Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tweet Advice from Area PR Pros

I have been thinking for a while about the appropriate way for PR people to use Twitter, the current rage in social media. So I asked several local PR pros the questions on my mind.

1. What's your thinking about Tweeting as yourself (i.e. an individual user name) vs. as an organization?

Cindy Droog, APR, Web Reputation Specialist at Amway Global (still rebranding from Quixtar) maintains her individuality and personality on Twitter. "When I use Twitter personally, it's to build and share my knowledge with people who already know who I am, or I know who they are, or who can provide me insight on particular areas of Paid Search, SEO, SEM, and PR," says Droog. "My following strategy is for my own personal education, and occassionally, self promotion."

As for the business, they have a three-fold Twitter strategy: 1) they follow IBOs (independent business owners), customers, and industry experts; 2) provide event-coverage and information to their corporate Twitter followers and 3) they engage in the discussion, answering questions and contributing information as in other social media.

Susan Koole in Corporate Communications at Herman Miller tweets on behalf of the company, but her name is in the Twitter profile. "I thought it would be the most transparent and customer focused thing to do, plus it would let followers know that it is, in fact, the official Herman Miller, Inc. account," she explains. She works to make the Herman Miller tweets relevant to customers and other followers. She tweets the same way personally, considering what people might want to know about a PR person from West Michigan.

Craig Clark, owner of the small firm Clark Communications, tweets both personal and business information under the same Twitter profile as a matter of transparency. This melding makes sense given that the size of his business is so small that he and the business can be seen as one and the same.

2. How do you interact with media on Twitter?
This question came to me when I noticed Clark pitching a story via an @reply to a reporter on Twitter. He says he does this more often now, although keeping sensitivity and confidentiality for the client and reporters in mind when necessary. "I sort of like the idea of competing news organizations following what I'm working on, as it has appeared to spark more interest in my pitches," he notes.

Both Koole and Droog say they haven't pitched via Twitter, but certainly follow media--both media organizations and specific reporters--to get a better sense of their personalities and their coverage interests. They also note when reporters follow them--a good goal to have particularly for beat reporters.

3. From a PR standpoint, what does Twitter do for you?
Twitter has a variety of PR uses, but it all boils down to relationships. Clark sees it as another information outlet and likes the way it is organized as a stream versus a batch of separate emails. Koole refers to it as an enhancement to other channels, calling it a sort of "real time billboard" with company updates. Droog notes that Twitter served as a crisis communications tool when Amway Global dealt with a product recall and tweeted regularly, mostly alerts with links to more information on their web site.

4. Are you measuring the ROI of Twitter, and how?
Lot's of people are still working on this one. Most agree that Twitter for now is a supplement to their other communication efforts, both social media and conventional tactics and strategies. Droog says it's all about quality, not quantity, so they don't measure number of followers as the best indicator of success. Amway Global plans to track traffic to the Web site and other media that is driven by Twitter, and they'll survey publics to get a sense of how many use Twitter and how useful they find Amway Global tweets.

Bottom Line
It's interesting that as I was writing this blog post, I noticed this tweet from Washington Post media commentator Howard Kurtz: "I say some people reveal themselves on Twitter, some offer calculated glimpses and others are either faux or utterly self-promotional."

Probably true. I think we'll find out more and more that our personal identities are intertwined with the organizations we work for and/or represent as PR people. Our individual actions and utterances do affect the reputations of our organizations. With Twitter as with all other forms of PR, being genuine and transparent will continue to serve as the best advice, although how transparent and personal will need to be determined case by case. As for measurement, understanding the quality of relationships with key publics would be the most useful.

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