Are brands doing the right thing when they join Twitter and get involved?
It's a tough question to answer. One person's "right way" is another person's "wrong way." An example I am fond of repeating is that of a company that is on Twitter but only using it to tweet out their corporate press releases. The knee-jerk reaction is, "this is a terrible use of Twitter!", but what if said company engaged with their industry analysts and journalist and let them know that this Twitter feed was set-up specifically for them, so that they did not clutter email inboxes or inundate voice mailboxes with pleas for a return phone call? Seems like a very smart use of Twitter (if it works and catches on).
Never forget that Twitter is a spam-free zone.
In fact, one of the most amazing facets of Social Media is how spam free it is. Think about it: you only following those you have chosen or accepted to follow. If they are in any way, shape or form, abusing that connection, all you have to do is unfollow them (or not follow them in the first place). These platforms (Twitter, Facebook, whatever) are self-created in terms of the content flow. So, when a brand hops on Twitter and starts tweeting out contest promotions or discount codes, you can simply ignore them. The true mettle of their success (or as I like to call it, Digital Darwinism) will happen in short order. Brands that claim they are not seeing any reasonable sense of ROI from being a part of Twitter (or any online social network for that matter) are missing one major point: they don't decide if what they're doing is successful... the community does (or those who are following).
Traditional marketing may not make it in these new channels and platforms.
If people love these contest promotions and discount codes (traditional marketing messages and offers), the brands will know. People will follow, they will retweet and they will talk (a lot) about what is going on. The sad truth is that most brands think that what they are doing is enough (some semblance or responding and pumping the feed with offers), when in reality they haven't even begun to scratch the surface. Like anything else, all of these new channels and platforms are hard work. They are not quick fixes and stuff just doesn't happen overnight (only on the rare occasion). If a brand's sole intent is to be on Twitter because they think it will be a quick, cheap and easy way to pawn off marketing and communications messages, they're going to be in for a brutally blunt reality check in a very fast way.
A good chunk of brands suck at Twitter (or think it doesn't work) because they're trying to pump boring one-way messages into a channel that celebrates human and real connections and conversations.