Post 8, 2009. PR “Truthiness”

When I practised PR, there was often a certain amount of truthiness involved in the way I communicated with media.

I hope it was pretty harmless, because what I was trying to do was to explain to media how an event, issue or product could become a story for them, even though I knew the content on offer would not be 100% about the matters I felt could make a good story for an individual journo.

I’m pretty sure the practise is common, because many of the representations made to me by PR people today polish the truth to make it shiny and attractive. For example, I’ve been told an upgrade from version 3.4 to version 3.5 is a “revolutionary” change. And I was certainly never counselled by management not to do so during my five-and-a-bit years in PR.

It’s just part of the game.

But in the last few days, I feel I have been involved in an incident that tipped beyond the usual “standards” of truthiness.

Here’s what happened. I was invited to an event that I saw little value in attending but made further inquiries on the off-chance it was important. After some back and forth by email, I was told the event would include unusually deep levels of access to a vendor’s security team and its labs. On that basis, I decided to attend the event.

But at the event there was no access to the security team, other than a short presentation from its leader. And we were only able to view the labs through a window. I asked the PR agency concerned why the promised access had not taken place and they explained that the agenda had changed just prior to the event. I had not been informed of that change, an omission for which they apologised.

I have since checked with about half of the other journos who attended the event and, surprisingly, none of them were ever offered the unusually deep levels of access to the vendor’s security team. Nor did any of them receive a notice about a change of agenda for the event.

In my correspondence with the PR company concerned, I stated that I do not feel there was an intention to deceive in their offering me access to the security team. As I am not privy to all of the information sent to all the media in attendance at the event, I cannot say for sure if I was the only attendee offered the chance to access the security team. So it’s not certain I was misled.

But the incident smells. Badly. And I sure feel like the usual and accepted standards of “truthiness” have been abused.

Post 7, 2009. Twitter Do’s and Don’ts for PRs


I’m getting so many PR followers these days, and so few of them seem to do much more than open an account, that I figured it could be useful to offer some advice on how to get the most from Twitter.

So here goes!

Dont’s

Don’t lurk. Twitter has become very conversational. If you are listening, but not talking, you are not adding value to the social network and people will not value your input. In fact they’ll think you are a pathetic bandwagoning n00b, which will NOT be good for your reputation.
If you must lurk to get a feel for Twitter or to watch journos in the hope of learning something, do so by reading your intended friends’ tweets as RSS feeds before joining yourself. Consuming Twitter through feeds means you can do so anonymously, a good idea while you learn.

Don’t expect every Tweet you send to be read. Twitter is not like email: members don’t generally feel a compulsion to read every message they receive. Even @messages. This factoid will probably influence the way you use Twitter for pitching.

Don’t block your tweets. Twitter is a conversation. So if you block your tweets, but expect to read others, you are sending out some very mixed messages. My rule is that I block blockers, because I don’t want people to watch me who plainly have no interest in conversation.

Don’t expect that being a Twitter friend makes your relationship with a journalist any deeper. A dud pitch is a dud pitch, no matter how many times we have tweeted at each other.

Do’s

Converse. It doesn’t have to be about work and Twitter is not a place to display your refined thoughts. Let yourself go and people will respond. Lurk and nothing will happen.

Download a Twitter client or three. Twitter clients make Twitter a more prominent part of your day, thereby enhancing its usefulness. Or at least the likelihood that you’ll get the hang of Twitter. Give one or more a try. I like Twitbin.

Share. Let your followers know what you are reading, watching or listening to. This information offers important clues about your identity that lets journos understand you.

Be honest. When I am plugging a story, I write [plug] before the tweet. If you are tweeting for professional purposes, let the reader know or …

… Create two accounts – one for yourself, one for your professional tweets. Delineating your work and personal lives will be useful because it means both streams will have a clearer, more genuine, voice.

Learn about hashtags and how to use and follow them. Then you’ll be on your way to understanding Twitter as a way to measure public opinion.

Prepare to monitor and analyse Twitter streams during and after events (and phone interviews), as these will tell you a lot about how much attention is being paid to your clients and immediate response to their words. Perhaps you even need a plan B if the Twitter stream is hostile, mid-speech?

Consider using Twitter as a press release distribution mechanism. It’s less intrusive than email.

Do you have any other tips? Go wild in the comments.

Update

Another Do just occurred to me.

Post a few tweets before you start following media.  When you follow someone, they receive an email. To follow you, they must visit your Twitter address.

This takes a little time, so make it worth their while by making sure you have something to see.

Indeed, if you are trying to show media you are hip with the groovers on Twitter, nothing negates this more than a Twitter timeline with no Tweets on it. The only thing worse, IMHO, is a Twitter stream that contains just one tweet that says “I’m trying Twitter” or something similar. If that’s all that’s in your Twitter stream the first time a journo sees it, there’s every chance you’ll be perceived as a late-to-the-party try-hard.