Friday, May 22, 2009

Twitter hath murdered time

This post is not just for Online Public Relations professionals. It is for every practitioner.

The dynamic of public relations has changed. In an short article that Philip Young and I contributed to Kogan Page newsletter recently we examined how, inevitably, Twitter has changed actual practice. I offer an edited version of the content we provided.

P
ublic relations is moving into a new dimension, a scary and thrilling future in which reputation is instant and responses’ times are evaporating.

For pro-active PR professionals, it is not just what you say, or how you say it, but how quickly you can say it too, and ever more dominant social media platforms are bringing challenges of time and geography into ever sharper focus.

Not long ago the news and comment agenda was set by media deadlines. Newspapers published daily and most magazines monthly so PR worked to their publishing cycle.

Today, everything has changed. An hour is a luxury.

New tools, such as Twitter, means the window has almost vanished. We are now seeing real time conversations about organisations, people, brands, events and issues. We discover, subjects that are interesting journalists before they write them. We see public opinion as it changes and morphs in real time. Organisations’ priorities and individuals’ foremost thoughts are on very public view. A Twitter search using tools like Twitterfall or Tweetdeck can be very effective to learn people’s thoughts and reactions immediately.

These nuggets of opinion come together to form reputation and shape relationships. They are public, linked, aggregated and searchable. They matter.

Responding to real time and very public conversations is now becoming one of the biggest challenges facing public relations practice.

Take the experience of one transnational giant I was working with just a few days ago. The organisation, a household name known to all computer users, wanted to promote an event. As is customary, the agency issued news releases to the media and reached out to carefully targeted bloggers. They then began monitoring online conversations. What they saw was a fast-growing discourse on Twitter.

It was clear from the online profiles of Twitterers that a new and significant public was emerging – a group of people, including bloggers, who were unknown to the organisation until very close to the event.

At the same time a number of new issues began to emerge until the event was in the top ten most popular in the ‘Twittersphere’. Over 3000 individual ‘Tweets’ in the space of a week-end was pretty good going and Twitter was setting the communications agenda.

To ensure that it was part of this conversation, the multinational in question had to increase its contribution to the debate in real time and respond to comments (which also involved some criticism) without delay.

The extent to which the Twitter community was engaged with the conversation was very evident. At one stage the ranking of Twitter comment about the event fell to sixth. An appeal via Twitter to the people who had been involved in this speedy conversation created a huge response pushing the ranking of the event in the ‘Twittersphere’ to third within minutes.

Learning to adapt to this rate of operational change is but one example of how quickly management has to respond to new pressures in a digital age.

Next time you issue a press release - even if only to the traditional media, watch Twitter. Did your copy change the agenda? Can you respond?

Public Relations is changing fast.