And why Twitter matters to those in PR

I was interested to read Alan Rusbridger’s lecture that outlined why Twitter matters for media organisations. In it he talks of how news is no longer being broken on the rolling news channels but now it is read first on Twitter, and how it can distribute ideas and information quickly. In fact he finds 15 reasons that Twitter is effective.

Anyone who uses Twitter for work purposes will recognise the benefits that he has highlighted.  They will also have experienced the negative views from others including colleagues. Rusbridger says “I’ve lost count of the times people – including a surprising number of colleagues in media companies – roll their eyes at the mention of Twitter.”

It is those people who are failing to keep up to date with the modern ways of communication, something that will be fatal if they are PR professionals. I have written many times in this blog about how important it is for PR professionals to adapt and recognise the changing environment that now surrounds them. If they don’t then they are doomed to fail and to become an irrelevance to modern life and business.

When Greater Manchester Police did #GMP24 and used Twitter to publicise details of all calls during 24 hours it put the use of the social media at the heart of communication. In the initial discussions the eye rolling had happened but within the first five hours of the initiative the views were changing. In the past week GMP has announced the large savings that are required during the next four years, and this means we have to find new and more efficient ways to communicate.

This has required a new approach to communication and I have outlined to my team this week how we are going to maximise the use of social media and reduce the amount of material that is printed. Already there are officers using Twitter to publicise information to people in their local area including @GMPDidsbury who is doing a great job of offering help and advice, and informing people about what is going on. The Press Office is now identifying the hyperlocal websites that must be part of a our media plans. The result of this means that money has been taken out of budgets but the information and advice will be delivered in a different way.

So Rusbridger finds 15 things Twitter does effectively. I believe there are 10 reasons that PR and communication professionals have to engage with Twitter and other social networks.

1. News breaks on Twitter.

I agree with Rusbridger “increasingly, news happens first on Twitter.” It can be seen first in the rumours that start to circulate. It is due to the millions of people who are connected through it.  If you are in PR and have clients or organisations to represent you can have an early alert to emerging issues which means that you are more likely to be able to get on top of the situation quickly and before it becomes a huge media issue.

2. Twitter reaches people.

No matter who you are and what you do, you can make your views known on Twitter.  It may be only 140 characters but it allows people to signpost to blogs, websites and news articles. You can reach people quickly and efficiently. Think of the GMP initiative – it managed to reach around 20,000 people through Twitter alone.

3. It is direct.

The good thing about Twitter, and other social media, is that they are about me talking to you. You reading and then talking back. That makes it very personal as well as being available to a whole range of people.

4. Social media is cost-effective.

All you need to engage through social media is a computer and Internet connection. There are no hidden costs. The only thing that is required is the commitment from the communication team to use it, check it and make things happen through it. Thousands of people can be reached with no cost.

5. Communication becomes engaging.

PR has for many years been about managing reputations and issuing information. There has been very little that has allowed communication to become engaging. Establishing relationships has been the realm of customer service staff and the commercial retail businesses. Now, social media like Twitter, allow all organisations to be able to speak to their customers and develop relationships.

6. It provides immediate feedback.

Information no longer is just issued to the media, with a follow-up later and in the fullness of time some feedback from the public. Now information can be published and immediate views are returned.  People can give their views on events, activity and products on a level playing field. Anyone’s views can attract attention and it makes all the comments of equal value.

7. Twitter can take action.

There are many examples of how pressure can be brought on big organisations or public bodies through Twitter related campaigns. In pushing the cause through ReTweets thousands of people can give their support to the campaign. There was the story I highlighted in ‘Put me into isolation’ of the pressure brought on Air Canada to fix a terminally ill boy’s wheelchair that had been broken. That only happened through the pressure brought by Twitter users.

8. It is a chronicle of life.

Everyone that uses Twitter, or other social media, are providing a chronicle of modern life. This information could become useful to many organisations including the police. When there are major incidents taking place, people will be outlining information that may be needed as evidence. It could include photographs, videos or audio that the police could use to support an investigation.

