Paying for a P.R.Tweet – Is it worth it?

Posted: January 25, 2013 in Module 2

a One of the things that I’ve loved about Twitter is that it’s been ad-free.  That changed in April, 2010 with the announcement (reads like an apology) that the site would be introducing “Promoted Tweets” (here).  Best Buy, Bravo, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America were the first companies willing to get on the Promoted Tweets bandwagon – if there is a bandwagon.

I say that, because despite having two Twitter accounts, one professional and one personal, I had never seen a Promoted Tweet, nor evidence of what came later – Promoted Accounts and Promoted Trends – until five days ago. Last Sunday evening, I sat down ahead of the Golden Globes t.v. broadcast with my laptop and typed in: #golden globes.  Much to my chagrin, there at the top of the deck was an ad! A Dove ad – Dove @Dove – sitting motionless, static.  My Twitter space had been invaded!

However, (sigh) if I’m going to embrace social media, if I’m serious about public relations – and I am – I can’t turn my back on what’s happening on the web.  With the help of my Ryerson social media p.r. prof, Boyd Neil @BoydNeil I’m taking a hard look at the question of, “What is the potential value (if any) to a public relations  program of Twitter promoted tweets, promoted accounts and promoted trends?”

I expected to find an onslaught on the web about the value (ROI) of Twitter’s promoted services.  Not so. There are articles saying it exists, but beyond that there really isn’t alot of information or analysis available.  And, what information is out there is more geared toward marketing than public relations. So, I turned to the Twitter case studies (here).

I chose one case study in particular, to zero in on the potential value to public relations: UN Foundation.  The case study begins with this claim: “The UN Foundation extends reach of event globally with Twitter”. According to their website, the Foundation is “…focused on bringing together all the parties — individuals, foundations, corporations, other organizations — to help foster global, lasting change.”  The case study describes a summit that took place last June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The global event brought together influencers and other passionate thinkers for the purpose of discussing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues – including (but not limited to) the environment, food, water and gender issues.  A goal of their public relations program was to “amplify the reach of the summit”.   To do this they invested in a Twitter Promoted Account, that is – an event specific account.  The Promoted Account was targeted to their existing stakeholder publics and to influencers.  The Foundation also used Promoted Tweets “in timelines and in search to share content from the event in real time with people searching for the event on Twitter.” According to Aaron Sherinian, Vice President of Communications and Public Relations, “The ROI on our Twitter campaign was phenomenal and ensured that we met and exceeded our goals for social engagement for #RioPlusSocial.”

All of this sounds great.  I can see the public relations potential for using Twitter for this type of event.  But I’m not convinced of the value for money.  First of all, what did it cost?  That’s not discussed. And, even if it were a bargain by web standards, did they really need to pay for it? Given how Twitter was used in this case – and the results, I don’t see how paying for promoted services added alot of value.  It seems to me they could have developed the hashtags, monitored and tapped into the same influencers with the same results – for no additional cost.

And, I’m going to circle back to my first observation – I have not seen Promoted Tweets until five days ago.  I never saw any evidence of the UN Foundations Twitter p.r. investment for this event. Yet, I’m the target public for something like the Rio Forum.  In fact, I knew it was happening – but mainly followed it on Facebook.  For those times when I did follow the Rio event on Twitter, I have no recollection of Promoted Tweets.  I’m sure I would have noticed what looks like an ad.

Based on what I know from these case studies, and what little else I could find on the web (example discussions on Quora where people are asking the similar questions), if I were responsible for a p.r. plan (including budget and corresponding ROI) I’d need a lot more information about not just success in terms of number of followers and quality of dialogue, but success in relation to cost.  I want to know more about the experience of early adopters like Starbucks, Virgin Mobile, Coke and Microsoft.  I want to know why I’m not seeing their Promoted Tweets on Twitter.  I want to know why they didn’t bid for the Golden Globes’ spot last Sunday night given the traffic. Is it because their experience was an insufficient return on investment with Twitter  – especially when compared with say Facebook, YouTube or Google?

Without knowing more, we’re left to speculate.  And, I suggest that the speculation doesn’t favour Twitter.

  1. mmscrimger says:

    I’ve read a few books lately about social media and how they connect to the real world. You started to talk about the ROI and I really wonder if twitter actually influences sales. I haven’t come to a personal conclusion yet but I do think that the transition into sales is something that isn’t always discussed.

    • janettegw says:

      Hi M-M! Like you, I’m very interested in what impact different social media platforms have on different audiences at different times… for different issues or products… We know that we all have to be concerned with measurement/ROI. I’d like to know how effective some of the analytic tools are, like Simply Measured (check it out here: ) Was thrilled when I saw the text for Boyd’s class. Looking forward to learning more and more about measurement. Thanks for your comments M-M. ~ Janette

  2. Value for money is the issue with promoted products. Without an active and interesting Twitter presence already, a company may be wasting its time promoting itself here. Better to invest in a a content strategy that makes its social presence remarkable.

    • janettegw says:

      THANKS Boyd for taking the time to go through and provide meaningful feedback on our blog posts. Reading what you responded with, I’m interested when you write about “strategy” for content (foreshadowing where we’re headed), and your use of the word “remarkable”. Working in government – I MUST have a plan/strategy. Can’t get anything started without a documented strategy. However, my challenge is that I’m expected to fit an online strategy into the existing strategies (traditional) – which results in “way less than remarkable”. Easy example, our current social media presence is mainly uni-directional. That’s very much intentional because there’s a fear of what will happen if we go to a forum where there’s little control of the direction of dialogue. You’ve mentioned (elsewhere) the importance of multiple/simultaneous sites so that you can try to manage the discussion, move it off of for example Twitter – to where you can wrap a context around what is occuring (one that goes beyond 140 characters). I like that. Makes good sense. Problem then becomes resources. You need dedicated resources building and monitoring the sites. I really appreciate and look forward to hearing more about your experiences/insights on how you, and/or others you know, have convinced government types of the importance of being remarkable –


      what shape remarkable can “safely” take for government when using social media.

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