In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk about the evolution of Twitter as a platform for business communication and how brands can engage in 2022.
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Grow Your Brand on Twitter"
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When Bobby Day recorded "Rockin' Robin" in 1957, he probably never thought that the lyrics, "All the little birds on Jaybird Street love to hear the robin go tweet, tweet, tweet" would describe a social media platform that we have come to know and love (or hate) in the year 2022. We're talking about Twitter. "Twitter" and "tweeting" and "to tweet," "the tweet," "the retweet," has entered the vocabulary of mainstream America, and not just on the Billboard charts. Here to talk about Twitter and its role in business and everyday life is Abbie Fink, Vice President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. How are you, Abbie? What's on your mind?Abbie Fink:
Well, that might have been one of the most creative intros we've had. I feel like I should sing or something, and I'm going to be singing this song in my head now all night, thank you so much. Yeah, we're going to talk about Twitter. Interestingly enough, I had a conversation earlier today with one of my nonprofit clients that's taken a bit of a real slow approach to getting on to social media. Their demographic skews a little older, so they have been a little hesitant to get super involved with social, so they wanted to know what I thought about Twitter, and it really struck me that I haven't given Twitter a whole lot of thought in that sense, really in quite some time. It's almost just been a given that everyone and every business and everything is on Twitter, but really, it might not be for every organization or every business, and my advice actually to them was to hold off a little bit, that they don't have enough bandwidth right now to manage it and to really use it to its best advantage, and until they can do that, like anything and everything we've talked about before, if you can't commit the time and the resources, then it's probably best to leave it be. I think Twitter, maybe of all of the sort of currently popular social media platforms, is one that's a little more difficult to think about and have it be part of your everyday communication strategy because it's got a lot of nuances to it that really require, I think, a different kind of attention than maybe some of the other slower platforms, if you will, the LinkedIns and Facebooks that we've been chatting about before.Adrian McIntyre:
Yeah. I think it really bears digging into some of those nuances, but before we do, we should also kind of underline the point you just made implicitly, which is that to talk about social media as a monolith is a huge mistake, because every platform has its own culture and norms, and kind of conversational form, and speed, cadence, if you will, and so there is no such thing as a social media strategy, unless you're breaking out each platform, each channel, and finding ways to authentically and in a very participatory way, engage in what's happening there. Twitter is certainly unique, so it's the shortest form content of all the platforms that we have been chatting about. The speed with which tweets are added and retweets and comments and so on is very, very fast. The lifespan of a tweet, I don't know the latest number, but it's less than 10 minutes. It might be 10 seconds, for all I know these days, and so it is a very fast back and forth kind of an engagement play, and that may not be suited for a lot of people. I think as you said, unless you have someone designated in a community management role, a conversation management role, it can create some problems if a tweet is hanging out there in the Twittersphere, Twitterverse, or whatever it is now.Abbie Fink:
Twitterverse, I think is the right term.Adrian McIntyre:
Yeah, and it's not being responded to, and people are piling on in the comments, it can take on a life of its own, which admittedly, can be hilarious in a sort of cynical way, but also, something that I think companies need to take seriously. I've been ambivalent personally about Twitter in the past. I've been more engaged on it in the past couple years than I was in the beginning. I think I created my account in 2009, so it wasn't very, very early on this one, and I never really did much with it because I didn't want to be personally kind of caught up in the chasing followers mode that was happening at the time. What I've just settled on, we've talked about it in previous episodes, but I do use Twitter actively because one of the communities that I engage with is the news media, and journalists are very active on Twitter. They use it as almost like a side notebook, describing where I am, what I'm doing, what I'm writing about, and also engaging with people about their stories, and I find that very interesting in a kind of first person source sort of way, so I definitely do use Twitter for engaging with journalists one-on-one, but not their media outlets. I'm not following their publications and consuming the print ... Not print, but the online stories that they're publishing. I'm really just following the individual people. My Twitter account is relatively modest. I'm only following about 1,500 people. I've carefully selected those followers, the people who's, I'm seeing in my feed to be folks that I kind of want to see what they're doing, and I'm just kind of quietly, I don't know, it's not really stalking, but I'm just quietly observing for the most part what's happening out there. What about you, Abbie? How do you personally use Twitter?Abbie Fink:
Well, and I do as a, not unlike the way you're describing it as a kind of a news filter for me, so I think about back when I started, how many ever years ago it was, it really was a bit more of a personal chat room. It had a little bit more of a text messaging feel to it. Either those that you followed or that were following you were a little more like-minded, shall we say. You searched out, at least I did, I searched out public relations, I searched out media, I searched out communications, those topics that were interesting to me, and early on, I was much better at creating lists and ways to interact, but it really was kind of a personal newsroom. I could engage with topics that were of interest to me, and a lot of times would learn breaking news as a result of being on Twitter. There were, how many ever years ago, the plane went down in the Hudson, it was then America West, US Air—went down in the Hudson, and I saw that news on my Twitter feed. We, at the time were on the crisis communications team for the airlines, and I actually saw it on Twitter a good 30 minutes before we got the phone call because just, there was somebody in the building across the way that put it out it on Twitter and it got shared and re-shared, and found its way into someone that I had been following, and similar other news that has happened is really happening in the Twittersphere, so I think my consumption of Twitter has evolved over the years. I am much less an active participant as in posting content. I am much as Abbie, quite a bit happens from my agency and certainly from those clients that are choosing to be in it, but Abbie is a little bit less active in it. When I do participate, I'm very aware of the conversations that I'm engaging in because it can go bad quite quickly if you're in conversations that are a little bit more volatile or a little bit more, oh, "controversial" shall we say. And so I think there's a lot that has to go into it. Now, from a business perspective, those same guidelines need to apply, and this was my advice to my client earlier today, was that it's certainly a good place to share information, but some of the topics that they might be sharing could in itself generate some comments that they weren't ready to be responding to. Until they are or until they want to be an active voice on those topics, they really should stay out of the conversation, and so thinking about it as a community manager and somebody that's handling this for your organization, maybe unlike any of the others, this truly has to be paid attention to 24/7, and recognizing that although you may be operating a business in Mountain Standard Time in the United States, that doesn't mean that the people engaging with your content are in the same time zone, and so you really have to be much more aware and much more active, and so it tends to be, in my view, one of the more difficult ones for businesses because of that, and a lot of discussion needs to go into whether it makes sense for you to be on their, in that sense.Adrian McIntyre:
Now, we should talk about one of the unique things that I see on Twitter more than most places. As I was listening to you and kind of reflecting about it, I really do think that even more so than any of the other social networks we talk about, Twitter is probably a place where you can see the best and the worst of the internet as a culture, because there is a communication style, which has evolved on Twitter, which can be very witty, very ironic. Sort of the master trope of Twitter is irony and snark. If that style of communication fits someone personally, it can be incredibly liberating to be able to fire off a quip that is witty, and clever, and a little edgy, and see that take off as people who love the internet and its sort of norms and forms embrace the wit, and the insight, and the cynicism sometimes, but generally just the snark of the thing. Twitter is where that happens, and when that is done well, it can be a thing of beauty. I mean, it can be an incredible turn of phrase, a clever thought, a little quip. I mean, I find myself, as I scroll my own Twitter feed, chortling more than on any other platform as somebody like, "Oh, that was really good," like that, "Nice one."Abbie Fink:
You used chortle.Adrian McIntyre:
You just used chortle in a sentence.Adrian McIntyre:
I used chortle in a sentence.Abbie Fink:
That in itself is just awesome, but thinking about that, there are some brands that have really taken that wit and sarcasm, and turned it into their brand, Wendy's, Burger King, the various chicken brands that are out there that have taken, and there's a team of individuals behind that brand that have been empowered by their company to be that, and when it's done well, it is exactly as you say, it endears you to that brand, it's funny, and it is representative of who they are.Adrian McIntyre:
Even when it's edgy, it can be well-intentioned, and funny, and humorous. Of course, there's a dark side, which we're going to get to in a second.Abbie Fink:
Go ahead. Finish your thought.Abbie Fink:
I mean, edgy is great, edgy is, taken in the right manner. Now, the difficult part, of course, is you have 140 characters, not words, 140 characters to be witty, and edgy, and funny, and irreverent, and whatever it is, and so sometimes it doesn't come off as well as you would like it to, and people will take offense to it, but if you go on to some of these brands and sort of follow their chatter, it is done well and it is done with intention and consistency, it is their brand all the time. I think the difference in that when that happens is A, the company itself has entrusted their community managers that are irresponsible for this to do that. There's no waiting, there's no hesitation, there's no permission needed to act accordingly because they've set their guidelines and they've talked about who the brand is and what we're going to look like online, and they have been given and encouraged to behave that way online, and when done right, it comes off correctly. I think the difficult part for me is more about what might be referred to now as the cancel culture and the real attempt to take down a brand or take down an individual in that online space, and those are very, very difficult to be able to manage. In fact, in a couple weeks, we're going to have a guest on with us to talk about reputation management and how you can respond to some of the things that happen in the online space that are somewhat out of your control, but done correctly that kind of behavior, if you will, that kind of messaging online is spectacular. We, as the consumer have to take it in the manner in which it is being offered up to us.Adrian McIntyre:
