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Building Brands

On Brand No. 13: Tommy Clark tells you how to Tweet

August 11, 2022 · 8 min read

This is an edited version of an email newsletter sent on August 11, 2022. We send out new issues every other Thursday, featuring deep-dive essays and interviews with industry leaders. Sign up below.

As of September 8, 2022, On Brand is on hiatus. We have closed new subscriptions for the time being. Read the backlog right here!

I read this morning that Lyft is releasing rooftop ads for their drivers’ cars. Strange. Feel like I’ve seen these before on…taxi cabs? What’s next, Lyft announces that you can now hail their cars on the street, without even needing to use an app?

— Francis, Content at Air

This week’s plot:

  • How brands should and should not act on Twitter

  • How do you build a personal brand while having a full-time job?

  • Twitter threads don’t have to suck

Tommy Clark: Once a podcaster, often a newsletterist, always a Tweeter

Tommy Clark knows his way around a tweet. With 6k followers and some truly brilliant threads dissecting the latest #trends on the platform, @tclarkmedia understands that not only is every company a media company — every person can be too.

I chatted with Tommy last week about brand — both his and Triple Whale’s, where he’s Head of Social, driving strategy for TikTok, newsletters, and everything in between. Enjoy!

On Brand: You’ve been building your personal brand in the social media marketing sphere since college — you also have a full-time job as Head of Social at Triple whale. How do you pull it off?

Tommy Clark: It’s a lot, but it’s fully worth it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating content for myself, purely because of the opportunities it continues to open up. What’s nice is there’s a good overlap between my personal account and the brand account [on Twitter]. We structure the brand account not too different from a personal account.

Growing my personal brand obviously benefits me, but it also benefits Triple Whale — my engagement feeds back to the brand. People want to follow people, and a good portion of the people who follow the brand account know it’s me behind it.

OB: How much time do you end up spending on Tommy Clark work per week?

TC: Sunday is my day for that. I’ll spend 5 or 6 hours cranking out content. By now, I’ve figured out what topics and formats work, so it’s easier than it used to be.

The minions thread — my most successful yet — took me almost an entire weekend, just researching. For that type of in-depth content, dialing in the research is valuable. But there’s also value in the “basic” content, stuff that might seem entry-level but still resonates.

OB: Marketers love to argue about what is and is not a good brand Twitter strategy. What do you think brands shouldn’t be doing on Twitter right now?

TC: I’m not a huge fan of the horny brand account style. There are ways to get attention without shock value. We do a good job at Triple Whale injecting humor, being funny, sometimes snarky — you don’t need to lean full-on into chaos mode and tweet every unhinged thought.

You can be chaotic, like Radioshack, and go viral, but are you actually converting any of those thousands of likes to customers? What you can and should do is build a positive community. Make it about the brand, not about the tweets, especially if you have a niche product.

Is this helping sell…whatever it is RadioShack sells in 2022??

If you’re selling something with mass appeal, like snack food someone can buy at a gas station, and you’re trying to reach as many people as possible, maybe controversial content can be good.

Ultimately, there’s no right answer to social. Anything I say, you can find an example of a brand that’s done the opposite and been successful. If it works, it works. We could’ve gone in a different direction with Triple Whale — super technical, educational threads. It could’ve worked. But we just chose not to, and that’s fine.

OB: How do you think brands should approach newsletters?

TC: I’ve had a newsletter for a couple of years now. I started on Substack, then Beehiiv, now I’m on Workweek. With Triple Whale’s newsletter, we’re on Review right, but we’re about to switch to Beehiiv. What’s tough about newsletters is there’s no algorithm to just get your email in front of someone, TikTok style. Substack is trying to solve for that, but the point is newsletters can be tough to grow.

What you’re doing with On Brand is the same thing we’re trying to do. It shouldn’t be promotional — there will always be some promotion, but that shouldn’t be the main angle. Your goal should just be to give your readers value. It’s the same way I think about socials. You need to give your audience a reason to follow you. Most people don’t care enough about your brand to follow you on social, let alone give you their email. Give them a legit reason.

Lastly, a brand newsletter will almost always be less performant than a personal-brand newsletter. Again, people want to hear from people.

OB: Time for hot takes. What three things, in your opinion, matter least in social media marketing?

