Twitterati – It’s Not How Many Use It; It’s How It’s Used

There’s an awful lot to say about Twitter. Far more words than this little 140-word max micro-blogger would ever allow are being bandied about by a motley crew of observers in countless media forums, at corporate lunch tables, and from comfy coffee shop sofas. Whether it’s a fascination with what celebs are (or are not) Tweeting; or a conversation about why Gen Y remains conspicuously absent from the growing fan-base (and I guess I am old enough to be okay with the adult world venturing into a digital room without the kids for at least a little while!), or today’s hot political jabber (and related CNN coverage) about the influence of Twitter on the poli-social doings of the Iranian people and government, we’re all a’twitter (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) with the possibilities, the limitations, and the speculations of this new way of interacting.

Most of the dialogue focuses on the numbers of folks using the application – the rate of adoption if you will. But the real intrigue of the story is actually not so much how many are on Twitter, but how the current Twitter-elite use this fascinating tool. Twitter allows influencers to converse and build consensus in a way that is not happening on Facebook. Whether or not millions are using the service, if the people who use it are using it to influence, to change, to invite conversation (and from the media buzz folks, clearly, it’s a workable strategy) then we’ve got something slightly revolutionary on our hands.

The Twitter Elite, an interesting concept. In our organization, for example, one of our designers just finished off the sleek new graphic design to festoon our CEO’s Twitter page and commented to him, “Welcome to the Twitterati.” And I had to laugh, because right now – those of us who Twitter, even if it links to our Facebook status, have a certain sense of “ahead of the pack” that intrigues me.

Where this all fits for public relations is (obviously) in the relationships that are being borne via this and other social media. And that has yet to totally pan out. For example, in a matter of days, I’ve already gone from following celebrated personalities in my professional sphere, to being their fan on Facebook, to being confirmed as their friend on Facebook. This progression of relationship is totally unique – and suggests a new way of engaging age-old ways of mixing and mingling, professional networking, and certainly influencing in the future.

Status Quo

My group is reading Tribes. That surely means a great deal to some true Godin fans; little to people who have never heard of him; and probably provokes something of a sneer from those who pretty much have decided that the thesis is overdone. For our group, it’s been a great read and a great catalyst for discussion.

The concept today – how do you bust up status quo? How do you adopt remarkable behavior? And recognizing that as soon as you bust status quo, you become status quo – what do you do with that?

Our group is uniquely Corporate Communications. We are a mix of public relations, publicity, internet marketing, and marketing communications. It’s a great blend – and our reach extends across the organization, which can make us alternately everyone’s best advocate or greatest headache depending on what someone is trying to accomplish. The really interesting reality for this type of group: we are influencers by the very nature of our craft. We shape messages; we help mold culture; we hear the language of the corner office and the facilities blue collars and weave it together into the corporate speak.

Here’s how to start leading from within. Here’s a way to  shape a new kind of status quo:

  1. Constant Push: raise the good questions and clarify the “why” behind the standard “how”. Do this (here’s a key word for me) winsomely, non-defensively (which is a taller and taller order in today’s culture); and always be willing to back up the push with clear counsel and the ability to pull solutions from those you work with.
  2. Be What You Want: Demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to create new ways of doing and being in our own group, and inspire others to do likewise.
  3. Pursue the new! Encourage an intentional emphasis on being “up” on new ideas and ways to communicate, and to be truly wise find ways to use new media and new techniques in ways that complement the “old classics”.

I spent my early career as a history teacher. And so, I admit that I have a certain healthy skepticism about the continuous “need” for the new. When you study history, you really see that there truly are no new ideas under the sun – and that’s where communications theory becomes essential to today’s new ways of engaging with audiences. There are, however, endless combinations of methods and tactics, and endless possibilities for applying them in new forms.

The idea here – breaking status quo isn’t as much about what or how you do something – it’s about the why.

Good PR

Disagree if you want, but if they were being really honest (the kind of anonymous that usually only happens under the cloak of Internet anonymity, or the kind that comes after a 2-martini Happy Hour, depending on your level of personal expression) many business-types consider PR the soft-shoe of real marketing savvy. The blatant truth of the matter is, without relationships, business – like most of life – just doesn’t work. So it’s not like they eschew the idea of relating because it just doesn’t get much more obvious than that. No, it’s precisely because it IS so obvious that everyone thinks they don’t really need PR-people. After all – how hard is it to manage relationships.

If it’s that easy, there’s a whole lot of public relations experts out there masquerading as finance directors, marketing executives, advertising schleps, and CEOs.

Sure – in today’s high energy business environment, the mantra is “integrated communications,” and so PR has (perhaps grudgingly) earned a spot at the table. And in truly Fast Company-esque enterprises, there’s more than just a sense that relationships need to be the first thought, and not the afterthought, but still when tough business choices find their way to the board room, the sales managers will strut their product-emphasis, bottom-line dollar approach, and the finance types will hold forth on a dizzying array of market analyses spreadsheets, and the corporate leaders will reference the one course they had way back during their MBA days, and all will skeptically leer at the PR practicioner, waiting for her to launch into her namby-pamby soft-sell of ooey-gooey relationship strategy.

Most times, we PR types take it in stride. After all – we get relationships, so we get the core issues here. But there are other times when it’s just a bit wearing.

The thing is, when the chips are down, the House favors the PR person: when things are going great, it’s rarely the thought; but when things really go South, it’s all about how to massage, spin, communicate, and generally pay real attention to the relationships beyond lip-service.

The point of this blog is to talk about public relations – what it really, really means to build mutually beneficial relationships for an organization. What it really looks like to adhere to a doctrine of “thou shalt not spin”, and how – in the incredibly worn-down, overly reached, media drenched, skeptical market true public relations can and should function. The goal is to invite a dialogue about how we communicate – how we relate, which is the fundamental drive for PR people who get-it.

If you like that idea – and you are open to frank conversation without to terribly much ego-manical holding forth, stick around, weigh in, and let’s talk.