Understanding Twitter by the Numbers

Twitter Total Registrants - WebProNews
Twitter Total Registrants - WebProNews

All of my clients, including the agencies I work with, are watching the evolution of social media with keen interest, and one of the most curious phenomena to power social media is Twitter. Although they still don’t seem to have a revenue model, Twitter and the whole concept of microblogging has taken the Web by storm. I recall when Twitter first launched two years ago at the Web 2.0 Expo at San Francisco. I was there to help launch Vidoop, an innovative security solution for logging into Web sites, and the Vidoop marketing team were all abuzz about Twitter. They actually started using the service on their mobile phones to keep track of each other during the show.

Now Twitter seems to have grown up, a lot. In March, Mashable reported that Twitter was growing at a rate of 1,382 percent with 7 million unique visitors. And more services continue to leverage Twitter as part of their social media strategy; the latest being LinkedIn, which just launched a Twitter feed for users, and Yahoo which is harnessing Twitter to promote search.

But how effective is Twitter as a marketing mechanism? Can you use Twitter to reach your target audience? According to a new study by Pew Research, 19 percent of Internet users are using Twitter, up from 11 percent in April. Not surprisingly, web users who are already using social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIn, or Facebook seem more likely to use Twitter (35 perce

nt). And the more devices a user owns, the more likely they are to use Twitter to update their activities – 39 percent of Twitter users have four Web-linked devices, 28 percent with three devices, 19 percent with two devices, and 10 percent with one device.

What was really interesting about the Pew study were the Twitter demographics. As of September, 54 percent of Internet users have a wireless Internet connection, either from a cell phone, laptop, game console, or other mobile device. Twenty-five percent of those 54 percent use Twitter, which is up from 14 percent in December 2008. The median age for T

witter users is 31, with users between the ages of 18 and 44 up dramatically in the last six months, and

Total Tweets for 2009 - WebProNews
Total Tweets for the 2009 – WebProNews

Internet users over 45 are coming on at a slower adoption rate.

I think the most interesting statistic, and the most important to consider from a marketing perspective, is that according to Harvard Business School researchers, 10 percent of Twitter users account for 90 percent of all tweets. In addition, of the 11.5 million Twitter accounts, most people post once a day and one in five have never posted on Twitter.

So what does this mean for your personal PR and marketing program? Understand your objectives before you embark on a social media program, and who you are trying to target. Twitter exposure can be valuable in promoting your online brand, but you want to make sure that you have the right followers. Twitter can be a valuable tool for market research and information dissemination, but only if you can tap a demographic that you care about.

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Free News Release Wire Services Are Worth What You Pay for Them

free-stuffI have been using newswire services for as long as I have been doing public relations. I have used BusinessWire, PR Newswire, MarketWire (formerly Internet Wire), and PR Web and have had good results with each in turn, depending on the media and marketing strategy. There are any number of discussion threads among my LinkedIn PR groups asking which is the best service? The answer is, of course, it depends.

One of the real advantages of using wire services is Web distribution and online exposure. The wire services give you reach you can’t get with conventional outreach, including social media. Of course, wire drops can be expensive. The national circuit for the mainstream wire services can be $1,000 or more for a single press release, which is beyond the budget of many smaller companies and start-ups that want the reach but can’t afford it. I advise clients looking to penetrate vertical markets to use a narrower geographic target in order to gain access to the vertical media circuits offered by PRNewswire, BusinessWire, and MarketWire. This can save a lot of money and gives them both media outreach and Web exposure for search engine optimization.

And then there are the clients who can’t afford to make paid wire services a consistent part of their program. I have been working on an alternative strategy with one client who new press announcements on a weekly basis. Paid wire services would break their budget, so we rely on direct media outreach and posts to a number of free wire services like PR.com, i-Newswire, PR-Inside.com, and a host of others. These services have helped with both media and Web exposure, but they come with risks.