9. It is about now.

Social media, including Twitter, is about today and in the past communication may have revolved around the methods that emerged at that time, but now it is all happening online. For the communication professional one of the most important things is to keep up to date with the forms of communication that exist and are being used.

10. It is the future.

Whether Twitter survives in the coming years is irrelevant. What is important is that the opportunities of social media to network people in communities will remain. It may just be put into another package that it would then be important for communication teams to recognise. We cannot go back we can only go forward and adapt and develop to the new world we live in.

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7 Responses to And why Twitter matters to those in PR

  1. Richard Brown says:

    A nice read. The potential of Twitter is huge in terms of marketing, PR and even customer services ¬– a very useful weapon to have in your arsenal!


  2. Sasha Taylor says:

    Great article. You have articulated well the reasons why Public Sector should use Social Media such as Twitter.
    It is folly for organisations to now disregard social media channels as a form of communicating with their audience/customers.
    Communication leads must move with the tomes or be relegated to the history books.


  3. Polleetickle says:

    1) With @GMPDidsbury having 240 followers – how is any essential message reliably going to reach the other 98% of the locality?

    2) Yes, unverified stories break on Twitter, but the official determination to act or not will come from where?

    3) @GMPolice initiative may have reached around 20k people through Twitter – but what guarantee’s are there that anyone in a determined location and at risk will; a) be in a position to get tweets? b) reliably convey any message to others accurately? c) respond with credibility where desirable?

    4) The no-cost thinking requires revising. To engage through social media, a computer or handset, internet connection and power is needed. Essential to the interface is manpower with the capability to instantly assess message input and compile content output when not doing anything else. If PCSO’s are anything to go by, why wouldn’t approx. £100k+ per operator be the required budget?

    5) For the Police to better manage reputations and issuing information, I suggest increasing actual, real policing beyond 16% of manpower.

    6) If ‘establishing relationships’ is the broad mindset of those employed in Police fringes, are they not in entirely the wrong employment sector? See: Terms Of Reference For Policing.

    7) No social-media feedback is assured at all. How will GMPolice check for credibility or accuracy of any responses?

    8) Twitter has demonstrated that some campaigns can bring pressure to organisations or the public. But, with lots of activism overlooked or ignored, how would GMPolice guarantee specific assignments get the desired response?

    9) In the past, verified information such as that experienced during the London bombings was not acted upon in a pro-active nature possibly causing loss of life. Therefore, information can be harvested through social media when major incidents occur, how is the supply of unqualified information going to be verified?

    10) How does real-time Social media complement society more than street-level Policing?

    11) Does stating: “it is all happening online” undervalue the professionalism of Policing communications?

    12) Communication in the coming years is VERY relevant. Moreover, the expenditure of the public purse has never been more so.


    • amandacomms1 says:

      I appreciate your comments. However, I think you focus too heavily on police in this. My comments were about the importance of Twitter and social media to public relations staff in many, many organisations not just the police. Also, this is a part of wider communication. Unfortunately, it appears that whatever the police tried to do to communicate you would have issues with it.


      • Polleetickle says:

        Social media for the Police might, at best in my view, be an appropriate bolt-on where/were Policing be achieving the right results.

        With the public purse being extremely limited – and greater priority being re-offenders, not PR – I dont want to see the Police with a third/fourth tier of comms especially while crime is still such problem.


  4. shanedillon says:

    Nice blog post. In particular the point that ‘news breaks on Twitter’ this is very true. At present Twitter is my news source and delivers the links required to fuel my news curiosity. At the moment as the WikiLeaks story breaks Twitter is essential. Not just me of course but the UK Ambassador to Korea @Martin_Uden remarked on his blog about the North Korean attack

    “But in the afternoon, as I was in a teleconference with London, I noticed on the twitter feed that there were reports of North Korean artillery attacking the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong-do.”

    Twitter was his information early warning system. His blog post reveals more:

    However Twitter will like all other tools decrease in importance over the coming years in relations to news. New ways for news to be updated will I expect arrive. While in no way a rival to Twitter this site offers a glimpse of how news stories will develop online:


  5. Pingback: 2010 in review | Amandacomms's Blog

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