Winging It: Twitter Rebrands To “X” And No One Knows Why

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I never particularly liked the name “Twitter” and I hated to say someone “tweeted.” So, even as a former power Twitter user, I don’t feel very sentimental about Elon Musk’s recent decision to change its brand to “X.” But that’s just because there are so many other reasons to look at Twitter’s new name and logo as the rearranging of deck chair cushions on a rapidly sinking platform. It’s an unusual approach to a rebrand, and not in a good way.

Did they articulate a rationale for Twitter’s new logo?

First, the positive. The news does have one feature of a successful rebranding. A rebrand should always signal a positive change, like the addition of new features, a fresh direction, or, as in this case, new services. Twitter has (very aspirationally) tried to link the new brand to coming attractions, and in fairness, Elon Musk has often mentioned adding new services to the platform. He even changed the corporate name to “X” a couple of months ago, so that one isn’t new. So far, so good.

But the messaging makes no sense

Yet the messaging is incoherent. It doesn’t articulate much about the new X platform. Musk originally posted that the new brand was to “embody the imperfections in us all that make us unique.” Huh? What does that mean? He then gleefully alluded to “blowtorching” the Twitter sign off the headquarters building, which, when taken with past comments about the pre-Musk company, sounds like he’s killing the old logo out of anger. Is X the spite rebranding? (Or, as I originally thought, is he naming it after his toddler son with Grimes?) There are many, many questions that have not been answered and in all probability, were never considered.

Individual executives are not aligned

Meanwhile, the company’s new CEO Linda Yaccarino, who has to be wondering what she’s gotten herself into, tweeted in her typical cheerleading style about a litany of new services for the platform, like messaging, audio, and even banking and payments. And, did I mention they will use AI? The buzzy new tech is thrown onto the laundry list like an afterthought. As with earlier Musk pronouncements, Yaccarino’s tweets come after the fact and give the strong impression that she’s trying to clean up Elon’s mess. As for services like payments, I cannot in any world imagine that even heavy Twitter users are clamoring to pay their bills on the platform. Even the diehards are likely to be skeptical of any frills, given the deterioration of even its most basic functionality. The only people buying the rebrand are Elon sycophants and the bots that seem to applaud his every tweet. But even the fans are just trying to project their own wish list onto the change.

The real “X-factor”

And then there’s the name itself.  I suppose it could also suggest mystery or intrigue — as in “x-factor” — and maybe that’s what Musk is shooting for. More than anything, to me, “X” connotes closing out of a document or platform. When I logged into Twitter this morning, I reflexively wanted to close out (though possibly not just due to the name.) Others immediately think of pornography. To most of us, “X” means “no” or “eliminate.” As Emily Nussbaum summarized, “I like the fact that “X” manages to be boring, confusing AND negative, which makes it an ideal brand for Elmo’s site.”

Finally, the replacement of an iconic brand with 17 years of equity among even casual users as well as journalists, influencers, celebrities, and politicians, seems to have been announced with no real user or market research. It comes across as another erratic move by Musk that does nothing to address the platform’s growing challenges.

There’s a difference between authenticity and “winging it”

A typical rebranding follows a fairly well established process. It starts with research and includes a creative brief, drafts and redrafts of messaging, market testing, iterations, refinement, and a final decision about visual identity, colors, usage standards and style guidance, meaning, announcement strategy, stakeholder outreach, and a comprehensive Q&A so that every single question is anticipated and addressed before rollout.

Yet there’s no law that the standard process has to be followed. Some brands have invited their own employees or customers to weigh in before rebranding. Others have adopted a more iconoclastic approach, and entrepreneurs typically have a lot of leeway. (I know someone who bought his PR business back from a private equity company and rebranded it after his childhood nickname.) There can be something refreshing about breaking the rules and offering a touch of whimsy or humanity.

But the approach Musk has taken is not that. The rebrand from Twitter to X has all the hallmarks of an impulsive decision made in the middle of the night by a guy who resents everything about the company he overpaid for. He doesn’t seem to be addressing the very real problems Twitter faces but is looking to distract with fresh news that’s clearly ego-driven. Maybe I’m wrong, and Musk’s platform will benefit from all the attention and gain fresh traction from curiosity-seekers and people who never liked Twitter in the first place. But I can’t see a strategy here. In other words, he’s just winging it, which is very bad news for the bird app.

3 Emerging Social Media Platforms B2B PR Pros Should Know

Remember when the only social media platforms considered significant by PR pros were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? For many, they continue to be the trinity of social media. But by the end of this year, an estimated 3 billion people will be using social media, and not just on those three sites. What’s more, new platforms are popping up regularly.

