Post 10, 2009: Some reasons why Twitter is and is not the new e-mail.

I’m getting a fair few Direct Messages and @messages from Twitter friends – and folks like PRs.

They’re using it as an alternative to conventional messaging tools like e-mail.

Is it a good idea?

Perhaps, because Tweets are:

  • Short! (mercifully so compared to many emails)
  • Intimate, thanks to Twitter’s rules it is very hard to spam someone
  • Deniable – Email is pretty reliable these days and false positives in spam filters are rare. Twitter’s flakiness as a message delivery system is therefore potentially useful!

Perhaps not, because:

  • Twitter is unreliable – if you want to communicate something important, will Twitter get the job done?
  • Twitter messages don’t queue well. Many Twitter clients – and Twitter itself – collects @messages. But while I, for one, process all my emails every day, I might go days without reading every @ message I’ve been sent.
  • I have a whole application that collects and stores email and makes them available offline. Most Twitter clients rely on a live link to Twitter and do not store many messages, reducing the chance I will read a tweet vs. reading an email.
  • Direct Messages generate email anyway – so why use Twitter?
  • Can you really say that in 140 characters? (Yes, probably, but I am saving that for another post)

What do you think?


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!


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.


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.


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.

Post 1, 2009. Twitter is not a zoo in which PRs can watch journalists work

The big trend of my year so far has been the daily ritual of checking out my new Twitter followers. They’re coming thicker and faster than ever.

And about half of the new ones are in PR, as that industry seems to have decided that Twitter is important to their work.

Now I have no problem with this. But I do have a problem with PRs who lurk, instead of converse. Twitter is a social network. I want all the nodes of my social network to be adding value to the network, instead of being dead nodes whose only motivation is to extract value from the network without putting anything back in.

And -duh!- it works the other way, guys. If following me on Twitter is designed to either increase your knowledge of my activities or somehow “build a relationship” you’ll get much more out of it if you come to play, instead of coming to watch. (Quite what you get in the stuff I tweet, I have no idea, but that’s another post)

But worse, far worse, are the PRs who follow me but protect their own updates. I’ve had two of those in the last 48 hours and have blocked them immediately because if they are not willing to play, I’m not willing to let them watch.

At this point, some will think I’m doing the “I hate PR” thing again. But do you go to the pub with people who don’t talk to you? I’m betting not. You find friends that are fun to hang with and who participate in conversation. That’s what I’m doing!

Post 70:08 Social networking saves my bicycle

Last week my nicest bike, a road bike with carbon fibre forks,  was stolen.

I rode it to the station, locked it on a bike rack and … when I returned it had gone.

I parked it there because it is 10 metres from the entrance to a train station and in full view of a shop. Between the presence of the shopkeeper and the near-constant foot traffic to the station, I figured it was pretty safe.

I was wrong.

Someone approched the shopkeeper and said they had lost the key to the bike lock, which was why they had a hammer and chisel with which to break my cable lock.

The first thing I did was call the police.

The next thing I did was log on to Sydney Cyclist and the Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club‘s forums  to report the loss. And of course I Tweeted about it on Twitter, which quickly offered all sorts of solace and suggestions.

The immediate outpouring of sympathy was just what I had expected and hoped for, in a needy kind of way. And the “I’ll spread the word” and “I’ll keep an eye out for it” sentiments were definitely what I wanted when I let people know about the theft online.

What I did NOT expect was that Sydney Cyclist members started offering money towards a new bike. In $10s, $20s and one $50 they raised $120 as gifts to buy me new wheels. Just how touching that was, I cannot begin to describe. But suffice to say that when people you may or may not have met in the real world reach into their pockets to help you out, you feel very good and very humbled at the same time.

Others on the two sites started to suggest possible locations that stolen bikes have been known to turn up.

I followed those suggestions and, happily, recovered the bike.

The first thing I did was Twitter it. And as soon as I found a moment, I got onto the DHBC and Sydney Cyclist sites to let those communities know about the good news. Suffice to say I felt the love again.

Some members of the social networks are now networking in other ways to take steps to restrict the market for stolen bicycles.

Thinking about it now, I find it simultaneously remarkable and natural that I turned to social networks so quickly in this situation. I wanted to share events and emotions with people that matter to me – even if only because they have taken the time to join the same online community as I.

I’m now trying to figure out how I feel about socialnetworking’s role in the incident. It says a lot about the things I use social networks for and the power of those networks. It makes me wonder if I should explore more networks to tap into their power for other occasions in my life.

