Subway ranks #1 for gaining currency on social media

Study highlights best performers but finds social media success doesn’t always correlate to better business results

Social Media Currency Index

An interesting study that puts Subway, Google, Heineken, Target and Verizon in the top five spots for “social currency” found that even brands that sustain buzz through social media struggle to translate that success into a better bottom line.

A Social Currency Impact Study, conducted by consulting firm Vivaldi Partners, attempted to measure how effectively brands engage their followers according to six criteria – utility, information, conversation, advocacy, affiliation and identity – to arrive at a ‘social currency’ score. Using these criteria, the study assessed the level of engagement for each brand and evaluated whether these brands are successful at converting social media behaviour into buying behaviour.

social currency graphic

Source: Report on Social media Currency Index, 2013

Marketing Daily posted a good report on the study that came to my attention through SmartBrief on Social Media.

According to its report, Vivaldi conducted 5,000 surveys in the U.S., U.K. and Germany drawing from a panel of “millions of consumers”, asking their perceptions about more than 60 brands with established social media programs.

The full report offers concise insights on what the top 25 brands do well on social media and concludes that “what works well for one brand does not work for another brand.”

(As a side note, I find it interesting that 10 of the top 25 brands highlighted in the survey are food and beverage companies, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Corona, Coors Light, McDonald’s and Pepsi in addition to those mentioned above. Perhaps this indicates more people feel confident interacting with things they know well – food and drink – than with high tech and telecom products that are more difficult to understand.)

Quick Takeaways

Marketing Daily’s full article is well worth reading. Here are three things that struck me in the reported conclusions.

1. Cost: A key conclusion in Vivaldi’s report is that “achieving top scores in social currency and driving brand performance is expensive and requires continuous commitment and continuity…” Social media is not free. Publishing valuable content several times a day and monitoring it 24/7 is costly.

2. RIO: Marketing Daily’s article notes that “converting social media performance into business or brand results is not guaranteed,” even among the best social media performers. Vivaldi’s report concludes that “social media investments do not impact all categories equally, and some brands simply don’t benefit from social.” Given the cost of doing social well, this is not a finding social media directors for major brands will relish.

3. Serve, don’t sell: Why did Subway come out on top? The survey found that Subway is successful because it “continuously manages to sell promoted deals without pushing the advertising theme too far.” In the introduction to its report, Vivaldi states that “it is clear that using new technologies merely for the purpose of amplifying advertising campaigns, creating conversations on social channels, or building communities of influencers to connect with consumers or customers more often underwhelms and disappoints.” The message: Don’t think of it as advertising.

Creating content that people want to interact with is the key to keeping Subway’s audience highly engaged – and when was the last time you wanted to interact with an ad other than to change the channel? Despite the general conclusion that executing a social media strategy well won’t necessarily drive better business results, Vivaldi noted that Subway took the top spot because its social media presence does “impact on consumers in terms of consideration, purchase and loyalty”.

The “serve, don’t sell” mantra is equally important to Google’s social currency rating, which landed the tech company in second place. (Keep in mind that two of the six criteria Vivaldi uses are utility and information.) Marketing Daily says that “[Google’s] social currency success is based on its large portfolio or ecosystem of branded products that consumers access daily, including Google search, Gmail,  Google Maps, Youtube and Google Plus.” In other words, Google is prevalent. It is everywhere and indispensable. Similarly, Vivaldi’s report notes that Amazon (ranked #8) “drives social currency through its own website that is socially enabled rather than broad social network presence.”

Social media builds visibility and reputation

The findings offer mixed views on whether money spent on social media directly helps companies reach their marketing and business goals. Should we worry? I would argue the same can be said about traditional media relations that companies have viewed as essential for decades. It has always been hard to make a direct link between a positive media image, for example, and business success. But that has not stopped companies from believing that a good reputation in mainstream media is good for business, nor from spending the money to aggressively pursue it.

