Social media proposal for Twitter

Twitter may well have won the battle for dominance, but when it launched in July 2006, it was just one of a range of microblogging platform...

Twitter may well have won the battle for dominance, but when it launched in July 2006, it was just one of a range of microblogging platforms all competing for a share of the space. The new concept of ultra-short-form blogging was no more than a toy for those looking for the next big thing, and few people nowadays use or even remember the likes of Jaiku, Plurk or Pownce.

The core concept of microblogging itself has changed very little since that time. Twitter describes itself as ‘a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting.’ Additional functionality has been added by Twitter itself as it became clear that it had cornered the microblogging market, but equally clear that to survive it was going to have to become a revenue-generating business.

Twitter really began its rise to dominance in 2007, at the annual music, film and interactive conference South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, when it won the Web award in the ‘blog’ category. After this, Twitter fast became the microblogging platform of choice amongst technology-savvy early adopters. Shortly afterwards, the platform began to garner interest amongst the celebrity Technorati. Both Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher were particularly influential in this respect, when they began mentioning the site during media interviews or on their blogs.

Social media proposal for Twitter

Twitter and Journalism

The real-time nature of Twitter has had a profound effect on journalism. In 2009, one user Tweeted posts and pictures from the US Airways 1549 aeroplane that landed in the Hudson River in the US. The user’s Tweet said, ‘There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.’ This was the first time Twitter broke a story before a major US broadcast network.

In many cases, journalists no longer monitor newswires, but use Twitter instead. At a recent conference organised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), Carla Buzasi, Huffington Post’s UK editor-in-chief, pointed out exactly this, saying that of the two screens which all her editors use, one is always dedicated to trending Twitter topics.
Naturally, this has to have an impact on the way public relations (PR) professionals engage with journalists, pitch stories and release their news. Twitter provides PR professionals with an opportunity to gain insight into how to influence their community, individuals or organisations, and the way consultants work with the medium has to reflect this.

Twitter as Part of a Communications Programme

To many, the value of Twitter is overly simplified. It’s a way to get closer to your favourite celebrities, or get better access to relevant and up-to-date news, or even just a new alternative messaging service to chat with a group of friends. Indeed, the majority of Twitter members are pure consumers of information, not participants. According to GigaOM, ‘80 per cent of Twitter users have Tweeted fewer than 10 times, and 40 per cent of users have never sent a single Tweet.’

The truth is a lot more complicated, as evidenced by the number of both national and global Twitter-led stories over the past three years. At its simplest, its impact can be viewed within one of two main concepts – either engaging or transformational – and when a communications project aims to incorporate Twitter into its arsenal, it has to be clear which of these it’s trying to achieve.

Twitter as an Engagement Tool

As an engagement tool, Twitter is largely self-referential and conversational. It will either aim to help a brand serve its public better, or it will try to engender greater loyalty by creating a closer tie between the brand and the consumer of that brand.

This may sound ephemeral, but there are plenty of examples of Twitter being successfully used in this way all the time, both in business and in entertainment.
Arguably the most widespread daily use of Twitter for engagement is that of the once unidirectional medium of television. News, current affairs and entertainment shows encourage users to share opinions through the relevant hashtags, making it easier to see and engage with other viewers in real time. This interactive process generates a much closer bond, and therefore loyalty, for the consumer to the programme by making it personal and relevant.
From a business perspective, some of the potential uses of Twitter became readily apparent when companies saw how people were using Twitter to discuss products they’d bought, or challenges they were facing. More so than any other online tool, Twitter has provided a personalised outlet for customer feedback on products and performance. Companies utilising their ‘@brand’ name can listen to, respond to and interact with anyone who chooses to have an opinion on their products. Clearly this isn’t restricted to product development either. In the same way that complaints about a product can be damaging when spread online, they can also generate an opportunity for positive engagement. This sort of thing is seen all the time when @JohnSmith Tweets, ‘Loving @brand customer service which just sorted my problem minutes after I posted my complaint. Would recommend to everyone!’
Of course, the other natural area for Twitter to become integral to modern communications is that of brand protection, or more specifically crisis management. As with anything in crisis management, it’s not without its risks, but bad news spreads rapidly these days, and people demand information faster than ever before. Twitter’s real-time nature has only increased this pressure. This can be an excellent way of protecting your brand, but more importantly, if you’re not dealing with the crisis on Twitter, someone else will be, as BP discovered in April 2010. It’s widely accepted that the spoof BP Twitter account, @BPGlobalPR became disastrous for BP when it effectively took control of the company’s public communications. Less than two months after the disaster, the stream had more than ten times the following of BP’s official account, @BP-America.

