Trust in the power of stories

Forget paid-for tweets - evaluate, have faith in your story and the tweets will come.

Maybe I'm a cynic, but I can always tell when someone's been paid to tweet something. You're watching the world zip by on TweetDeck when someone you're following - let's say someone whose usual Twitter fare is football or politics - throws out a tweet compelling you to sign up to win a food processor.

That says a lot about the ever more indistinct lines between personal and professional spheres, but it also says something important to me about measurement and evaluation.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a developer friend on software that would scrape Twitter profiles to create directories of users. As a test case, we were trying different ways to automate the detection of PR people. My friend suggested that we search profiles for variations of the disclaimer 'all opinions posted here are my own'. All of you PR people seem to have that, he said. He was right, of course.

But for all that, your employer doesn't own your Twitter account, any more than it owns you. What your employer does have is a right to expect that you'll bring to work what you know about social media from having a Twitter account or a Facebook profile. Let me give you an example.

I am an administrator on the English Wikipedia, meaning that I am entrusted with the right to delete articles, block users from editing, and so on. Given that Wikipedia shows up on the first page of most companies' Google results, you can imagine that having those powers is a pretty useful arrow in a digital PR guy's quiver.

And you'd be right, but maybe not for the reasons you think. I've helped dozens of clients over the years with Wikipedia-related concerns but I've never once used my administrator rights on their behalf. I haven't had to. Because I have spent enough time with Wikipedia to merit adminship, I also understand Wikipedia's process and culture well enough to guide a client through an issue without needing to use my position within the project.

This is how I would suggest you view your personal social media profiles. They're not there to be actively leveraged on behalf of a paying client, but to give you the insight you need to be a better counsellor.

I bring my point of view on this to clients and colleagues I talk to at conferences or down the pub. I've always actively dissuaded PR folks from encouraging co-workers to 'like' the page we've just built or to retweet client announcements. If we've done our job well and told a compelling story then there's no need to 'get the ball rolling' by asking your account executives to tweet about it. All of their other tweets are about The X Factor - safe to assume that their followers are not secretly fascinated by printer news. Have faith in your story and the tweets will come.

So what does this mean for evaluation? When you witness a junior PR practitioner break stride from tweeting about the things they love to insert a link to a client's press release, apropos of nothing, what you are seeing at work is a preference for numbers over engagement in evaluation.

At Cohn & Wolfe, we love big numbers as much as anyone. But we also understand that social media offer an opportunity to find the stories behind the numbers. The story of the influencer sharing your message is infinitely more interesting than the account executive who's sharing because someone asked him to. Evaluation is as much a part of your brand's story as the messaging - it's the part the consumers get to tell.

That opinion is, of course, strictly my own.


How would you deal with a Twitter account spoofing one of your clients?

Ascertain what the account's intentions are. Is it a relatively harmless parody that would cause your brand's reputation harm by attempting to silence it? The most famous spoof Twitter account is probably Fake Steve Jobs, which Apple suffered for years rather than face the backlash from trying to squash it.

Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. We are insight-driven and take pleasure in learning about a client's objectives and using that to inform what we do. There are a lot of energetic, intellectually curious people here.

Fernando Rizo is UK and EMEA head of digital at Cohn & Wolfe.



From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011

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