Above all, it cements the power of social networks for me while also re-enforcing their social nature because this was a social transaction, not a for-profit use of a network.

Many, many thanks to anyone who contributed to helping me find the bike, or participated in discussions about it!

Postscript: Since I got the bike back, our iPod has died. We ripped all our CDs and stored them in the shed three years ago. Looks like the household will be making another purchase soon after all!

Post 69:08 Globalism schmobalism

A few months ago, a large software company invited me to the USA for one of its events. I would have flown at the nice end of the plane and been entertained grandly for the duration at a cost of $15,000-$20,000.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the local outpost of the vendor for a briefing on the product with the local experts. Response to the product has been varied and I wanted to learn more.

It seems I cannot have that briefing form local spokespeople. And the folks in the USA won’t talk to me about it either.

I recount this story not to get grumpy with the PR, but to bemoan the lack of globalism I see every day. The fact I cannot get this interview is just one example of political boundaries creating pointless policies in an age when ideas and information can cross borders in a heartbeat, yet some insist on controlling them by country.

It’s not just PR departments. TV shows I want to watch are being shown in free-to-air in the USA and may take a year to get the same treatment here. iTunes rents TV shows in the USA that I cannot purchase here.

Now I know that there are licensing and distribution agreements behind these restrictions. But from a consumer’s point of view, all I perceive is an industry uninterested in giving me choice. When that attitude crosses over into my work life, it’s even dumber given the various online media – both legitimate and back channel – that are already global.

Post 60:08 Speaking in a human voice

I’ve bene thinking a lot, lately, about how to put a human voice on PR so that it works better on me.

The thinking comes from a recent bout of PR from a major vendor that has decided everything they do is epoch-making. A .3 release is a revolution. A .4 release has become a remaking of an industry. Throw in the fact that one of their spokesfolk could not even define AJAX for me the other day, and all of a sudden I have an image of this vendor as hideously out of touch, self-obsessed and naff. I’ve also been watching more corporate YouTube and falling asleep inside 120 seconds most of the time, as the talent learns that a job in marketing, the gift of the gab and a decent salary that buys some nice new on-camera clothes does not translate into an entertaining or engaging presence. I do not claim the latter two traits for myself, by the way.

Anyway, Jason Calcanis’ post on the subject resonates with me. If you don’t feel like clicking on it, he basically advocates going anywhere it might be sensible for you to go in order to promote your self/client/cause and networking like mad while somehow not coming across as a publicity whore. This is an egregious simplification but was fun to write.

Thing is, this kind of behavior works. I’ve seen PRs (nearly always in-house) who do appear anywhere it could be advantageous for them to appear. It takes a certain type of PR to pull it off (Generally youngish, no kids-ish, ambitious, very gregarious) but it can be done. When it works, you get a wonderfully genuine and human voice for a company.

But the average agency person … fuggedaboutit. In my experience as a PR, they don’t want to work on half their accounts, which they’ve been dumped into for various reasons. In my experience as a journo, more than half don’t understand their accounts. Both of these disqualify them from speaking with a human voice on behalf of their clients.

So what’s needed is someone very close to the organisation that wishes to reach the public and is willing to do so, with some actual charisma. Then all they have to do is figure out how to be human, or let their organisations let them be human. And then, hopefully, be good at being human, because not everyone is good at that.

Better stop now. I think it is too late for this to be insightful, readable or  … human!

Post 57:08 An old favorite returns and more social media musing

Twice in the last week PRs have sent me material in emails with several others cc’ed or included in the To field.

In one case more than 100 email addresses were there to be harvested.

To me this is the most basic breach of email etiquette (and privacy!) imaginable and quite astounding in this day and age, let alone for a company concerned with reputation.

Anyway, I’ve sent scorching emails to the folk concerned and now have my ‘what the hell does social media mean’ hat on again.

I’m no closer to the answer, although it does occurr to me that one of the reasons I keep asking the question is that, as a parent of two young kids, I do not really HAVE a social network to digitise. Everyone I know is so flat out any socialising is rare, comes in snatches and needs very little organisation. I do have good networks for the few social activities in which I participate, especially cycling. There are nice conversations there, but the tools on offer are not yet really functioning as social utilities. Now to figure out why!

Post 56:08 Can PR 2.0 and Web 2.0 co-exist?

