Twitter and PR
Posted: Wednesday 11 February, 2009
Firstly, before anyone can understand why Twitter is more than a fad, I think it's important to look at how social media is changing the way that people interact and engage with each other online. Social networks need no introduction but it's fair to say that many brands are still trying to figure out how to harness social environments - and businesses such as Punch client Reality Digital are very well equipped to help on this score, working with brands such as ITV, MTV etc on exactly this type of project.
Fundamentally, the social media phenomenon has empowered individuals by enabling person-to-person interaction, such as first-person trusted reviews for example. Whereas communication with ‘real people' up to this point has been via a third party, such as the media in the case of the PR industry, social media has facilitated a process of disintermediation, levelling the playing field in terms of how people share information. Whilst traditional news sources remain absolutely vital - certainly I still consume most news content via traditional media, albeit online - increasingly, the process of sharing information that friends and contacts might find relevant is another route to mass information consumption.
Which brings us to the role of the citizen journalist or blogger. It's worth bearing in mind the etymology of blog is web-log or, to put it another way, an online diary, where the user simplyshares thoughts and experiences with readers. Whilst the popularity of blogging has and continues to soar, many people will never blog, simply because they can't find the time, they don't feel that they have a voice or, equally, that they don't wish to offer their voice - each of which is equally valid of course.
In short, Twitter is a type of micro-blogging. Consequently, Twitter offers a non-threatening means for many more people to air their views and to engage in dialogue with others. Unlike many other media, Twitter is not intended to be read word for word - although there are now many helpful tools, such as Tweetdeck or Twhirl, to help Twitter users keep on top of those incoming messages (or ‘Tweets') that are most relevant to them. Jemima Kiss of The Guardian was the first commentator that I heard using the term ‘ambient media' - which is a great description. Simply put, it's easy to dip in and out of.
As mentioned previously on this blog, my first experience of Twitter was when the BBC ran a twitter feed of two journalists that travelled to see the Rugby World Cup in 2007. Despite the apparent limitations in terms of length, I was hooked from the outset and, with hindsight, am pretty sure I would not have devoted the time to reading a blog featuring lengthy articles had they written one.
It still amuses me that when I started using Twitter, I was told by one particular tech evangelist that I was a 'late adopter'. Whilst I would never claim to be amongst the first, this was just over a year ago (amidst a room of bloggers in Soho at the second Tuttle Club, run by Lloyd, the blogger behind Perfect Path and sponsored by our friends at Qype).
Fundamentally though, twitter only works if people engage. Obviously there are some super users, who seem to find time to send Tweets every few minutes - and then there are the rest of us. Personally I run Twitter all day, am notified when clients and relevant press have posted, and respond or post myself as and when I can.
Interestingly, from a PR perspective, it's a great new way to share information with people, particularly when referencing other sources - such as a press release posted elsewhere for example - to a list of journalists. The fundamental point though is that Twitter, as with other social media, should not be a vehicle for PR people to abuse as the latest means of hassling those people that really could do without it.
However, in my experience, if you use Twitter in an honest, straightforward way and engage with the community, then people are eager to receive relevant information - and it can be a great means of getting a piece of information in front of someone that would otherwise be unlikely to view it.
Incidentally, all the Punch team's Twitter details can be found here.