The need for companies to be highly visible and have a good reputation has not changed. The study suggests that Google has earned a high social currency ranking because its products are everywhere and indispensable. If that is true, then it stands to reason that creating valuable content every day that people want, or that allows them to do something they need to do, can’t hurt your business.

So why not use social media to amplify your efforts across the media spectrum  – paid, owned and earned – in order to have a shot at becoming a bigger player in your market over the long term?

That, my friends, may be as good as the argument for social media gets today. Being clear with clients or other groups within your company that social media can build visibility and strengthen reputation will help the right goals to be set for your social media programs.

In the future, we may find that the ROI of social media is the business intelligence it offers companies to hit the sweet spot with consumers. My sense is that few companies are there yet and most are not integrating social media feedback and data into how they conduct business. This debate is not over.

Read more:


Salvation Army mishandles Christmas toy theft scandal

Course: CDPR108, Ryerson University, Toronto
Week 12, November 29, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Charity’s silence over toy thefts leaves volunteers and supporters without a leg to stand on

Spokesman Maj. Don Murray offers few answers at a news conference in mid-November. (Photo Ottawa Sun, SHAWN JEFFORDS/Toronto Sun)

The day after the Salvation Army kicked off its Christmas “Fill the Kettle” campaign on Nov. 20, news of a $2 million toy theft in Toronto and missing money in Ottawa broke. Standing on a subway platform in Toronto days later, I read the ugly news that Sally Ann executive, David Rennie, had turned himself in and was charged in the theft.

The first thing I heard when I exited the subway was jingle bells. A Salvation Army volunteer stood next to the familiar Christmas kettle ringing for donations — probably oblivious to the breaking news that one of their own had pilfered Christmas donations. “Good luck with that,” I thought grimly.

The timing of this sad and Grinchy tale couldn’t be worse. You’d think the charity would swing into damage control over-drive. After reportedly declining journalists’ calls for most of a day, the organization held a press conference announcing they had known about the theft since August (?!) and said they are trying to get to the bottom of it. Strangely, there has been no visible online response amid a growing number of media stories that paint the organization in a poor light, to say the least.

On Nov. 25 (the day before Rennie turned himself in), national commander Brian Peddle tweeted good news that the toys had been recovered before his Twitter feed fell silent. As of today, neither the organization’s homepage nor the Commander’s Update has carried a response to the scandal. There is no press release on the charity’s website, despite the aforementioned press conference.

Where’s the leadership? The chair of the board? The apology for abusing donors’ trust? Where’s the promise to find out what happened and fix it?

Meanwhile, news stories, tweets, blog posts and comments from angry supporters have piled up. In response to a CTV News story about the second charge, one person commented:

“I don’t get it… [the Salvation Army] comes to the public for money & as the public I want to understand how it operates, I would like more transparency. Why do we have 2-3 years worth of toys sitting in storage & every year you come asking for tons more…?”

Bad governance can kill support for organizations that ask for peoples’ money as quickly as bad news. York University professor, Dr. Richard Leblanc, noted the lack of basic governance standards at the Salvation Army in the Governance Gateway blog. He said:

“It is unclear, judging from the Salvation Army website, whether the Governing Council of the Salvation Army has adequate independence from management or financial expertise… There is an advisory board, but there is no indication that the Salvation Army has a proper, functioning board of directors, that oversees risk and controls. Advisory committees advise, but cannot direct.”

Really – for an established organization the size of the Salvation Army? It appears there are major issues at the charity that will take time to fix. In the short term, the Salvation Army’s mishandling of the crisis (and what led up to it) tarnishes its good name and could jeopardize the organization’s holiday commitments. Even two weeks after the scandal broke, a proper and visible response is warranted.

1. Start by issuing a press release covering the basics. Make it available on the organization’s website.

  • Put someone in a position of authority in charge to be the face of this issue. Take responsibility  and show that the organization has it under control. (The lack of leadership is troubling and I wonder if there are more shoes to drop.)
  • Apologize and tell people whether the recovered toys will actually get to needy children this Christmas. People who have donated toys won’t feel so ripped off. Because this issue involves a police investigation, work with your lawyers to find something you can say.
  • Tell people what you are doing about the problem to rebuild trust.
  • Create perspective on the issue. Drive home your message about the value of the organization’s work by using all channels to show how the Salvation Army helps people in need.

