Guest Post: Twitter as a study in human behavior

[Editor’s Note: We are graced with contributor post on our first day from Josh Sternberg.  PR BreakfastClub is happy to accept outside articles.  Check here for information on submitting a guest post.]

I want to preface this piece by saying I love Twitter. Maybe not as much as I love my wife, or baseball, or even a good burger, but I enjoy the opportunities Twitter provides: learning about people through discussion, learning about brands, getting information that I normally wouldn’t think to research, etc.
However, Twitter is also a great study in human behavior, as Twitter is just a microcosm of our society whereby the cliques that form on Twitter are for the most part the same cliques that are found in high schools. This has become more evident since the passing of John Hughes. As I watched my Twitter stream recite quotes from his coming-of-age films, I started to view Twitter as nothing but a social media breakfast club. In fact, I’m writing a post on a blog called: PR BREAKFAST CLUB for crying out loud!
In January of this year, I made the conscious decision to at least TRY to go to one industry event a month. So I find myself at some place where a bunch of people are on a stage playing a game; I believe it was a “guess that meme” game. And as I’m standing in the back, nestled between the bar (ironic since I don’t drink) and a few people I’ve met over the years, it strikes me that I’m bored. And I’m bored because the people on stage are clearly having a great time, only I don’t understand why. Turns out, it was all a gag…all inside jokes that if you had no idea who these people were (like me) you wouldn’t find it funny. So I left.
Twitter is the same way. Look at this blog, for example. It was started because a bunch of excited, young, talented PR people decided they wanted to share content. Each day, the hashtag #prbreakfastclub or #prbc is attached to the end of tweets so that people know they are part of a group. I like the idea that complete strangers have formed bonds online and can work together and hang out offline. That said, it reaches a point of ridiculousness (at least for me) when we start seeing “Top 50 people to follow on Twitter lists.”  (http://prsarahevans.com/2009/08/voting-now-open-for-the-2009-top-50-tweeples-to-follow/)
(In fact, in this Twitter-age, it seems as if persistent Tweeters can be more influential than industry experience. For example, a 23-year-old with thousands of followers can position themselves much better now as an influencer compared to 5 years ago when a 23-year-old would most likely be fetching coffee for a more senior person. Now, I’m not one to say that youth isn’t valuable to an organization/brand/whatever, but since today’s barriers to entry have been demolished by the democratization of media, if you’re loud enough, you gain influence. But that is a topic for another day.)
I understand these lists are for fun, and the creators of these lists make that point very clearly. But there are a lot of periphery people who use Twitter (not to mention the overzealous, self-important, vapid self-promoter who uses these lists as an opportunity to say how great they really are) who don’t know this. Even more important is that this philosophy of fluffing up your online buddies diminishes the overall value of the content provided by these people; mainly because there are always people that will be let off a list.
These lists are emblematic of a culture that needs constant approval to validate their existence. (Hell, a study was just completed where 57% of young people believe their generation uses social networking sites for self-promotion, narcissism and attention seeking.) Now, this is not to say that we’re these narcissistic vultures who provide no value to anything and just let the drivel drip from our fingertips onto the keyboard. There is some value from these lists, mostly opening up new avenues of learning. The problem is that these lists are blinded by the little piece of world they exist in. There are some great people on this list, but how many of them are connected to each other compared to those not on the list?
It just seems as if it’s a matter of who you know, not what you know. Where are the academics, the reporters (yes, there are a couple), the athletes, the thinkers, the movers, the VCers? Just because your world accepts that certain influencers should already be followed, the rest of the public typically has no idea who these people are. This is a myopic list at best and a sycophantic list at worst. But that’s the nature of lists, isn’t it?
And you may have though throughout this rambling post, well, you’re not on the list and that’s why you’re grumpy. As Groucho Marx says, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” On the flip side, please retweet this article so that people can read what I’ve written. In fact, I think I’ll post a link to this article every 5 minutes over the span of 24 hours just to make sure my legions of followers know that I’ve written something very profound.
RT Pls.

I want to preface this piece by saying I love Twitter. Maybe not as much as I love my wife, or baseball, or even a good burger, but I enjoy the opportunities Twitter provides: learning about people through discussion, learning about brands, getting information that I normally wouldn’t think to research, etc.

However, Twitter is also a great study in human behavior, as Twitter is just a microcosm of our society whereby the cliques that form on Twitter are for the most part the same cliques that are found in high schools. This has become more evident since the passing of John Hughes. As I watched my Twitter stream recite quotes from his coming-of-age films, I started to view Twitter as nothing but a social media breakfast club. In fact, I’m writing a post on a blog called: PR BREAKFAST CLUB for crying out loud!

