Leading and following: Twitter management for communication pros

6 years, 2 months ago


To follow or not to follow? What are the best Twitter-handling strategies? By Roger Darnell

I have been handling PR for innovative business leaders and their (often relatively small but extremely talented) businesses for more than 24 years now, and I’m very proud of my accomplishments helping respected colleagues consistently achieve success. Although I never had a goal of operating a major PR firm or handling large-scale clients, I aim to be among the very best in the world at my job, and I know that to be good at something, I have to improve constantly.  Over the years, this is an aim I’ve taken to heart.
As part of my ongoing education, I regularly sign-up for webinars.  In early 2012 I took part in one presented by PR industry thought-leader Deirdre Breakenridge, and a couple of her main points have stayed with me ever since. First, these words come right from Deirdre’s PR 2.0 book: "Somewhere along the way," she writes, "we, as an industry, lost our vision. We got caught up in hype, spin, hyperbole, and buzzwords, and forgot that PR was about Public Relations." Especially in the world we now occupy that is so caught-up in social media, I take comfort in this notion: To me, if the core component of my work is focused on relating to the public, that is a practical challenge I’m always up for.
In the early-going of Deirdre’s "Eight Techniques of the New PR Champion" webinar, she expressed the opinion that PR professionals are typically well-qualified to handle social media for our clients. By that point in time, I had been doing a lot of social media experimentation, but mainly for myself. I enjoy communicating and engaging with others, while also knowing that those practices are key aspects of my skillset; I also understood early on that by using social media, I could reach and potentially connect with even more of the kind of friendly, open, creative people I enjoy meeting.  
Somehow, Deirdre’s suggestion had the effect of increasing my confidence in my abilities as a social media manager, and from then on, I began offering to be more closely involved in those activities for my clients. Specifically, I became the main manager for several of my clients’ Twitter and Facebook accounts, and also got involved in handling activities using tools/communities like Behance, Flickr, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vine and Wordpress, to name a few.  I must say, of all these adventures, none have been as eventful or exciting as those involving Twitter.
Around the time of Deirdre’s webinar, the CEO of one of my clients told me that Twitter would be gone within the year.  Still, I waded in and kept learning as time allowed.  Now, according to Twitter’s latest research, its 255 million active users spend an average of about six minutes per day on the service, and each day they collectively produce some 500 million tweets. Still, it’s easy to find pundits forecasting Twitter’s demise, but I agree with those who find incalculable value in it as a very broadly based two-way news and communications platform. 
Right now, I’d estimate that I spend up to 25 minutes per day using the service for my own account, and about 10 minutes per day on several client accounts. To be perfectly honest, none of the accounts I am involved with are meteorically successful... but I have steadily, organically earned what currently amounts to 3,701 personal followers without paying for any of them, and I have helped my clients achieve exponential growth in their followers using essentially the same strategies.  For whatever it may be worth, I have a few guiding philosophies I use, and thought I would share them with you for discussion purposes.  
I believe in following back
Coming from a PR professional who began his piece by emphasizing how my practice focuses on "Public Relations," it will come as no surprise that I believe, for any real, legitimate person or entity that seeks to connect on Twitter by following, that person or entity should be followed-back. I don’t see any good reason not to repay that kindness, believing like Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, that we can learn from anyone and everyone. Now, if a follower has a very small number of followers, or if his profile doesn’t seem in the least bit interesting, or if he is obviously just selling something I don’t wish to buy (like Twitter followers or SEO), I do not feel compelled to connect with him; otherwise, I follow back.  
Commonly, this approach puts the accounts I am involved with in the position of having at least slightly more followed than followers. Again, I feel this is generally the better bearing from a public relations perspective: Even in real life, I find that I am often more open to communicating than many people I encounter.  
For example, there are many editors and journalists I follow, and while I like to think that the best ones will courteously invite me into their Twitter feeds... it doesn’t always work that way, at least not immediately. So I am open to following some accounts that may not follow me back, even if I hope that eventually they will see the light and respond in kind.  
It’s okay to have few follows if you are an exalted celebrity or a robot
In discussing Twitter-handling strategies with my clients, I have heard arguments about why it’s good to keep the follow number low. There are a couple of reasons often provided – what’s called ‘unfollow fear’ is one, and another is, not having a large number of follows improves a network’s value and/or relevancy.  
Fear it or not, if you unfollow someone, they are indeed very likely to drop you. This is the reason that services likehttp://justunfollow.com have become so popular... to make it easy for someone to determine who has unfollowed them, and to reciprocate in one easy swoop.
Just that simply, because you decided that this person is not worthy of the kind courtesy of remaining on your Twitter feed, you risk offending that person and possibly burning a bridge for life. 
As for the argument that having fewer follows positively impacts relevancy and value, I counter that on Twitter, the best value comes from number and volume of followers.  In my case, today, there are some 3,701 Twitter feeds where my messages may show up and come to people’s attention. If I cut-down on those I follow, I run the risk of reducing the network carrying my messages. To me, it’s not a shrewd public relations strategy to take the chance of shrinking my audience just to have fewer people I follow:  on the contrary, that seems like a dumb idea, and I cannot imagine why I’d choose that path.  
Use Twitter Search, Lists, Hashtags and Add-On Services for Very Intelligent Optimizations
My favorite metaphor for Twitter search is that it’s like being able to stop rush-hour traffic and look inside any car – on just about any highway or road around the globe – to see what the passengers have to say. This capability is at the heart of the real-time marketing phenomenon that is still in its infancy, which is going to touch us all in alarming ways in days to come. 
Furthermore, ever since Twitter announced its ‘lists’ feature so long ago, I have used it strategically to maximize use of this platform for my own networking and business development purposes, and for others. It is very powerful and well-worth further investigation.  I use it to automate curation and publication of several custom agency and client publications via the Paper.li service – some daily and some weekly.
For my own blog posts, I have used a custom hashtag that continues to add value each time I use it, putting a unique stamp into my messaging that instantly adds context, amplification and import, all of which positively impacts my professional reputation. I have also developed hashtag campaigns for my clients, and put them to use in ways that appreciably heightened the effectiveness of my clients’ clients’ campaigns, to everyone’s mutual benefit and delight.  
Resources for further exploration
Even after addressing all these points, I can look at a handful of Twitter accounts for individuals or entities that I generally have very high regard for, where their handling often differs from mine. Personally, I recognize this as the place where my education needs to expand. Knowing that we likely have similar interests, for our ongoing analysis, I will leave you these links to ponder for the lessons they may teach us all.  
Author’s Details
Publisher, press agent, consultant, and writer-producer Roger Darnell is the principal of The Darnell Works Agency, the go-to PR firm for creative agencies, brands and entertainment ventures. Leveraging more than 24 years of high-profile business, marketing and production experience, supervisory-level U.S. Air Force instructional systems design and photojournalism expertise and two B.A. Communications degrees, Roger develops highly successful marketing, PR and media strategies for a short list of phenomenally talented companies and artists, and their clients.

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The Author

Roger Darnell

Publisher, press agent, consultant, and writer-producer Roger Darnell is the principal of The Darnell Works Agency, the go-to PR firm for creative agencies, brands and entertainment ventures.

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