Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

When Faking It (on Twitter) Is a Good Thing

It’s late November, and UK Lord Chancellor Sir John Simon has just told Parliament that Britons have sent watches, jewelry and gold to help the government pay for war. According to Sir John, “One girl sent a small envelope, asking me to accept her ‘peace offering.’ Inside was her engagement ring.” Incredible. Particularly because I just learned of this from a tweet chronicling the world war that’s raging in Europe right now.

You didn’t know there was a war going on in Europe? That’s because it took place in 1939. It’s the beginning of the Second World War, and it’s being retold on this date and at this time by the Twitter account @RealTimeWWII. After tweeting for only three months, @RealTimeWWII, which according to Mashable is maintained by Oxford graduate Alwyn Collinson, has already exceeded 150,000 followers. Why can’t brands be this inventive?


While unique and intriguing, this historical exhibition had our post-advertising team wondering, “Isn’t this a major missed branding opportunity?” Where’s LIFE, whose logo is often seen on the images posted to the account? Where’s the History Channel? Can you imagine the benefit if a university’s history department had developed this idea as a course exercise?

Seemingly as fast as new digital tools emerge, impassioned fans have found new and unique ways to use them. @RealTimeWWII is just one example of the versatility of Twitter, which in its short history has chronicled the comic ramblings of one man’s father (which spawned a short-lived sitcom), hosted group chats, brought fictional TV characters to life (both branded and fan-based), fueled computer sales and provided a platform for customer support but, most important, has given brands a new way to creatively connect with its audience.


So why aren’t more brands actively searching for more ways on Twitter to provide valuable and engaging content, like @RealTimeWWII? The necessity for a sustained, persistent effort coupled with the blind faith that people will eventually catch on can be a major barrier to entry for brands that have little patience for devoting resources to an effort with no immediate or guaranteed return.

Success on Twitter is often calculated by the most tangible of measurements: number of followers. Any seasoned marketer knows, however, that given the numerous black-hat get-rich-quick methods of gaining followers and the necessity for relevance, follower count is not a metric you can ultimately measure success by. It’s this obsession with numbers that brands must get past to take a whack at creating the good stuff, the content that doesn’t scream “Marketing!” and that instead entertains or informs or, as in the case of @RealTimeWWII, both.


The branded Twitter landscape isn’t barren, though. There have been a few efforts (like the Weather Channel, below) that can be considered quite post-advertising, and also a few that we’ve come up with on our own. Take a look, and let us know your ideas in the comments:

  • The Weather Channel taking over accounts named after hurricanes, like @Irene, where they give up-to-the-minute information about the storm from its point of view.

  • Paramount Pictures or Disney Pixar creating characters’ personas on Twitter before the specific movie is released, in a prequel of sorts, as if the character had a Twitter account before the movie action took place.

  • Ford creating a unique Twitter account for the development and eventual unveiling of its latest model, including live updates from the manufacturing facility, gradual insight into features and road testing (with media).

  • Sports Illustrated creating an account for a fictional Chicago White Sox batboy in which he chronicled the famed 1919 “Black Sox” season in real time.


Even if a brand doesn’t come up with an idea but finds an effort still in its early stages that it can align itself with and that can become a true resource, the brand can own the effort and benefit from the momentum. The History Channel could still help sponsor the @RealTimeWWII effort, enabling it to be developed in more languages (currently offered in Spanish @TiempoReal_IIGM and Russian @war_only) or even from different perspectives (British, German, American, etc.). Regardless, any brand that wants to get involved will have to do more than just logo slapping if it wants to keep the existing audience and momentum.

Whether your brand is filling the wastebasket with half-baked ideas or looking for the right idea to help cultivate, Twitter is fertile ground for brands extending their reach and helping grow audiences. Success won’t be immediate, no matter what your goal, but if you believe in the idea and dedicate the right amount of sustained resources, content marketing on Twitter can pay huge dividends.

What opportunities are being embraced or missed by brands on Twitter? Do you have any more to add to our list?


  • Anonymous

    I agree, I think brands are too hampered by  cumbersome process that they don’t have the flexibility to be creative, but they should be spotting people who are and supporting them. I love all these ideas except maybe the storm one, since storms can kill people and wreak havoc, it might smack of flippancy.

  • Dave Parsons

    Outback Steakhouse recently did an outstanding job of interacting with me which in turn led to a mass of people following the action that ensued.  Check it out here –

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks Lyzl. The Weather Channel idea is actually a real execution. I had read about it here: The Weather Channel hadn’t actually branded it, but they provided real-time updates from FEMA, CNN, and even the mayor’s office. 

    From the article, “She had to be a self-aware disaster who understood her potential to cause devastation and that she had no control over her actions (We all had decided earlier that if things turned ugly, the tone would shift accordingly.”

    You make a great point and it looks like the folks at HUGE Inc. who manned the account seemed to understand the severity.

  • Jon Thomas

    Hey Dave,

    Dan from Outback actually sent me the link to that execution yesterday. Such a good story. Does this mean that Direct Mail is BACK?!?  ;)  We’re actually discussing how/where we should mention that story since it’s definitely cut from the post-advertising mold. 

  • Anonymous

    That’s so insanely interesting. When you personify a storm it brings up questions of agency, free will and fate. Essentially, you have to create a character who is both sympathetic but supremely destructive to those around her. When you create a twitter account for any inanimate thing, you are essentially creating a character. I’d love to be in those meetings.

  • Jon Thomas


  • Dan Holm

    Sorry I’m 2 months late to this party, but Jon you should probably mention and write about this “story”…

    ; )

  • Alexis

    Hi Jon, thanks for your mention, i’m manager of the account @tiemporeal_iigm. I’m peruvian. :D

  • Jon Thomas

    Well done!!