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Most companies realize that they can reap benefits from being on Twitter. However, it can be a challenge for many businesses to devote enough time to this platform to maintain a strong voice and to make it a unique element within a broader social marketing strategy.

The key to making your brand’s Twitter presence noteworthy is having a clear vision for what you want to accomplish and a plan to achieve those goals. In other words, you should be thinking about both the means and the ends of your social media campaigns.

Here are five brands that have not only pulled together all the pieces of a successful marketing campaign on Twitter, they have also inspired the business and social media worlds with their creative thinking and excellent use of the medium.

1. Oreo Cookie: @Oreo

Oreo Twitter screencap

Comedy has always been a powerful tool for brands, and Twitter is a perfect platform for sharing the snappy side of a company’s message. One of the best examples of how to do comedy right on social media is Oreo.

Humor is key to how Oreo pulls people into its visual content. Twitter doesn’t show previews of images shared in tweets, so sometimes great visuals can get lost in a sea of links. With Oreo’s short, snappy copy, it’s hard not to click through to the accompanying image links.

Not only does Oreo communicate frequently with its followers, but it also interacts with other brands. For example, it engaged in a tic-tac-toe battle with Kit Kat, and when Honda tweeted Oreo as part of its own campaign, the cookie brand dished back with just as much sass.

The company has garnered attention from its fans (all 186,000 of them) and from the media. By taking the lead in real-time social marketing and being innovative in its interactions with other companies, Oreo has attracted coverage on Adweek, Advertising Age, Wired, and Mashable. Even when a campaign creates division among the online community, such as its tweet following the birth of the Royal Baby, Oreo sparks conversations and gets its brand and messages out to a very wide audience.

One of the most telling votes of confidence in Oreo’s approach to social media comes from Twitter itself. The brand was part of Twitter’s pitch during its recent IPO as an example of why the social media network has value to investors.

2. Airbnb: @Airbnb

Airbnb Twitter screencap

Airbnb took the startup world by storm thanks to its affiliation with celebrity backers such as Ashton Kutcher. It offers people the opportunity to rent out their empty rooms or entire apartments, much like a hotel would.

After establishing itself as a known, reliable service, Airbnb used Promoted Tweets to announce and publicize a new program for monthly sublets. This provided an opportunity for the growing company to get the word out to an audience that’s active on social media, but less tuned-in to the world of startups. Using Promoted Tweets also extended the shelf life of those updates, keeping the word out even longer and reaching more potential customers.

Coupled with a discount on the new subletting option, Airbnb’s approach attained more than a 4% engagement rate for one of the Promoted Tweets during the campaign. Not only did the startup see a boost in engagement, but its efforts for this promotion got the company noticed by Twitter. The social media platform profiled Airbnb as one of its highlighted success stories.

3. Virgin America: @VirginAmerica

Virgin Twitter screencap

Another Twitter success story is Virgin America. The social network showcased the airline’s campaign for mobilizing a bigger digital audience with a Twitter-exclusive sale. That campaign also helped Virgin improve its reputation with customers.

The program, called “Fly Forward, Give Back,” involved a partnership with Stand Up To Cancer to offer inexpensive flights, giving a portion of each sale to the charity. Virgin promoted the one-day sale with a Promoted Trend, featuring the trend #FlyFwdGiveBack. According to Twitter’s coverage of the campaign, the Fly Forward sale was one of the top five sales campaigns ever! The 2010 campaign was a big enough hit that Virgin repeated it in 2011.

Virgin America isn’t only noteworthy for the success of the brand’s Twitter presence. Founder of the Virgin empire Richard Branson has more than 3.5 million followers on his personal Twitter account. Branson shares inspirational tips about business and entrepreneurship, but as the face of his own conglomerate, he also talks about news and history for the various Virgin brands.

4. Marvel Entertainment: @Marvel

Marvel Twitter screencap

Knowing your audience is an important step to knowing how to approach social media. Marvel Entertainment is the umbrella brand for many well-known franchises in comics, movies, and geek-culture touchstones. This community is highly active online, and many websites include forums to encourage conversations among the hardcore fans.

To that end, Marvel Entertainment treats its Twitter account almost like a social media version of a fan forum. The company regularly poses questions to its followers, getting them to talk about its content and products.

By using hashtags to apply a layer of organization and brand recognition to its Twitter feed, Marvel has placed the focus on conversation. It has several daily posts with accompanying hashtags. #MarvelQuestionoftheDay poses a brainteaser or hypothetical thought problem to the followers. #MarvelFanoftheDay recognizes the most die-hard supporters of the brand. #MarvelPaneloftheDay highlights a single image from one of the comic books, often a retro issue.

Marvel’s success in galvanizing its followers — more than 905,000 on Twitter alone — shows how delivering on the interests of a brand’s core audience can get both the fans and the business world inspired.

5. Zappos.com: @Zappos_Service

Zappos Twitter screencap

Great customer service and company culture have long been associated with e-commerce brand Zappos. With a dedicated customer service feed on Twitter, experts at the brand are chatty with fans about everything from problems with order sizing, to chicken-crossing-the-road riddles. The reps introduce themselves when they begin a shift, and everyone who represents the brand adopts an upbeat and helpful tone.

This feed is inspiring for its intense dedication to service. No matter what people ask, the team at Zappos has an answer. The practice of going above and beyond for customers permeates all of the conversations it has on Twitter. Zappos also has the uncanny ability to make the usually stressful task of customer service a joyful experience. Being able to encapsulate that on Twitter takes a clear vision, and a co-ordinated, well-motivated team.

Did we miss your most inspiring Twitter success story? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credit: Thephotographymuse]