New platforms can work for B2B PR 

That means there’s greater potential for B2B brands to reach an engaged audience of business users. The opportunity to reach specific audiences goes beyond the social sites that currently dominate. For example, TikTok has taken the world by storm and no one wants to miss newer sites that could gain similar prominence. Here are three emerging platforms that PR pros should track. They can work particularly well for B2B visibility programs.


Clubhouse was launched in 2020 and breaks the mold of traditional social media platforms. It’s audio-only and connects the audience and speakers by letting them share information in real time. What kind of conversations take place on Clubhouse? A little bit of everything! Topics range from relationship discussions to starting a business.

Another thing that sets Clubhouse apart is its exclusivity. It’s invite-only – at least until its official release. Users act as gatekeepers for the platform’s daily ongoing conversations by holding three invitations that will allow new users to join. Those who don’t have invitations will have to join the waitlist until the official release. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to score an invitation.

Since its launch Clubhouse has become a hub for tech types, artists, and entertainers. Can B2B senior executives also find their niche here? Yes. For B2B clients Clubhouse can be another social media tool used to drive thought leadership, especially those who are subject-matter experts. Savvy business leaders are well suited to host rooms and later start their own clubs. The platform offers PR teams a new way of storytelling for organizations and gives business personalities who are talented speakers with a strong point of view about industry trends an opportunity to ride the social audio wave.

Twitter Spaces

In a bid to get in on the social audio experience, Twitter released Twitter Spaces in December 2020. It’s still in its early stage, but there are new features and updates in the works. One driving force behind the creation of Twitter Spaces seems to be the challenges Clubhouse faces regarding its community standards. Unfortunately, Clubhouse’s conversations on sensitive topics such as identity, ethnicity, gender, and racism have led to abusive behavior by some users. Twitter Spaces is seeking to offer a more inclusive environment.

So how does Twitter Spaces work? Those who want to host a conversation must have a Twitter account. They can create either impromptu Spaces or schedule them up to 14 days in advance, all within the Twitter app. Up to 10 people can be invited to speak in a created Space at any given time. Spaces are public, so anyone can join as a listener, including people who don’t follow you. To issue invitations, hosts can simply post a link by tweeting it, sending it through Twitter’s direct-messaging, or posting it elsewhere. 

Like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces is an emerging platform that can work well for thought leadership. It features live discussions, training sessions, and Q&As, among other things. The hosting capacity for Twitter Spaces is still limited, but in May Twitter announced that accounts with 600 or more followers are now able to host a Space. According to Twitter Spaces, these accounts are likely to have a good experience hosting because of their existing following. Audience quality is another thing to consider on top of having a charismatic speaker host. Though Twitter Spaces is still in a fledgling stage, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on for PR plans as it picks up steam.

Instagram Reels 

There’s no denying TikTok’s influence on the launch of Instagram Reels. This new feature is actually in competition with TikTok as it offers similar video creation capabilities.  

Instagram Reels can be used to promote brand awareness and even recruitment. The feature offers a fun, creative way to display your brand’s product releases, how-to’s, and even its workplace culture. There’s no need for a production team – all you need is a smartphone. You can also reach out to an industry influencer to create reels in your interest.

Finding which new social channel to onboard 

Being one of the first to join an up-and-coming social channel and learning the lay of the land can place you ahead of competitors who lag behind. However, time spent experimenting with new platforms must be balanced with refining strategies on already established ones. 

Determining which new platforms are worth the time and effort of watching and experimenting might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! We recommend keeping the following in mind when navigating new channels:

-Track growth. Big numbers signal that the platform is gaining momentum and that the chances for engagement with a broad swath of users are high.

-If a platform doesn’t offer specific metrics (like Clubhouse), but it has buzz, it’s probably worth a trial.

-Pick platforms that your audience can easily use and enjoy.

-While you should pay attention to the level of adaptability, you should consider how your audience wants to consume media. If you’re looking to target business decision-makers they’re more likely to sit in on a discussion of industry trends on a platform like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.

-If you can’t come up with any interesting ways to tell your brand’s story on a niche platform, you might want to hold off on making an account. A boring or dormant account can signal that the brand isn’t ready to engage.

25 Ad Tech Journalists To Follow On Twitter

As we race into another year, it’s time for PR pros to check their Twitter feeds to make sure we’re following the right people. 2020 is sure to be an innovative year for ad tech, thanks to CCPA and other industry happenings that are shaking up the status quo. By following the top journalists and influencers on Twitter, you’ll start the year more informed than ever.
Check out this list of 25 ad tech mavens as a starting point for your new follows in 2020. This is by no means a complete list of advertising journalists; they’re among those that are very active, often posting interesting and engaging updates about industry news.