2. Help your supporters help you.  Don’t forget front-line volunteers who are in malls and on street corners ringing for holiday donations. Contact them directly with information so they can answer people’s questions and are not left feeling like idiots. Reach them with e-mail, phone calls or any way possible to reassure them their work is important. They can play a big role in reassuring people that their donations make a difference to people who need them.

3.  Be the first to share developing news – whether it is good or bad. Keep your supporters and news organizations updated on the progress of the external and internal investigations with updates through press releases, website and social media channels. Taking ownership of the news shows the organization is in control of the issue.

4. Use social media channels to balance out the negative news and reach out to neutral or non-supporters. The charity has lots of social channels and clearly knows how to use them. They are pumping out good news stories about helping people in need while providing no explanation about discovering internal fraud.

Ignoring the problem on social channels creates an impression that the Salvation Army wants to sweep fraud under the rug. Communicate investigation updates. Clarify media reports. Share executive statements and status reports on whether the charity is on track to meet its commitments. Use social media to reach casual supporters who may only think about the Salvation Army at Christmas, and influence their perceptions of the charity while the crisis is happening.

5. Respond to comments, as well as the broader issue (see points 1-4). Judging from comments on Facebook and news stories, committed supporters appear to be sticking by the Sally Ann. But there are lots of negative comments floating around. So far, I’ve seen no response to social chatter from anyone at the organization. Silence gives the impression of complete disorganization and leaves supporters who care about the charity’s mission without a means to respond to critics they encounter. This is a big lost opportunity.

Are you surprised the organization appears not to have done any of these things? Tell me what you think.

Shel Holtz says stop whining about Facebook algorithm changes that reduce the visibility of brand page posts, and figure out how to use it to your advantage.

“Rather than grousing about what no longer works (organic posts in news feeds has dropped about 35%, according to most reports) and take advantage of what does work. For example, people who do see your posts tend to interact with them more—engagement with organic posts from brand pages is actually rising, from from .76% before Facebook tweaked the algorithm to 1.49% in the weeks since. That means (according to AdAge) that “those who do (see your posts) are more likely to have a real affinity for the brand, as opposed to users who may have clicked on the ‘like’ button to enter a contest.”

Read his post:

Monitoring and measurement improve execution

With so many tools to choose from, finding the right one to dig into your social media results is easier said than done

Course: CDPR108, Ryerson University, Toronto
Week 10, November 18, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

This week’s assignment was to investigate social media monitoring tools and explain their value for measuring a social web program. There are many, many monitoring tools out there, both free and paid, and choosing one that meets your company’s needs is going to take some work.

But it is work you must do – that is, if you intend to understand whether your social media efforts are making a difference for your company. Why is monitoring and analysis important?

1. The opportunity to continually improve execution is the main advantage for PR professionals. If we know what’s working, we can move forward.

2. Another major benefit of the better tools on the market is the ability to dig into demographic and geographic information to better understand your audience. As I’ve said before, knowing your audience drives everything in your social media program. The more you know, the better you can use social media to help meet your organization’s goals.

3. Social media moves quickly and can be terribly unforgiving. Insights from paid and free tools will help you stay on top of what’s happening and protect your company’s reputation. Paid services will obviously be more comprehensive and offer greater insights; however, even free tools will provide clues about which messages are getting noticed, on which channels, and whether there is a storm brewing that merits your attention.

I looked at Addict-o-matic and Ice Rocket – both free – and, a paid service that is integrated into PeopleBrowsr’s Playground platform.  I provided scores, which I admit are a bit unfair because they compare apples and oranges. That said, the ratings reflect my view of how well these tools would meet the needs of a PR professional working in corporate communications.


