Brands are increasingly spending real money building up and maintaining their social media presences. From Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare, questions over ROI remain, but many brands have come to the conclusion that social media is an important part of the marketing mix.

But should brands bet too much on platforms like Twitter, which often have spotty performance records but are constantly trying to cozy up to brands? The answer might just be ‘no.

Upon logging in to Twitter on Monday, I was greeted with the news that I was following nobody and had no followers, as you can see above.

Needless to say, it would be somewhat disappointing to have lost the
most important aspect of my account — the people I follow, and the
people who follow me. Obviously, however, I haven’t invested a significant amount of time or money trying to build up a following on Twitter.

So while this was a temporary glitch resolved within a few hours, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if all was indeed lost. Yet for a brand that has invested heavily in Twitter, logging in to see ‘0 following‘ and ‘0 followers‘ would probably be the source of confusion, worry and possibly even anger.

The good news is that Twitter seems to have improved its reliability over the past year. The fail whale hasn’t retired, but it makes less frequent appearances. The problem with my account, however, which wasn’t isolated to just me, highlights an inconvenient truth: for all of Twitter’s improvements, it’s still not exactly what one might label ‘reliable‘.

For brands, that’s problematic. After all, who is to say that Twitter won’t lose data? Or that issues like the one I experienced will be resolved promptly? You simply can’t, which begs the question: how can brands protect their investments in platforms that are free and in which the operator has no contractual obligation to make things right? As if to drive that point home, another hot platform gaining traction with marketers, Foursquare, went down for more than nine hours yesterday, and very little information was made available as to the cause.

So what should brands do? It’s a difficult question. Many brands simply can’t afford to ignore Twitter, Facebook, et. al. But perhaps they should be a little bit more concerned about what they really have to show for their investments.