PR Pros Need a Dose of Science to Make the Most of Twitter

Even the science community has discovered the power of real-time sentiment analysis available through Twitter, which PR pros have been working to leverage since the site's launch in 2006.

Researchers at Cornell University used the popular social networking to gauge the world’s moods by analyzing half a billion tweets from 2.4 million people in 84 different countries between February 2008 and April 2009. With users voluntarily tweeting their emotions around the world in a timely and time-stamped way, the experimenters found that on average, people wake up in a good mood, which dissipates over the course of the day, and get happier as the week goes on, according to the analysis, which was published Sept. 29 in Science. 

Andrew Grill, CEO of social analytics company PeopleBrowsr UK, says PR firms are still coming to grips with this type of heavy social media research. With access to Twitter's Firehose—the full stream of public statuses totaling more than 55 billion stored tweets—companies like PeopleBrowsr can use advanced technology to spot trends, identify influencers, track brand sentiments and map location-based data.

But why should PR pros bother trying to understand billions of data points in the first place? "PR pros are realizing that there are so many other places than the traditional publications where they need to be placing their stories," says Grill. With the proliferation of social media, Grill says the overall media landscape is now full of powerful unpaid journalists and bloggers, and that brands and PR firms are looking for these influencers in their markets to tap their social reach.

Now an integral part of many media relations campaigns, reaching out to bloggers for unpaid, authentic endorsements can greatly benefit a brand, says Grill. Through Twitter data tracking and analysis—whether it's paying for a data service or manually monitoring key terms and hashtags through free tools—PR pros can follow the conversations around their brands, see who's driving the conversation and insert themselves when necessary.

"The challenge is that the traditional role of PR is to manage the release of the story, and social media has turned that dynamic on its head—PR pros have to be nimble in real time," says Grill.

With Twitter broadcasting 8,000 to 9,000 tweets globally per second, Grill says that Twitter can be both a friend and a foe for PR pros due to such high data volumes, but its openness is also its appeal. "Facebook, and Google+ to some extent, are closed networks, since only status updates that have deliberately been made open to the public  are available," says Grill, who notes PR pros still need to look at their communication objectives first, and the channel second.

"I feel for the PR professional because there are so many more job requirements now with social media. However, the smarter they are socially, the more successfully they'll be able to help their clients," says Grill.

Learn how to target and engage with key influencers and monitor brand sentiment at PR News' Nov. 10 Twitter Conference in Las Vegas.