Carol’s score: 4/10

I gave Addict-o-matic  4/10 because in my view, it does less than half the job. This free tool gives you an instant snapshot of news, tweets, blogs, videos and other posts mentioning your brand or issue this minute, but it offers nothing in the way of analytics or trends.

Addict-o-matic website

Addict-o-,matic is dead simple and features a clean dashboard for search results.

On the plus side, I found Addict-o-matic dead simple to use. It quickly gave me results and categorized them neatly. The search capability is basic. My query turned up a mix of relevant and off-base news and content, but still allowed me to see where conversations were happening.

Users warn that Addict-o-matic is “far from comprehensive”. That’s true, but as far a free tools go, Six Revisions blogger Jason Schubring says “Addict-o-matic is one of the best free tools available for summarizing all your ‘buzz’ in one place.”

My comments:

  • Simple to use
  • Well organized dashboard
  • Each box has a helpful “more links” box that opens to a full page of readable information
  • Doesn’t monitor Facebook
  • No analytics
  • Website does a poor job of explaining what the tool covers and how it works
  • Oversells the ability to “customize” your search page

Ice Rocket

Carol’s score: 5/10

Ice Rocket offers advantages over bare-bones Addict-o-matic. It has been around for a long time, mostly living in the shadow of blog search tool Technorati.  Ice Rocket began as a blog search tool and branched out to Twitter, Facebook, images and video more recently. It was acquired by news monitoring service Meltwater Buzz in 2011.

Ice Rocket blog analytics

Ice Rocket can search multiple social streams but only offers trend reports for blogs. Reports cover up to three months.

As far as I can tell, Ice Rocket’s strength still lies in blogs. It offers basic analytics, such as trend reports for up to 3 months, for blogs but not other social streams. For this reason, Ice Rocket could complement other free tools in your monitoring kit that tap into Twitter and other hot platforms.

The tool has some nice features for Twitter too. It has the ability to trace activity on specific hashtags and links. It also tells you how many tweets are occurring per minute, hour or day, giving you a rough estimate of whether activity is moving up or down if you check it regularly.

My comments:

  • Allows blog searches by day, week or month
  • Offers trend reports for blogs but not other streams
  • Search blogs, Twitter, Facebook and images individually or click “Big Buzz” to get everything at once
  • Easy to use but you can’t do much with the information
  • Information on the search time period for Twitter, Facebook and other streams is not readily available, making it hard to estimate overall volume

Carol’s score: 7/10 is part of PeopleBrowsr, a social analytics company. It’s difficult to separate the two because has a starring role in PeopleBrowsr’s platform.  What I can say is that this tool kicks the experience up several notches by allowing you to monitor, analyze and manage engagement with people and communities all in one place.

I gave it 7/10 because it appears to have terrific features. But it’s not immediately obvious that it goes beyond Twitter (after more investigation I found out that it does) and it requires a significant time investment to understand how it works.

Fortunately, free trials are available. That’s when you realize that is integrated into a whole platform that offers major monitoring, analytics and engagement management across the social web. Don’t expect to be an expert after 10 minutes.  This tool is complicated and overwhelming; however, my sense is that the time spent understanding it would be worth the effort. I suspect my score would have been higher given more time to investigate. is primarily a Twitter microscope touting its “1,000 days of data” (the “full firehose” also offered by Sysomos). It uses the data to create an individual’s “Kred”, an influence measure on the giant micro-blogging site.

More recently, PeopleBrowsr launched the Playground suite adding more social streams (Facebook, blogs and more, according to its guide) and turning PeopleBrowsr into “a deep social analytics platform designed to be an all-in-one social media solution for the enterprise” says Mashable.  Mashable’s story does a good job of parsing the key elements of the Playground suite: Analytics, Search, Engagement and Grid.

This platform was built for power users and it is easy to see how agencies would like it. It aggregates content, allows you to slice and dice results, provides quick reports on campaigns, and includes “spaces” to organize social media monitoring and engagement by product or client.

