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.

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Social Media’s Lifeblood

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Module 1

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I didn’t have to read very far into Olivier Blanchard’s book, Social Media ROI, to find inspiration for this inaugural post.  At page four, he lists what he refers to as three popular social media buzzwords: relationships, trust, and conversations.  He writes, “These three words describe the social web’s lifeblood, especially as it relates to business.”  As a public servant, I’m extending the lifeblood idea to also relate to government – and I’m zeroing in on trust.

According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, across 25 countries trust in government (and business and NGOs) has significantly decreased.  In fact, in the 2012 Edelman survey, trust in government was lower than trust in business! As someone who lives this reality day to day this was no surprise, but it’s still disheartening.

So, what can we do to help build or restore trust? How can social media help?  As Blanchard writes, “The secret to how social media works won’t be found in marketing or business books. …In order to understand the true power of the social web, you have to look into the nature of humanity itself…”  (ibid., at p. 4).  What do we know about humanity and their relationship with governments?

We know that our stakeholder publics want to be listened to and respected.  They want to be assured by both our words and our actions that government is working in their best interests.  We also know that people now, like never before, want to have a say in how government carries out their mandate.  They want to participate, to collaborate.

Now, I just need to find the social media tools and platforms that allow me to build the best social program possible that can deliver on what my public wants.   I’m sure I’ll have all that figured out by next week.  I mean, how many tools and platforms can there be. What’s that?  How many more popped up in the time it took me to write this post?