Ever since Twitter came along in the mid-2000’s, it has fascinated those in the communications field. For marketers, it was a boon to reach potential customers and strengthen current ones. For public relations professionals, it allowed better contact with the media and a direct link to constituents. I’ve been a strong supporter of Twitter from the start. It helped me network with colleagues and, ultimately, was a huge part of how I started JRM Comm. Now, it’s allowed me to share what I do in the classroom.
For all the great things Twitter has done, though, there are many who feel it has lost its mojo. According to a Pew Research Center survey released late in 2016, Facebook continues to be America’s most popular social networking platform by a substantial margin: Nearly eight-in-ten online Americans (79%) now use Facebook, more than double the share that uses Twitter (24%). Roughly one-quarter of online adults (24%) use Twitter, a proportion that is statistically unchanged from a survey conducted in 2015 (23%).
While these statistics may not be something to sound the alarm, I can tell you that many of the students in my classes, when surveyed, do not use Twitter. They find Instagram more appealing. The stats back that up (in the Pew survey). Roughly six-in-ten online adults ages 18-29 (59%) use Instagram, nearly double the share among 30- to 49-year-olds (33%) and more than seven times the share among those 65 and older (8%). Female internet users are more likely to use Instagram than men (38% vs. 26%).
Now that I’ve bombarded you with a ton of stats, let’s consider reality. Twitter isn’t going to disappear any time soon. A recent story in Forbes, titled, “Would Public Relations Survive Without Twitter?” got me thinking about how Twitter has changed our industry and whether it was for the better. I also quickly answered that, yes the public relations industry would absolutely survive without Twitter. It took a number of years for PR pros to grasp the power of social media. Even to this day, there are some in the industry that still do not understand how important social media is to what we do.
But, as Deirdre Breakenridge stated in her book, PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, the media rely on PR pros for human intelligence and one-on-one interaction, but online newsrooms are such an effective tool that removing Twitter from the equation may not have the negative impact that could be assumed. Let me be frank; I’m not saying Twitter is going the way of Betamax. However, much like social media has done over the years, platforms will evolve.
So, why would PR survive without Twitter? First, public relations is built on relationships. While we’ve used social media to strengthen those bonds, we make sure to have a somewhat personal relationship with a reporter or client. This does not just happen because you have a Twitter account. Relationships are developed through discussion, in person, over Skype, or phone.
Second, when email entered the equation in the 1990s, it changed how we started and maintained contact with the media. We could now attach releases, fact sheets, or simply pitch a story. The digital world is not just social media. With the ability to also use messaging apps, if you have a good relationship with a reporter, it allows you to have a discussion in real-time. You don’t exclusively need Twitter to make that happen. Remember when fax machines became the way to send documents? It was the same when email became more prevalent. The World Wide Web also became a digital avenue for PR pros to launch online newsrooms and, then, blogs.
Third, if Twitter happens to go away, there will be something else to replace it. This is the way our world operates now. Social media started with MySpace and, then, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and so on. Since 2006, we have seen numerous social networks launch and many go away. All the while, public relations has evolved. The industry will adapt and find other ways to reach audiences and clients.
So, if Twitter were to go away, how would you adapt as a public relations and marketing professional? Let me know in the comments!