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PR and the use of Twitter: the best way to break news and engage?

Rob Brown FCIPR, chair of CIPR Social Media Panel and editor of Share This Too, a follow up to CIPR book Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals, discusses why Twitter is a necessity for PRs.

Twitter is in the news again this time with an imperative to resolve whether it is a force for good or for evil. The answer is simple; it’s neutral, people make it what it is and they can be either.

For PR professionals it’s a vital communications tool. PR people are incorporating Twitter as an essential element in communications strategies. Media organisations have Twitter streams that break news first and that’s a dynamic that the PR industry ignores at its peril.

There are a myriad of reasons for using Twitter. For many it is conversational and conversations build relationships. There’s nothing new in this but Twitter opens the door to dialogue with people that you might not find any other way. Google may be the search engine of choice but Twitter search provides an overlay not available through a traditional search engine. Twitter breaks news before Google can index the stories – so social search is now vital when searching for breaking news. It can also bring a human dimension to the quest for information; asking questions on Twitter can provide a mixture of opinion as well as fact.

There are times when Twitter provides a highly useful and effective alternative to that mainstay of media relations - the press release. When David Cameron alleged that Jimmy Carr was tax dodging he turned to Twitter. Five years ago there would have been a press release and a short statement delivered via a carefully chosen news channel. Jimmy Carr put his statement out on Twitter, even though it took five tweets to get the full apology out. Although Carr didn’t emerge entirely unscathed it was broadly agreed that he did a good job of defusing the story.

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So why Twitter? Jimmy Carr has over two million followers, that a bigger number than the circulation of any national newspaper. He was able to decide the timing of his apology and he could ensure it was free selective editing. Not every person or organisation has a multi-million follower list and certainly few corporate accounts can boast that sort of number, but if you are at the centre of a media storm it doesn’t matter whether you have 200 or two million, people will be watching and Twitter provides a faster, more effective route than the press release.

The bottom line is that anyone working in the PR industry overlooks Twitter at their peril. It is vital to engage with clients and consumers; it helps you to track sentiment or public opinion which informs your strategy and communications plan; and it gives you a platform on which you are visible. If you use it in a professional and responsible manner, then Twitter can improve the work you do, the results you get and the standing of the profession.

Rob Brown

Rob Brown

Share This Too, the follow up to the best selling CIPR book Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals will be published by Wiley in summer 2013.

Share This Too will feature more than 35 contributors, including many of those from the first book. The content will build on the themes in the first book, probing deeply into what is current in the theory, delivery and evaluation of 21st century public relations and organisational communication.

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