Leveraging Twitter For Media Relations


Much has been touted about Twitter and how it is revolutionizing the way organizations communicate with targeted stakeholder groups.

Big consumer brands like Dell, Starbucks, Ford, Best Buy, Starbucks, JetBlue and many more are effectively using Twitter for building awareness, product promotions, company news and customer support and feedback. Social media skeptics might say that the big brands have the resources to experiment with social media tools such as Twitter while many organizations do not, especially in the current economy.

But that hasn’t prevented others from getting in on the Twitter act, proving that Twitter is not just a tool for the “bourgeois.” Smart organizations and agencies large to small are taking the Twitter leap to gauge awareness and public opinion while promoting their (and their clients’) goods and services.

For proof, here’s some Twitter experiences and lessons learned from two opposite-end-of-the-spectrum organizations—upscale steakhouse chain Morton’s and the U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Office. Each uses Twitter in a way that’s most effective for them, thereby offering lessons for organizations of all shapes and sizes on how to best implement their own Twitter strategies.

CUSTOMERS AT STEAK

With 77 restaurants worldwide, Morton’s counts on its corporate social media group and a network of 40 local PR firms to grow its presence on Twitter.

“Our goal is to integrate social media—our Web site, blogs, Twitter, etc.—throughout all PR and marketing efforts,” says Catherine Merritt, PR coordinator for Morton’s.

Morton’s objectives (like most communicators) for Twitter include:

Marketing: Promoting events locally and nationally

Brand Awareness: Utilizing the millions of people on Twitter, especially those in markets they are not present, and teaching them about who and what Morton’s is

• Customer Relations: Monitoring what people are saying about Morton’s

Problem Resolution: Turning a “gripe” into an opportunity to make it right

To meet these objectives, Morton’s divides its Twitter presence into three equal parts:

1. General Conversation: One-third of tweets are about general topics applicable to everyone.

2. Direct Communication via Twitter Search: One-third of tweets are listening and responding to what people are saying about Morton’s; and direct contact with Morton’s customers.

3. Messaging: One-third of tweets are about promoting programs (events, menu promotions, etc…).

Twitter now has a ubiquitous presence throughout Morton’s. The CEO and CFO are both on Twitter, and the company’s beverage manager regularly tweets about wine and spirits. In addition, the HR department uses Twitter for recruiting, and all employees are encouraged to sign up for the tool and help spread the word about the company.

In reaching the media, Merritt believes Twitter is a great companion to the traditional press release. “All the Chicago daily papers have at least 10 Twitter accounts each, and TV stations now use Twitter for breaking news,” she says. Merritt’s advice: Search for and find local media outlets on Twitter and try getting your message out to them in 140 characters or less.

From her experience with Twitter, Merritt has other advice for newbies and veterans alike:

• Keep your brand top-of-mind in every tweet you send out to followers.

• Target your followers—don’t bulk up with people you are following.

• Don’t over-saturate your message.

While conversations with customers has its own benefits, building the business should be the ultimate goal, says Merritt. On that end, Morton’s uses a lot of promotions and giveaways to build follower base, and is always looking to drive followers to its site. Once there, they just might make a reservation online.

TESTING THE TWITTER WATERS

On an average day, the United States Coast Guard saves 15 lives, conducts 122 security boardings and seizes $12.4 million in illegal drugs. While this vital arm of Homeland Security dates back to 1790, its social media efforts happen to be extremely forward-thinking.

Specifically with regard to Twitter, according to Lt. Cmdr. Christopher O’Neil, the Coast Guard’s chief of media relations, the platform is used to:

• Move people to its online content, which includes several Web sites and blogs

• Rapidly disseminate critical information

• Gauge awareness and public/community sentiment

• Further develop its social media program

According to Lt. Cmdr. O’Neil, the Coast Guard has Twitter in mind 24/7. “We use it during rescue response and crisis communications, when our leadership gives significant speeches or important testimony before Congress and every time we issue a news release,” he says.

Currently, the Coast Guard has more than 5,000 Twitter followers, including numerous local, regional and national news outlets that count on the tool’s immediacy for breaking news.

O’Neil says while Twitter is now an integral part of the Coast Guard’s social media mix, some strategies need tweaking. O’Neil would like to engage followers in more real-time conversations and further standardize Twitter’s use in crisis communications.

MEASURE EARLY & OFTEN

Make no mistake, measurement is key in both these programs. Morton’s and the Coast Guard recognize the importance of using tools to gauge how much traffic their Web sites are receiving via Twitter, and tracking click-throughs on links posted in a particular tweet.

“In the end,” Merritt says, “it’s all about building awareness, monitoring the numbers and driving business.” PRN





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