Cross post from PRSA San Antonio Byline, June 2008 issue.
I don’t usually give advice this way. But, if you are not using Twitter yet, it’s time. Today. Normally, I would suggest you check it out when you have time to see if it’s a good fit for you. But not in this case. If you are in public relations – and likely if you’re not – you need to understand Twitter. And to understand it, you have to use it.
Simply put, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service – meaning once you sign up (easily), you can send updates (or “tweets”) of up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter web site. You choose people to follow so you can read their tweets, and people follow you to read yours. Over time, you’re part of a community.
If you’ve been waiting to see if this fad will catch on, the waiting is over. Twitter has become a powerful tool for communication for organizations, communities and individuals. Many news stories are breaking on Twitter first because people experiencing whatever it is are tweeting about it in real time.
Here are just a few ways people and organizations have already been using Twitter:
• Comcast is using Twitter to respond to customer-service related tweets.
• The Red Cross is using Twitter to send emergency updates to communities experiencing a disaster and universities are using it to notify students about emergencies.
• Small businesses are using Twitter to drive traffic to their web sites and generate sales (though hard sell and creepy tactics aren’t tolerated among Twitter users).
• Individuals are getting questions answered quickly (when visiting a new city, Dan York asked suggestions for a store that sells boots).
• At least one charity non-profit has been formed by Twitter users in response to a woman’s honest tweets about her breast cancer diagnosis (see Frozen Pea Fund).
• Southwest Airlines uses Twitter to let customers know about deals.
• Journalists at Read Write Web discover tech news tips on Twitter first on a regular basis and they use it to solicit interview questions via Twitter.
• Conference speakers instruct audience members to submit questions via Twitter and monitor Twitter traffic to get immediate feedback on their event.
• A professor uses Twitter to communicate with his students between classes.
Granted, there are other tools like this one. And some of them are more stable and have better features. But Twitter was first. I’ve listed some resources for you for when you have questions.