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Running head: Public Relations: Tools of Twitter

Public Relations: Tools of Twitter

Jonathan Barba

California State University Fullerton

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The social media site Twitter has emerged as a recognized tool for public

relations practitioners. While many public relations practitioners are now aware of

the ability of social media tools like Twitter to reach target audiences, only a

comparatively small portion of professionals are actually equipped with adequate

understanding of the tools to effectively utilize this communications platform.

This study will examine the existing Twitter tools for public relations practice, and

analyze past uses of this social media platform for effective public relations

campaigns. Through anecdotal examination of campaigns, specific tools of

Twitter are identified and tactics for utilizing these tools are explored. By

examining these public relations tools and tactics of Twitter, this study seeks to

provide foundation for practitioners to incorporate social media into their

standing public relations practices.

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Twitter has emerged as a necessary tool of public relations practitioners. Industry

wide, practitioners are using the social media micro blog Twitter to disseminate

messages to publics, pitch stories to journalists, and to bolster the reach of

traditional PR tools like press releases, media alerts, and promotions. The

importance and potential uses of Twitter in public relations campaigns are

thoroughly recognized throughout public relations, however the methods and

tools for utilizing and incorporating Twitter into campaigns is less clearly

understood. This study seeks to define public relations tools and tactics of

Twitter by anecdotally examining effective uses of Twitter in public relations

campaigns. The tools and tactics identified in this study can serve as a guide for

public relations practitioners to incorporate Twitter as a supplemental part of their

campaign tactics

Literature Review

Current academic and professional literature in the field of public relations

illustrates three general trends in Twitter usage among public relations

practitioners: 1) Public Relations practitioners are increasingly recognizing twitter

as an influential tool for public relations practice. Conversely, of the public

relations practitioners who recognize the influence of Twitter, many still lack the
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understanding and tools to actually engage the social media platform. 2) Twitter

has a fixed number of tools which are available to public relations practitioners to

supplement existing campaign practices. These tools serve as the vehicles for

delivering public relations messages to target publics. 3) Current literature also

shows that journalists are turning to the internet and social media for leads and

material. These three characteristics identified in current social media literature

make the argument for incorporating social media into established public

relations practices.

The need for discussing the application of Twitter to the practice of public

relations arises from a more general trend of increasing online social media use.

According to the 2008 Forrester Research book Groundswell published by the

Harvard Business Press the emergence of social media in public discourse is

attributed to “people’s desire to connect” and the availability of powerful

“ubiquitous” online technology (Bernoff, pg. 10-11) To illustrate this relationship

Groundwell cites Tim O Reily, prominent internet observer and founder of the

term “Web 2.0”, “Technology is just an enabler, it’s the technology in the hands of

the almost-always-connected people that makes it so powerful.” (Bernoff, pg. 10)

This power is one that public relations practitioners can leverage for their own


Groundswell quantifies how internet technology is growing to an

omnipresent medium in communications stating that as early as 2006 nearly two

thirds of Americans were “online.” (Bernoff, pg, 10) The large number of people

using the internet, and the advanced interactive nature of social media today
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creates the opportunity for public relations practitioners to engage a robust public

through Twitter.

A recent contributing factor to the importance of social media, in addition

to the large online public, is the increasing use of social media by public relations

professionals. A 2008 study, PR Practitioners’ use of Social Media Tools and

Communication Technology, published in the professional journal Public

Relations Review found that 28% of public relations professionals surveyed

utilized social networking. That same study also found that in 2008 almost 2% of

practitioners reported using “micro-blogging applications” such as Twitter in their

professional use.(Eyrich et al., pg. 413)

According to a TED.com video lecture by co-founder of twitter Evan

Williams, Twitter emerged in popularity very recently, in 2007.(TED.com) Since

Twitter’s emergence, the pace of social media’s influence in public relations has

grown significantly. One year after Twitter gained recognition a quarter of public

relations professionals were using social media and only 2% were using micro


The same 2008 social media study asked public relation practitioners,

“How prevalent do practitioners see social media in the industry,” and found an

“overall perception that social media was being used in the industry.” (Eyrich et

al., pg. 413) The results of this study indicate two important trends. The first is

that practitioners do in fact recognize social media as an emerging force in public

relations. The second trend, however, is that while a significant portion of the
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public relations community is engaging social media there is still a portion of the

profession that’s is struggling to adapt to the tool.