I barely scratched the surface on PeopleBrowsr. Here are a few things that stood out in my one-hour investigation:

  • Robust platform, overwhelming for beginners
  • Gives insight into which communities are most active with your brands or issues. To demonstrate this feature, PeopleBrowsr’s website provides Pepsi as an example, showing that musicians like Pepsi and talk about Pepsi more than other communities.
Pepsi's Community Champions

PeopleBrowsr identifies which communities are most engaged with your product or issue, helping you better target your efforts.

  • Strong dashboard metrics on sentiment, gender and where conversations are happening
PeopleBrowsr demographics dashboard

You can quickly see whether sentiment is positive or negative and key demographic traits of your audience.

  • It’s international. You can drill down into almost 100 countries and major cities.


    Covering almost 100 countries and major cities, users can drill into audiences and results by geography.

  • 14-day test drive available, which you’ll need to become familiar with this monster
  • Provides “Kred” ratings for influencers (like a Klout score) and shows you exactly what goes into the ratings
  • Digs into results quickly by letting you change demographic, geographic and other factors in your search
  • Advanced search option with up to 12 keywords for Boolean-type searches
  • Profanity button allows you to tune out cursing (My test keywords were “report cards” and believe me, you need this feature! When I turned it “ON” it filtered out the kids’ tweets about bad grades and nasty remarks about their teachers, and filtered in parents’ complaints about missing report cards, which interested me.)
  • Includes a robust workspace for managing conversations, scheduling posts, assigning tasks to team members, etc., It allows you to work as well as analyze what you’re doing.

On the downside, because this tool is so powerful, searches take a long time. It ties up your machine and puts multi-tasking on ice. This may be less of a problem in a corporate environment than for a home user.

Overall, it looks like one tool won’t do the trick if you go the free route. Paid services have a lot of offer but will take time to learn and manage to their full potential.

Weigh in. What’s your favourite monitoring tool?

Lessons in social web strategy

Earth Rangers online strategy shows kids they can make a difference

Course: CDPR108, Ryerson University, Toronto
Week 8, October 29, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

We’re moving on to social web strategies this week – how to develop them and what makes them successful. That got me thinking about how one organization uses a social web strategy to build environmental awareness in young children.

Last year, my daughter became an Earth Ranger and quickly raised $50 to protect the habitat for an endangered animal.

After hearing about it on TV, she went to the website and with little help from me found out about four endangered species, chose an animal to support, set up her fundraising campaign and spread the news by e-mail and on Facebook. She was eight years old.

Fifty dollars doesn’t sound like much, but fundraising is beside the point. The important thing is the strong impression this experience made on her. She loves animals and felt she was making a difference by getting involved. We were proud of her initiative, and we weren’t the only ones who noticed. We expected grandparents and other usual suspects to answer her call. We didn’t expect neighbours and our broader circle of friends to cheer her on, and even donate. But they did. She liked wearing the mantle of environmental protection. She liked being known for standing up for animals and the wild parts of our world. It made her feel good.

Earth Rangers is a charity whose mission is “to educate children about the importance of biodiversity and empower them to protect animals and their habitat,” according to its website. What can we learn from their strategy?

1. Create content your audience enjoys

The key to this strategy is that it uses something kids are naturally attracted to – animals. Earth Rangers tells stories about animals whose homes are threatened to teach children about environmental conservation and the effects of urbanization, industrial development, climate change and other factors on the environment. Children know animals are part of the natural environment and feel that animals are important. Therefore, they can easily understand that protecting the places they live is also important. Using animals to tell stories is interesting for kids and effective in helping the organization live up to its mission statement.

This is not the “social” part of Earth Rangers’ strategy, but the point is relevant when thinking about creating content for a social web strategy.  

2. Create ways to get involved 

Becoming an Earth Ranger gives kids a role they can be proud of.

Another important aspect of this strategy is allowing kids to take action by becoming an Earth Ranger (essentially an environmental ambassador) and raising money to protect the habitats of endangered species.

The site makes fundraising easy by leveraging social channels and gives children a sense of ownership and pride in protecting the environment. Crowdsourcing ideas, sharing stories and know-how, or sending pictures of experiences can do the same thing – reinforce membership in the community, build relationships and create ownership of issues.

