Tweets: Not Fit for PR Pro Consumption

Our team recently had the opportunity to host a few students from the Beth Wood Chapter of PRSSA at Indiana University who somehow mustered the energy to get out of bed early on a Friday morning to slog their way from Bloomington to Indianapolis for an agency tour of Dittoe Public Relations. For those of you who haven’t been to college for a while (or if you’re memory is, let’s just say, hazy), Friday morning promptly follows “Thirsty Thursday;” so we were impressed, nay, honored by their willingness to visit us.

During a pre-tour conversation, we mentioned that an insatiable thirst to consume information—reading national and local media outlets, trade publications, blogs, etc.—was one of the most important, and perhaps most overlooked characteristics of a good PR pro. When we asked these budding PR practitioners what media outlets they consumed regularly, their responses caught me a bit off-guard. Nearly every one of them named Twitter as one of their top sources for media consumption.

Now, before I launch into my rant, I’d like to preface it by noting that like everyone else on the planet, I recognize the power of Twitter and the positive impact it has made on media and society as a whole. It’s also an invaluable tool for PR pros; not only for engaging with reporters, but for engaging with publics. But it should NEVER be considered a top source for consuming media. By anybody. Ever.

Can Twitter break big stories? Yes. It was widely reported that news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter and that Whitney Houston’s death hit Twitter 27 minutes before the press. But how many times has Bill Cosby been reported dead on Twitter? After one particularly viral episode of Cosby’s demise (there have been several), TV’s Dr. Huxtable went so far as to call in to “Larry King Live” to echo Mark Twain’s famous sentiments regarding the reports of his death. This is an admittedly silly example of how Twitter “news” is propagated, but it’s a solid representation of Twitter’s validity, or lack of validity as a reliable source of information.

I realize I’m not breaking any new ground by chalking Twitter up as a dubious source of information, and that the vast majority of people know to seek information from other outlets; but knowing and doing are quite different. Today, it’s estimated that you’re likely to spend more than 11 hours consuming information—reading blog posts like this, watching TV, flipping through a magazine, or grazing on your Twitter feed. If you sit in front of a computer screen for most of your day, you’re probably spending even more than 11 hours a day. But if you’re spending the majority of your time on Twitter, you’re not getting the full story.

What does this mean for our PRSSA friends from Bloomington and soon-to-be PR pros everywhere? I’d urge you to take advantage of the staggering amount of information that’s readily available. According to storage company EMC, there is presently 800,000 petabytes (a million gigabytes per petabyte) in the storage universe, and according to the University of California in San Diego, American homes consume nearly 3.6 zettabytes (a million petabytes per zettabyte) of information per day.

Read as much as you can from varying sources. When you enter the PR world, the only way you’re going to be good at what you do is by immersing yourself in your clients’ industries so I can spot trends before they do and recommend strategies that will allow them to stay ahead of the curve. You can’t do that if you’re only consuming information in 140-character nibbles; especially if those few characters are wildly inaccurate. Just ask the aforementioned purveyor of pudding pops.

What do you think? Is Twitter a legitimate source for news? Or is it just a starting point that can tip you off to story so you can investigate further?

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