an emphasis on humanization and personality, like GE, and that may or may not be necessary for your organization. The right path for your organization is going to depend on your branding goals with Twitter.

Here are some scenarios to consider:
  • Branding a single individual as an expert in a certain area (without caring if there is an immediate connection to your org)- In this case, consider giving that individual a Twitter handle using whatever name best identifies them. Vicki Phillips of the Gates Foundation is a great example here. Her handle is @drvikip, reminding us that she is a doctor and therefore has educational clout in her area of expertise, with the Gates Foundation only mentioned in her bio. As she tweets for the Gates Foundation, which doesn’t really need any help with credibility building or name recognition from the organizational side, they don’t need to also brand the handle.

    Pro: real person feel. Con: little connection with organization.

  • Branding a single individual as an expert in a certain area (but you also care that there is an immediate connection to your org)- In this case,  get that person a handle that references both them and the organization. Consider using a real photo of the person instead of a logo, and reference the connection in the bio as well as the handle. Connecting the person to the organization can have benefits both ways. It helps connect the person to the brand of the organization, giving the person additional authority based on your organization’s reputation. Connecting the organization to the person allows the organization to directly and publically benefit from the good things that the person says, building reputation and showing the caliber and personality of their staff. Katya Andresen from Network for Good does this well as @KatyaN4G.

    Pro: real person with organizational connection. Con: just one personality, what if there are more people? What if that person leaves?

  • Branding the organization as an authority- In this case, if you don’t already have a Twitter mogul tweeting on your behalf, you’d likely want to tweet as your organization. Many organizations go this route and as long as they maintain some personality in their tweets instead of acting like a spambot then they can still connect with people in a meaningful way. This is what we do at Idealware. Both myself and Laura Quinn tweet as @Idealware. In all honesty, we don’t have the time to tweet under multiple handles, so opted for the joint account instead of separate names. Our goal is NOT to form truly meaningful relationships with people, but rather to brand Idealware as a resource for essential tech news, and so the person to person feel you might get with an individually named account (for Laura, for example) doesn’t get us much.

    Pro: clear organizational branding allowing for multiple managers. Con: loss of personal feel.

  • Branding the community around the organization- In this case, you might want multiple people tweeting as themselves, but clearly representing the organization (and maybe even an account for the organization as itself in addition). NTEN is a great example here. They have an organizational handle, @NTENorg, that tweets out general info from the organization. Additionally, each of their staff has a personal Twitter handle that is associated with the organization to a varying degree- Holly Ross, their Executive Director, tweets as @ntenhross, while Amy Sample Ward, who had already built a Twitter following before coming to NTEN, tweets as @amyrsward, with only a mention of her affiliation in her bio.

    Pro: you get the best of all worlds. Con: it is a lot of work!

It may be that no single one of these scenarios is right for your organization. Do feel free to mix and match in the way that makes the most sense (while still being doable). TechSoup Canada does a nice job here. They are a small but growing organization that is trying to build its reputation and presence in Canada, leveraging the reputation of its parent company. In that case, they see clear value in having an organizational account that allows them to seem a bit bigger than they actually are (or were when they started Tweeting) and directly reference the name TechSoup. They are also trying to brand their Community Manager, Tierney Smith, as a social media resource and build her reputation in the tech community. To do that, they created an account specifically for her (@tierneys). Often the accounts tweet the same thing, but at other times the individual personality of the accounts will come out in the way a point is presented or the content of a tweet.
While there are many different ways you can approach this issue, just know that whatever you choose will be OK. As long as you work on sharing valuable information, respond when people talk to you, and be a committed part of the community, whether the organization tweets as itself or as an individual will have only a small impact on how you are perceived.