Twitter’s ‘Promoted Tweets’ Will Have Profound Effect on Public Relations

Twitter Co-Founders Biz Stone And Evan Williams Address Developers ConferenceWith all of the buzz around the new Twitter “Promoted Tweets” (really, ‘sponsored tweets’), and how that will impact our viewing and tweeting and other fun times on the increasingly addictive platform, one facet of the new ad-based service that got a bit lost in the all of the buzz was the role this service may play in PR professionals’ lives, particularly the ability to utilize promoted tweets during reputation and crisis communications situations for clients in which it is imperative that an official viewpoint, messaging or news stays at the top of a relevant search-based (for now, until Twitter debuts ads within personal Twitter streams later this year, as it plans to do . . .) Twitter streams.

It’s no secret that right now, if your company or client is in a crisis situation, it’s very difficult to have official news and updates about the situation stay relevant and high within a Twitter search. It just isn’t going to happen, no matter how much online buzz surrounds a company. Even a major consumer company like Starbucks, which has tens of thousands of tweets written about it daily, and has a fantastic and very proactive social media presence, would still struggle to provide its audiences on Twitter with relevant and timely official information during a crisis, prior to the new promoted tweets.

Now, though, that should be a relatively moot point (Starbucks is one of the early test companies for promoted tweets), as Starbucks, or any company—mom & pop to your next big tech startup—can bid to have their promoted tweet stay at the top of relevant Twitter searches for quite a long time, which gives them far more control over the conversation and the way in which information is dispersed.

In my opinion, there are many ways in which PR professionals can take this news and this opportunity, beyond just the fairly obvious promoted tweets during crisis situations. Let’s examine a couple of them quickly:

Control of Twitter Conversations & Social Branding Begins to Return to Companies

There has been a lot of talk over the past year that social media has largely taken away any and all control of a company’s online branding and messaging and given that to the people. I believe this . . . to a certain extent, but I also think this notion has been heavily exaggerated and over-hyped by those who stand to gain from this idea becoming a reality, namely, social media “experts” or “gurus” who aim to sell their social marketing services to companies as a means to help them regain online control of their own brands

(And apparently, I’m not alone, as AdWeek’s Brian Morrissey discusses in this video [h/t Peter Himler]) And, I believe promoted tweets are going to begin to give companies a regained control over their social messaging, in a way that consumers will most likely either have to learn to live with, or move on, as crass as that may sound.

Because with promoted tweets, so long as brands utilize the service correctly and ethically (which may or may not happen given the nature of the Internet), a company now has the opportunity to ensure that as long as their tweets resonate with users (a key factor, according to Twitter, in how long a promoted tweet stays at the top of a search), then they can effectively control part of the messaging of an ongoing and popular consumer and business topic. That’s big for companies, as no longer will they fall victim to consumer backlash without having any viable means to cut through the clutter. Now, one brand voice can outweigh thousands of consumer voices about a specific topic.

Beneficial to brands and companies? Absolutely. Good for social media and consumers? Only time will tell.

Blending of PR & Advertising Continues

Let’s face it: The days of straight media relations and a big contact book in this profession are over, and I, for one, am very thankful for that. A lot has been building to this moment, and now, thankfully, we are taking a lot bigger piece of the marketing pie, as PR professionals, who often control a company’s messaging and brand outreach efforts, are having to also tackle blended PR/advertising initiatives and programs, such as Twitter’s new promoted tweets.

Obviously, some of this work will need to be done in conjunction with your ad/marketing department and/or an ad agency, but for a large part, a lot of this can be done by a skilled and savvy PR professional, so long as they take the time and initiative to properly learn how to best utilize these blended PR/advertising resources.

What are your thoughts on Twitter’s new “promoted tweets”? Good for branding and PR? Bad for consumers and the age of social media? You tell me.

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  • jeffespo

    Keith this is an interesting take on these ads and a great post. I like the idea of the crisis communications application and the branding showing up in the hands of the companies.

    My biggest fear is the ads becoming like adwords where the content doesn't always apply but goes to the highest bidder. Hopefully this is used wisely.

  • keithtrivitt

    You bring up a really good point, Jeff, re: the possibility for promoted tweets to turn into adwords, whereby the highest bidder is rewarded, even if the messaging and link isn't all that relevant. Though, I do think Twitter is doing a nice job to at least try to prevent this by incorporating the “resonance” factor into promoted tweets, but even then, I'm sure there will be somebody or some company that develops to try to “help” businesses, marketers and advertisers get around this.

    All the more reason, I guess, for PR professionals to be on top of their game and learn to live with the blending of advertising and PR, as we can definitely do our employers and clients a world of good by understanding the impact of this and how to use it to our advantage, without getting into a giant adwords-style bidding battle with our competitors.

  • Dana Breckenridge wrote a related article yesterday which explained using Twitter to direct your audience to a “dark site” in time of crisis. I feel promoted tweets enhance our ability to share links which can direct our audience to a more “controlled” environment.

  • Interesting post and a good breakdown of what promoted tweets mean for the PR professional. I think a company is still going to need to be transparent and avoid the “spin” in order to really resonate with audiences, regardless of whether they are paying for the tweet or if they are organic posts. All in all, a little more control of the message sounds like a good thing.

  • keithtrivitt

    Katrina – Thanks for chiming in. I definitely agree with you that while promoted tweets certainly offer some branding and messaging opportunities for companies within social media, particularly during a crisis situation, there is a pretty decent likelihood some brands will use it as a spin machine, which will really negate the whole premise of promoted tweets, and in my opinion, could eventually be a downfall for the relevance of Twitter. Hopefully, the “resonance” factor Twitter says it will use to determine how long promoted tweets stay at the top of searches will help to weed out these spin-doctor-only promoted tweets. Only time will tell, I guess.

  • keithtrivitt

    Kyle – Great point re: the ability of promoted tweets to enhance PR pros' ability to direct our key online audiences to a more “controlled” environment, particularly during a crisis situation, such as the one you mention above for a company's “dark site.”

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