Twittering the night away

I have a friend on Facebook who likes to change his status updates on a regular basis. Every couple of days or so, he has a new one up there; some funny, some confusing. I think he changes them regularly because it gives him a kick to do so.

But this blog isn’t about my friend. It’s about our growing fascination with every new fad on the internet. And as communicators, it seems we are the ones following each new trend, hook, line and sinker.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think social media has a big future in PR. It’s instantaneous, it’s open and it works. But I also think that it’s one tool among many and right now it’s hard to discern what—out of the myriad tools available to us—is valuable and what is not.

Take for example the buzz currently on about Twitter. As I recently learned in my Online PR class, Twitter is the new version of instant messaging and it’s fast becoming popular with a number of communicators. One such person is Thornley Fallis CEO, Joseph Thornley, on whose blog I recently commented.

In my comment, I questioned the value of some of these internet services which seem to be snapped up by so many PR reps. Thornley is a Twitter fan. So is my instructor, Gary Schlee. And so is David Jones, vice president of digital communications at Hill & Knowlton.

So what makes programs like Twitter so useful to public relations people? I see the value of blogging. I see the value of podcasting. But I find it hard to understand how an instant messaging service, that limits communication to a couple hundred words, can have a solid impact on how we interact with our publics.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing anyone for using Twitter, nor am I slamming this new service. All I’m trying to do is get a sense of how programs like Twitter help PR reps out. As Mr. Thornley himself wrote in his latest blog,

“I do not hire entry level people without looking at their blog, following their twitter stream and checking their Facebook presence. I want a sense of who they are over time, not just when they are in my office. I want to know what they think on the issues they care about and how they express themselves. I want to see whether and how they connect with others. And I can find out all those things from their social media presence.”

And to be honest, that makes me nervous. As I responded to his post, I love my blog. I think it helps me focus my interest in PR. And I like learning about and using social media. But because I don’t seem eager to get my feet wet with Twitter, does that make me unemployable? Will every person to whom I apply for a job, immediately pass me by because I don’t Twitter?

What should I do? Should I get on Twitter just to impress future employers? Even that option seems to have its pitfalls, as some PR professionals are questioning whether us newbies to PR are simply smiling and nodding our way into social media just to make an impression with potential employers.

So that is my question. What value do programs like Twitter offer PR professionals and why do we need to learn them to effectively communicate our message? Can anyone help me out?

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13 Responses

  1. I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I was a professional in PR. I’m not, but I am interested in the field and how it’s using social media tools. Secondly, I also didn’t mean to give the impression that “newbies to PR are simply smiling and nodding…” My problem was that the with potential employers expecting and requiring their candidates to blog, it might create a situation where the newbie blogger is writing only for an audience of potential employers. I don’t think it’s fair for an employer to put that sort of expectation on someone, especially when blogs used to be (should be?) a place for relatively free self-expression.

  2. Actually, Joe, Gary isn’t even on Twitter and isn’t really convinced of its value, either.

    At it’s very basic function, it’s a fun way to engage with others who share your interests. I forget who, but someone made a wiki for Twitter databases. There are tons of people on the site—organized by interest, location, profession, etc. You find people whose pasts tweets catch your interest, start following them and respond to some things they say. It’s a great way to network.

    Many people who I follow post links several times a day. They direct people to their blogs, podcasts, articles they find interesting, etc. There’s a promotional aspect.

    Don’t worry about not being on Twitter. The point of Thornley’s post wasn’t to suggest every person starting out in the industry should hop on every trendy bandwagon; he was just giving examples of how he researches a potential employee before considering hiring them.

  3. I was surprised to read that Gary was Twittering, as the last time we spoke he certainly had no plans to do so.

    Regarding Rayanne’s point:

    “They direct people to their blogs, podcasts, articles they find interesting, etc. There’s a promotional aspect,”

    …on the weekend Amy Gahran (http://www.contentious.com/)
    highlighted this alternative-view post:
    Twittosphere: Link-whoring sucks, social spam filters needed
    http://susanmernit.blogspot.com/2008/01/twittosphere-link-whoring-sucks-social.html

    Personally, I’ve found a lot of (longer-term) bloggers devoting far too much time Twittering, rather than writing blog posts with original, solid and timely content.

  4. Hi Rayanne! Thanks for the comment! You make some great points and its people like you who help me understand the value of Twittering.

    That said, I still don’t know if I am likely to jump on board, since I think Twittering (for me at least) has to be content, and context, specific.

    That said, however, I will of course never say never and instead hope that my presence and personality will make themselves shine through either my blog … or my sparkling personality! 😉

  5. Hi James, thanks a lot for the comment and the clarification. I agree with your point though; I wouldn’t want someone to think my blog is just about getting a job.

    Nowadays, with all the pressure students are under to jump into the social media sphere, its hard to tell who’s real and who’s not.

    That said though, I also don’t want employers to think that just because I am not Twittering, or MySpacing, or whatever, that I am limiting my experiences with social media.

    I am just limiting my choices, and even that is temporary. I will change as the need arises.

  6. There is no value in any tool until you’ve determined that there is a real-world use for it. You’ll never know unless you give it a shot. Sign up, follow a few people and see if there’s value for you. Then think hard about how this tool or something like it might be a useful way to communicate with a group of people who’d subscribe to follow you, your organization, your issue, etc.

