March 26th, 2009
Cross-posted on techPresident
A classic observation from the early days of online marketing: a website is NOT a strategy. I.e., when you ask the client what they’re trying to do online, and they reply that they have a website — which is of course just a tool, and is probably not doing them much good if it’s isolated from an actual plan to put it to use.
The Twitter fixation currently sweeping segments of the news media and the political world (particularly on the Republican side) reminds me of those innocent days of the early web. Not to put Twitter down, because it definitely has valuable uses, but it’s just a tool — and if you don’t know WHY you’re using it, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.
For you or your organization, is Twitter a journalistic live-coverage tool? A platform for (very short) punditry? A reputation-builder? A way to connect with others in your field? A personal journal, broadcast to the world? An RSS supplement, a way to send out links to your own articles? A collaborative community-builder? A reporting system for distributed events (“someone just stole the ballot box at my polling place!”)? All of these and more are perfectly valid ways to use it, but each requires a different approach if it’s to succeed.
During the extended discussion at the SXSW “Digital Tsunami” panel (in which GM’s Christopher Barger also discussed corporate public relations in a networked age), NPR’s social media guru Andy Carvin mentioned that he didn’t want the network’s reporters to be on Twitter just because “the cool kids” in the journalistic set were doing it — he wanted them to use Twitter if and because it made them better reporters. Exactly! A communications tool should make your life or your job better, not just provide another distraction.
For instance, if you’re a reporter and you’re spending minutes a day tweeting about your morning coffee-and-a-bagel, you’re probably just wasting time — yours and others’ — unless it’s within the context of a cunning plan to humanize you in the eyes of an adoring public. Similarly, some talk shows seem obsessed with taking messages from listeners via Twitter, but let me ask them this question: wouldn’t they usually get more thought-out messages via email or over the phone than through a channel that limits people to 140 characters? Too often, Twitter is the enemy of complex thought, not its friend — if you’re on Twitter yourself, look at your last few weeks’ posts and see what fraction of your potential mental capability they actually express. Probably not much: that’s not what the tool is good for.
Again, I ain’t hatin’ on Twitter, but professional communicators ought to know WHY they’re using it and what they’re trying to get out of it. Otherwise, they’re just jumping on a crowded bandwagon without even knowing where it’s headed. And our public discourse is shallow enough as it is.