Photo by DoktorSpinn

I saw an article being linked to from Twitter this morning. It was entitled 10 Reasons PR Should Embrace Twitter. I thought I should go check it out, partly because I regularly guest lecture about the internet on a PR module at Birmingham City University, and partly because I had a feeling that the reasons given would either be surprising and useful, or laughably wrong.

It was the latter.

Now, I’m not one of those people that think PR is inherently evil. It is mostly evil in practice, of course – but not inherently so. PR is about organisations communicating with the outside world. There are lots of good things to communicate, by many good organisations.

Where it all goes wrong, I think, is when it becomes about ‘perception management’. That is to say – PR becomes the answer to the problem “How do we make as many people as possible think that our company is good, when it’s bad?”

And the strategy is one of broadcasting and mass communication. The trouble is – that’s not what Twitter is about.

This is a conversation
The idea that Twitter is a broadcast medium, that it provides free exposure for brands and that it’s an influential tool for PR is based on the misunderstanding of internet media as broadcasting. As I’ve pointed out a number of times (specifically here), we are not in the electric age of communication anymore.

Sending out your message simply doesn’t work. Reputation is not based on repetition but on consensus and discussion.

You can, of course, engage in the discussion – but you do not have the floor, and the people you are talking to are not an audience.

Your PR is not welcome here
People do not engage with brands online – they engage with people. Those people can represent brands, but the relationships are essentially human ones.

But here’s the most important point: The most damaging thing you can do on Twitter from a PR perspective is to use Twitter as if it’s a PR medium.

If you talk at people rather than with them. If you cut and paste a message and direct it at who you believe to be influential tweeters. If you try all the old broadcasting and mass media PR tricks. If you attempt to manage reputation rather than actually earn one. If you treat this as a broadcasting platform – then your impact will be precisely the opposite of that which you intend.

If this is the way that you intend to approach PR in the online world – then welcome: we are here to crucify you. Far better you had stayed away.

How to do PR on Twitter
It is possible to do PR on Twitter. But PR doesn’t mean what you think it means.

If you’re willing to engage in debate and individual discussion in a way that addresses rather than hides problems, and you are willing to spend the time developing a reputation one person at a time – then welcome to the conversation.

Otherwise – go to hell.