Lara O’Reilly | @larakiara

Formerly of WSJ and Business Insider, Lara is a senior correspondent covering marketing at Digiday. A well-known name in the space, she is extraordinarily insightful and knows her stuff. Her cat content is also very enjoyable!

Marty Swant | @martyswant

Marty Swant is an experienced advertising reporter who went to Forbes this summer after spending four years at Adweek covering emerging tech, agencies, brands, and the growing intersection of Silicon Valley and D.C. He’s a great follow.

Anthony Ha | @anthonyha

Anthony covers ad tech as part of his advertising and media beat at TechCrunch. He’s one of the only people on the planet that can credibly write a story like this and also interview Will Smith. Before his tenure at TechCrunch, Anthony was at Adweek and VentureBeat.

Josh Sternberg | @joshsternberg

Josh is currently the Media and Tech editor at Adweek, where he oversees the team of reporters covering–you guessed it–ad tech! Previously, Josh held positions at NBC News, The Washington Post and Digiday. His Twitter also includes anecdotes of life after moving to the suburbs (relatable for this native New Yorker also living in NJ)!

Sahil Patel | @sizpatel

When I started working in PR, Sahil was a reporter at VideoInk. He then moved to Digiday to cover video. Today, he reports for WSJ’s CMO Today, with a focus on the ways that tech platforms, digital video and ad tech are changing the business of marketing. Sahil is a very funny and smart guy, so you’re sure to love his tweets.

Shoshana Wodinsky | @swodinsky 

Shoshana just joined Gizmodo after covering ad tech at Adweek. She’ll continue covering the space but from a consumer POV. Her account is great because she does a lot of investigative work and doesn’t hold back on pointing out weird or funky ad tech happenings on privacy, fraud, platforms, etc.

Lauren Johnson | @LaurenJohnson

Lauren joined Business Insider as a Senior advertising reporter in 2018, coming off a four-year stint at Adweek. She is a must-follow for breaking news and interesting takes on the industry, especially for all things video-related.

Jason Lynch | @jasonlynch

My favorite part of advertising has always been TV, and that brings us to Adweek’s TV editor, Jason Lynch. Jason heads up all TV content at Adweek, from programming to adtech. Definitely a good follow for those looking for TV insights especially given the rise of CTV.

Tanya Dua | @tanyadua

Back when I started PR, Tanya was covering brands at Digiday. Now, she’s at Business Insider where she still focuses on brands (DTC, in particular), while also covering ad tech. Her Twitter feed is a must-follow for juicy stories on all things advertising, media and marketing. 

Kelsey Sutton | @kelseymsutton

Kelsey Sutton is an editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television– a huge topic for this year and next as OTT continues to build buzz as the new big thing. She previously wrote about the media industry at POLITICO and at Mic.

Patrick Coffee | @PatrickCoffee

Another Adweek transplant now at Business Insider, Patrick Coffee is kind of an industry celeb known for managing the juicy AgencySpy blog. His current beat is breaking news, trends, and controversies affecting marketers, agencies, and platforms. It’s great stuff.

Lucia Moses | @lmoses

A longtime media reporter, Lucia Moses is now a deputy editor at Business Insider with a focus on how disruption is reshaping the landscape and new media models for the digital age. Recently, she’s focused on the rise and fall of media startups, the rise of the subscription economy, and the impact of tech giants’ moves on media and advertising–all key issues in 2020.

David Griner | @griner

A longtime writer and editor for Adweek, David currently leads coverage of advertising creativity and innovation and hosts Adweek’s weekly podcast, “Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad.” Previously, David was Adweek’s first social editor and a primary contributor for AdFreak. His account is one of the most amusing ones I follow.

Sarah Sluis | @SarahSluis

For the last five years, Sarah has been heading publisher coverage at AdExchanger, writing stories about the future of digital media, ad tech, and programmatic advertising, as well as moderating panels at industry events like including Programmatic IO, Industry Preview, Advertising Week and DMEXCO. She’s a must-follow.

Kristina Monllos | @kristinamonllos

After spending the last five years at Adweek as a Brand editor, Kristina joined Digiday this year as a Marketing editor. Apart from advertising takes, she also shares entertaining and culturally relevant posts.

Tim Peterson | @petersontee

Tim Peterson knows the industry extremely well. After stints at MarketingLand, AdAge and Adweek, Tim joined Digiday in 2018 and has become a go-to advertising reporter. He often shares his articles on his feed, ensuring you never miss his quality reporting.

