"Twitter, whatever you might think of it, is a massive newswire. Depending on who you’re following."
Couldn’t agree more. That was the inimitable Fleet Street Fox, the journo/anonymous blogger who decided to reveal her identity this week (just in time for her book launch – exceptional PR work – I bought it – Kindle version). Of course, Twitter is more than just that: it’s a huge chaotic, sprawling universal-sized cobweb, an opportunity for everyone and anything (yes, stand-up spambots) to take part and pontificate*. I always use a little spin from Gladiator in describing the way it works:
"Twitter is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar."
Mainly I've used the ‘Twitter is the mob’ in trying to impress to people how groundswell of large-scale opinion and sentiment can be created from 140 characters and how there's the incredible feeling of people being able to be mobilised over issues. And woe betide anyone who incurs the wrath of the mob.
And the chaos and anarchic nature is part of the fun – especially if you work in corporate comms (which is still struggling to keep apace and evolve as quickly as social media is). Especially if you have an affinity for crisis management. If you've worked on either divide of the press office-PR/journo sphere, then watching the wire and seeing how quickly you can take advantage of breaking news, catch the first rumblings of a crisis, or scoop that all important front –page story is a core part of the job. The role of monitoring is an essential one in comms. That’s why it’s interesting to see how journalists (who have fully embraced Twitter) are probably a step ahead of the traditional corporate press office at the moment. Like some sort of unspoken PR Cold War (I’ll leave it to you who falls on which side of this weird Iron Curtain) could it be that the media have managed to get ahead in a social digital arms race?
I don’t think so (and media conglomerates have suffered the same problem in keeping abreast of the situation – Murdoch’s attitude was likened to King Canute - and we all saw what happened to the News of the World: probably unthinkable before something like Twitter existed). Long-standing media institutions are struggling to find ways to monetise being in the digital space, and we’ve become accustomed to the regular clamouring of the demise of print media (which I don’t believe – as they’ll always be a place for print – I’m just hoping they’ll create a paper version of the iPad, like you see in Minority Report – surely it’s only a matter of time?)
But these conversations probably distract from the idea that at the end of the day, social media in all its guises provides another tool that can be used by the communications professional. One with undreamed of potential - from the press officer working on the corporate reputation of a multi-national business or the journo listening out for that all important scoop, how often would they have dreamed of being able to listen in on a conversation about a related issue taking place in a room on the other side of the planet in real-time.
So it’s a great time to be working in media relations right now – social media is offering up the possibility of developing relationships and key contacts in comms that just wasn’t possible a couple of years ago. And let’s not forget it’s fun.
That’s why this week we’ve seen the creation of an official Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Press Office Twitter account. It’s there as a channel for communication between media professionals which the official Bisgovuk account might not be entirely suitable for (and this is where the ethos of corporate communications really comes into play – because who is your audience and are you catering for them properly?). And for BIS the audience is a big one, spread over very many different areas.
In that sense journalists who are now a very large and committed audience in that space require a dedicated channel which can meet their requirements. It’s also about putting the tool directly in the hands of our media relations experts at a corporate level, about letting them become enabled to watch, observe, participate and take advantage of the space, improving how stories are getting out there, and highlighting who are the people that will be interested in their stories.
A lot of our work is about integrating digital into our colleagues everyday work, and showing that it's not an onerous task. Digital underpins everything in what we do now - but if you learn how to use it there's a very real opportunity to enhance and improve the way you work. Twitter lets you see that huge interconnected pattern and lets you monitor how stories can appear and progress. It’s the ultimate breaking newswire.
*Actually – are there any comedy accounts mimicking spambots – ‘LoL – check this photo out of my weight loss business desperately struggling to make ends meet’?
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