Although I have been aware of Twitter for quite some time (who hasn't?), I have to admit that my eventual signing up was done with a certain sense of reluctance. I just didn't see the point. For me a social network should work like Facebook, provide a means to communicate with my friends, and since very few of my friends are active on Twitter, it didn't really appeal. However, as it was a compulsory aspect of the Digital Media module, I took the plunge and I have to admit I am slowly coming round to the idea. Below are my views of Twitter, and the ways in which it can be effectively used in public relations.
There are numerous 'how to' texts and articles, both online and in print, aimed at educating novices in the art of tweeting. I decided, however, to jump right in (how hard can it be?) and I was surprised as to how straight forward it was to operate, admittedly on the most basic level.
I began by following a few of the bigger PR and marketing companies that I was interested in, and then added some of the organisations that were suggested to me by Twitter. Then, this is my favourite part, the rewards started flowing in; simply for clicking the 'follow' button people were willing to give me free stuff. Excellent! I didn't even read most of the tweets but I was given – to name but a few – an ebook, a subscription to a PR e-zine , and (best of all) a free months subscription to marketing magazine The Drum. I shamelessly tweeted about how much I was enjoying the magazine, hoping for another free month, but to no avail.
It was clear, however, that Twitter was about more than just getting free stuff. As I mentioned, I have been aware of the hype surrounding Twitter for some time and I wanted to understand what made it so special: as far as I could see it was just an endless stream of people sharing content and opinion. I couldn't, and actually still can't, understand how anyone can read every tweet by every account that they follow – some people are following literally thousands of accounts and I can't keep up with just over a hundred. Obviously re-tweets and comments indicate that a tweet has been read but there must be a considerable amount of people who miss out on tweets all together.
For me Twitter is proving to be something of a learning curve, one that I am still very much on. Although I still have a lot to learn, I can appreciate how Twitter could be a useful tool in public relations. Below are some suggestions of how Twitter can be used in a professional capacity.
Twitter and PR
Writing for Mashable, PR writer Heather Whaling, defines some of the main opportunities for PR on Twitter as being: connecting with journalists, crisis communications, and providing an insight into the organisation.
Connecting with journalists
Twitter is a public platform with accessible content making it a journalists 'go-to' site for real time reporting and source interaction.
A US study, conducted by Cision and Don Bates at The George Washington University in 2010, found that half of all journalists use Twitter when sourcing and researching stories. This provides opportunity for practitioners to build relationships with journalists by following them, thus providing a platform for pitching stories directly. However, this is an area where top British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy believes that public relations practitioners are not using to its full potential.
“I don't think PRs really make use of Twitter as well as they should. Maybe I'm not following the right people, but I can't think of an example when I have been contacted by a PR person on Twitter about something I have then wanted to cover, which is probably very revealing.”
Krishan Guru-Murthy (2011)
Twitter allows PR professionals the opportunity to monitor, control, and provide information during a crisis. This requires constant monitoring of search terms, frequent updates, and communicating the facts without fuelling speculation.
One recent example of Twitter being used during a major crisis was at the Japanese nuclear plants which were damaged by the tsunami in March. In response to world-wide interest and speculation Tokyo Electric Power Company created a Twitter account which gained 190, 000 followers in less than a day. The Twitter account was used to keep Japanese residents, and the rest of the world, informed as the situation deteriorated. In addition to providing information, the Twitter stream was also used to provide information on power blackouts and radiation leaks.
This demonstrates how, in times of crisis, people have come to see Twitter as a real-time source of information. PR practitioners should take note and realise the potential of Twitter during an organisational crisis.
Twitter provides an opportunity for PR practitioners to bring the brands and organisations that they work with to life. This provides a platform for sharing information on developments, new products, and discussions.
However, as is pointed out by blogger Chris Pirillo, PR practitioners who are using Twitter to represent a brand have to learn the difference between talking at someone and talking with them. This is crucial, no one wants to follow a brand that is continually tweeting meaningless links without really engaging with their followers. Pirillo claims:
“If you aren't opening a real dialogue with your patrons you are missing the entire point”.
This is something that British organisations should take note of. Internet firm Auros carried out a study which measured the responsiveness of 25 of the UK's top retailers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and branded blogs. Researchers asked 25 retailers direct questions through their Twitter accounts; 75% of the retailers failed to respond.
I think that, although my personal experience was not terribly interesting, Twitter is definitely a tool that should be utilised by PR practitioners. A platform which provides real-time information and opinion should not be ignored within the profession. It would appear, however, that there is still some way to go before PR can be said to have fully embraced Twitter.
Follow me on Twitter.