Accounting for the relatively low percentage of practitioners using “micro-

blogging applications” such as Twitter compared to more general social media,

research literatrure indicates that a lack of technological understanding may be

attributed. The same study comments on this learning gap stating, “They

(practitioners) are slower to integrate more technologically complicated tools that

cater to niche audiences.” (Eyrich et al., pg 414) The results of the survey and the

conclusions of the study indicate that practitioners are not aware of how the tools

of twitter can be applied to their profession and also how public relations tactics

can be translated to available Twitter tools.

Despite the facet that investigations suggests such a learning curve

associated with Twitter exists, many public relations professionals have moved

ahead of the curve, seamlessly integrating Twitter into their public relations

practices. The 2010 study, Nanoblogging PR: The Discourse on Public Relations

in Twitter, also published in the professional journal Publication Relations Review

found that there are indeed professionals adapting to twitter and utilizing it to

supplement their professional tactics. The study found that out of a sample of

Twitter messages on the topic of public relations over 15% of those messages

reflected professional use of Twitter by public relations practitioners and that

4.3% of those Twitter messages were actually press releases executed through

Twitter.(Grau, pg 173) This study indicates that now in Twitter’s third year of

popularity, public relations practitioners are learning the tools of Twitter and
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utilizing the social media forum to disseminate existing public relations practices

such as press releases.

The use of Twitter to disseminate press information is a valuable tool for

public relations practitioners, especially in the presence of a large journalist

community on Twitter. A 2009 study in the Public Relations Review journal titled

An Examination of the Role of Online Social Media in Journalists’ Source Mix

indicates that journalists are turning to social media as a source for information

and leads in writing stories. The study found that 18.5% of journalists surveyed

“identified a social media tool they first utilize when writing a story.” (Lariscy et al.,

pg 315) In addition 24.8% of journalists said that they visit social media sites

frequently, or every time they are pitched a story. (Lariscy et al. pg 315) This

makes the argument that stories should be pitched on Twitter because there is

an audience of journalists to receive them.

Interestingly, the same gap between the recognition of Twitter’s

importance and ability to engage the medium exists in journalists just as it does

in public relations professionals. This learning curve between the recognition of

the importance of Twitter, and a slow adaptation means that Twitter is likely to

continue to grow in relevance to the public relations industry. Also, this slow

learning curve presents an opportunity for individuals to move ahead of the curve

by learning how to effectively use the tools of twitter to effectively apply public

relations tactics. According to the same 2009 study, “It behooves public relations

practitioners to begin engaging social media in preparation for the day social

media may contribute to agenda building.” (Lariscy et al., 2009 316)

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Some in the PR community believe that the day that social media will

contribute to agenda setting has already arrived. According to Maggie Fox, CEO

of the Social Media Group Twitter has already risen as the “circulatory system of

the news cycle.”(Capstick, 2010 pg 2) Whether Twitter has come to fruition or

not, it is clear that its influence is rising and public relations practitioners should

learn the platform if they aim to remain relevant in today’s dynamic public

relations climate.

The pace at which Twitter has his risen to prominence is notable. It moved

from an emerging trend in 2007, to a recognized tool in 2008, and in 2010 has

displayed traction as a functional element of public relations campaigns.

The increase in popularity of this communication platform, it’s large online

audience, its growing reputation in the public relations community, it’s integration

into public relations practices by practitioners, and the participation of journalists

in the forum indicates a significant opportunity for growing public relations uses in

coming years. These collective characteristics of Twitter demand that public

relations practitioners asses the tools available on Twitter and design models for

incorporating public relations practices to this new communications platform.


Using anecdotal analysis of public relations case studies on Twitter, this

exploratory investigation seeks to answer three research questions: 1) What are

the relevant tools available on Twitter that can be utilized by public relations
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practitioners. 2) How can existing public relations practices that be incorporated

with or supplemented by Twitter? 3) What are the situational opportunities and

campaign characteristics most ideal for employing Twitter in public relations


Methodology for researching these questions is comprised of an

evaluation of multiple case studies. This study identifies three prevalent tools

used by public relations practitioners in successful Twitter campaigns. It also

explores the existing application of public relations strategies and tactics that

have been integrated into Twitter by public relations professionals. Finally

opportunities for the use of Twitter in public relations will are explored shared

situational characteristics of executed Twitter campaigns. The overall goal is to

provide a foundation of tools and analysis of application of those tools to aid

public relations practitioners in bridging the gap between recognizing Twitter as

an influential tool and utilizing Twitter as a functional tool within more traditional

public relations practices.


