A few years ago, when half the PR and marketing world was rushing off to purchase land with all their newly minted Lindens, it became abundantly clear that those taking a shortcut would fail miserably. However, those who were smart enough to put an actual effort behind something would find a way to make the best of participation in the world of Second Life. Some thought becoming the ‘borg was the way to go, others chose to mingle.
That same thing is happening today, except on a much grander scale.
It's on this little thing called Twitter. Maybe you've heard of it. Sure, it's no Facebook, with only 100 million people or so on it, but hey, it seems like a great place to find people who might be interesting.
You see, every single day, another company, classroom, college student, or stay-at-home mom is joining Twitter, for one reason or another. Most of them aren't doing it so Brand X can find them and send them a product (though that gold rush, like the one that struck the blogosphere not so long ago, continues to exist in some form). They're doing it so they can find others with similar interests, to chat with friends or colleagues, or just to keep up on the news of the day.
At just those very moments, some marketer is checking their keyword search for people's profiles, or scanning TweetDeck for a brand mention, or something like that. It all happens very stealthily, you see. There are thousands of them. Millions, it seems, if you count the myriad self-proclaimed social media gurus who are here to provide us with four things we need to be doing on Facebook, but have zero experience doing with any positive results.
Many of those marketers – myself included – stay in the “fight” for good, have this thing called restraint, and understand how a community works. It's a community after all, not a seemingly never-ending list of people who want to buy whatever I'm selling.
Does Twitter represent a way to reach people, or even simply source people who might be interested in something? Absolutely. But it's no holy grail. My “engagement score” of how many people I “tweet with” doesn't mean I'm “worthy” of interaction on its own. Are there great tools to help figure out who in this newfound audience of people we all suddenly have access to (you know, all those people who previously existed, but didn't put all their personal information out there for us to “mine” as we like to call it)? Absolutely.
But again, they're tools, they're directional, just like the media databases we've all come to trust are smart tools that work when used properly, and when combined with some knowhow and elbow grease, and help us reach journalists that our clients would love to speak with. Twitter and its related tools can help us do our jobs better, but thankfully for us, Twitter's own nature lets us be shushed with no more than a click of the mouse, a swipe of the finger on a mobile phone, or a scroll of a browser tab.
Twitter, in all its glory, may be one of the better communities, platforms, and social spaces developed in some time because we, the marketers, haven't figured out how to overwhelm it with poorly targeted marketing efforts. And that's a good thing because we'll all learn from the non-responses, auto-DMs to people who follow us and immediately unfollow (gee, why was that?), and lack of goals and metrics being reached – unless we do our part and actually join the community, engage people, and stop telling people what we want to be saying.
Restraint is a good thing. Perhaps Twitter teaches us this lesson.
Tom Biro is a Seattle-based VP at Allison & Partners. His column will focus on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tombiro.