Twitter has rapidly become a vehicle for brand marketing and reinforcement, but keep in mind that it’s only partially a broadcasting channel. Many companies are using it as a one-way broadcaster of 140-character messaging, instead of using it to engage followers. Startup Nestivity, which develops community software tools for Twitter, has come up with a list of the top 25 brands that best utilize Twitter for customer engagement.

The list was developed from a study, conducted by Evolve Capital and by Dr. Natalie Petouhoff of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, that was designed to measure brand engagement in that social channel. The research focused on traffic for the 100 most followed brands, and looked at how relationships were created and maintained with customers, influencers or advocates.

Engagement Versus Followers

Modern marketers often distinguish between qualitative values like brand engagement, where a customer is actively tracking and talking about the brand’s new releases or other activities, and more quantitative ones, like the number of followers on Twitter. Companies often cite number of followers as an indication of their social marketing success on that social channel.

But the researchers found that the number of followers has “little to do” with the level of engagement. They utilized the InfiniGraph Engagement Analysis Platform over four consecutive weeks beginning February 2. Proprietary algorithms were used to track the average number of retweets per post, as well as clicks on links, content trend scores and other indications of involvement.

For instance, Nestivity noted, @JetBlue, @AmericanExpress and @WholeFoods have more than a million followers each, but the researchers found there was relatively little engagement -- that is, brand relationships with customers, participation from influencers or encouragement for advocates.

Nestivity founder and president Henry Min said in a statement that “most brands have fallen into the trap of using Twitter for push marketing” to broadcast messages and influence customers, but with “little or no listening or community building.” He called this approach “a short-sighted use of an inherently interactive communication channel,” and the list of 25 brands is an attempt to highlight examples of best practices.

No Responses for 73 Percent

Nestivity noted that engagement by a brand could include replies to customer questions, retweets of interesting ideas, or conversation-starters to get followers talking.It found that over 73 percent of tweets from top retail brands generate no responses.

Learning Opportunities

Some key takeaways: forget about counting followers, since that does not always mean higher engagement -- and higher engagement means more effectiveness in generating customer loyalty or brand reputation, or in targeting promotions. Also, the frequency of tweets is not important, since highly engaged brands like @Facebook can tweet just once weekly or monthly, while less engaged ones, like @NBA, can do so every few hours. But consistency of when tweets occur -- once a day, for instance -- can be a factor.

It’s also important to find the best tweeting times for your audience, and media -- either photos or videos -- are “by far the most engaging type of content a brand can tweet.”

The list features Twitter Engagement Per Post, Twitter Post Volume, Twitter Followers, and the brand’s score on Klout, which measures online social influence. Now, here’s the complete list: