A TIME TO TWEET
Posted by Robbyn Brooks
Social media presence is a must for communicators
I’ll admit it. I was slow to jump on the Twitter ship bound for the island of social media bliss. I couldn’t understand what I would say in 140 characters on Twitter that I wasn’t saying already on Facebook? And why did I need one more social media site to check? No embedded art, no embedded photos, no fun.
These days, I’m not only on the ship, I’m rowing with three oars. I have a Twitter account for work, one for my personal life (if there is such a thing on social media), and one that I help manage for the newspaper where I work.
When it comes to news applications, I think of Twitter as the equivilent to the CNN Headline News scrolling news bar. There is just enough information to let readers know what happened. The difference is, with Twitter, news tweets are immediately accessible and and twitterfeeds are highly customizable. If consumers only care about local news, they only have to follow local news outlets.
Pew Research released data back in 2011 regarding how news oulets use Twitter. 2011 is a long time ago considering technology updates and increased user familiarity with the product, but researchers take a scientific approach which seems to leave data lagging a couple of years behind. Pew used 13 major U.S. news sources for the study. Researchers took a look at 3,600 tweets over a week and found that the outlets studied tweeted links back to their own website 93 percent of the time. Six percent of the time, tweets contained no links and the remaining two percent was split between tweets that linked to other news sites and tweets that linked to non-news sites.
How the outlets organized tweets was also interesting. Companies such as The Washington Post had 98 different Twitter accounts associated with the business while The Daily Caller, a news and opinnion website based in Washington, D.C., only used one Twitter account in 2011. While organizations were sending out one to 100 tweets a day, those messages were mainly to disseminate information. Outlets and reporters rarely used tweeting as an interactive way to gather information to report.
For a small community newspaper, like the one I work for, Twitter is an important tool we use to stay relevant and not forfeit readership. We have a main newspaper account and each editorial staff member has their own Twitter account. We post breaking news, calendar information, community photos and also offer a way for readers to interact with us by asking for input for stories via tweets. Also, at a time when newspapers are reinventing themselves, it’s important to keep up with the immediacy of broadcast and online media. By covering a story in print, posting supplemental coverage to Facebook, posting online videos and tweeting breaking news and enterprise content, we keep up.
Last week an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s was reported missing in a rural area that our newspaper covers. Before an online presence and social media, it would have been impossible for our readers to have depended solely on us for updates. When I got to the scene where first responders and volunteers were mounting a search, I was able to tweet a description of the woman, a photo of the briefing given by a local sheriff and provide updates on the search. Instead of being the last to get the information out, newspapers can now compete in terms of breaking news by way of outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. While the television crews left to find a signal to broadcast, or went back to a bureau to edit video, we were on the scene and sent out the first report that the woman was found, safely, at 9:01 p.m.
For public relations professionals, Twitter has become equally important. From following journalists and making informal connections using social media, to using hashtags to get in on trending discussions and crisis management, social media matters in terms of public relations and marketing.
While positive public relations efforts are important, using Twitter for crisis communication is an important part of any crisis communication plan. Prevention is prefered, but there must be a plan in place to reach consumers and community members in real time in ways they will see the fastest. No longer can public relations professionals wait for the next television broadcast, or the next print edition of a newspaper to address a toxic spill, product recall, or other emergency. Consumers will be talking about it as soon as it affects them, or as soon as they become concerned about it. Company’s must have a social media presence.
The time to create a Twitter account to represent a company is before a crisis. And it’s important to look around and see who may be using a similar name. As if BP didn’t have enough to deal with during the Gulf oil spill, their delay in social media presence and an account falsely representing the company added to the pressure the company was under. Within a week, the account @BPGlobalPR had accumulated 42,000 followers whle BP’s actual account @BP_America only had 5,700. The fake account holder was also clever enough to create the hashtag #bpcares. The fake account for the company tweeted statements such as, “Catastrophe is a strong word, let’s just call it a whoopsie daisy.”
Chick-fil-A is also a company who didn’t spring to the social media front during a storm of criticism after the company’s founder made statements that he was against gay lifestyles and marriage. Bad move. Silence is not golden when it comes to crisis management.
Think that you can’t reach a significant number of people on a social networking site such as Twitter? Think again. Twitter was estimated to have about 500 million total users and 250 million active users at the end of 2012. A lot of guesswork is involved in those numbers and officially the company lists more than 100 million active users. In addition to Twitter audiences, more than 14 percent of the world’s population has a Facebook account – that’s about a billion active users ready for either the message of a company, or the misinformation distributed by a company’s opposition.
So, now you’re convinced that Twitter is a valid tool for communicators in fields of both journalism and public relations. Let’s talk some strategy. Bitly has done a little research and discovered that more Twitter users check their feeds between 1 and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday than any other day. Facebook posts should be made between 1 and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Got Friday news that can wait until Monday? Hold it. Tweets and posts after 3 p.m. on Friday won’t reach much of an audience.
What are you waiting for? Get to tweeting! You can follow my work account @messenger_rb. Some of my favorite follows are @apstylebook, @CNNbrk, @washingtonpost, @alyankovic, @aliciasilverstone, @jimmyfalon and @janemarielynch.