3. Make it fun and accessible

Because the target audience is young children whose reading skills are still developing, the organization uses video effectively on its website, You Tube and Facebook page to help kids get the message. The content is colourful and takes many forms – from games to contests – keeping it fresh and fun for kids.

4. Don’t forget “un-social” channels

This strategy includes traditional TV and print advertising and media relations, as well as a website and social media channels, primarily Facebook, You Tube and Twitter. The website features animal and conservation information, multi-media content (Wild Wire blog, pictures, fun facts, games, contests, pictures, maps, video) and news about conservation and Super Earth Rangers – kids whose fundraising efforts are featured.

5. Facebook and Twitter keep community engaged between campaigns

In this strategy, most of the action happens on the organization’s website. Facebook and Twitter are used to maintain the audience between activities and campaigns and remind children that being an Earth Ranger doesn’t end with reaching their fundraising goal. The Facebook platform seems to be the most popular. It has generated over 110K likes on stories and pictures, and its posts often generate hundreds of comments from the community.

6. Being too slick can smother community interaction

As a social web strategy, one weakness in Earth Rangers’ effort is that two-way and lateral conversation on their social channels is somewhat meagre. Although the community does comment heavily on the Facebook page, the overall communications effort is pretty slick and does not take advantage of user-generated content. Their blog features real participants from time to time and generates comments, but not that many. Asking actual Earth Rangers to share real success stories in words, video or pictures would reinforce the pride they share in their role as ambassadors for the cause. 

Have a look at their website. Maybe a child you know would like to be an Earth Ranger too.

3 infographics that help digital communicators get content strategy right

The audience is the heart and meat of any content strategy

Course: CDPR108, Ryerson University, Toronto
Week 4, October 4, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

We are learning about social media content strategies this week. We’ve doubled the fun by putting one of the most powerful trends in social media – visual communications – into action in this assignment. Our task was to find images or infographics that helped us understand content strategies and to examine their strengths and weaknesses.

First, a little background. “Content” is defined in our assigned readings from Content Strategy for the Web as “what the user came to read, learn, see, or experience.” Author Kristina Halvorson has explained content strategies this way: “The art of understanding what your customers need to know and delivering it to them in a compelling way.”

To use an old-school term, a content strategy is similar to an editorial schedule – a plan for what you will create and deliver to your readers. Here are the three best visual aids I found for understanding content strategies.

#1: Content strategy burger

Created by Mark Smiciklas

Using a burger to illustrate the elements of a content strategy is brilliant. This infographic clearly shows that the heart (or in this case, the meat) of a content strategy is the audience: who they are and what they want. This part of the meal drives everything else: message, topics and formats (words, images, video), purpose, voice, sources (i.e., created or curated) and channels. Showing information, themes and formats as yummy sauces and condiments is a great way to remember to create the stuff your audience loves. Is success on your menu?

#2 Mind Map template for a communications plan


I like this image from The Mind Map Library because it reminds communicators that any good strategy starts with answering basic questions – lots of them. This graphic prompts us to consider who, what, where, why and how when creating a plan, which is as applicable to content strategies as communication planning. The dotted line from the message blurb up to the “why should anyone care” blurb rightly insists that we do the ultimate reality check when planning: We must remember that having something to say is no reason for anyone to listen. We can’t let ourselves off the hook until we have ideas for useful content that will reasonate with audiences. It’s too bad the graphic elements are not better matched to the subject matter. I don’t understand why the messenger is doubled over backwards (looks painful, doesn’t it), or why the organizing image resembles a frozen jellyfish. Poor execution distracts from otherwise good information.

#3 Four steps from the Tech-Savvy Communications planning process

Source: Techsoup

This graphic is fairly basic but works for linear thinkers who like logical step-by-step processes. It succeeds because it is simple, and simplicity can make a daunting task feel doable. As a visual reference, it could help keep communicators on track toward completing a content strategy.  Unfortunately, it lacks a clear definition of the elements of a content strategy so can’t stand alone to help communicators get the job done. Other resources would be needed, so let’s get back to that tasty burger.