Analyses of Twitter campaigns show that there are three essential tools

within Twitter for public relations professionals. These three are discussed by

Evan Williams, cofounder of Twitter, in a video lecture for TED.com. He identifies

the functions of these tools as in turn as the ability to aggregate news feeds,
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communicate directly with individuals, and the include linked material into Twitter

messages (Ted.com)

According to Williams the first tool of twitter capitalizes on the fact that, “If

you have millions of people around the world talking about what they’re doing

and what’s around them you have an incredible resource to find out what’s

happening among any topic, as it’s going on.”(TED.com) The tool being

described is called a hashtag. Hashtags serve to organize tweets by searchable

subjects or topics of discussion.

To understand hashtags, one must understand the streaming messaging

system of Twitter. Twitter is comprised of streaming messages that an individual

can manipulate to gather specific information they seek. For example, a user can

choose to see a stream of messages from a chosen group of friends. This

stream of messages would update itself in real time as that select group sends

out message. Similary a “hashtag” can aggregate real-time feed of Twitter

messages regarding a particular subject.

The way this is done is by including the subject of a Twitter message in

the text of the message and placing a hash symbol (#) directly in front of that

word. An example of this would be if one wanted to categorize their message as

falling under the topic of communications they would include “#communications”

in their tweet.

What the hashtag does is create a clickable link out of the word that has

been tagged. Clicking on that word will take you to a stream of Twitter messages

where every Twitter Message using the “#communications” hash tag is posted in
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real-time onto the stream. This system allows users to speak about particular

subjects, enter conversations about that subject and to find others who are also

tweeting about the same subject.

The public relations applications of this hashtag system are important for

two reasons. First it allows public relations professionals to stay current on

almost any subject imaginable. Second, it allows public relations practitioners to

categorize their tweets so that they are more easily searchable by others.

The listening aspect of this hashtag system is a valuable asset for public

relations research. According to Steve Rubel, a public relations partner for

Edelman Digital, “Every PR professional needs some level of situational

awareness about what is going on in a given community at a given time and will

need to check into Twitter accordingly.”(Capstick, pg. 3) The hashtag features

ability to aggregate Twitter messages into streams by subject provides up to the

minute research where professionals can gather real time information on the

subject or event they are interested in.

The converse function of this hashtag feature, making your Twitter

messages easily searchable, was executed with great effectiveness by the 2009

Sunset Strip Music Festival. This music festival consisted of 6 different music

venues but was branded as one singular event. In order to aggregate Twitter

messages from six venues referring to one music festival this campaign created

and utilized the hashtag “#SSMF”. Clicking on the #SSMF hashtag or searching

for it by name leads to an aggregated stream where all six venues could talk

about the event in one central location. This use of the hashtag creates the effect
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of a message board where promoters could announce line ups, publish show

times or promote deals. This tool also allowed patrons to join the conversation

about the festival by simply including the #ssmf hashtag in their Twitter

messages. (Twitter.com/thesunsetstrip, 2009)

The Sunset Strip Music festival also took their use of hashtags one step

further. The campaign mentioned the #SSMF hashtag in their hard copy press

releases. (The Sunset, 2009) Recognizing that hashtags help aggregate news

into a single feed, the SSMF campaign provided journalists a tool to access

additional information about the festival, from all six participating venues right off

of Twitter. This use of hashtags exploited the fact that 18.5% of journalists

consulting social media when writing stories. (Eyrich, et al., 2008) It also

demonstrates how hashtags can be used to aggregate relevant Twitter

messages and present them to the press.

Another tool of Twitter stems from the desire of twitter users to converse

with each other. (Ted.com) This tool is the @ symbol which when placed

immediately prior to a Twitter username in a Twitter messages indicates that your

are speaking to that particular person. This @ symbol feature is known as the

“@username syntax” according to Williams. (TED.com, 2009, online) This syntax

creates a clickable link within the Twitter message text. This link directs users to

a stream of all the Twitter messages mentioning that particular user name.

An effective illustration of this device is illustrated by the Hollywood music

venue The Roxy. This venue regularly announces upcoming acts, and

incorporates the @username syntax for mentioning bands’ that will be performing
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at the venue. (Twitter.com/theroxy, 2010) This allows followers of The Roxy

Twitter stream to click through and discover what others are saying about a

particular band, and in some cases leads to Twitter messages with embedded

videos and reviews.

Another effective use of the @username syntax tool for mentioning other

Twitter accounts can be seen on the Beth Krom for Congress campaign page.