Gavin Dunaway | @AdMonsterGavin

As Editorial Director at AdMonsters for almost the last decade, Gavin has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in ad tech. In addition to programming the company’s well-known conference content, Gavin writes magazine-style feature stories on the biggest trends in digital advertising, including all flavors of programmatic, mobile and viewability.

John Koetsier  | @johnkoetsier

Now a data expert and consultant, John was a full-time tech journalist for VentureBeat for years. He wrote regularly while building VentureBeat’s research division, VB Insight. He’s also written for Business Insider, TechCrunch, ReadWrite, Inc., and more. Since he doesn’t want to quit writing just yet, he currently contributes to Forbes and VentureBeat and actively posts on Twitter with insightful takes on industry news.

Ronan Shields | @ronan_shields 

A long time ad tech journalist, Ronan is definitely one of the most informed reporters in the space. I check his author profile page once a day to see what he’s writing about. He doesn’t tweet a ton but when he does it’s always with a link to a big story.

Kerry Flynn | @kerrymflynn

Kerry is a CNN media reporter who previously worked at Digiday and Mashable. Kerry is incredibly smart on the industry, but also shares heart-warming content to break up the news. I also hear she’s a great karaoke singer 😉

George Slefo | @georgeslefo

George covers the ad tech beat for Ad Age. Before he wrote for Ad Age, he was at the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s a must-follow for anyone in the space.

Patience Haggin  | @patiencehaggin

Patience was a VC reporter at WSJ, but switched over to the adtech beat in February. She’s written some excellent pieces on privacy, with a recent focus on politics, given the runup to the 2020 election.

Meg Graham  | @megancgraham

Meg Graham is the tech reporter at CNBC covering advertising and marketing. Previously, she covered agencies at AdAge. Meg is very active on Twitter and a great source of quality content for your feed.

Craig Silverman  | @CraigSilverman

Craig isn’t really an ad tech reporter, but he does write a lot about ad fraud and misinformation, both key concerns of the industry. He’s the media reporter at Buzzfeed, and a well-known, award-winning expert in “fake news.”

Mike Shields  | @digitalshields

Mike Shields has been covering the industry for many years, with key publications from Business Insider and WSJ to Digiday and Adweek on his resume. While he no longer writes full time, he occasionally moonlights on Business Insider and is always posting about the big news of the day.

For honorable mentions, I highly recommend following @AdTechPotus on Twitter. As both a political and ad tech junkie, this account’s content is everything I could want and more.
I’d also recommend following NYT’s Taylor Lorenz. Taylor doesn’t cover ad tech, but she’s worth following because her takes on digital culture and memes inform a lot of ad coverage today. And she’s one of the best at documenting new online platforms like TikTok, which are growing as ad businesses.

Twitter’s Alex Jones Problem Goes Beyond PR

Twitter stepped into a PR mess this week when it broke ranks with peers and declined to suspend conspiracist Alex Jones from its platform. The decision came after most tech giants hosting InfoWars content – Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and  YouTube — removed at least some of its pages or broadcasts in response to public pressure. Jones, of course, is the self-proclaimed “performance artist” who spins wild conspiracy theories and launches poisonous attacks on perceived enemies, galvanizing his hordes of fans in the process.

Jack Dorsey tweets draw backlash

In a series of tweets Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained that Twitter wouldn’t ban Jones or InfoWars because they hadn’t violated the platform’s rules. He admitted that Twitter has been “terrible” at explaining its decisions, then tweeted that it would continue to treat Jones like any other user. He will remain unless he engages in targeted harassment or other clear violations of Twitter’s terms of service.

Twitter’s problems with nazis, trolls, fake accounts, and misinformation aren’t new. And like Facebook’s struggle in the wake of the Russian account scandal, the issues are knotty and complicated. It goes far beyond a mere PR or communications problem. Even most brilliantly crafted public statement probably wouldn’t please Twitter’s critics. But @jack’s response to the Alex Jones backlash did contain several unforced PR and strategy errors.

Twitter changes direction

First, the move is starkly inconsistent with its past behavior. It comes in contrast to Twitter’s well publicized expulsion of hate groups and its elimination of thousands of fake accounts, bots and trolls. @jack’s tweets seek to make a distinction between what Jones does and the hate speech and targeted harassment by nazis and others, but to many of us, the line is very, very thin. The accompanying statement the company released did little to reconcile the two positions.

