What if Twitter dies…


… and I barely notice. Does that make me a bad PR person?

Twitter went down today for a few hours, the apparent victim of a hacker attack.

Here’s the thing: It sort of went right by me. I am not sure if I should be proud of that fact or ashamed. I know – there are billions of people in the world who live out entire lives without even so much as a whisper of a notion as to what Twitter is.

But I am in high-tech public relations for a living. It seems like I should be following thousands of people and be followed by the same. I should be checking my Twitter stream in real-time, all the time, 24/7. I should know when the top bloggers go to the bathroom and how many times Ashton and Demi did it today.

But none of those things apply to me. Sure, I really enjoy and appreciate most of the people I follow. Their tweets are useful, entertaining, newsworthy.

But I can live without them, whereas I would wither and die without my daily print versions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and without great tech news sites like CNET, Technologizer and Engadget.

Am I obsolete? Or just too busy to live and die with Twitter?

Weep For Me, I’m Obsolete

Stone tablets

I read with some bemusement the recent New York Times story on the changing nature of public relations and how social media is re-writing the rules of my vaunted profession.

Let me see if I can do a quick historical time line of news delivery to frame the situation:

  • Stone tablets replaced cave walls
  • Papyrus replaced tablets
  • Parchment replaced papyrus
  • Paper replaced parchment
  • Radio replaced print
  • TV replaced radio
  • The Web replaced TV
  • Blogs replaced the Web
  • Twitter replaced blogs

That last one is amusing, since it seems like just yesterday (wait, I think it was) that “mainstream media” was lamenting the rise of the blog. Now, Michael Arrington is poo-pooing the rise of Twitter. (I happen to agree with him on social media in general, but respectfully disagree on what we PR folks do, but to each his own.)

So what’s next? Beats me. Call me old fashioned, but I still would rather get my news from the New York Times (not withstanding that puff piece) than from Timmy the Twitterer, who may or may not have well-connected sources, but how would I know since he can only write eight words at a time.

(BTW – I’m about to launch a new news delivery system called “BlinkCasting” where all you have to do is blink your eyes and exhale and people will know what you are doing and follow your every thought. I learned it from my dog.)

PR in the Land of 140 Characters

In these days of “life in 140 characters” and the death –or at least starving — of traditional media, I’d like to suggest that keeping to the tenets of traditional PR is more important than ever.

I don’t mean to say that many of the old PR tactics are not just that – old. I mean the goal, the shoe leather, the desire, the FUN and (most importantly) the credibility of communication, are more important than ever.

Good PR has always been about relationships and credibility – and it remains so – only more so.

In the past, the PR team needed a good understanding of the company, the products and the people it was promoting – as well as an understanding of the end audience. Today, through Twitter, Facebook, users groups and conferences, PR needs to play an even more active and visible role — because they are communicating not just through the filter of a third party (reporters) but directly to end users and other influencers. To do this, today’s practitioners need an even deeper understanding of what they communicate and to gain that understanding, it is more important than ever before to live and breathe not just INSIDE, but OUTSIDE the company as well. Now more than ever, we the PR team, need to communicate BACK to the company what is happening.

Credibility. Of course there are horror stories of PR behaving badly, or enabling a client to behave badly. Mass mailings, intentionally misleading, outright lying – yes, PR has had its share. But I’d argue that good PR was always about fostering trust by being credible. This too – is more important than ever. Press releases (now not just for press – but for end users) stuffed with superlatives were never credible – now they are laughable AND open for attack by the community. Social media now provides wonderful forums to analyze – and yes mock – offending communications. Our identities and our agendas are known and trying to disguise those will do far more harm than good … People have tried and been caught.

And those who have been paying attention — those who really believe in their clients and their profession, will emerge stronger than ever. Those who haven’t, those who have used PR as a stopover for some other career — the ones who, frankly, are most to blame for the shoddy reputation this profession has sometimes received — will get an early push to whatever else it is they were meant to do.