Twitter, Journos and the Death of the PR

US Airways Flight 1549 Plane Crash Hudson in New York taken by Janis Krums on an iPhone by David Watts1978

With uptake rates on the rise and journalists increasingly using Twitter to tinyurl their stories, nab quick quotes from their followers, are the days of the lowly PR numbered?

The thing that really got me into Twitter were the G20 riots in London; the day when the Royal Bank of Scotland was raided. Journalists were tweeting live updates, as they unfolded. The "by the grace of God" landing of US Airways flight 154 on the Hudson River, back in January 2009, was another one.

That near miss, not only elevated the pilot, one Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, to hero book status but also showed the disconnect between new media and old.

Twitter’s trend page flagged up the key terms #USAirways, #Hudsonplane and #crash, instantly., the aviation information site, on the other hand, was showing the downed flight as being late, but still en route to its destination. An hour after the accident, Google’s trending service was showing no signs of those keywords, even an hour after the accident.

Pitching in 140 characters or less

There are a huge number of journalists out there who are fed up with PR pitches through blanket spam emails as being a de facto method of grabbing their attention.
The Guardian’s Craig McGill has spoken at length about pitching via Twitter as the best way to catch his attention. Press releases are effectively announcements and the client is the one that pays the bill and, “they want the press release put in front of many people as possible. But I’m afraid that model has broken, and has been for about five years - possible ten or more.”

Building up an online reputation

For the journalist, Twitter has a number of added benefits that have become absolutely essential. At its most basic it’s great at building for building up an online reputation. Anyone can create an online portfolio but they’re difficult but they’re difficult to trust.

Twitter’s biggest payoff is that it allows you to gather a personal posse who can support you in powerful, flexible and speedy ways. If you’re choosey about who you follow, it can be a great radar for scoping emerging news stories, quotes and leads. 

The platform lets you engage with people, on a personal level, and to get the most out of it, you need to offer added value to your followers. Commoditisation of content, witty repertoire, give someone a reason to follow you, other than your job title and who you work for.

Question of the Day

For the journalist Twitter’s greatest appeal lies in its ability to work as an alternative PR source and the best way of accessing the power of the Twitter crowds is a “Question of the Day” type scenario.

Questions are put on Twitter, at the start of the day, answers are given and personal experiences returned. Rather than interviewing random people on the street or relying on PRs, you get targeted feedback from a willing and reliable audience. Handy but does it signal the demise of the PR?

The best of them have managed to carve out a niche for themselves using a mixture of subtle self promotion, harmless nonsense and news headlines.

Stephen Davies has compiled a brilliant comprehensive list of UK journalists using Twitter and what they’re saying. In the States, Media on Twitter is a great way to search through top media twitterers.

Sourcing Articles

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is another thing that’s turning Twitter into a great research tool. It lets you tweet weekly with other journalists, bloggers or media types, using #journochat, from 7pm to 10 pm every Monday. Twellow (Twitter’s Yellow pages) contains more than 3 million profiles and lets you sort your Twitter sources by category.

The other view is to say that Twitter can disseminate false news stories and inaccuracies down to the fact that it’s two things at once - a social network and a news service. Bloomberg’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Winkler talked last May about his concerns over how financial news and data was being phrased on Twitter. The same rules of retraction and correction don’t apply on Twitter as they would on a newspaper or even an online news source.

But saying that, we all benefit from the dissemination of information, be it dumped down, commodified or micro sized to 140 digits; the PRs trying to spin ‘announcements’, the consumers and the journos churning out the content. But if what Colin says is true, and tweets are the new press releases, where does that leave the PRs?

Journalists have the advantage with this one; passing their judgement and choosing the best from the appeals in 140 characters and less.

Photo (cc) David Watts1978.


Twitter, journos and the "death" of PR


Anyone predicting the "death" of anything well established should take a leaf out of Mark Twain's book and realise that such deaths can be greatly exaggerated.

Yes, times have changed in media and the modus operandi of journalists and PR people has to change too. But I think there's a lot of life left in the old PR dog yet!

First, there is a misconception among some digital marketers that PR is solely about working with journalists to achieve media coverage. However, media relations is only one tool in the PR toolkit, which includes a wide range of methods designed to help one party influence or educate another. Media relations is just one of those methods, which is not always appropriate. Equally, as important as online has become, there is still a material world that requires PR involvement in getting people face-to-face.

Also, as traditional media has become fragmented by the development of social networks, this means that journalists and the media they represent are no longer the only game in town. Social media has enabled organisations be become publishers in their own right, delivering content to an audience regardless of whether a journalist is interested. Again, this is where PR continues to have a role, as not every organisation has the expertise or stomach to create content in different forms, distribute and monitor its effect.

And in this newly enabled world, good PR provides an experienced thinking process that assesses the possible impact of propogating particular material and messages before they cause reputational problems for an organisation.

As in many commercial interactions, the sharing of information between PR people and journalists is about relationships more than it is about the medium used to share that information. Not every story is as dramatic as an airliner landing in a river, but good PR people will ensure that even the lesser stories get a fair hearing.

Oh, and by the way, our present Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are both ex-PR people. Those skills will have gone some way to helping them get where they are.

PR is dead? Long live PR!