This page utilized the @username system of mentioning others to promote a two

day 12 city tour of California’s 48th Congressional District. By identifying twitter

accounts for each of the 12 cities, the campaign was able to target event

information at individual cities by mentioning each cities username with the

@username syntax, and loading individual tweets with information specific to

each city. (Twitter.com/Krom4Congress, 2009)

This allowed the Beth Krom campaign to target geographic locations with

customized information for each stop along the tour. The campaign also targeted

reporters from each city by mentioning them with the @username syntax in

Twitter messages. By utilizing the @username syntax feature of Twitter, the

campaign was able to direct their message at geographic locations and at

targeted individuals.

The targeting of geographic locations, specific cities, and individual

reporters can be paralleled to the existing public relations strategy of targeting

publics. In this way, this Twitter tool was used to execute long standing public

relations practices.
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The use of hashtags and the @username syntax by these campaigns

illustrates how the tools of twitter can be used for aggregating information, and

strategically placing messages within target publics. While most public relations

professionals are familiar with the idea of research and targeting publics,

knowledge of these two tools allows for these practices to be executed on


The third tool of Twitter is embedded links. While these first two tools of

Twitter provide public relations practitioners with tools for message placement,

the third tool relates to the actual message content.

Twitter allows users to embed clickable links to any internet URL. However

each Twitter message is limited to only 140 characters, so many URLs are too

long to include, especially with space for descriptive text. The solution to this

problem is a host of URL shortners that take long URLs and shrink them to much

smaller URLs that fit better within the 140 character limit.

The importance of these URL shorteners is that they allow individuals to

link to any content, anywhere on the web. This is important because it allows

public relations practitioners to post a variety of content with their Twitter

Messages. Many campaigns, like afore mentioned Sunset Strip Music Festival,

are looking to expand on press releases by utilizing social media. The ability to

include video, pictures, and links to documents in Twitter is a powerful Twitter

tool for maximizing the appeal of a public relations pitch.

Martin Waxman, president of Palette Public relations elaborates on the

idea of integrating public relations deliverables onto social media in a 2010 PBS
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article titled, Social Media Press Release must evolve to Replace Press Release.

In reference to digital press releases Waxman states, “I like to go one step

further to create a social media newsroom, with all the information, visuals, video,

background materials, story ideas and contact easily accessible and searchable.”

(Capstick, 2010) Waxman and others like him are transforming the press release

into a highly interactive, content loaded model. Twitter, with its ability to link to a

multiple mediums like audio, photos and video is a tool that can be used to stay

up to date with the new era of press releases.

With the use of only three tools, Twitter demonstrates the ability to aid

public relations professionals in campaign research, strategic targeting,

innovative message placement and an unlimited ability to link to the copious

selection of media available online. These three tools provide the foundation to

execute a vast array of public relations strategies and lend themselves to a

variety of Twitter specific tactics.

Although the use of these tools will surely evolve, and despite the fact that

they could allow for seamless integration with almost any public relations tactics,

it does serve a purpose to explore campaigns that have employed these tools

and analyze these models for future use.

One innovative use of the Twitter tools discussed was executed to

promote the venues of the Sunset Strip to local patrons. The campaign was

branded under the hashtag “#stripcrawl” and was essentially the twitter version of

a pub crawl. The six prominent venues of the Sunset Strip in Hollywood,

California were seeking a way to draw crowds to their venues. They decided to
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create an event called the “stripcrawl,” which utilized Twitter to activate patrons to

attend the venues. The venues created the hashtag #stripcrawl and promoted

the event on all six Twitter accounts associated with the promotion. On the day

of the strip crawl one of the venues announced drink specials for at a set time

frame through the Twitter interface. Twitter users monitoring the #stripcrawl

hashtag then congregated at that venue for the drink special. As soon as that

special was about to end, the next venue announced their drink special. In this

way the campaign utilized the hashtag #stripcrawl to create a central location

where drink specials were announced in real time and patrons moved on

command from one venue to another, eventually moving a standing room only

crowd to all six venues. (Tweet Crawl, 2009 online)

Analysis of this campaign reveals a model for activating publics in real

time on twitter. The model for this campaign has three parts. The first is an action

request, which in this case is to drink at a stated location. The second element of

this model is a reward or incentive, in this case it is discounted drinks. And the

last element is a constraining mechanism such as a time restriction or limited

quantity of rewards. In a unified statement the model is to provide an incentive for

an action request that must occur under a constraint of time or quantity.

This particular model can be seen in other Twitter campaigns as well.

Lance Armstrong, knowingly or not, utilized the same model for a commuity bike

ride at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. According to the Los Angeles Times Lance

sent out the following Twitter message in September 2009:

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Hey LA – get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride

7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, La Zoo parking lot. See you there.

