PR Insight

If you have more Twitter followers are you a better PR professional?

Date: 07 October 2010 09:29

How many followers do you have on Twitter? If the answer is ’thousands’, then are you a brilliant PR communicator, or just a brilliant PR procrastinator? investigates...

Candace Kuss, director of planning/interactive strategy director EMEA at PR firm Hill & Knowlton, believes that follower numbers alone don’t mean much, as there are ways to artificially boost follower count. Kuss adds that even if you have attracted followers, this might not mean you are a PR natural, although it does show you can communicate: “The people that earn higher follower counts organically are not necessarily better at doing PR for their clients than the non-Twitterati, but they are probably much better at freely sharing what they know, such as bloggers, book writers or industry speakers.”

When it comes to using Twitter for PR work, Kuss believes that this isn’t always the best way to communicate. She says: “A good rule of thumb for B2B, B2C, or just life, is to use the communication method that is preferred by the person you want to speak with.”

Although he has over 3,000 followers, Rich Leigh, account director at PR agency 10Yetis, doesn’t believe that this makes him better at PR: “It doesn't typically help gain client coverage, as it's a place people tend to procrastinate more than anything – talking about the industry with others in the field more than working on behalf of it."

"Efforts to pitch at journalists by @ing them seem about as out of place as talking business across other people's conversations at the breakfast table – people just aren't there to be sold to. There can be no substitute for great media relations and actual contact.”

Claire Bridges, founder of PR agency Agency4Agencies, also has mixed feelings about the value of Twitter: “I often wonder whether it's worth being 'out there' or not. Does anyone care? I'm not convinced that it's helping with any business generation, but I suppose it gets your point of view and business out there in a small way.”

So when it comes to being marketable in PR, does it matter how many followers you have on Twitter? Nigel Sarbutts, managing director of communications agency BrandAlert, offers three reasons why it does:

1. In many parts of PR, from retail launch projects to public affairs, mass media reach is either not relevant or its influence and value is ebbing as circulations and audiences decline, to be replaced by the explosive growth of social networks. Why, then, shouldn't clients look for evidence that the team has that personal reach?

2. If clients include it in their new business briefs, how long before we see job ads in PR with phrases such as "the successful candidate will have over 500 followers and be reTweeted on average twice a day"?

3. If you invest time and effort to grow and build a loyal and influential following on Twitter, but the benefit to a client comes directly from two or three quick Tweets taking five minutes, what time goes onto the invoice? Similarly, if you increase following by 20 per cent in a year and your reTweet rate by 25 per cent, should you get a pay rise on this alone? No, but in contrast to intangible qualities such as teamwork and trust, it's annoyingly measurable in a sector that craves evidence and 'proof'.


Paul Sutton, head of social communications at agency Bottle PR:

“Twitter is a fantastic tool with which to create and maintain relationships with people; to keep up to date with what they’re up to, to stay in regular (albeit brief) contact and to generate a wide network of relevant contacts. It doesn’t, however, replace the value that can be gained from more personal forms of contact such as telephone conversations and meetings.”

Pamela Lyddon, founder of digital agency Bright Star Digital:

“This time last year I completely dismissed Twitter as a tool for celebrities to promote themselves. However, since starting Bright Star Digital and having a Twitter account I have made an about turn. Through Twitter I have met amazing contacts in PR, SMEs, business resources and entrepeneurs. It’s an excellent source, for example with one part of my business, broadcast PR, I have found experts that I wouldn’t normally use, for digital PR I have met influential bloggers.“

Jill Hawkins, director of PR agency Aniseed PR:

“I Tweet mainly about client’s activities and their coverage. I also use Twitter to follow the journalists I work with – at least once a week I’ll pick up a Tweet that is a request for information or news that I can respond to. But I don’t like to Tweet about my activities – I believe that my relationship with an individual journalist and the work we do together is quite private. PR is a discipline that should remain in the shadows, out of the limelight – it’s our job to make our clients famous, not to seek fame ourselves.”

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Share this article

    Twitter and other social media have their place in the mix, but they are not the end, just another means. Surely, the best way to demonstrate effectiveness is not the number of followers but the number of clients and the profitability of the agency. It's all too easy to get caught up in the heat of the online moment (as indeed I am now) rather than focus on delivering results for our clients.

    Name: Simon Turton
    Date: 08 Oct 2010 09:14 AM

    This issue is like that of penis size. If you're too small, you're never going to have any real sway and may indeed be conspicuous in disappointing others who'd assumed you packed a greater punch. If you're in the broad swathe of averageness, it's not about prowess but all down to how you use it to get the results you're seeking. If you're oversize, and overly self-important because you think sheer volume is all that counts, you might have some limelight but not necessarily respect. There are unnatural boosts available, and you'll always be under suspicion of using them. You may end up feeling less popular purely because of your 'size' and its novelty. And if you try too hard to flaunt your credentials, people may just see you as a c*ck.

    Name: Steve Earl
    Date: 08 Oct 2010 11:34 AM

    I have found Twitter to be an incredibly useful tool in PR and have used it for a range of activities from finding photographers to tracking journalists' conversations live on a media launch. However, the number of followers is almost completely irrelevant as 99% could be spambots and not even people, let alone relevant ones! I think the number of followers that interact and engage with you is what counts. It's definitely about quality and not quantity @suzanne_tennant

    Name: Suzanne Tennant
    Date: 11 Oct 2010 01:29 PM

    The applications that Twitter has spawned, such as Tweetdeck make it a potentially powerful PR tool. If you're searching for the answer to 'Are we nearly there yet?' The answer's usually 'Nearly.'

    Name: Clive Booth
    Date: 11 Oct 2010 05:34 PM

    Its not the number of followers that matters - this is a quality issue - its just how good they are for you. Its a quality issue. To me those with thousands of followers are either out to impress themselves ('cos nobody with half a brain will be) or they like wasting their employer's time.

    Name: peter vezey
    Date: 12 Oct 2010 01:57 PM

    Peter is right, follower count is meaningless. I don't think there are many out there as obsessive as me (I actively block spammer followers). It's as pointless as saying "There are over 80,000 results for my name on Google". Quality not quantity.

    Name: Taras Young
    Date: 12 Oct 2010 05:13 PM

    I learn things every day through Twitter which are useful in my job and which I wouldn't pick up anywhere else. It keeps me well informed, and saves a huge amount of time (which balances out against the times I disappear down the Twitter rabbit-hole!). I'd agree it's not the number of followers that counts, it's what you do with them...

    Name: Genevieve Edwards
    Date: 13 Oct 2010 02:35 PM

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