Expectations vs reality: How 5 brands shook things up on Twitter

By Lindsay Bruce

After wrapping our first season of Character Count (cue: “it’s a wrap!” all over the office), we decided to look back and ask ourselves: what were the biggest takeaways from the season? What was the common thread, if any, that made these brands successful on Twitter?

Upon reflection, we realized there was one thing they all shared: they defied expectations.

We’ve compiled examples, below, with prompts for uncovering the expectations that may be knowingly or unknowingly shaping your own Tweet strategy. Identifying these will help you discover opportunities to experiment and stand out from peers, competitors, and the rest of your followers’ timelines.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Expectation: A non-profit scientific organization should have serious, academic Tweets.


Monterey Bay remembered that the goal of their Tweets wasn’t to appear credible for the sake of appearing credible — it was to make people learn and care about the ocean. Uncovering their true goal allowed them to experiment with their delivery, finding a sweet spot of engaging (and still credible) Tweets.

@MontereyAQ, on their first time Tweeting a meme:

“...we're known as being a scientific organization and our reputation is so important, and a lot of people at the aquarium view being silly or funny as somehow undermining our scientific credibility, but then we're a public facing aquarium. And our role is to inspire conservation of the ocean... [The meme] ended up being shared. I think it got 44,000 Retweets, 127,000 likes.”—Patrick Webster, Social Media Content Creator at Monterey Bay Aquarium

What to ask yourself:

  • What is the true goal of my Tweets?
  • What are the expectations around my industry? Where do they come from?


Expectation: Brands should use color schemes that follow the sacred wheel of colors.


When @Dropbox changed their color scheme, they chose colors that clashed — intentionally:

“We actually saw a lot of backlash when we first launched our new color palette where people were just saying ‘what is Dropbox thinking? Why are these colors so ugly?’ but it was meant to elicit that kind of reaction. We wanted people to feel things about our brand.” —Susan Chang, Head of Social Media at Dropbox

What to ask yourself:

  • What guides the creative choices you’re making? Why?
  • What are the expectations for images/videos in your industry? Where do they come from?

Simon Books

Expectation: Legacy brands aren't "trendy".


@SimonBooks was founded in the 1920s, with their first advertisements long pre-dating the internet. Over 100 years later, the company's marketing has evolved to reach readers all over the globe on Twitter — even finding ways to jump into trending conversations like #NationalPetWeek. Their ability to identify and join current conversations has benefitted their paid efforts as well:

"Twitter ads functionality has really evolved so much and really become a powerful tool in our toolbox for advertising campaigns. We do quite a few political and current events books where so much discourse happens on Twitter so for that particular category, it's been really a great tool for us...." —Steven Bedford, Director of Marketing at Simon & Schuster

What to ask yourself

  • Which upcoming holidays or events could my brand tap into? Challenge yourself to look for opportunities that don't immediately stand out. 

Download our 2019 Twitter marketing calendar to identify and track key dates.


Expectation: Influencer campaigns should feature your most-pleased customers.


@Grindr’s Kindr campaign put representatives from some of the apps most discriminated communities at the center of the campaign. In their episode of Character Count, their Social Media Manager acknowledges the choice to take a risk in hopes of making an impact:

"...there's definitely a risk with highlighting the negative experiences that people have on your app, but we are trying to ...really affect long-term behavior change. If Grindr was just saying 'hey be kind to each other', it wouldn't have the impact that it did by giving it to the real people experiencing these issues.” —Matt Brooks, Social Media Manager for Grindr's Kindr campaign

What to ask yourself

  • Who is expected to be at the center of your campaign? Of other campaigns in your industry?


Expectation: The bigger the audience, the better.


Being “numbers driven” can often lead to being “big-numbers driven,” or used to the idea that bigger numbers are always better. While that’s true for some metrics, quality does not always equal quantity. @TeamKano knows this to be true with audience size, as their most successful ad was targeted towards their smallest audience — a group of loyal supporters:

"I think it's a healthy kind of behavior for a brand to always stay loyal to its core, to the Kickstarter backers, to our first customers that have bought our products when we first launched them without the big validation of, you know, a Harry Potter brand on top of it... so we always keep an eye on them and we always have a special place for them.” —Chiara Radini, Head of Brand Marketing at Kano

What to ask yourself:

  • What audience(s) are you currently targeting? How have you selected those groups?
  • Is there an opportunity to deliver more personalized messaging to a smaller subset?

A final note:

Establish guard rails to help limit risk as you experiment. Identify the topics — even specific language — you want to avoid, and identify the biggest risks to your brand. This will give you a better sense of which expectations to accept, and which to challenge.

Looking for more Twitter tips? Tune in to our Character Count  podcast for more Twitter tips, inspiration, and best practices. 

Additional reading:
How to nail down your brand's tone and voice
How to incorporate trending topics into your content strategy

Ready to advertise on Twitter?