Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Listening between the lines

You're on Twitter. And your clients ought to be on Twitter. Or should they?

Not without an escort. That would be you, the PR professional.

You need to guide clients' use of Twitter. It's a stream-of-consciousness (or semi-consciousness) tool that without strategy and discipline can damage a clent's brand more than enhance it. Applebee's PR ordeal over the employee who posted a guest's receipt in response to a modest gratuity blew up, in part, because of its exposure on Twitter. (It didn't help that an inexperienced Twitter manager at Applebee's extended the exposure of the unhappy event.)

AT&T Twitter ad, 9-11-2013
Today's @ATT ad, using symbols of the Sept. 11 tragedy on 9/11 to promote its wireless products, demonstrates social media tone-deafness at its worst. The backlash was swift, loud and punishing. AT&T took down this image (at right) within minutes after the backlash.

But what about your use of Twitter? Are you posting more than listening? 

The one value often overlooked by PR practitioners and marketers in building a social media presence is the opportunity to listen to customers. On Twitter, users of your client’s products—and competitors’ products—often share their likes and dislikes. This feedback generally doesn’t damage a brand by itself, but how you use these comments is critical.

If all you do is “monitor” a conversation, you’re not using the information to its greatest potential. If you listen—and share your discoveries with the marketing decision-makers on your client team—it can help your organization respond to consumers’ concerns about its products and services.

Fact: Every Facebook user and Twitter follower is now a potential editor/gatekeeper. They find fragments of news, opinion, and gossip, and replay it—often with their own spin—on their favorite social media website. They regard this as “repurposing content,” but it may work to enhance the poster’s brand, rather than the source of the original news item.

Examples include news reporters based in one city who re-tweet news stories from nearby cities. They often view this as “content sharing,” but because they aren’t actually covering the story as the original news source did, they’re relying on a third party to help extend their credibility.

One benefit of reporters’ and editors’ addiction to Twitter is that they often tell you what they’re working on, and where they are. As a PR pro, if you have a story that can tie into the day's breaking news, following these journalists can help you identify those who may have time and interest in the story you need to share.

Understanding how to read, interpret, and effectively craft messages on these social media sites takes time. There’s a simple vocabulary to learn, but once you master these details, it’s your tool to use wisely. 

But, learn first. Spend time observing how other businesses on Twitter handle tweeted criticisms and compliments. Use what you learn to develop your Twitter strategy for clients. Some organizations ask their social media team to function as listeners, but few businesses can afford having a “chief listening officer”—so it’s up to you, as the PR manager, to regularly check on how your client's brand is portrayed in social media.

And listening between the lines usually leads to a wiser PR strategy.