At first blush, a greeting-card company like Hallmark would seem to have it all over an outfit like Someecards. The 99-year-old Hallmark has its own corporate campus in Kansas City, Mo., and employs 14,000 people -- 700 of whom are full-time writers and artists. By contrast, Someecards has been in business less than two years. Its full-time staff numbers five -- and the company president doubles as the chief writer.

But when it comes to Twitter, the profile reverses itself. Hallmark has 2,017 followers. And Someecards? Try 1.7 million. "And we've only been using Twitter a little over a year now," adds CEO Duncan Mitchell.

Witness a curious dichotomy of social media: While most brands are now tweeting as a way to reach consumers, the biggest ones with the most resources are often left in the dust by the indie brands with a fraction of their market share.

There are several theories behind this twist. To be effective, marketers say, tweets don't just have to be brief, but cool and snarky as well -- two traits that seldom come easy to a buttoned-up, publicly traded corporation. Another reason is that upstart brands are more readily associated with entrepreneurial personalities, who can in turn use Twitter to convey the mood and swagger of their brands better than a large PR department. Whatever the reasons, it's the up-and-coming brands that seem to have squeezed the most marketing juice out of Twitter.

"It gives my brand a greater reach. It helps to extend the bounds of a small business," says Javier Alfonzo, CEO of OddFit, a custom T-shirt company based in Providence, R.I. Like many brands, OddFit tweets various special offers and new products, but Alfonzo -- who has some 4,800 followers at present -- takes it a step further.

"I like to use Twitter to express my creative personality," he says. Some of his tweets feature snippets of wisdom, the likes of which OddFit will put on a T-shirt (e.g., "Until you make peace with who you are, you'll never be content with what you have"). Others have nothing to do with T-shirts -- at least literally -- such as the link Alfonzo recently tweeted for an online tutorial on breast enhancement using Photoshop. Accompanying it was the line: "Here's how they do it, girls!" (It's tough to imagine getting a tweet like that from, say, Procter & Gamble.)

Duncan Mitchell of Someecards also sees value in sardonic content for his tweets, and the medium seems ready-made for his company. "We believe in short-form communication," Mitchell says. "Our cards match our tweets in size." Plus, since his business partner Brook Lundy is already writing new cards daily, "faster than we can produce a card, we can produce a tweet. It's not a lot of extra effort to write short, snarky one-liners."

Someecards uses shortlinking service Bitley to tweet linkbacks to the company site where visitors can see its latest cards, but the reason for its huge following is doubtless its content, which ranges from reliably funny to uniquely outrageous. (Case in point, a Jan. 21 tweet: "Reminder! Order Valentine's Day cards and gifts by Feb. 1 for on-time delivery and a better chance of oral sex.") This stripe of humor is possible because Twitter is an opt-in medium, so only "interested parties," as Mitchell terms them, are going to receive his quirky one-liners.