Get comfortable with people who don’t love you: Twitter's Melissa Barnes

SPIKES ASIA - Melissa Barnes’ enthusiasm for Twitter is understandable. As head of global brands, it is her job to inform and educate marketers about the plus points of the micro blogging site. The former PR executive even had a lesson or two for us at Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Melissa Barnes
Melissa Barnes

Campaign Asia-Pacific's Byravee Iyer sat down with Barnes prior to her Wedesday seminar presentation at Spikes Asia 2014. See below for our report on that session.

What is your role about?

My role is reflective of Twitter’s global growth. Now that Twitter has proven itself, brands really want to scale that. My role is half operations and half strategy. Operations involve deciding which markets we go into and how to succeed there. From a strategy perspective, we’re making sure we’re setting these brands up to succeed in the best possible way.

What new social-media platform have you recently embraced?

Whenever something new comes up, you have to play with it and understand how it works. Right now, I’m playing with Line, Whatsapp and Pinterest.

When did you get on Twitter?

I got onto to it in 2008 and joined the company in 2012.

What are your tips for brands?

Start with business goals. I often tell brand teams to use Twitter as human beings to understand how the platform works. There’s a flow and a pace and a value to it. Take a look at your opportunity from a brand perspective. Brands getting the greatest value from Twitter, have really invested in data that present everyday opportunities.

How do you train brands to use Twitter?

We try to make it fun. Engage people and start with a very simple sort of matrix that takes them through use cases. We talk them through planned and unplanned events and how to think about each of those quadrants. Then within that, we try to understand the predictability of people. There are a lot of predictable patterns. Then you get to interpreting this moment and taking advantage in a way that is right for your brand. Sometimes brands think they can show up on Twitter and expect to change business.

What brand do you enjoy working most with?

I like Visa. They were our first client who went in for a global multi-year partnership. The learnings from that successful deal have influenced how we partner with brands. The company’s global chief brand officer, Antonio Lucio, always says he never wants to get too comfortable. I like to work with brands who like to try things and back it up with results.

Tips for brands looking to get onto Twitter

Get a content strategy, plan ahead of time, when in doubt don't talk religion or politics. Really standard dinner-party politics. Be careful about any kind of negativity. Use it as a broadcast platform to create content other people will want to retweet. Get comfortable with people who don’t love you. 

What’s your advice to media publications looking to beef up their presence on the site?

Media around the world use Twitter to source and tell stories whether breaking news or otherwise. I recommend Tweeting quotes and images. There’s an opportunity there. Breaking parts of the story also help. Make it snackable.

There’s also a timing element. Nick Bilton of the New York Times wrote a column on it.

Also, reporters doing a good job tend to use humour. Have fun with personalities and brands. No press-release language, please.

What’s the challenge you believe brands face in this space?

I’d say it’s a resource thing, figuring out who is going to own it. Strategy, creative and media have to work closely. Best brands appearing real time are the ones that are proactive.


In her seminar presentation, Barnes expanded on how to simplify billions of tweets to find what works for your brand message.

Barnes called Twitter a thought-leadership platform, using an example of the prime minister of India tweeting at the prime minister of Japan in a case of digital diplomacy.

She also showed a clip of actor Sir Patrick Stewart, as well as other celebrities and obscurities, turning a tweet from David Cameron into a meme. Her point: Live moments matter, and there are a multitude of ways that brands can patch into them to capture attention and even turn something mundane into an opportunity.

Of course huge events like the World Cup offer great potential to leverage moments for promotional gain. And Barnes shared some spectacular data visualizations to demonstrate Twitter activity during the World Cup, which put millions of people around the world all in the same place and state of mind.

But she also emphasized the “live” aspect of Twitter to make something great out of the commonplace. Another visualization illustrated that point; this time, when the globe lit up with tweets, the topic wasn’t sports but rather snacks.

Some short insights include:

  • Find and leverage the predictability of the ordinary
  • 95 per cent of people on Twitter tweet about TV while they watch
  • Be clever in the everyday. It’s cheaper than producing events or campaigns and can pay off more in the long term.
  • Fortune will favour the bold.

Activitiies like commuting, exercising, eating and watching TV preoccupy people, and they talk about them on Twitter. There’s a wealth of daily tribulations that make for touchpoints where brands, if they’re creative, can tap into people’s imagination, angst and humor.

Nokia did it with Vines (short Twitter videos) that made empty seats appear and bus lines disappear. And Nike does it regularly, reminding people to get out and run at times when tweets about exercise subside. These are regular, even mundane, moments but there’s money to be made from it.

The famous Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfie seen ‘round the world had 3.4 million retweets, but after all the extended publicity its reach was over 4 billion. That’s most of the world watching. What’s that worth? 


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