Worse, the explanation betrays a concern that Twitter would be blamed for “shadow banning” conservative accounts, a favorite accusation of far-right critics. If so, Twitter is guilty of the very politicized behavior that it claims to want to avoid. If it’s keeping Jones out of fear of conservatives who “work the refs,” it’s taking sides. Expressing political opinions and tweeting lies made up for dubious political ends simply aren’t the same thing. InfoWars is political, yes, but plenty of Jones’ content isn’t about politics, and it certainly doesn’t focus on issues. The false Sandy Hook conspiracy he concocted is a glaring example, and as the pizzagate situation showed, such content can be dangerous.

Media clap back on Twitter

Most baffling may have been @jack’s call for the media to step up in policing the lies, rumors, and conspiracies propagated by people like Jones. He tweeted, “it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.” He then rubbed salt in the wound by giving a rare interview to Sean Hannity.

You don’t need to be a PR expert to think that foisting responsibility on media for the pervasive “fake news” problem on social media is a huge stretch – and offensive to many in the press. And giving Hannity time didn’t exactly endear @jack to the dozens of journalists who’ve been clamoring for an interview. It’s hard not to think he’s pandering to the right in the handling of the decision.

Bottom line, social platforms exist to serve the needs of users and advertisers. Apple, Spotify and others dropped Jones’ content precisely because its users found it repugnant and made their views known. Like Facebook and the others, Twitter is a private company that can set rules as it wishes to optimize the experience for its community of users. Apple in particular has shown a willingness to stand up on divisive issues. Facebook has done it very reluctantly, in fits and starts. Twitter is trying to take its own stand, but its decision is far less defensible.

There’s no scalable solution

Twitter’s explanation that it can’t be the “arbiter of truth” seems like a red herring. The fuller explanation — “nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what’s true or false” — may be more to the point. No social platform is willing to pony up the resources to fight misinformation. The problem is just too big.
But here’s the thing – Twitter has an easy recourse if it really wants to suspend Alex Jones. It can do it on the grounds that he promotes hate speech. There’s plenty of ammunition – and plenty of cover – for that move.

Instead Twitter seems to be trying to take the high road by clinging to a nonexistent fairness principle and wrapping itself in a legalistic explanation that bears little relevance to how people use social media. It’s pretending that its rules are black-and-white when everyone knows that for any social platform, human judgment is involved in decisions about abusive content and suspensions.
There’s no way to automate against hateful, hurtful, and false speech. It takes human judgment to address the problem, and a human commitment at the top to wipe it out. There’s not a technology solution here, and that may be the heart of the problem.

5 Fun Twitter Campaigns That Drive PR

Twitter is many a PR pro‘s best friend, in part for its lightning speed in breaking news and its way of facilitating quick, off-the-cuff conversations with journalists and other influencers. But the longstanding social media platform — Twitter will celebrate its 10th birthday in March! — is also a great way to drive PR buzz for companies and brands.

Here are some of our favorite Twitter campaigns that figured out how to drive great earned media and social sharing.

Ben and Jerry’s Fair Tweets campaign. This campaign wins for its cleverness. By now everyone knows 140 characters is the Twitter limit, so the ice cream makers came up with the premise that “every day, millions of Twitter characters go unused” and created a way for people to “donate” their remaining characters to Ben and Jerry’s, who would use them to tweet messages about fair trade. All in time for October, which was Fair Trade Month.  What also works about this campaign: it’s an extension of Ben & Jerry’s longstanding commitment to social causes, while the cleverness saves it from being sanctimonious.

LG’s #bestshotever photo contest. The electronics giant found a natural way to promote its newest smartphone by hosting a photo contest on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag, #bestshotever. We were surprised more smartphone makers hadn’t already used this strategy to engage consumers. As brands know, the more visually stimulating their social campaigns are, the better.

The White House’s #getcovered campaign. This one’s a bit older, but worth mentioning. The White House allowed users to tweet their personal stories about what getting health insurance meant to them following the start of Obamacare. It used the hashtag #getcovered, and added a visual element via a Storify slideshow. The campaign continues in full swing today, with the administration using it to announce important dates, like open enrollment starting next week.

Domino’s in the UK. Across the pond, Domino’s ran a clever Twitter campaign that challenged its customers to include the hashtag #letsdolunch to reduce the price of a pizza. For every tweet, the company dropped the price of its most popular pie by £0.01. In the end, the price went from £15.99 to £7.74 and generated a bit of buzz in the process. Domino’s scored by targeting a specific time slot to run its campaign, and by allowing consumers to do the promoting for them by providing the incentive.

PayPal’s anti-holiday campaign. Also from the archives, PayPal capitalized on the well-known fact that Valentine’s Day isn’t everyone’s favorite by sharing a fan’s tweet: “Who needs a boyfriend when you have a PayPal account?” The tweet prompted such widespread response that PayPal used the hashtag #treatyourself to continue driving the conversation, and even surprised some users with gifts that answered their tweets. The takeaway here: find non-obvious, creative ways to use holidays.

