Using Twitter for PR Research, Guerrilla Marketing, Crisis PR

Posted by Tom Gable

While many people view Twitter as a frivolous tool for inane rambling about one’s largely uninteresting personal experiences to unknown followers who don’t really care, it can be a powerful and valuable research tool for PR. With a little work, Twitter can become a news junkie’s delivery and intelligence-gathering service to:

  • Keep on top of breaking news in various industries and topics of interest
  • Identify gurus in the space; sources of good information
  • Track a client’s competitors
  • Keep up on activities in your town
  • Watch trends build before your very eyes
  • Find fun resources

We were searching for new experts and sources in different fields of interest for Gable PR and its clients, including clean tech, renewable energy, certain areas of biotech and the life sciences and crisis PR, among others. We had set up Google, Yahoo, The New York Times, Washington Post and other news trackers and blog alerts. We also use Lexis/Nexis on focused searches. To ramp up the flow a notch and try to track the immediate flow of information available on Twitter, we checked posts by various social media gurus (@briansolis, @chrisbrogan, @problogger, @tdefren, etc.) on search applications and began testing to search for Tweets on any given topic.

As seen in the screen shot below, I receive regular email alerts to Tweets on the topics of my choice, in this case algae. I can scan quickly for items of interest. If I find a gem, I click through to the original Tweet to check the person’s previous Tweets and credentials. This has helped our firm find experts in many fields – the pro-active Tweeters spreading knowledge and helping others learn. Most include links to other sources. Those on top of their game are inevitably fast at pointing to breaking news and important trend stories, academic papers, government studies and company releases.

Tweetbeep Alert

TweetBeep Alert Via Email

For PR, we use the Twitter research capability to track trends in any given industry and find articles of interest to Gable PR clients and some of the non-profit organizations we support that are trying to grow new industries in our region. You can see buzz building on hot topics in real time. Those at the top of the Twitter totem pole in any industry are inevitably the first to Tweet on breaking news. Then, re-tweets soar, soon to be followed by blog posts and links from technical, academic and organizational Web sites to the original sources. We have been alerted to stories on new technologies from Australia, New Zealand, England and India, among others. The Twitterverse almost bursts with excitement in any given field as news spreads and more people respond.

Beyond the News

Beyond news, Twitter tracking can provide alerts to changing laws and new opportunities. We are working with some startup companies in algae biofuels, renewable energy and trash-to-energy. Keen observers we follow from Washington found new guidelines from the Department of Energy and other government agencies on how to apply for grants related to the stimulus packages. We quickly forwarded the information to our clients, who in turn filed for grants to advance their technology.

The Twitter tracking does create volume control problems. At the bottom of the Twitter food chain: the hangers-on who spend their lives just retweeting and never offer anything of original value. They can be days and even weeks behind the flow, which makes it easier to determine the riffraff not to follow.

For managing the flow in following different industries or categories of interest, use another application such as Tweetdeck (screen shot below) or Seesmic. With Tweetdeck, you can set up Groups and arrange your followers accordingly. I have different industry niches, plus Wine, San Diego, News, PR, Directs, Replies and Favorites. As shown in the screen shot below, Tweetdeck pulls the incoming Tweets into the designated columns for easy scanning.

Speed in Crisis PR

Twitter can be helpful in crisis PR — the canary in the mine shaft. Agencies and clients can track emerging stories, analyze the flow of comments and join the conversation in real time while advancing the other components of a crisis plan. We also like it for competitive research, which can sometimes trigger guerrilla marketing. We once found news from a client’s competitor that made certain claims about technical superiority of its product, which seemed vastly over-stated. We alerted our client, who concurred. So we called key media to suggest they might consider checking with different companies in the industry to get a true picture of the technology. Long story short: our client and other companies were included favorably in most coverage and fared far better than the Hypemeister, who lost media credibility.

Helping the Community

That’s on the incoming side of the news deluge equation. On the flip side, think about how to return the favor and become a positive force in the Twitter community. Share information you’ve found through your own news tracking, Blog readers, news aggregators and other services. Become a smart editor and provide your followers with information and ideas they will value, plus a surprise or two (links to parodies in the Onion, bizarre lists, evocative quotes and funny videos, such as “United Broke by Guitar”).

While others are Tweeting about their lunch or observations about the weather or their state of mind, you will be helping make the world a more connected and better communicated place.

Tweetdeck Columns

Tweetdeck Columns

One more screen shot try

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