In a previous column, I extolled the virtues of monitoring Twitter for information about your company (or client's) reputation, products, and brand. It's also great for finding a column idea.
The great thing about Twitter - and sites like it - is that it offers the opportunity to quickly find new people who are likely to be a) bloggers and b) complaining about their interactions with PR pros or the machinations of the media relations process.
If the industry truly believes in a disintermediated communications environment, then these people on Twitter could be the next generation of influencers (if they're not already). And, while journalists have historically only proffered constructive criticism to PR pros after having one too many cocktails (electing to trade in passive aggressiveness), these new journalists think nothing of calling out the industry for what they perceive to be unsound tactics or foolhardy policies.
It is on Twitter where I met Scott Bourne, the host of the popular "Apple Phone Show" and president of Podango Productions, a new media-publishing platform. He is also a man disgruntled with a major consumer electronics provider's Web site (not Apple). Specifically, he was stymied by the difficulties of logging on to receive its press materials. He found it disheartening that a company would erect barriers to his consumption of company information, especially when there is no industry-wide shortage of press releases sent his way. Rhetoric aside, the industry hasn't come to grips with loosening its control on information.
Most companies obviously don't put their information beyond firewalls because they want to keep people out (although some companies in extremely competitive or discreet industries, which only work with a few trusted reporters, may have an interest in that). The goal is, of course, to accumulate contact information for the people who express an interest in covering them. Clearly this is worthy currency, but companies need to understand their audience also consists of consumers that will not view registration pages as occupational hazards. There are other ways to collect that information without putting a firewall between users and content.
For all of the industry's talk about making the news release more "social" - that is, to say, including more multimedia content - complaints like Bourne's make it apparent that companies might have ignored their best location for educating constituents. Press release 2.0 is worth little if the main source of an organization's information - its Web site - cordons off the area that offers press materials, product specs, or opportunities to communicate. On Twitter, Bourne wrote, "Most companies' Web sites make PR hard to deal with."
When PR pros reflect on the follies the industry perpetrates, misguided pitches tend to dominate the conversation. But, if the noise on Twitter is to be believed, maybe the industry is focusing on the wrong problem.