A couple of quick thoughts. First of all, just how much Twitter has branded its short-form content. They actually doubled the character limit to 280 like five years ago, but it doesn't matter because we still always only think of it and call it 140 characters. What's funny is that that is almost like a brand distinction point, so whether it's 140 or 280—it's 280 now—but it's funny that we're stuck with it. Like they actually branded 140 characters. That random fact is in our brains. That's interesting. That's thing one. Thing two is this business about cancel culture, I think is important and problematic in several ways, so it probably ... We'll get further into this in the future conversation about reputation management online. Cancel culture works in two ways. One is the way it actually works when it's happening, but the second is the way the phrase, cancel culture works when people are trying to make, not you, Abbie, but other folks, trying to make some other point about the left or woke folks and things of that nature, and in that sense, it's incredibly pejorative and unnecessary because it's not describing any reality other than this perception that, "Oh, you say the wrong thing, and the millennials will cancel you," or some other nonsense, but as a reality, it is true. People dog-pile on situations online. Does that have any actual ramifications in the world? Yes, it does, sometimes. Does it affect revenue and so on? Yes, it does. Does it affect people's individual career path? I think of the young intern, the stereotype of the intern who makes a mistake, and everyone starts hating on this individual, and then we find out that they don't work for the company anymore, and I just imagine to myself, "Somewhere out there is this 23-year-old sobbing at the moment, and the whole internet is laughing," and none of this is good, unless there's accountability that's now being provided in this way that wasn't there before, because the truth is, the audience is not only listening, the audience is talking back now, and maybe we all need to do a better job. Anyway, it's messy. Clearly, I don't have a clear thought about this. I'm going in 16 directions at once, but it's not a simple thing to grapple with.Abbie Fink:
Well, and you might remember, this wasn't all that long ago. I think it was ... Ah, trying to remember the brand that sent out an email and forgot to put the subject matter, and it was a test email, and everybody piled on to the intern, but in a reverse order, everyone who had been an intern who had had the world dump on them like that was defended this poor person, whoever he or she was, and said, "We've all been there. You'll get through it. Here I am, here I am, and we've all come through it." My response to that comment about the intern is, "Why in the world you would put your least experienced individual in charge of one of the more powerful communication tools in your company?" I mean, that is ridiculous, and so it may be the intern's fault. It legitimately might be that they made a mistake, but the truth is they shouldn't be the one entirely in charge of it anyway, have them on the team, have them be a part of it, but my goodness, how can you put the, again, this tool, this very powerful tool in the hands of the person on your team that has the least amount of experience in handling this type of thing, so I'm off my soapbox on the intern part of it.Adrian McIntyre:
I think that's incredibly right on because it points to something that you and I have consistently underscored on this show for clients and non-clients and everyone alike, communication matters. You have to take this stuff seriously. You can't simply throw a communications plan or strategy or program together, hand it off to the most junior person, and expect any results out of at least not good ones, and in some cases, particularly when the very nature of the platform allows for the incredibly rapid spread because of how simple it is, the hearting, the like, the retweet, it's not called like, but to heart a post, to retweet a post can actually have it go bananas faster than anything else, so with great power comes great responsibility, and hopefully good insight, and self-awareness, and empathy and all the rest, and you may not find that in your most junior communicator.Abbie Fink:
Right. Well, I look at Twitter in a very different way than I look at the other platforms, but like all of them, there are tools available and ways to manage what you're doing and creating lists and groups and other things, whatever the right terminology is for the platform, but to really hone in on who and what you want to be talking about, and where. Like any of these, that you choose to be on from a personal perspective, and then blend that into your business life as well, is creating some of your own guidelines and your own rules for what you will and will not participate in, and be consistent and pay attention to that. That's my advice on any of these platforms. There are just certain things that I don't believe, for me personally, make any sense for me to participate in. I have opinions. If you and I want to sit and talk offline about anything, I can talk about anything and have an opinion about it all, but in that more public place, where I am linked to so many different organizations and so many mindsets, it is not in my best interest to have opinions, if you will, on certain topics. That's my own guideline and that's what I typically advise clients that ask about, "What should they and shouldn't they do?" I've helped guide conversations that are going to end up in employee handbooks and such about participation in certain discussions on social media and whether or not it's an endorsement of the company or an endorsement of that individual if we do X, Y and Z in the social space. There's no right or wrong answer to it, it just has to be the right answer for your particular organization, and so advising in those regards to pay attention to what's coming out there, because as you said, with a one click and a re-share at the right time by the right person, that could be seen by millions more people than you had ever anticipated, and that is what leads to that pile on and that idea of the cancel culture. More often than not, at least this is my hope and my belief, is that the intention of that original tweet was not what ended up being what ended up going on there because of this pile on effect. If you remember as a kid, you played that game telephone, and you whisper in the ear of the person, and then it goes and see how different it becomes when it gets to the end of the row, that's basically what Twitter has become. It's just a chance to whisper in a lot of ears and hope that it remains somewhat intact when it gets to the end of the line.Adrian McIntyre:
Well, when I was a kid, we also played dog-pile in a very literal way, where somebody falls down on the soccer field and someone else jumps on them, and then it's dog-pile, and pretty soon, you've got 20 kids on the pile, and you don't want to be the one on the bottom. I think bearing in mind that there are subtleties and nuances and things to understand, we should also talk about some of the real positive benefits of Twitter. Certainly, there was a lag in product innovation, I think for a few years, and the new CEO's not new to Twitter, but new to the role, has really been putting that back at the center, and so things like Twitter Spaces, which are live social audio rooms, just kind of like clubhouse, I'm certainly seeing those in certain communities that I participated in. The NFT community, the podcasting community, those are special interest groups that are very passionate, and there's a lot of engagement happening there. Twitter threads as a way of sharing a bit more long-form content, kind of well-organized and planned in advance, and there are tools you can use to write your threads offline, and then plop them all in all at once. You don't have to do it natively. Then, just the ability to engage directly with pretty much anybody is still relatively interesting in the right circumstances. I mean, Twitter is a place. It's been called the water cooler of the internet. I don't know how much that's still true, but it is a place where you can just sort of jump into any conversation that's happening there, and the culture of conversation on Twitter is such that people aren't like, "Well, wait a minute. Who are you? How did you get into this thread?" No, no. It's open and everybody can engage. Now, the dark side, the flip side of that, of course, is you get all your haters and trolls coming in as well, but Twitter's evolved somewhat more slowly than I would've liked. Some safety features and comments that are considered offensive by the algorithm are often hidden until you unhide them, things like that. Of course, you can always block anybody that begins to harass you. Of course, if your tweet goes viral, and all of a sudden, you've got 1,200 people harassing you, that's a lot of buttons to push to block everybody all at once, but hey.Abbie Fink:
I believe and did from the very beginning that one of the best things that Twitter offers is around this idea of advocacy and being able to engage with like-minded individuals and for a call to action, and much like you said, some of these different groups and such that are being created. Again, if you use the tools to be able to do that, it's one of the things in the early days is how I used it almost exclusively, but I still think about it this way, is bringing together my community around a topic, so if I am ... It could be something as simple as, "I'm going to be traveling. Can anyone make a recommendation?" And 15 or 20 people in my community will chime in with something for me to consider. In the early days, and to some extent, still happens, I have met people that I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise because of a dialogue that occurred on Twitter, and that's from colleagues in other markets that are doing what I do. It might be an author that I like that I'm really interested in, and that person is engaging on Twitter and regularly communicates back with their fans, and so again, done right and done correctly with intention, it is a very powerful medium for information sharing, and it gives you the chance to share content from your other platforms, so if you are a blogger or you are a podcaster, it's another place to push out that content. It is a place to do some direct conversations with your potential customers and to build relationships, so there is plenty of good in Twitter, and I think you, as a user, have to think about it personally, and then put those same guidelines around it from a business perspective. Like everything, it's not a set it and forget it kind of thing. You have to give it some attention. You have to nurture it. You have to grow your followers in a way that makes the most sense, recognizing the intention of what you're trying to do, and then keep consistent with that, and I think you will find some success with it. If I were to prioritize for a lot of businesses, I still put it in the second or third place behind, say LinkedIn and Facebook from an engagement standpoint, but if I am a younger brand perhaps or a brand, like we were speaking about, that can be a bit witty and irreverent, then there's probably no better place for that to happen than on this particular platform. There's a lot of good in it when it is given the attention it deserves and evaluating it against your business, goals and objectives.Adrian McIntyre:
One last thing. We've hinted at this, but I want to underline it. It's still my favorite feature of all time on Twitter, and that is the ability to make private lists. The idea here is that you are creating lists. It could be around a topic, it could be around a role. If you wanted to pitch the media, for example, you might have a list about TV producers. You might have a list about writers. You might have a list about whatever, and you add those accounts to your own private list, which means nobody else can see it and they don't know they've been added to your list, but the cool thing is you can then switch your feed so that instead of just viewing all the tweets of the people that you're following, you can actually view just the feed from one of your private lists, so you can look at who's posting what recently from this group or that group, so you can do it by topic or by role, and that's, again, no other network gives you the ability to make that kind of selected view in quite the same way, where you can very easily check in, "What's happening with my crypto-investor people?," "What's happening with my news-media, people?," even of a specific kind, and you are in full control of those lists, and nobody else knows that that's happening.Abbie Fink:
Right. Right, and move around within them and move people from other ones as they become ... Yeah. It's an excellent use of that feature, and if you're new to Twitter and you're just getting started, it's one to use from the beginning. It's much more difficult to go back when you've got a couple thousand folks that you're following to try to put them into categories, but to sort of summarize, like all of our social media platforms, there are many more positives and worth considering it, but manage it, be aware of it, understand what the pitfalls might be, and I think once you do that and give it the attention it deserves, then it can become an active part of your social digital strategies.