7 Ways Twitter Matters For PR

Twitter is coming up on 9 years old — practically “vintage” in social media terms! — yet it’s still relevant for PR agency pros and communications people.  Just consider the Super Bowl: with a record-breaking 24.8 million tweets during the broadcast, Twitter declared the game was the “most tweeted @Superbowl ever.” Fancy real-time graphics aside, Twitter still has an estimated 284 million active users, making it a mistake for professional communicators to ignore the Twittersphere. And with the announcement last week of group messaging and in-app video, Twitter is making a bid to increase engagement.

Updates aside, Twitter works differently from messaging apps like WhatsApp, and that’s okay. It can still be helpful for public relations pros and businesses alike.

Networking and relationship building. Twitter is still a quick and easy way to connect with other professionals and build a relationship online. Because of its ephemeral nature (a 140-character tweet only stays in the consciousness  so long), it’s a pressure-free, light way to make contact. It takes little time to follow, “like” or RT, but it’s appreciated when you do.

Keeping up with the news stream. I’ve heard many a communications professional say a well-curated Twitter feed is their best source of relevant news. In the age of curated social content (think Pinterest), use Twitter to create collections of sources and to read content you’re truly interested in. The “list” function of Twitter — which allows you to segment streams by category, even for those you’re not following — makes curated viewing even more functional. What’s more, Twitter has become practically a necessity for journalists to join, so the options for following news beats is endless.

Research. Since tweets are public, the Twittersphere is a great place to do searches. Find out what’s trending, who said what, and when, to flesh out your research. And when news is breaking, fast, Twitter will often have the news first, outpacing Google’s ability to pick up breaking news quickly.

Not for pitching directly, but for understanding media before you pitch. Most PR pros avoid directly pitching journalists via Twitter (though there are some who would argue otherwise!). But there is much to gain from following reporters to see what they’re working on, what they’re interested in, and what particular vantage point they might take, to inform how you’ll pitch later on. For example, our colleague knew a certain journalist was a fan of craft beer. When it came time to promote a new product, she casually mentioned the launch of Ballantine’s IPA and quickly landed a spot on a popular radio show.

Painless learning. Twitter chats have been around for a long time, so they’ve had a chance to evolve. Take it from our own “power user,” @dorocren, the best chats are ones that are recurring, employ a strong moderator, and have active participants who are ready to jump in and make the chat constructive. There are some longstanding, useful chats where PR people can learn much about the business, including #PRprochat, which are all archived here.

Self-expression. Because tweets are so succinct, it’s a great way to express a quick opinion or observation without having to commit to too much. The sum total adds up to conveying your or your company’s personality, which is good for PR, because people like to know they’re dealing with real human beings.

For building a movement. In addition to showing how clever you are, a good hashtag can create a movement. Take the #LikeaGirl movement from Always, another Super Bowl winner, beating out Budweiser and McDonald’s in commercial views and engagement. The brand’s message — to redefine the phrase as complimentary, rather than insulting — has been adopted by dozens of other brands.

Lessons From The NYPD’s Twitter PR Backlash

The latest Twitter campaign to backfire was probably as predictable as a taxi shortage at rush hour. Considering that NYC recently elected a new mayor largely on his rejection of controversial “stop-and-frisk” police tactics, it’s hard to imagine what the New York Police Department was thinking when it dreamed up its recent Twitter campaign.

By inviting locals to post photos of its experiences with the men in blue with the hashtag #mynypd, the department seemed to be expecting warm fuzzies. Instead, it was slapped with a social media backlash and a harsh dose of its own alleged “in your face” tactics. In a New York minute, the whole campaign turned into a Twitter photo contest about questionable police tactics and worse. Overall, not the finest hour for New York’s Finest.

The public bodyslam is reminiscent of the McDonald’s Twitter campaign meant to celebrate farmers, which was swiftly hijacked by critics of McD’s. Or JP Morgan’s scheduled Twitter chat hashtagged #AskJPM, which was canceled before it started due to social media outrage. (What is that makes some brands or groups lack self-awareness?)

For other companies or groups who may be subject to the same type of organizational myopia, here are some social media lessons that might help avoid the kind of backlash experienced by NYPD.

Communications is a two-way street. This is where the role of the chief communications officer needs to go beyond messaging and outbound PR announcements. If the organization is ignorant of its public perception, there should be some internal education. If it thinks it can control the response, that’s a separate – but equally serious – problem that the in-house communications experts need to address.