TC: First, short form video is overhyped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but not every single business needs to be on TikTok right now. For example, if you’re a B2B company (like Triple Whale or Air), you’ll likely have better results doubling down on Twitter + LinkedIn first.

Then, once you have the must-haves dialed in, experiment with TikTok if you have the resources. Chasing shiny objects when you don’t have the resources to do so will make you waste money.

For example, at Triple Whale we tried TikTok and we had a few go viral — 1M, even 2M views. But we probably didn’t get any customers from it. Maybe a newsletter signup — but Twitter and LinkedIn have consistently led to customers signing up.

Second, business metrics are the killer of good social media content. At the end of the day, there has to be some ROI, but any social media pro I talk to that works under leadership who heavily incentivizes leads per post, or similar…that’s how you end up with extremely boring content. There are compelling ways to do it, but social should be about building community and building brand affinity over time, not pushing a lead gen form.

Third, people put too much hate on Twitter threads. It’s not that you hate threads, it’s that you hate the growth-hacky, regurgitated content that’s clogs your feed in thread form. My minions thread popped off. That was original, deeply researched content. A month ago I had 3k Twitter followers, now I have 6k. Clearly, threads paid off.

Let me reiterate: you don’t hate threads. You hate fake “99% of people aren’t using Google Chrome correctly” style content and hacky engagement pods where it’s just 150 people retweeting each other’s unoriginal content.

OB: You had a podcast from 2020 into 2021, producing a couple dozen episodes. What advice can you give for people and brands looking to approach the medium?

TC: It was early in the pandemic, I had nothing to do, so I started experimenting. It turned out to be much more work than I’d anticipated. What it really comes down to is distribution. How are you going to push it on social? Especially if you don’t have an existing audience, it’s a really tough channel to grow.

You can still find Tommy’s full podcast archive wherever podcasts are listened to

Maybe you have good content, maybe a compelling theme, but nobody will listen unless you distribute right. Segments for TikTok, for example. Reaching out to the right guests (especially early on) also goes a long way.

With our podcast at Triple Whale, we’ve actually converted customers. Once somebody does listen, if you can hook them for that hour, even once, they’re going to find value in what you have to say, what you have to offer. Rabah, our CMO, is also just a great podcast host. You have to be (or have somebody on your team who is) good on camera, good on the mic. You might have to put in six months, even a year before you see growth.

OB: The TikTokification of Instagram and YouTube — who do you see winning the short-form video arms race?

TC: Right now, in terms of content quality and algorithm, TikTok is winning. Instagram still has more total monthly users, but TikTok is catching up. For Instagram not to lose out here, they need to figure out a more compelling recommendation system.

I personally just deleted TikTok off my phone because I was spending too much time on it. The content they recommend is stuff you actually want to watch. TikTok was the only social app where I could spend an hour or two scrolling without realizing. With Reels or Shorts, after a few minutes you’re quickly wondering “why am I watching this?”

If TikTok gets banned, that puts Instagram and YouTube in a much better position. Otherwise, it’s not going anywhere.

OB: BeReal is the latest social app to catch buzz. Do you think it’s going to have a lasting presence and impact on the social landscape?

TC: Someone on Twitter said BeReal is having a Clubhouse moment. Twitter picked up Spaces and now that’s the social audio platform; Instagram just released a dual camera feature that imitates BeReal.

I don’t think it will be the next major social app, it’s hard to believe something like that will last on its own for years to come. They also need to monetize — what would that even look like?

End of the day, I just hope there’s not yet another platform social media mangers have to strategize for. The bigger takeaway regarding BeReal is it shows how Gen Z cares less about produced content and likes more raw, real stuff.

Key takeaways 🐦

  • Don’t start a podcast unless you (or whoever is hosting) are truly charismatic and compelling, unless you’re going to commit six months minimum, and unless you’re already famous (or at least have a great social following)

  • Don’t be afraid to write a Twitter thread, but make it good. Don’t thread just to thread. Write something actually compelling and original, but in thread form.

  • With social media, focus on building a consistent, long-term brand. One-off virality gets you nowhere, as a brand looking to attract and retain customers.

  • Don’t muzzle your social media manager with unrealistic lead gen goals. Social is about building a brand long-term.

  • Take all social media and organic marketing advice (including the above points) with a grain of salt. What works for one brand might not work for another, and vice versa.

In the know

Must-reads, hot takes, and rising trends:


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