A number of these free sites are powered by advertising. Recently, I have had one or two clients come to me asking about the ads that are associated with their news releases. Apparently, some sites are less discriminating than others about the types of ads they will accept, so my clients’ new products may run with an ad for male enhancement solutions or something else unexpected and undesirable. You have to continuously monitor your free news site strategy because terms and conditions are changing all the time. For example, one of my favorite free release sites recently eliminated its free option and now only accepts paid press release distribution.

As with most things, you get what you pay for, so you can’t expect much from a free press release site. However, there are some criteria you can apply to give you greater confidence that you are controlling how your news is seen on the Web. Check to see what the site’s advertising policy is and see what kinds of ads are associated with similar news announcements. See how much control you get over your free news release account, e.g. does it archive your news announcements and give you hit counts and statistics? And monitor your coverage! Be sure you are tracking how your releases are propagating on the Web. When you find that some of your free sites are posting inappropriate ads or your news is appearing on the wrong kinds of Web sites, scratch those free sites from your list.

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Happy 40th Birthday, Internet

internetbdayI can’t believe that I forgot the Internet’s 40th birthday. Throughout most of my professional career the Internet has been a steadfast ally; a friend that has helped me stay in touch and brought me new business. I have been writing and talking about Internet technology for 25 years now. Some of my first clients sold TCP/IP stacks for Windows, VMS, and Macintosh (no, the IP protocol wasn’t always bundled with the OS). I worked with early SMTP vendors, including the guys who created the MIME standard that lets us send files by e-mail, and the first SNMP stack vendors selling raw, Internet management goodness.

The march of alphabet soup has continued over the years, the Internet has become a bosom companion. Who knew that from the early ARPANET days, the Internet would grow from a network of loosely connected college computers to a global infrastructure supporting billions of users? One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Internet is that it is an autonomous entity. There is no central Internet authority. And while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) remains the harbinger of evolving networking standards, the Internet infrastructure itself has become a self-healing mesh of data arteries that remains incredibly reliable, even though no one entity is really in charge.

The Internet’s actually birthday is somewhat in question. One group claims that it was born in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock presented a paper on packet-switching at MIT. Most acknowledge the Internet was born in 1969 when data was transmitted by two California universities. Wherever you set the marker, the world has never been the same since.

And it is important to remember that the Internet is not the same as the World Wide Web. The Web has made the Internet more consumer-friendly and commercially accessible, but the Web is only 20 years old. Tim Berners Lee first proposed the concept of the Web to CERN management in March 1989. However, the Web is just another protocol that runs over the Internet, like e-mail of file transfer.

So with the growth of the Internet and the Web, our world has changed. And as a PR professional, our world has changed dramatically as well. I have been doing PR long enough to remember stuffing envelopes with press releases that were mailed to editors for publication. Today, of course, data is distributed via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, and any number of other Internet-driven communications. Information access has become virtually instantaneous, which makes our jobs as publicists infinitely more challenging. We have to make our clients’ stories more compelling, more relevant, and more Web-friendly in order to have an impact. We need to engage in the Internet-driven conversation, rather than pitching stories in a one-way channel, pleading with editors to write about our clients.

The Internet has made the world much smaller, and given us instant access to an unprecedented amount of data. I believe that part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to use the power of this incredible technology for good, and to promote best practices, authenticity, and adopt new methodologies that promote truth and authenticity. And the 40th birthday of the Internet seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and consider what role we can play in shaping the future of the information revolution.

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Media Training Shows that a Good Interview is About Good Storytelling

Effective media training promotes good storytelling
Effective media training promotes good storytelling

I have been working on one or two new product launches over the past few weeks, and that means putting CEOs and senior managers in front of reporters and analysts to tell a story. It’s amazing how many executives are bad at storytelling. They are confident speaking to managers, their board of directors, even venture capitalists, but when it comes to telling a compelling story to editors many seem at a loss.

