As TechCrunch posted documents it obtained from a hacker who broke into Twitter employees' personal accounts, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone responded to the crisis in a way that has become typical for Silicon Valley startups. Stone posted a blog.
When reached for comment, Stone referred PRWeek to the blog post. He did, however, confirm that the company did not enlist any PR help for the company's third major security breach this year. But this approach, possibly endearing for preserving Twitter's perception as a startup, seemed understated for a company that is on its way to becoming the next big Silicon Valley success story.
“This could be seen as another example of poor decision-making at Twitter,” says tech blogger and Rackspace employee Robert Scoble, who has been an outspoken Twitter critic, mostly because of what he calls “poor engineering decisions” and its lack of communication with the media, consumers, and its developers. “A stronger PR approach would surely help them think through the consequences of their decisions better.”
Using the company blog, with seemingly little media relations, to defuse a crisis is expected from startups with barebones staffs. But for Twitter to succeed, many believe it needs to leave startup mode behind. Even according to the leaked documents about Twitter, its founders had expected to have 1 billion users by 2013 and $1.5 billion in revenues. Breaches like this have the potential to worry users, including corporate accounts which are typically more cautious about security, as well. Several news stories noted that the incident raised questions about Twitter's security in general.
“When the management is dealing with things like this, it could limit their ability to compete with [more polished] players like Facebook,” Scoble says. “It could also limit their ability to grow as a business service, where a lot of their profitability is.”
Stone told PRWeek that Twitter is reaching out privately to its partners. But Adam Metz, principal of Metz, a strategic consulting firm specializing in social media issues, says this same care should have been directed at users.
“They used a 1997 response to a 2009 problem,” says Metz. “They needed to get on camera – even if it's just a Flip camera. They need to reassure users that their data is secure and giving them more information on why this won't happen again.”
The problem is, according to Metz, some users on Twitter didn't seem convinced that the breach wouldn't affect their accounts. The incident also prompted publications like Venture Beat to remind readers how to protect their online identities.
Mashable's Stan Schroeder wrote on his blog: “There have been so many problems over the past couple of months that it's getting hard to keep track of them. It's time to fix it once and for all, because these security issues are a dark shadow looming over the otherwise bright future of this company.”
Twitter's defense among its fans is often that the company is ascending so quickly that growing pains should be expected. While the public largely accepted this premise last year with Twitter's notorious “fail whale” outages, the defense might now be wearing thin.
“They could benefit from having a crisis plan,” says Steve Rubel, SVP and director of insights for Edelman Digital. “PR counsel would help them identify where they are vulnerable and develop a crisis strategy around them.”
But Rubel says because most of the documents leaked so far have not hurt users, Twitter's response has been adequate. But it's not clear if all the documents are out yet, and according to its blog, Twitter is considering legal action to prevent that from happening.
“If another shoe drops they might have to do more,” Rubel says. “Even though this was handled fine, who knows what lurks around the corner for them.”