Twitter Jitters

16 01 2009

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Love it or hate it, twitter is getting more attention and the days of the service being “for early adopters only” are (like the Bush administration) coming to a close. David Pogue’s recent post in New York Times Circuits, “Twittering Tips for Beginners” outlines what is both beneficial and frustrating for those who use twitter in its current form.

But Pogue has really only scratched the surface of what twitter can do for monitoring brands, customer service,  and media relations (the work of PR professionals like yours truly). Well, here are some things that his eminence of technology missed:

Companies like Comcast, Zappos, JetBlue, Starbucks, GM, Best Buy, Kodak, H&R Block, and other Fortune 500 bands are on twitter, and they’re using it as a customer service tool to help resolve issues (Hey, my DVR records every episode of the Daily Show, what gives?) and to answer questions (Ground or whole bean?).

Instead of simply engaging with consumers directly on their twitter pages, these companies can also monitor what’s being said about them by setting up RSS links to searches of every mention of their brand (visit search.twitter.com, type in the terms you care about, click on the RSS feed to receive real-time feeds to anyone posting anything about the brand).

Those twitterers out there trashing or praising your products and services can then be followed by your PR agency or others, and the adequate response can be taken (provide a coupon online for half off the Ethiopian roast, or a discount on shoes ordered online).

When all employees at a company are twittering, as is the case at Zappos, they have  direct channel into the thoughts and activities of their leaders, like Tony Hsieh. I’d bet that during the financial crisis, the employees at Lehman Brothers would have appreciated knowing what was going on with their leaders via twitter — if they would even share information. Is Bernie Madoff on twitter? Probably not. But, when an entire company is on twitter, the cross-pollination of ideas and esprit de corps is pretty amazing. It’s not for every corporate culture, though. Glasnost didn’t work out so well in the Soviet Union either.

This ability to track all brand mentions can lead to a “Big Brother is watching you” feeling. I tweeted about Zappos once and Wham! someone from their company was following my every tweet. I suppose I could have blocked him, but I was impressed by the company’s level of responsiveness to those who are thinking about Zappos.

I don’t really agree with Pogue when he writes about twitter that “No other communications channel can match its capacity for real-time, person-to-person broadcasting.” Actually, quick notes about what you’re doing is handled quite well by facebook, and facebook is great for posting video, links to other sites, detailed information about you, photos, etc.  None of those things are easily accomplished with twitter (Do you like having to shrink a URL to post it to twitter? I don’t. Do you want to create a hashtag for an event? I don’t.)

Other sites that help you find those who are most followed on twitter, are useful: twitterholic.com.

Pogue also neglected the ways in which PR professionals can engage with media contacts who tweet. By following journalists like Pogue (twitter.com/davidpogue) you can tap into what they’re thinking. Sometimes they’ll even give you insight on their upcoming articles and you can pitch them (But hey, have some class, send them an email and don’t tweet a pitch to them in twitter. It looks kind of desperate). If you follow MicroPR on twitter, you can see a ton of journalists looking for leads (think of ProfNet but for those who use twitter). Follow this link for a partial list of some journalists that use twitter.

But one thing that Pogue wrote is certainly true. Twitter is a big “time suck” along with facebook and MySpace. But when your job is communications, it’s not a time suck so much as it is your daily work. And companies that aren’t hearing from their agencies about twitter, and learning how to use the service to their own advantage, are missing a powerful tool. A new day is dawning on Capitol Hill, and we’re about to swear in a Twitterer-in-Chief. Time to get on the bandwagon!

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