Know the medium. Twitter moves at lightning speed, hashtag hijacking is very common, and there are no filters. It’s simply not the best platform for a controversial organization or unpopular category.

Prepare for the unexpected. But all social platforms are by definition two-way channels, so any group that opens itself to a social mob should understand that. If you don’t have a plan to deal with a negative or critical response, you shouldn’t go social.

Line up allies. Maybe NYPD seeded the campaign with some innocuous photos to start, but if it did, it wasn’t enough. As veterans of many Twitter chats, we’ve found it useful to tap followers, advocates, and fans for social promotions. It pays to have socially savvy community members at the ready, although in this case they would likely have been outgunned by the critics.

Acknowledge missteps. Here’s where NYPD might have an opportunity to undertake a real community campaign, one that acknowledges past mistakes, public perception, and the role community policing plays in everyday life and public safety. It’s not too late.

PRs, Don’t Pitch Media On Twitter—Build Relationships

In tech PR, Twitter is as valuable an asset as Cision or Vocus. It’s a strong tool for staying up-to-date on what reporters are writing about and interested in. What it’s not? A tool for explicit/direct PR pitches.

Despite articles that say otherwise, when was the last time you saw a colleague or company successfully pitch media on Twitter or social, in general? You probably can’t recall a single example. It’s that rare. In fact, it’s safe to say that the mishaps—which are often very public—are much more frequent and common.

So, for PR, how can Twitter actually help?

We can use it to build relationships with media and master the “soft sell.” Instead of pitching,  demonstrate that you know a reporter’s beat and are interested in their writing. This helps when you open Outlook or pick up the phone for your actual pitch efforts. They’ll be familiar with you.

But how does one build relationships on Twitter? Here are 3 tips that I live by.

Show you’re paying attention.  This one is simple enough—retweet a reporter’s articles/tweets and favorite their content regularly. This will put you on their radar and make them familiar with you.

Don’t just RT; start a conversation.  Whenever you tweet an article, be sure to include the author’s handle (if you don’t know it, find it), as well as a POV on their piece. If you agree with it, let them know. If you disagree, ask questions. There’s no better way to show that you know a reporter’s beat. You’ll also learn a lot about the writer’s POV for future pitches.

Share information. Another way to show you’re following a given reporter is to share information that’s relevant to their beat or personal passion. This should be totally distinct from a client pitch unless it’s a truly great fit.

Don’t focus only on the rockstars.  It’s great to engage with a journalist or blogger with 100K followers, but don’t ignore those who are less known. Their feeds tend to be less cluttered, and there’s often a greater chance for a real dialogue.

Not everything has to be business.  I find that the most memorable tweets are often the funniest/oddest. That’s why sometimes being silly or quirky is your best bet. In fact, my most meaningful interactions with reporters have come from somewhat bold tweets with an odd remark or funny GIF. This works if you give it some thought and think through the idea. If they respond, great. If they don’t, no harm done.

What PR Pros Can Learn From Justine Sacco

Friday morning, IAC PR executive Justine Sacco had about 300 Twitter followers and was known mostly to her family, friends and colleagues. But after a racially themed tweet and 12 hours of silence as Twitter raged, she became a PR crisis case and an example of a personal reputation meltdown in real time. How did it happen, and can we learn anything from it?

It started with a tweet. Not an ordinary one. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white,” is pretty startling, particularly coming from a senior PR professional at a well known media company. There’s quite a bit to unpack there. First, it seems to make light of the AIDS scourge in Africa. Then it brings in race. Nothing amusing in either case.

Unfortunately for Sacco, Valleywag caught the update and posted a brief but snarky item about it, “A Funny Holiday Joke From IAC’s PR Boss.”

At that, Twitter took notice. To some, it was pure ignorance and racism. Others thought it was an attempt at edgy humor, which was my take. Some speculated about a hack. The tweet was RT’d thousands of times, and Sacco’s Twitter account ballooned to over 6000 followers. Before the close of the business day, IAC had posted an apology for the “outrageous” and “offensive” tweet and implied she would be dismissed as soon as she could be reached. Sacco’s name was scrubbed from the IAC website that very day.

As Twitter waited for a response, it became obvious Sacco was on a flight without Internet access. In the meantime, the community went into overdrive and the story went mainstream, picked up by Business Insider, Huffington Post, and even The New York Times, among others. A faux Twitter account appeared, and Buzzfeed wasted no time in creating a listicle of Sacco’s most dubious tweets. All this in the course of a single day.