Twitter as a Transformational Tool

Only when engagement has become successful can Twitter become transformational. Generating engagement with a target audience can quickly lead to increased influence. When an audience can be influenced by a brand or an individual, their behaviour can be changed, and Twitter starts to become a tool for transformation, not just engagement.
When this change happens, brands and individuals need to be prepared, because it can go wrong. The perfect example of the entire process can be seen in Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter evolution up until November 2011.
At the time of writing, Kutcher has over nine million Twitter followers. In April 2009, he challenged CNN, one of the biggest TV news channels in the US, to a race to become the first account to reach 1 million followers on Twitter, and on 16th April he won. Kutcher said, ‘I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter.

Unfortunately he also didn’t fully appreciate the influence and accompanying responsibility this had given him. In November 2011, in response to Penn State (a US football team) coach Joe Paterno being fired, Ashton Tweeted, ‘How do you fire Jo Pa? As a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste,’ along with the hashtags #insult and #noclass.

Kutcher was almost instantly bombarded by thousands of Tweets asking why he was supporting a football coach who was being accused of sexually abusing children. By all accounts, he was said to be mortified, as he had not been aware of these facts before publishing his opinion on the case.
Kutcher was forced to reconsider how he Tweets as he realised Twitter was no longer just connecting him to his fans; he had become a credible source of information – an influencer – to his followers. He handed control of his Twitter account over to his management and PR team. He commented, ‘While I feel that running this feed myself gives me a closer relationship to my friends and fans, I’ve come to realize that it has grown into more than a fun tool to communicate with people.’

The amount of transformation that Twitter continues to drive is truly astounding – on both a national and a global scale. The instant and public nature of the medium allows for real-time genuine citizen journalism, from wherever the user is. The 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ represented one of the first times that 
 Twitter was used as a mass medium to gather worldwide public support for the political and humanitarian plight of the Egyptian and Libyan populations. It is universally accepted that it was the struggle of these peoples that led to a change of regime in those (and other) countries, but there can be no doubt that Twitter played a vital role in the international support that accompanied them.
Twitter can draw people’s attention to an issue and gather support for it faster than any other tool. Pressure and lobbying NGOs such as Avaaz and 38 Degrees have been using it successfully for years to drive support for petitions against legislation, and this in turn has led to a greater role for the tool within the wider political arena. As arguably one of the most influential politicians on Twitter, West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson has found a great deal of use in the service to drive support for both his parliamentary lobbying around anti-digital rights bill legislation and, more famously, his campaign against illegal journalistic and editorial practices at News International publications.

Twitter Versus Facebook

Twitter and Facebook are often seen as the poster children of social media, along with Google of course. But, it’s worth noting that, apart from the obvious differences in features and functions, there are also differences in how people engage with the two platforms.
Users on Twitter have a different mindset to users on Facebook. Users on Facebook are more inclined to virtually wander around the site looking at videos, pictures and comments that are of interest to them – they are in discovery mode.
Users on Twitter, however, are slightly more frantic. They are more likely to share links or re-Tweet posts and video links but are less likely to actually click through and watch or read the articles, according to a study conducted by Mashable in March 2011. The study looked at the Mashable users’ social data and how many people read articles they posted to Facebook compared to how many people read articles posted to Twitter.
Mashable’s study went on to reveal: ‘Twitter received roughly 0.38 clicks per Tweet, whereas Facebook received 3.31 clicks per engagement (the number of times people posted a Mashable link to Facebook through an action on a social plug-in or through a Wall post). This would mean that a Facebook action gets roughly 8.7x more clicks than a Tweet.’

Whatever the future for Twitter, there is one key point that businesses should take to heart: it’s here, and is going to happen whether or not you’re involved. Any company that might have dealings with people in the public sphere in any way (including business-to-business companies) can only influence the outcome of this if they have a presence on Twitter. Regardless of the engagement you’re trying to achieve, owning and managing the ‘@brand’ name is a vital part of managing modern online brand appearance.



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