Just because you can


I’m not a twitter expert. This seems to put me in the minority. And it’s a great thing that so many people have a view on what the microblogging service is doing in communications and how people, and companies, should be interacting with it.

Over at e-consultancy there’s been a couple of recent interesting outbreaks of expertise. The first was the victim of poor research. John Gaffney went about a critique of Walmart and Best Buy’s social media strategy. His assertion was that the brands ought to be on Twitter and were not. I’m guessing the author was probably more suprised than anyone when the first comment came from the Best Buy community editor themselves and talking about the amazing work they are actually doing. Other commentors pointed out the author himself had only been on the service 1 month and had posted 14 times. The author apologized, the editor delivered a half-hearted apology, Ashely Friedlin jumped in with something more closely resembling attrition, and the post itself was updated to recognise the error.

So far, so much schadenfreude. I’m sure Gaffney will not repeat that mistake, and I’m sure e-consultancy will in general continue to be the broadly respectable rag for news, opinion and social media that it has been to date.

The post was then followed up by e-consultancy editor Chris Lake carrying out a sort of half-arsed audit of what the biggest agencies in the UK are doing about twitter. Essentially he had taken the NMA top 50 agencies (overall) and looked to see whether they had a twitter feed under their own name. I think it would be fair to describe the research in this case as brief, consisting of how many followers and posts each account has and so on.

Without wanting to repeat the debate which became lengthy, the point emerged fairly quickly that agencies (like mine which is in the list) have often started out with a company feed, only to move to individuals twittering under their own names fairly quickly. I think it’s also fair to say that the mere presence or absence of a twitter stream does not confirm or deny a reasonable approach to the medium – just as the presence of a brain does not imply brain activity.

I sort of pointed this out on the post (and to be fair, unlike the e-consultancy twitter feed, the author was all over the replies). It has taken me a couple of days to spot the gotcha in this part of the author’s response to me:

I’ve seen thought-leadership work wonders for agencies and Twitter enables that quite brilliantly. No longer do you have to release a white paper, or in-depth blog posts, but you can communicate at a micro level on a platform that is targeted to people’s interests.

I’m sorry it’s taken me a little while to realise what is was that was jarring in the author’s response but isn’t ‘thought leadership’ something that PR people invented in the late 90s. I don’t mean promoting yourself through good ideas. I mean the concept that a single thought-leading idea will be used in marketing or PR. Isn’t is an idea precisely oriented to single-track mass media of which Twitter is the antithesis?

For me, the benefit of Twitter in terms of promoting our agency is that people can see that there is a great deal of (leading) thought going on, and they can get involved in those thoughts and start a debate. But EMC Conchango as an entity doesn’t have a single view on anything. It’s got 400 views. Some are about technology, some about society, some about e-commerce, and on and on. We’re a pretty engaged bunch and we talk about stuff a lot, so we’re often broadly in agreement on certain points but the suggestion that there is an EMC Conchango view point on anything (or indeed an e-consultancy view on anything) seems wrong to me. That would be a denail of thought, and certainly wouldn’t be an indication of our leadership position. Unless we were following the North Korea model.

Of course,  one size will not fit all, and it will make sense for some organisations (especially one-man agencies – or two-man agencies where one man doesn’t have any opinions) to blog as an enttity. I for one am delighted to know that more big agencies are prefering to let staff think (and communicate) for themselves in such a personal new medium.

2 thoughts on “Just because you can”

  1. A thorough and well-thought posting. Worth exploring further: the near-hysteria surrounding Twitter at the moment is not without its risks – namely that over-use and misuse of the medium by business-users will lead to unintended distortions.

    Regarding the ‘half-arsed audit’ of Twitter users in agencies. There is an increasing number of surveys like this – see last month’s report in PR Week, which had the same shallow analysis of Twitter as and it’s utility to PR agencies.

    But let’s not confused this form of “analysis” with what it truly is: a fully fledged piece of self-promotion geared at attracting clients.

    In terms of PR agencies, I also wonder whether clients truly want their agency to enjoy a high profile (through Twitter or any medium). Think of agencies dealing with crisis and issues management (where a low-profile of issues & their clients is sometimes a measure of success) and I begin to wonder how well miscellaneous Tweets add to client service.

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