I’ve just seen a deck of slides that represents Web 1.0 as companies controlling the message to the community and Web 2.0 is all about the community controlling the message.

So here’s my question: can PR and Web 2.0 co-exist?

My belief is that PR is all about helping companies control their message, the better to protect their reputation.

Journalists are pretty good at picking up when that message is BS and saying so. (Most of the time, anyway. There are distressingly high volumes of crap journalism that swallows and regurgitates corporate crap)

I wonder if communities won’t be even more hostile at attempts to have their collective outputs shaped.

In fact, I can imagine that some PR people could even prefer current media structures, because they offer easier, more-defined groups of influencers to target.

Either way, getting to a 2.0 state could be hard. Either communities get “infiltrated” by corporate messaging (which means the community message is contaminated and compromised) or PRs try to retard 2.0-style openness for their own protection.

This is very off the top of the head stuff here, obviously. But at this stage it is making scary sense to me!

Post 54:08 Much better corporate social media

Vuki* was kind enough to send this link, to a Dell blog explaining one of the company’s new products.

It is actually pretty good because you get to see the product in action. The spokesblokes talk like real people and even make some dorky, self-deprecating, jokes that make them seem like real people, not corporate drones. After just two minutes of video, you get a nice feel for the product. Shame it’s not actually in a social media release (SMR): it comes from a blog.

This is soooooooo nicely different to a SMR that just does the usual PR yadda yadda in multimedia. It also, IMHO, just about kills the standard issue two-hour press lunch stone dead.

It also show how social media needs to be social. Think about the interactions you have every day with the people with whom you socialise. Do they ever commence a formal oration detailing the virtues of their positions? Heck no! Yet we are expected to believe that press release and corporate-speak are suddenly social just because they appear on YouTube.

Sigh … it took ten years for PR to figure out that putting pictures in every press release was a good idea. I give them another decade before they actually figure out how to convince their clients to speak like real people.

* Vuki does Australian PR for the company whose SMR I disliked.

Post 52:08 More big questions

There’s a very interesting OpEd in today’s SMH, in which the authors describe YouTube as ” home port for lip-syncers, karaoke singers, trainspotters, birdwatchers, skateboarders, hip-hoppers, small-time wrestling federations, educators, third-wave feminists, churches, proud parents, poetry slammers, gamers, human rights activists, hobbyists.”

They go on to say that they see YouTube as having a role similar to zines in the 1970s, when zines offered a medium to present ideas incapable of reaching the mainstream. Communities and movements coagulated around zines, making them a forerunner of social media.

The piece also says that YouTube is now sufficiently adopted to enable it to bring down a government, partly because (and yes, I am making some context-disrespectful jumps): “While most people can read, very few publish in print. Hence active contribution to science, journalism and even fictional storytelling has been restricted to expert elites, while most of the general population makes do with ready-made entertainment.”

This all gets me wondering. I like ready-made entertainment. It is elaborate and rich in ways that sail beyond anything I have ever seen on YouTube. There is no YouTube Sopranos equivalent, for example.

And I disagree that active contribution to these other fields is somehow crimped today. Sure, there are rules before one can be published in a scientific journal, but those rules help to produce rigourous work. And I’m sure we’ve all encountered crackpots with odd theories. Let’s not even get started on climate change denial here!

I also wonder what the heck it is that the collective us will do on YouTube that will make a difference and bring down a government?

Perhaps we will all be so inspired by some content on YouTube that a social movment will coalesce around it.

I’m not so sure. I believe apathy is not only rampant, but encouraged. I remember watching political rallies in the 1970s. Today, PRs prevent such things from even happening, lest they be hijacked by someone off-message.

In any case, politicians may not see any benefit to social media interaction. Stilgherrian’s tweets from today suggest they are disinclined and under-resourced to deal with what is already coming their way.

I suspect that to take YouTube and other social networks from amusing curiosities to world-changers, new lines will need to emerge.

These things are called “social” tools for a reason, because people use them in their social lives. The web apps we use to organise our social lives are therefore designed to help us do that. Sure, they are good tools to link us with like minded people. And email etc means we now have tools that make it far, far easier to let our elected representatives know what is on our collective minds.

I suspec that “political networking tools” cannot be far off, that will aggregate opinion to enact change. At the moment we are 20 million lone voices, who sometimes get a lot more attention than was possible before YouTube. Once we can network ourselves more effectivley than GetUp rounding up money to make ads, things might just get to the transcendent place the OpEd hints at.