In a clever, or, some would say, questionable, bit of newsjacking, Gogo, the inflight Internet service, jumped on the controversy to promote its in-flight wifi. Then Twitter briefly cheered when the domain was acquired and redirected to an African aid donations site. All were glued to Sacco’s account, waiting for the moment when she would realize the ferocity of the twitstorm, punctuated with the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet. Many actually likened the spectacle to O.J. Simpson’s low-speed Bronco chase of 1994…a pretty tasteless comparison if you ask me.

At some point, Sacco did land and obviously learned about the uproar. Her Twitter account was deleted and she went into hiding. And who could blame her? The story isn’t over, but it does point out some things of import to communicators. Already, in PR-land, Sacco’s meltdown is a lesson in social media’s power and to some, she’s a poster child for self-indulgent, oversharing millennials.

Personal is professional. If your employer is named on your social media account, everything you post can be linked to the company. Any PR professional should know that. And the standard disclaimer that “opinions are my own” is a waste of character space. Does anyone think it would have made a difference in this case?

Edgy humor is hard to pull off. Even if you’re a professional comic, you’re taking a risk with any humor that crosses lines involving issues of race, sexuality, mortality, or violence.  Even if it’s satire. Ask Daniel ToshBill Maher, and Gilbert Gottfried, to name just a few. These are guys who do it for a living. Risky humor should be left to professionals.

Response time is critical. The amount of digital rage that built against Sacco because she was unable to delete or apologize for her tweet was astonishing. If we have ever doubted that the media/web/community will fill the void, it’s now a certainty. And the window of opportunity for responding and trying to make things right is breathtakingly small.

Consider a backup plan if out of touch. Some PR pros on Twitter tonight had practical tips. One suggested giving password and login access to work colleagues if unplugged for a day or more. Media trainer Brad Phillips (@MrMediaTraining) advises against setting auto-tweets if you expect to be out of touch for a long while –  as we’ve seen when tragic news hits and brands are caught tweeting trivia, or worse. Of course, a better idea is not to post questionable tweets in the first place, regardless of web access.

So, what should Sacco do now? PR pros will debate it, but she should start with a real apology. Not a mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry to those I offended,” but a true expression of contrition. The 12-hour silence couldn’t be helped, but deleting her entire Twitter account and retreating forever isn’t the right move, assuming that she’s not actually a bigot but merely insensitive. Jason Alexander’s heartfelt apology after a “gay” skit he performed on a late-night show is a good model.

The social mob is ruthless, to be sure. But social media can also be a powerful tool for communicating regret and asking for redemption. It may be quixotic, but I hope it can also help turn the schadenfreude the PR community feels about an entertaining, but basically horrible, reputation disaster into something a little bit instructive for all of us.

When Customers Fight Back – With Promoted Tweets!

As every PR or reputation expert knows, social media cuts both ways. It can be a critical outlet for real-time promotion and customer relations and a useful branding tool. It can also be a megaphone for unhappy consumers. Any brand who puts itself out there needs to be ready.

Earlier this week, a businessman named Hasan Syed raised the bar for disgruntled customers everywhere. When British Airways lost his father’s luggage and wasn’t sufficiently responsive to the problem, Syed invested $1000 in promoted Tweets to rail against the airline publicly. For those unfamiliar with Twitter’s self-serve ad platform, suffice to say that $1000 can go a long way if you know what you’re doing.

Things really took off when Syed’s tweets caught the attention of a savvy JetBlue marketing executive who was clearly monitoring the competition. Syed then promoted the JetBlue retweet, and his campaign gained more altitude. The angry tweets were seen by more than 50,000 Twitter users in the markets targeted, the UK and New York. The mainstream media, from Mashable to Fox, quickly escalated the story.

British Airways, meanwhile, did post an apology and tried to move the conversation offline, although it may have been too little, too late.

This first known example of customer “complainvertising,” as one agency dubbed it, is an interesting precedent. I’m not sure how many customers would be willing to spend so freely out of pure frustration when normal channels might suffice, but it only takes one.

Pundits already see the potential for disgusted customers with deep pockets to take on large brand, – or, more likely, for businesses to use promoted Tweets to hijack the Twitter streams of competitors. It puts pressure on Twitter to police any kind of trolling more strictly. Yet, more interesting to PRs,  it also offers more brands a way to seize opportunities for real-time marketing, like the creative Twitter observer who suggested that BA archrival @VirginAtlantic buy Syed’s father a new suitcase and clothes. That didn’t happen in this instance, but it would have fueled a whole new fleet of stories.

In any event, it’s a minor PR coup for JetBlue, and a huge red flag for businesses who aren’t prepared for the inevitable social media-fueled customer outrage if they won’t straighten up and fly right.