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Dear Flack (Volume 1)

Dear Flack,
I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?
From,
Phone Home
Dear Phone Home,
There are a lot of differing opinions on telephone pitching these days. Some PR pros are for it, and some treat the device like a disgusting carton of sour milk. Whatever side of fence you’re on, chances are you will need to pick up that phone and pitch every now and again.
With that being said, here are a few pointers to get you started:
·         Relax, get to it.  As a rookie phone pitcher, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a bit nervous on your first calls out. In addition to the phone call itself, you might also hesitate because you think a co-worker or boss is listening in on your conversations. This is nothing to be ashamed about—most of us have been in your shoes at one time or another.  Try asking your boss if there’s an empty office that you might be able to use. If that doesn’t work, just try to focus on the task at hand and tune out your surroundings. Also remember that if your boss is eavesdropping, that he/she may just be trying to help you out.
·         Think before you pitch.  It is imperative that you know your pitch inside and out. You do not want to get caught on the phone with a media outlet without your facts straight. If you lack the confidence in your spiel, the journalist or producer will sense it right away. I suggest writing out key points and facts ahead of time and keeping them by your side. Just beware of sounding like you are reading from a script—keep a natural and conversational tone.
·         Pitch to the right person. You are now relaxed, confident in your pitch—but do you know who you are calling? Make sure you are contacting the right person that would cover your story. If you are publicizing a new digital camera, don’t call food editor. Cover your bases and search for the latest stories the reporter has written. This will at least ensure that your pitch has a chance of scoring some interest.  Additionally, sometimes there are multiple people covering a beat or no one specifically at an outlet.  It’s simple enough to ask – “I’m not one hundred percent that this should be on your desk so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.”  Works great – seeking advice makes people feel knowledgeable and most people want to be helpful, acknowledging that you may be wrong makes them realize you’re human, and it’s often more time effective to pick the close person (not banking–>food but at least in the right ballpark) and ask than to spend hours researching only to discover the right person is on maternity leave and the beat is being handled by a general assignment writer for the next few months anyway.
·         Ask permission.  It’s no secret that time is precious commodity in the newsroom. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk. This person could be on deadline or in a meeting.
·         Ready, set, pitch. So you have their attention, maybe for a minute. You need to make your case fast. Be succinct, clear, and conversational if time permits. Anticipate questions the press might ask you in advance, and have your answers ready to go. If you get a question that you absolutely do not know, be honest and say that you’ll get back to him/her.
·         Phone pitching is like dating. Sometimes they say yes and want to keep seeing you; other times they don’t want anything you got. Don’t get upset if the journalist is rude or uninterested in your pitch. It happens to the best of us. Brush it off, pick up the phone and keep plugging away. It’s the unfortunate truth that rejection is part of the public relations field, so don’t get discouraged. If you are getting nowhere with your pitch, take a step back, and see if anything needs tweaking.
However if you did score a “date” and the reporter is interested in your pitch, follow up. Don’t wait five days to circle back around with him/her. Get the individual the information, interviews, hi-res images—all the materials requested—in a timely and reliable fashion.
____________________________________
Do you have a question for Dear Flack? If there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or wanted to ask about public relations and social media world, e-mail dearflack@gmail.com . We take privacy very seriously and all names, companies and locations will remain confidential.
Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.

[Editor’s Note: Got a PR question you’ve been dying to ask, but don’t have the right person in your rolodex?  Keep reading…]

Dear Flack,

I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?

From,

Phone Home

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Because we know you’re going to ask….

What is the PR Breakfast Club? All right, I’ll tell you. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 on the morning of July 23, 2009.
It all started when @stina6001 said this: http://twitter.com/stina6001/status/2798413038
So then I says, I says to her: http://twitter.com/tjdietderich/status/2798525223
Get it? It’s like we’re all different but the same just like in the John Hughes movie, and also we talk around the time we’re having breakfast! So that’s the mytical lore behind that. But without people like @PRCog, @KeithTrivitt, @CTMichaels, and @pjdixon77 (who I’ll call the “early adopters”), the use of the hashtag wouldn’t have taken off like it did.
Now tons of people use #prbreakfastclub to talk about work, news, and lulz. I’ve met a lot of tweeps through #prbreakfastclub I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s open to anyone, of course. This is Twitter, after all. But everyone who participates is a PR flak in one capacity or another, and we all share a penchant for social media. And scooped-out bagels (and the mocking of them).
Members of the #prbreakfastclub can’t really be defined beyond that. It’s a hashtag, it’s a conversation, it’s a group of flaks that are on Twitter, it’s a chance to vent, to catch up with friends near and far, and to start the day off right.

What is the PR Breakfast Club? All right, I’ll tell you. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 on the morning of July 23, 2009.

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…..a chance to start the day off right.