PR people should use Twitter.
That's not to say that all PR people should be using Twitter on their clients' behalf: like any other communication tool, it only makes sense to use Twitter for PR purposes if your client's audiences are using Twitter (or are influenced by others who do).
With that said, you have to understand a communication tool to be able to determine whether or how it can help you meet your client's objectives; and with Twitter, like blogging, there's no better way to really understand how it works than to use it.
PR Major Laurie McDougall gets all meta with new media
Twitter is currently estimated to count more than five million users, with a reported 27 million tweets being communicated per day; I'd say the service has achieved significance, at the very least.
Is Twitter a fad?
Maybe. But real public engagement using Web 2.0 tools isn't.
I've heard colleagues in the PR industry say they don't have time for Twitter and Facebook and "all those social networking sites," anticipating that they'll all be yesterday's news in a few years' time.
And for all I know, they may be right. Twitter may be replaced by some newer platform with more functionality to enable efficient online conversations some day; but that's no reason not to take advantage of it until then, or not to understand how online communities work. And it certainly doesn't mean that when Twitter's popularity recedes, we'll all go back to the heavily one-way, mainstream media-driven mass communications model we knew a decade ago. Web 2.0 has fundamentally changed the way we communicate, and Twitter is just one example.
Try it; you (should) like it.
In public relations, we spend a fair amount of time finding ways to get direct feedback and input from our publics (inexpensively, wherever possible).
Twitter gives us direct access to our Twitter-using audiences, allowing us to hear issues, concerns or suggestions straight from them and respond immediately, at minimal incremental cost.
In public relations, we spend a fair amount of time working to persuade mainstream media to relay our messages on our behalf.
Twitter allows us to speak directly to our audiences without any "gatekeeper" filtering what we say.
In public relations, we spend a fair amount of time analyzing our audiences, researching who influences whom, in the hopes of positioning our clients/products/whatever we're selling well in the eyes of those influencers.
Twitter allows our audiences to tell us who influences them.
In public relations, we spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out what's popular, what people are talking about, what people care about, and what people are concerned about.
Twitter gives us insights into all of those things, without costing us a penny in research.
In public relations, like just about everywhere, budgets are shrinking, and professionals are having to find ways to do more with less. Lucky PR departments can afford to send one staff member to one professional development conference per year.
Through re-tweets and links, Twitter gives us quick access to a tremendous amount of free professional development from some of the thought leaders in public relations today.
Now, I am not suggesting that Twitter is public relations cure-all: far from it. Twitter (as it exists today, at least) is far too general, too "high-level" - in fact, too unfiltered to be useful on its own as a valid tool for PR research. It's not perfect, and not all our audiences use it; but it's a start.
Twitter does give us a sense of how the winds of public opinion are blowing (among social media users, at least); it also gives us an opportunity to speak directly to our audiences - at any time of day, any day of the week, and as often as we choose. Just as importantly, it gives us a platform from which to hear about issues our audiences may have with us, and an opportunity to address them.
This technology is all about... people?
When it comes down to it, Twitter is just another way for human beings to communicate with one another, whether from one computer lab here at Red River College to another, or around the world.
It's a tool that facilitates relations between publics.
I think that, regardless of the potential for Twitter to be replaced by something even better at some point down the road, the time for PR professionals who aren't getting familiar with it to do so is now. Mashable.com, a leading source of information on all things social media, offers a great Twitter guidebook that can help any beginner get acquainted with the platform.
And if they don't, I have 20 smart PR Majors fixing to graduate this spring who'll be well-equipped to help build communication strategies for a new media world!
If you'd like to follow my tweets on Twitter, you can find them under @Lockstep.