    I was late to Twitter, but now I kinda like it in a geek-networking way. It’s unlikely I’d recommend it to a client over blogging, podcasting, etc., but it does have its uses. Check out how the Red Cross tested it recently. http://fleetstreetpr.com/search?q=red+cross

  7. Hi Judy, thanks for the comment! You’re right, I don’t think Gary is Twittering either, but I assumed he was due to the impassioned spiel he gave us in class about the use of Twitter by many PR professionals.

    That said, I will try in the future to make sure I do my research more thoroughly! Chalk it up to the mistakes of a PR newbie and please don’t hold it against me! 😉

    I like your other comment though, about how Twitter is starting to take over from the “original, solid and timely content” bloggers used to post.

    Perhaps you can give me some advice then … do you think its worth my while to jump on Twitter? I personally don’t care to, but only because I don’t want to add ANOTHER program that I have to regularly monitor.

    As my colleague, Rayanne Langdon pointed out in her insightful comment, “it’s a fun way to engage with others who share your interests.” But then, that’s why I thought I was blogging! What’s your advice?

  8. As far as not being employable because you’re not on Twitter? Total BS. The number of guys like Joe Thornley, whom I’ve worked for and who introduced me to blogging, are pretty tiny. Check out the CCPRF blog…Joe’s single-handedly driving that. http://www.ccprf.ca/

  9. […] The Gong Show by Andrew Parker wrote an interesting post today on Twittering the night awayHere’s a quick excerptI have a friend on Facebook who likes to change his status updates on a regular basis. Every couple of days or so, he has a new one up there; […]

  10. Joe, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you–perish the thought that I play even a small part in dampening your enthusiasm for blogging and participating more fully in social media. The blogosphere *needs* more fresh and original voices, particularly in the **PR realm. Your post simply caught my eye because Gary and I spoke very recently about social media channels/tactics and their effectiveness and application in the “real” work world of the majority of public relations practitioners. (We’re talking in-house or client-side PRs.)

    My observation, articulated *elsewhere, has been that the majority of individuals using Twitter on a regular basis are independent or small-shop consultants, as well as individuals employed in advertising/marcomm/PR agencies, who are positioning themselves in the digital realm. I really don’t see (or know of) many client-side practitioners making use of it. Actually, I was out with a bunch of PRs last week for a Winterlicious dinner get-together, where there was much eye-rolling about the value of Twitter. (Note that none are involved in social media beyond Facebook or other social networking accounts, the occasional comment on a blog, etc.)

    I suppose there’s no harm in experimenting with setting up an account and observing for a bit. How useful it is/how big a drain it is on your time will be determined by how much you monitor Twitter and/or participate.

    *More about Facebook and Twitter (Andrea Careaga’s Higher Ed Marketing blog)
    http://highered.prblogs.org/2008/01/25/more-about-facebook-and-twitter/

    (And do check out U of Georgia prof Karen Russell various blog posts and list of resources/articles about Twitter. She thinks Twitter is a valuable social media tool and worthwhile for her students to spend time on, at least as an experiment.)

    **Is it just me, or have PR blogs lost their wind? (Bill Sledzik’s ToughSledding blog)
    http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/is-it-just-me-or-have-pr-blogs-lost-their-wind/

    Keep on blogging!

    Cheers,
    Judy

  11. Judy is right. Although we talked about Twitter in class, I did indicate I don’t Twitter at this point; can’t unearth a reason why I should. I have little doubt that over time there will be growing number of best practices for using Twitter (or something like it) as a PR tactic. Right now, I’m maxing my social media time allotment to trying to keep up with the more than 40 new student blogs coming online!

  12. From a student perspective, I think David Jones (not surprisingly) has it right. I think Twitter should be something you get yourself familiar with.

    While I doubt that being on the Tweeterboard is a prerequisite to a job, I think that walking into an interview without a basic knowledge and understanding of social media would be a quick way to have a short interview.

    I would be pretty concerned about a student that wasn`t at least AWARE of it and how it worked. The other undeniable benefit of doing stuff like blogging and twittering for students is that you get to interact on an essentially peer-to-peer level with people who have vast experience. While you can`t guarantee the benefits of this, you never know where it might lead.

  13. Joe, I think what you have here is subjective perspectives, based on where each of us works and the extent to which we (as individuals) participate in social media. Ergo, I think before you make a decision on whether to invest time and “Twitter the night away” (or not) that you figure out where and what is your dream job after completing the Centennial program.

    If you want to work in a marcomm agency that is moving more and more into the digital realm, perhaps you should take Bob’s advice and dive in to all things social media, including Twitter.

    If you are thinking you’d like to work on the client side (in-house), I suspect writing an intelligent and thoughtful blog (exhibiting not only creativity by accuracy when it comes to spelling and grammar) is probably enough to supplement your traditional resumé. By that I mean don’t feel pressured by someone else’s POV and interests to invest time and effort, if you don’t have a burning desire to work in the social media realm in a full-time day job.

    Each week a ton of PR-related jobs ping to my in-box from CPRS (Toronto). And on the main website, national postings are open to anyone:

    http://www.cprs.ca/Careers/e_jobsandrfps.asp

    Take a look…not to many of these in-house positions are asking for (letting alone demanding) SOCIAL media skills. So keep it all in perspective as to what you want to do in future.

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