Effective media training can address a number of these problems and actually show senior executives how to think like a reporter. It can show managers what is really newsworthy and printable, and help them tell a story. I want to direct you to a new white paper by seasoned freelance writer Mark Halper and offered by Johnson King. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Mike King for many years, and can’t recommend a better high-tech PR firm if you are looking to break into the EMEA market.)

Mark had some interesting observations in his white paper; observations from which all executives can benefit. I suggest you read Mark’s comments for yourself, but here are some highlights.

  1. Know your audience. I prepare briefing documents for all my clients. In those briefing sheets are insights about the reporter, his publication, its audience, and likely topics of interest and questions that might be asked. From the interviews that follow from those briefing sheets, I have to wonder if the clients actually read them. In order to get coverage, you have to offer information that is informative and relevant to the editor. (And by the way, Mark’s penguin analogy is much more colorful than my insights here.) Today, for example, I had an interview with Skype Journal about a client’s new product. Fortunately, most of the conversation focused on Skype but it could easily have taken a left turn, focusing on other non-Skype-related product features that would have been irrelevant to the story. Too often clients become so focused on their own script that they neglect the human element – connecting with the reporter and asking him what he needs to file his story.
  2. There is no such thing as “off the record.” This is a common failing that I have seen the most experienced executives make. They are so busy trying to establish a rapport with a reporter that they forget the rules of engagement. You need to know when to reveal information and when to withhold it, and you need to know that there really is no such thing as “off the record.”
  3. Make it colorful. Anecdotes are incredibly useful. The right story or key phrase can stick in the mind of the reporter and make you look larger than life. Remember that no matter who the reporter is writing for, readers are always people and they gravitate toward interesting stories and anecdotes.
  4. Not just the facts, tell a story! In order to make their articles interesting, reporters must be storytellers. In the world of high-tech, reporters always ask for analyst and customer references, not just to validate new technology but because third parties add color. I recently landed an interview for a client with the San Francisco Chronicle about corporations adopting social media strategies. The quotes that made print were the colorful anecdotes about customer observations and trends that put a human face and connection on the story.

As Mark states, “Executives should not underestimate the storytelling aspect of journalism.” Media training can not only teach executives how to control an interview, but how to “keep it real” and give the interviewee the kind of color commentary that makes a compelling story that goes deeper than the facts.

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The Best Interview Tactics are Stop, Look, Listen

04_24_09_stop_light1Listening is an underrated skill, and one I wish that my C-level clients would take more seriously. I recently completed a series of media interviews with a new client and, as with most clients I have worked with over the last 20 years, these executives are too busy trying to cram information down a reporter’s throat to stop, listen, engage, and learn more about what they are interested in.

Of course, you are trying to get the point across for a new services or product and make sure the reporter knows why it’s valuable. You want to deliver your three key message points. But the objective is not to deliver death by PowerPoint. It’s to create a connection with the reporter so you make an ally, not just deliver message points. Which is why I want to share a recent blog post from my client, NETSHARE, on listening strategies. The NETSHARE blog is talking about harnessing listening skills for a job interview, but the same skills apply for press interviews as well. If you listen closely, you are in control of the interview. Here are the highlights:

  1. Commit to improving your listening skills. You need to learn to listen, so it takes practice.
  2. Stop pitching and start listening. Every executive in an interview is selling a story about his company and its products. Try listening instead of pitching. Let reporters ask questions and dig for insights and address the questions, not your key messages.
  3. Give the reporter your undivided attention. Whether you are in an interview or talking to a friend, they deserve your undivided attention. So take them off the speaker phone, put away the computer, and shut off outside distractions.
  4. Be objective. Don’t be quick to challenge or share your own ideas. Listen to the reporter and offer a well-reasoned response.
  5. Apply empathy. Try to see the other party’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes and try to find common ground.
  6. Be respectful. Wait for the other party to stop talking before offering a counterpoint. Also remember that if you are formulating your response while the other party is speaking, you are not listening.
  7. Paraphrase what has just been said to make sure you have heard correctly.
  8. Notes are valuable. They can help you reinforce and remember salient points.
  9. When you are being interviewed, look at how the other party poses the questions. Are they loud? Do they talk fast? What words do they use? If you can tun3e in to tone and body language you can determine mood and feeling, which can help you take control of the interview.
  10. Look at body language. Are there non-verbal signs that tell you what the interviewer is thinking? See if they make eye contact. Do they turn away from you? Are they avoiding direct interaction? If so, then you have a hostile interviewer.  But if they are direct and look you in the eye, they are ready to engage and more amenable.

