Does Twitter trump other media for PR, the Stockdale Paradox, and what Buffett said can be lost in 5 minutes

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Warren Buffett once said it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. That’s something that even President Trump is starting to wrestle with now, thanks to news that Twitter, the platform with 300 million users, has started to fact-check his tweets due to allegations of voter fraud and attempts by the Democratic party to challenge the rule of law on voting, which are false. Twitter beginning to fact-check tweets is a first, because up until now he’s been able to tweet with impunity. Whether or not you agree with his political leanings and intentions, he has used the First Amendment in America in a way that politicians in other parts of the world certainly would not be able to do, and it’s the channel he prefers over the traditional media. The question is, is that something that you as an entrepreneur should do?

Twitter plays a certain role for consumers, but possibly not as influential as even Twitter may think. It claims to be the number one platform for discovery, with 79% of people on it wanting to discover what’s new. 53% of people on Twitter are more likely to be the first to buy new products, and 26% of people’s time on it is spent viewing ads than on other leading platforms. Plainly, Twitter and business Twitter is a platform to connect with what’s happening, and in the case of Donald Trump, to connect with maybe what’s not happening.

The power of the Twitter platform

Branding  can be done on a Twitter feed through hashtags, URLs, and more. What’s interesting is that you can target your niche audience through the targeting tools that Twitter has. It’s free and can be used by entrepreneurs to build a community on Twitter. The difficulty with Twitter is the volume of content that flows through it is so fast and great, but that’s why there are targeting tools. American studies found that Americas, especially men, were not using Twitter to find out what to buy, proving that it’s used more for discovery and finding out what’s in, what’s trending. Consumers in America, according to this survey on 16,000 consumers, discovered that men were actually more influenced by blog reviews than women and that one in five men would say that blog reviews influence their in-store purchases. So, it’s the long form article by a potentially trusted author that gets people to the website to make a purchase. For that to happen, social media channels such as Twitter have a role to play.

Though people don’t really use Twitter to learn more about products, it is a medium for people to chat with a brand, so to some degree, it does sales promotion and after-sales function for companies. And because Twitter is mobile-native, it really plays to the fact that a large section of the consumer paradigm is now on mobile. Not only that, it is much more appealing to the younger demographic, with nearly 60% of users under 35. One downside is that it needs constant management, since there are so many people tweeting every second, and yours could get lost in the flood of content. That raises this issue of automation, but with platforms like Hootsuite, you can add all your social media accounts directly to it, so you can post to all channels from one publishing platform. 

Twitter users say that just 3% of them are influenced by celebrity endorsements, so only 3% according to a survey by collective bias. The same survey showed that 30% of consumers are likely to buy a product recommended by a non-celebrity blogger or Twitter. In other words, consumers trust other consumers more than they do celebrities, and this is a recurring theme that it’s more important to create a story that resonates with other people who are easily influenced than it is to reach out to one or two influencers and hope that they will do the work for you. Twitter shows very much that that’s the case. Companies can learn from these findings by reaching out to customers, partners, and staff and engaging them to play a role on Twitter, to support the business by sharing pictures and news. The real point of using Twitter is that it’s dynamic, so it’s great for short term and short-form information that can be shared with an immediacy to it. For example, like a flash sale, or an opening time trying to get rid of reduced inventory, but it does take some management. What you can do is use the targeted advertising that Twitter have got, but it must then come back to a longer form piece of content that’s ideally placed on your website and leading into a funnel.

Implications of Twitter’s new algorithm for businesses 

Twitter launched a new algorithm in 2017, which essentially changed Twitter from being about the latest posts to being the post that they believe will be most relevant to each person, creating a fundamental change in the way Twitter provides and displays information. This algorithm can be toggled, with the option to see tweets based on chronology or according to what they think will be most interesting for you. Their algorithm sends information which has the highest engagement levels, and engagement is a function of other people reposting or liking soemthing you have expressed an interest in before, making it similar to Facebook in that it sends tailored content.

The new algoritm on Twitter means that businesses should send content out on a more frequent basis. The people at Sprout Social have a tool set and metrics which suggest that you should be sending with high frequency during the day, because a continued presence on Twitter will increase the likelihood of tweets being shared and engaged with. Tweeting first thing in the morning and throughout the period of the day is key, according to them. They also emphasise the importance of the format of the content, with short videos more likely to go viral than plain text. Social posts that encourage and entertain consumers get 67% of all likes and 55% of shares. Moreover, of posts that inspire, 57% will be liked, of posts that teach, 46%, of posts that tell a story, 38%, and discounts and sales get 37% of likes and 38% of shares. Finally, in terms of response times, Sprout Social says that people’s expectations on Twitter is that they will get a response in less than four hours, but most brands apparently respond in closer to eight, so many companies are not managing their customers’ expectations. Evidently, Twitter is a constant stream of content, so if you’ve got entertaining content for your brand that is relevant to your audience, then Twitter could well be the platform for you to use. 

Be prepared for the volume and nature of content and the expectation you’re creating of having a dialogue with your audience. Twitter’s to be used and managed carefully in order to get any kind of effect, and that’s all down to the algorithms since 2017. There are new updates in 2020 that have made chronology less important than relevance and engagement.

Lessons from the Stockdale Paradox

Now, Trump is proving how random his messaging can be, but as a leader, one must bear in mind the Stockdale Paradox coined after one of the highest-ranking American officers, James Stockdale, who was caught in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. The paradox was that Stockdale said the people that survived understood and had absolute faith that they would survive day-to-day and would eventually see through the situation as it is today, but they were not optimists. They were realists. They were able to confront the challenges of what’s going on, but they believed in their long term ability to get through this trouble. And so, in the midst of a pandemic, tools like Twitter can be used to communicate how people are feeling and to manage the narrative, which should be Compassionate, Optimistic, Values-based, Informative, and Digital. 

Twitter represents an alternative for people to communicate directly through to their audiences without going via the media. That means it’s direct and impactful, but it also has a slight risk to it. As exemplified by Donald Trump, his own integrity is being undermined because a third party has started to censor him and his messages, showing that Twitter is very much a messenger of good or bad and possibly of factual or unsubstantiated stories. And so, credibility is of paramount importance, and that’s what Admiral James Stockdale had done in the Hanoi Hilton. He led with integrity. And as leaders during this time, that’s what must be done too using the tool sets of PR to communicate integrity and reassure customers, staff, and partners that everyone will get through this together.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Yucel Moran on Unsplash

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *