Thursday, April 16, 2009

PR in 140 characters (or less)

Below is a short article I recently wrote for the Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific newsletter:

No longer can brands bask in page-long text rich press releases, now, thanks to Twitter, brands need to communicate their messages succinctly in 140 characters or less. Although there are no official user numbers, it is rumoured that Twitter, the micro-blogging social media tool, has amassed around nine million users in its short existence.

The broadcasting of short messages to global followers is the latest explosion on the social media scene, attracting everyone from the tech savvy digerati to celebrities and government officials. It has pushed the boundaries of internet conversation, allowing you to interact with celebrities as if they were your best friend (I recently engaged with Will Carling and Stephen Fry!).

But beware, the darker side of Twitter enables viral word of mouth to spread faster than ever before – a crisis can now be communicated to a global audience in the time it takes to type 140 characters.

As a result, the communications industry has quickly pounced on the potential of Twitter as a tool for broadcasting company messages, creating communities of advocates, engaging with consumers and even an avenue for crisis communications. To bring this to life, here is one recent example of crisis communications involving PepsiCo and an ill-thought-out advertising campaign.

Huw Gilbert, communications manager for PepsiCo International, approved a Pepsi Max advertisement, which depicted a cartoon calorie committing suicide. Twitter users condemned the advertisement as insensitive to those affected by suicide and a raft of criticisms were posted. Gilbert soon caught on that Pepsi’s online reputation was taking a beating and “tweeted” the following public apology:

“We agree this creative is totally inappropriate; we apologise and please know it won’t run again.”

Several critics saw Gilbert’s tweet and one user responded:

“Thank you...for having the guts to get on Twitter on behalf of Pepsi and give us an update on the suicide ad.”

This example highlights how companies that have a Twitter account are better prepared to respond when something goes wrong. In an era where authenticity and transparency are vital to combat skepticism, this type of direct engagement can preserve online corporate reputation.

Other well known brands on Twitter include Starbucks, Amazon, Gartner and Dell. There are a growing number of brands using Twitter to communicate messages, promote products and provide customer service.

Another example is Bob Pearson, head of communities and conversations for Dell, who recently stated that his company had generated US$1 million in computer-related sales through alerts posted to Twitter alone.

The wonders of Twitter do not stop there. We, as communications professionals, can leverage Twitter as a news monitoring tool, a crisis early warning system, a sales channel, a broadcast channel and an audience engagement tool. I consider Twitter as a vital tool in my job and make it my first port of call on my journey to work. We should be ready to identify potential problems and opportunities to effectively counsel our clients in a way that may be outside of our comfort zone.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Social Networks More Popular Than Email

The latest data from Nielsen Online shows that two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all internet time. While search and destination sites remain the most popular online activities, social network and blog use exceeded that of e-mail, increasing their reach by 5.4% in the last twelve months.

So, for companies looking to target consumers and end users, digital communications should be considered an important element of the communications mix.

Other key findings include:

  1. Time spent on social network sites is also expanding: In 2008, social network activity accounted for one in every 15 online minutes. Today it accounts for one in every 11 (In Brazil the average is one of every four minutes and in UK it’s one in every six minutes.)
  2. The social network and blogging audience is becoming more diverse in terms of age: The biggest increase in visitors during 2008 to social networks came from the 35-49 year old age group (+11.3 million).
  3. Mobile is playing an increasingly important role in social networking
    Nielsen found UK mobile Web users have the greatest propensity to visit a social network through their handset, with 23 percent (2 million people) doing so, compared to 19 percent in the US (10.6 million people). These numbers are a big increase over last year – up 249 percent in the UK and 156 percent in the US.

Social Networking is Hot in Hong Kong

The latest figures released by Hitwise (an internet traffic monitoring company) shows that social networking is hot in Hong Kong.

Social network Xanga ( currently ranked at #3 out of all sites monitored by Hitwise in Hong Kong, just behind Yahoo! Hong Kong ( and Yahoo! Hong Kong Search ( Xanga, is the highest-trafficked social networking site in Hong Kong, outperforming its competitors MySpace ( and Bebo (

Over the past 12 months, Xanga's market share has rocketed from 2.49% to 3.22%, while traffic levels of its nearest competitor, Yahoo! Hong Kong Search, have stayed relatively stable. In addition, the Blogs sector has also experienced a phenomenal rise over the past year. Traffic to sites in the Hitwise Blogs & Personal Websites category in Hong Kong has increased by 52%. Xanga is the highest-ranked website in the Blogs category, consuming a massive 72.22% of market share.

Digital communications is surely a cost effective way of reaching an audience that is far larger than the most popular newspapers and magazines - but why aren't more companies doing it?