(Bloomekatz, 2009) This Twitter message, although subtle, contains all three

elements of the model previously discussed. The action request is to ride your

bike at Griffith Park, the incentive is the chance to ride with Lance Armstrong,

and the time constraint is that the event starts at 7:30 am. Using the exact same

model as the Stripcrawl, the bike ride attracted hundreds of riders out to the

event. (Bloomekatz, 2009)

Clearly the ability to activated masses of people on command is an

exciting prospect for Twitter use in public relations campaigns. This model is just

one many more to come as twitter develops in the coming years. Through

careful analysis of twitter campaigns public relations practitioners can replicate

models like this and even innovate use of twitter tools to create new models for

public engagement.

Another key to utilizing Twitter as an effective tool is to understand the

characteristics of effective Twitter usage. The most prevalent characteristic of

twitter is the idea of real time information. In the case of the stripcrawl, it was the

real time dissemination of the next venue drink promotion that added to the

excitement of the campaign.

Other examples of the relationship between Twitter and real time

publishing of information can be seen in examples where press stories are

published on Twitter before they hit the main stream press. An example of this is

highlighted in a MediaShift article titled, The Spill Effect Brought Color,

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Collaboration to media Tweets. The article highlights how a breaking political

story in Australia forced traditional journalists to adapt to the fast paced media

cycle of Twitter. According to one seasoned Australian reporter, “I thought

working in radio [that] I knew what “instant” meant, but that’s been completely

redefined now that I’ve covered the spill via Twitter.” This instant nature of twitter

is at the core of the communication platform. It is why public relations

practitioners can turn to Twitter for the most recent updates on a topic, event or

situation. This instant characteristic of Twitter is one that should be accounted for

when designing tactics and strategy.

The final aspect to maximizing Twitter effectiveness is to use all the tools

of twitter in conjunction. When this is done public relations practitioners are able

to speak directly at target publics by using the @username syntax. They are

able to categorize the subject matter for easy searching using the hashtag tool,

and they are able to provide extended content beyond the 140 character limit of

Twitter by including a link to external supplemental materials. An example of this

can be seen in the Beth Krom for Congress Campaigns Twitter Message:

Congressional Candidate Beth Krom in #LagunaNiguel this

weekend. http://bit.ly/4OljrY #CA @LagunaNiguelCA@ocrlagunanig

uel @lagunaini (twitter.com/Krom4congress)

In this example the twitter message is categorized under the subject of Laguna

Niguel, and CA. The link directs people to an event invitation which contains

directions to the location. Also the message is speaking directly at the Laguna

Niguel Twitter account as well as two reporters who cover the stories in the
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Laguna Niguel community. By using all of the twitter tools in conjunction, this

tweet was able to garner approximately 10 times more click throughs to the link

than the average for Twitter messages for the Beth Krom for Congress campaign.

(http://bit.ly/4OljrY+, 2009)


In general, Twitter serves as another channel for public relations

practitioners to communicate their messages. The tools of twitter align

themselves well with public relations practices. From research to evaluation the

tools of Twitter can be a valuable aid to any campaign.

In the research phase of public relations a practitioner can find information

by navigating hashtags on any given subject and get real time information and

opinions on the matter. Additionally navigating the @username syntax can find

information on individuals, businesses, or organizations. The real time nature of

this research can aid public relations practitioners in staying up to date on rapidly

changing situations.

In the action planning phase of a public relations campaign Twitter can be

used to segment and target specific groups. Targeted publics can be monitored

on twitter to decipher communication preferences and key opportunities for


Moving into the communications area of a public relations model, Twitter

provides tools for very precise placement of messages and content into select
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subject discussions, geographic regions, and directly at individuals and


While there are essentially only three tools of Twitter to be mastered by

public relations professionals, the application of these tools to public relations

practices is literally unlimited as to their integration with long standing public

relations tactics.

While specific campaign applications and Twitter specific communication

models were highlighted in this exploratory investigation an exhaustive study of

how the full spectrum of public relations tactics can be executed using the tools

identified in this paper would greatly advance the practical uses of Twitter for

public relations professionals. As twitter advances, so will communication

models and public relations applications for the forum. Studies of the Twitter

platform are essential to understand the dynamic nature of this forum, and it is

worth mentioning in this dynamism that what we know about Twitter today will not

essentially be true tomorrow. Constant monitoring of Twitter trends and

applications is necessary for public relations professionals to remain ahead of the

curve in this emergent communication technology.

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PR Pros Use Twitter to Reinvigorate Brands, Engage in Conversation


Best of Twitter: FTC Workshop Discusses Future of Journalism


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