Commentary

How PR people are killing Twitter

First, a few moments on the soap box.

I started using Twitter during Summer 2007 while on an internship in Boston. No one was really using it, so I had no reason to, either. During early Spring 2008 it started to catch on among some friends in college, which gave me grounds to start using it again. It was a close-knit community of friends - real friends. Not just people I should want to network with. It's carried through to today, with a core group of friends still using the service. To be fair, I've seen many more come and go. I'm beginning to understand why.

In ponder this, I've concluded that there are two categories of Twitter users:
- Professionals
- Hyper-mediated social butterflies

The latter group, the social types, are interested in their friends. They're doing some minor discussion of work they're doing, but on the whole their tweets resemble a "day in the life." Funny thoughts. Odd situations. "LOLs" and "OMGs" amid a sea of "@s" with their friends.

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Then, there are the "professionals."

These people are clogging the tubes. They are the metaphorical whores of the Twitterverse. They stand on virtual street corners looking to exchange cards with anyone they meet. They're more interested in promoting themselves, and less about what everyone else is doing.

It's not the PR function of Twitter that's causing me pause, rather it's the users. It's cool if your business or company has an account, as @Starbucks, @JetBlue and @Comcastcares have shown. Transparency is highly valued in this socially charged climate.

What's not acceptable is whoring yourself out as a self-titled "expert." Reading #journchat logs from weeks past, I noticed a few blunt tweets regarding the words "guru," "expert" and "maven." It's likened to the egocentric behavior of creating a Wikipedia page about yourself. That action, by the way, has its own policy in Wiki circles: If you're that important to have a Wiki page, let someone else make it for you.

In this job market, I understand the necessity of networking - especially in PR and journalism circles. Yet, these conversations continue to amount to foreplay. Problem is, there's no reward.

The term social media is preparing to jump the shark. Not because it's irrelevant, but because we've bastardized the hell out of its meaning.

In the last few months I've noticed a large rise in followers for my account. It's a diverse group of people, some young and some old. I follow back the ones who appear interesting (and low traffic), and disregard the other requests.

Frustration hit me while sorting through tweets on my phone one night. One of the interest group chats had just begun, and many of the people I follow were taking part. Within 20 minutes I had a page full of useless chatter. I had no information about the people I actually cared about. My social space was flooded with useless crap, and I wasn't about to drown in it. The next morning I un-followed a good chunk of the violators.

Now I'm flattered to have these followers, don't get me wrong. Yet, I can help but wonder why they're following me. More than three-fourths my tweets relate to what I'm doing or involve correspondence with friends. I mean "friends," too - not random followers. What about my life is so interesting that you're desiring it as a stream? I'd like to say I'm making insightful tweets and commentary, but truth be told I'm not. I made a separate Twitter account, clearly marked as a brand, for my Web site. Follow that, not me. Isn't that the theory?

It's a management issue to me. When I'm looking for my "inner-network" conversations, I don't have the time or energy to sort through hundreds of tweets using my mobile browser, Digsby or even Twitter.com. This is a large reason Twitter needs to develop friendship lists, similar to AIM Buddy Lists and Facebook Friend Lists.

To me, a lot of these "follow-ships" are the equivalent of exchanging business cards that you misplace before you even make it home. It's a lot of "let's do lunch sometime," without the lunch ever taking place.

Sure, a lot of this is the foreplay involved in networking; but do we need a digital log of it?

Bizarre as it is, journalists and PR people are commonly grouped together. As someone with a B.S. in Journalism, I find this to be annoying at times. Admittedly, the lines between the two are becoming increasingly blurred.

A friend of mine - a history major now studying telecommunications in graduate school - always teased me about the conventions and award banquets I ran off to as an undergraduate.

"Oh, Dave, are you just going to another one of those awards programs journalists make up to make themselves more important than they are?"

I chuckled, but I get where he's coming from. Journalists - pre-Blogger - have (had) this whole gatekeeping thing going on. For better or worse, that function is significantly weaker than decades ago. The Internet has allowed for more outlets, more choices and consequently fewer gates to be kept.

6 comments about "How PR people are killing Twitter".
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  1. Jp Holecka from Powershifter Media Corp., February 23, 2009 at 10:54 a.m.

