Oh, Twitter- when it began gaining widespread popularity, around 2009/2010, my first thought was, “really? who cares?”. As it turned out, a lot of people. Soon after I not-so-silently asked that question, everyone started ranting about how great Twitter was. All the organizations, businesses, and public personalities I admired were tweeting. Every website linked me to a Twitter account. The little bird icon began appearing at the bottom of the page, next to the round “f” symbol of Facebook, and the email option for sharing stories. Eventually, I saw the error of my ways and signed up for an account (@yvonnekli, in case you’re wondering), and now, Twitter and I, well we get along just fine. Then awhile back, I started thinking about what was next for Twitter- how it was going to grow, what it was going to do, and how it was going to continue improving business, because it is a business after all. Turns out, they already had it figured out: promoted accounts and tweets.
But what does this mean for us in the context of public relations? Promoted products can attract new followers, increase awareness on certain topics or issues, and generate discussions. All of this is great and there are a number of campaigns that have succeeded using these products (as outlined here and here)-promoted tweets, trends, and accounts- but are there drawbacks and limitations that need to be considered?
1) Lots of people see your content, so what? Is your goal to add more followers? And if so, how many? Or rather, is your aim to generate discussion on a specific topic? Whatever the answer is, you need to answer the all important question of why you’re doing what you’re doing and that goes back to determining and evaluating your metrics for success. What is your organization trying to accomplish and what are the markers for getting there?
2) Promoted products can bring awareness to an organization or business but users need context. What good is it if your hashtag is trending but people are only tweeting to say that they don’t know what the trend is? The solution can be simple, such as including a link in your tweet or on your profile but make sure that content is there. Twitter performs better as part of an integrated social media campaign rather than as a stand alone feature.
3) What happens if your organization spends money on promoting a trend, only to have it backfire? What if users are indeed having a conversation about your organization, only it’s unfavourable? This has happened to both the Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden campaigns, as outlined here. While this issue can arise in any forum and the goal as always, is to encourage open and truthful two-way communication, the importance of research and understanding your audience becomes even more significant in this context because of the associated costs of the campaign and viral nature of Twitter.
Twitter and promoted products certainly have a role in public relations, bringing organizations and their message to users they may not otherwise have been able to reach. However, as with all public relations activities, particularly in the realm of social media, for every benefit that Twitter provides, there is also a potential drawback and it is important to understand your organization and its audience before embarking upon any campaign.
What are your thoughts? What is the role of Twitter and promoted products in the realm of public relations?