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March 17 2010


PR Pros Use Twitter to Reinvigorate Brands, Engage in Conversation

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts operates luxury properties in countries all over the world, from the U.S. and Canada to Asia the Middle East and Africa. Aside from traditional promotions, one of the ways it connects with current, past and future guests is via its main Twitter account. Several accounts are also maintained by individual properties.

"We push out news and information; we think that's valuable," Mike Taylor, Fairmont's public relations manager, told the Hotel Marketing Strategies blog. "We include package and rate offers. We don't see Twitter primarily as a distribution tool. But if we have something that's a great deal we're going to let people know about it."

In terms of results, it has seen hotel occupancy rates rise after tweeting "online only" discounts, and it's been able to reach out and promote its brand.

"Twitter has introduced us to people we otherwise wouldn't have a relationship with," he said. "So it's sort of that global neighborhood concept where these people wouldn't have reached out to us or vice versa if we were not participating."

Other Twitter PR success stories include Comcast, Dell, JetBlue and Shaquille O'Neil. They have all reinvigorated their brands using the service. All are near becoming social media case study cliches.

Some in the hospitality industry take it one step further: The Roger Smith Hotel, for example, is connected to every corner of the social web. But its innovative use of Twitter is where it really shines. The New York City boutique hotel attracts travelers based on its regular -- and charming -- use of Twitter.

"I really found the genuine ability to connect with people valuable," Brian Simpson, the hotel's director of social hospitality, told Techipedia, "and we have continued to use this as just one of many pieces of the funnel hopefully driving people to be more involved with us outside of just booking a room."

These successes are well documented. However, many businesses, organizations and individuals have trouble converting the case studies of others into success for themselves. As it turns out, public relations thought-leaders suggest it's less about the tool itself and more about learning to adapt and adjust to the new medium.

Conversation is Key


Maggie Fox, CEO of the Social Media Group, suggests Twitter has become the driving force of the news cycle.

Her company has been Ford's social media agency since 2007, and claims status as "one of the world's largest independent agencies."

"From a PR perspective, Twitter is the circulatory system of the news cycle," she said when asked if PR practitioners can use Twitter effectively if only checking once or twice a day. "It is a constantly churning stream of scoops, updates and perspectives generated by millions of users and mainstream media outlets. Twitter interaction advances the story in realtime, as you watch."

She said knowing about Twitter is one thing, but engaging in conversation is what is key. "Twitter [usage] patterns are different for different people," she said. "Some tweet every quarter hour, others, every day. Whatever suits your style and objectives, go with -- as long as it's regular and consistent. I think the point is you have to use the platform to know it; setting up a Twitter account and tweeting once six weeks ago is not using the platform."

Dave Fleet, a well known PR blogger and the account director at Thornley Fallis, a national Canadian PR firm, said it requires more than just becoming a proficient user of one tool like Twitter.

"If you're able to connect with people through Twitter then great, but you can also make great connections through in-person contact, over the phone, through other online tools or through any number of communications media," Fleet said.

Customization is Essential

Edelman Digital's Steve Rubel agrees with Fox and Fleet's assessment, suggesting "it really depends on the individual PR professional's focus."

Rubel said "customization is key" for both clients and PR pros adopting Twitter as a business communications tool.


"Generally speaking, however, I believe that 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," he said. "In addition, those on the front lines will need to become increasingly visible online and offline -- including their client affiliations."

When asked how he advised clients to stay on top of the changes and evolution of Twitter, Rubel said, "I generally don't."

"There's way too much focus on the technology and tools," he said. "Instead I advise them to study audiences and trends and then identify tools that fit. Too many people start with the tools first. That's like buying paint before you have a floor plan."

Fleet said the same is true for PR pros.

"Most people don't need to stay on the bleeding edge of the latest tactical client," he said. "It's more important that they use the various social media tools effectively and strategically rather than looking for the next shiny object. With that said, part of our job as consultants is to stay on top of these tools, and to be able to recommend the best tools for our clients. So, part of that onus falls on us."

Ian Capstick is a progressive media consultant. He worked for a decade in Canadian politics supporting some of Canada's most charismatic leaders. He is passionate about creating social change through communications. Ian appears weekly on CBC TV's Power & Politics, weekly radio panels, and is regularly quoted online and off about the evolution of public relations in a connected world. He describes his small communications firm, MediaStyle.ca, as a blog with a consulting arm.

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