    I like your post and have noticed the same. I try to always add value to other's streams. Sometimes it is an amazing link to article that I have found and and want to share. Other times it's a point of view that I may have either professional or personal one as I do have a 'blended' account. Other times I treat Twitter as an oracle of such and ask questions like "What application do you like for performing BLANK task" or tell me three great things you like. In the mix I do promote my blog posts and photography but they become much more of an aside than the main focus of my tweets. I have had great success in Twitter with this approach and just unfollow the blatant self promoting PR broadcasters that do very little in the way of listening.

    I am @jaypiddy for any of you that may be interested in following someone with this eclectic mix of tweets,

  2. Bill Worple, February 23, 2009 at 11:03 a.m.

    The great thing about twitter is it only gets as clogged as you let it. I agree that there are people who use Twitter to spam. But realistically, how effective are the “experts” that tweet to 1,500 people who are all following 3x's more people than actually follow them? Those messages get lost in the stream.

    Titter is great for following people who are in the same industry or have the same interests as you, throw in a few commercial accounts that that you're interested in hearing from and twitter becomes an amazing source of information that you can easily manage.

    I used to follow mediapost on twitter, but found the bulk posting of articles annoying and cluttering. As a result, I returned to scanning emails for topics of interest, like this one. The great thing about media today is that you have options to consume information relevant to you in the way that best suits you. When done correctly, it eliminates the spam clogging the tubes.

  3. Jeremy Dent from Juice Digital, February 23, 2009 at 11:09 a.m.

    As Bill says, you have choices about how you view and use social media. With a tool like TweetDeck, you can filter out noise or tweets with little value...to you.

    Twitter has gown up into a mainstream tool and, while you might have liked it as your private domain, grow up and share it with the rest of the world.

    Use its tools to get the results you want.

  4. Kris Patel from Zig Marketing, February 23, 2009 at 2:08 p.m.

    I enjoyed your post! I think Twitter is a great tool for reaching out to friends, advancing your business, and discovering tidbits of information from around the globe.

    I agree with you and with the comments above. Twitter is only as extensible as you'd like it to be. For this, I feel that I can not only put out my two-cents to anyone who'd like to listen and converse with those with similar likes and dislikes.

    Friends of mine who are just discovering Twitter always make note of the amount of strange followers they get. They ask me questions like, "Why do people who don't know me follow me? Where do all these strangers come from? Should I follow everyone?" I give them all the same answer.

    Follow whoever you can listen to, and listen to those followers who listen to you.

    Mutual relationships are great on Twitter!

    Thanks for the post and receiving my 2 pennies.

  5. bug menot, February 23, 2009 at 9:04 p.m.

    eh. guess how many PR are going to leave a comment just to get some attention..

  6. Thomas Pick from Webbiquity LLC, February 24, 2009 at 7:58 a.m.

    David --

    While I appreciate your frustration, I think you're being a bit harsh. Yes, there are spammers and other boorish people on Twitter--as there are in any other realm of life--but they are a (unfortunately noisy) minority. Treat them as you would in real life, by ignoring them. In the case of Twitter, unfollow them to keep them from clogging your pipes. If enough people do so, the message will be received.

    Now, as for my perspective on the PR value of Twitter: I help B2B technology companies use social media to connect with prospective customers and key influencers in their particular industry segments. A small fraction of 1% of the population knows (or cares) anything about social media and B2B marketing, a handful in the city where I live. But online social media tools like Twitter help me connect with, share and learn from these rare individuals all over the world. Others have to "hear" our online conversations only if they choose to.

    Most of my clients are in the same situation: they sell products that appeal to a very small slice of the population. For example, would you be interesting in knowing more about an exceptionally powerful new tool for complex data analytics? Probably not - most people wouldn't. But the small percentage of people who do care about this topic care about it very, very much. Social media enables me to reach those people on behalf of my client in a uniquely effective and efficient manner.

    Most of these tools are relatively new, and most users of them even newer. People will screw up and act inappropriately from time to time. Most of us will figure out, and adhere to, proper online social media etiquette eventually. Ignore the rest.

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