To take charge of an interview you need to take the time to listen and engage with the reporter. Don’t be so quick to promote your own story. Listen to what the reporter needs and help him build his story. You will get more from the interview that way, and so will the reporter.

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Social Media Is Not About Making Friends, It’s About ROI

I have been getting a lot of objections from clients lately about social media. “Show me the money,” they cry. “Where’s my ROI?” In factr, I was working on a proposal today and trying to determine the best way to explain to the prospect where they really get ROI from social media. It’s not indutitive to the uninitiated, and if you don’t have a basic understanding of online communicaitons, the old outbound marketing think kicks in. It’s hard to retool your brain from outbound marketing to interactive conversation.

So I wanted to share some insights from Olivier Blanchard, who blogs as the Brand Builder. He has some really insightful thoughts on how to think abotu social media in terms of ROI. Here’s a presentation on the topic…

As well as a copy of the original slides. (With a nod to Ed Bishop and the cast of UFO – a very clever use of campy science fiction fare.)

Any marketing program is useless unless you can measure the results, either in terms of increased profits or reduced costs. So how are you measuring ROI? What metrics matter to your clients?

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Crisis Communications Means Hope for the Best but Prepare for the Worst

I have been working on a project lately for a financial services client; a crisis communications plan designed to help them deal with a variety of public problems. We developed scenarios to cover financial meltdown, executive malfeasance, data loss or theft, robbery, fire, flood, pestilence, and a plague of locusts. The client was pleased – “Very thorough” was the response – but in the process of developing the crisis plan I recalled a number of points I had forgotten about crisis management.

The first revelation was that in order for there to be a crisis, you have to have a victim. This seems obvious, but I have known a number of chief executives who look at an internal product failure or a bad fiscal quarter and decide it’s a crisis that needs addressing. Unless the public, or employees, or stockholders are going to be affected (and usually in a dramatic way), there is no crisis.

I also discovered that NOT having a crisis communications plan in place can be expensive. You can’t just think in terms of losses in revenue, reputation, or brand equity. The premiums for E&O insurance are higher if you don’t have a crisis plan waiting in the wings. After all, statistics show that every organization will encounter a public crisis sometime in the next five years.

It’s also crucial that you not only identify corporate spokespersons in advance, you need to train them! CEOs think that talking to the press is the same as schmoozing a venture capitalist or addressing the board of directors. They are wrong! Crisis communications requires a level of understand and finesse that is unlike any other type of PR. If you have doubts, go to YouTube and look up any CEO dealing with a company crisis. If they have prepared, it shows.

What’s wrong with this picture? Would you trust this man with your crisis message?

The real trick in crisis communications is being responsible and admitting there is a problem without pointing fingers or assigning culpability. This is a fine line that can be very hard to walk. If you speak frankly and address concerns quickly about what you know, and stay within your area of responsibility, you can avoid laying blame or making statements that you will have to recant later.

Above all, crisis communications calls for authenticity It’s not just about saving the company’s reputation or shoring up stock price. It’s about being a stand-up corporate citizen that cares about customers, employees, or the planet – whoever has been affected by the company’s error.

So if you haven’t revisited your crisis strategy lately, it’s time. Make sure you have assigned your crisis team, refreshed your contact list, and trained your spokespersons. There’s nothing worse than getting caught unprepared. And when you are caught unwares, repairing the damage to your reputation and your brand, and rebuilding your sales could take more time than you can afford to invest.

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