Take the poll. Which graphic works for you?

Last week’s poll: What is your reaction to seeing promoted tweets?

Three people responded and guess what? No one said promoted tweets usually interest them. Results: 66% find them annoying or ignore them; 33% said they would read a promoted tweet before deciding to click.

Promoted tweets are powerful, but keep the powder dry

Paid tweets can supercharge PR campaigns but could backfire with overuse

Course: CDPR 108, Week 3
September 30, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Our assignment this week was to consider whether Twitter’s advertising products – promoted tweets, promoted accounts and promoted trends – are valuable for public relations programs. Twitter’s promoted products were designed for marketers but I consider them powerful aids for surpercharging PR campaigns if used sparingly.

I say “sparingly” because there is a considerable risk that promoted tweets and the like will be viewed as spam or junk mail by the people you hope to influence. When was the last time you heard someone say she wanted more junk mail? Never. Save your use of promoted tweets for large campaigns and big issues so that there is less chance you’ll annoy the very people with whom you want to connect.

First, what are these products and how do they work? Essentially, what Twitter calls “targeted tweets” are actually advertisements camoflaged as news and messages. Twitter now makes it possible to pay in order to do these three things:

1. Promote your tweets: direct tweets to your followers plus like-minded people who don’t follow your organization to extend the reach of your company’s message

2. Promote your trends: place your trend at the top of the Trends side bar to kickstart engagement on an issue that matters to your industry

3. Promoted your account: place your name or account at the top of the “Who to Follow” side bar to increase the number of followers your organization has

Promoted tweet from British Airways

A yellow arrow signifies a promoted account, trend or tweet such as this one from British Airways. This image was taken from the story linked above.

The pricing structure varies depending on the service. Similar to Google Adwords, promoted tweets and accounts use a CPE (cost-per-engagement) model whereby the more people interact with your tweet and the more traction it gets, the more you pay. Promoted trends are different. Twitter charges a flat fee to place your trend at the top of the Trends sidebar for the day, based on a bid price. (Quora offers more information on pricing.)

While we may not like to see more advertising in social spaces, it’s important for PR professionals to judge these services on how well they might increase awareness, build relationships and promote a good reputation for the organization.

The upside of promoted tweets et al is obvious – increasing your reach and raising your profile among Twitter’s vast community of users with targetted messages and news. They offer the benefits of traditional advertising but with lower costs (in many cases), increased agility to react as opportunities arise, and the ability to target messages to those who are likely to find them interesting and relevant.

The downside of promoted tweets is the potential to tick off your followers and people like them if these tools are overused. The same goes for promoted accounts and trends: Use them too often and you’ll be ignored. But as long as promoted tweets, accounts and trends are used in moderation and deliver good content, they can be effective in helping reach public relations objectives.

Case studies: Deciding when the time is right

In an example of how these services could be used outside product marketing, Fast Company recently ran an article on how Mitt Romney’s campaign team used a promoted trend on the first day of the Republican National Convention last August to get his message out – the first documented use of a promoted trend for a political campaign. The article reported the bought trend produced 538,000 tweets before Romney’s address on Day 1 of the convention, and concluded that “this kind of precision messaging is the marketing holy grail.” (The story was written by Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes who disclosed in the article that his company provides promoted tweet services.)

Twitter has posted several interesting case studies (yes, to market their promoted products but they are good examples nonetheless) that are worth reading to see how non-profit organizations have used promoted tweets to increase understanding and reach their goals. Here are three examples:

British Heart Foundation used promoted tweets to educate the public on how to perform CPR to save lives (to the throbbing beat of the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive”, no less). Good use of humour to make CPR cool.

American Foundation for Equal Rights used promoted tweets in search and timelines to communicate breaking news about a legal challenge to a California law denying marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. This was a well-orchestrated, all-out campaign. The case study reports that the three-pronged campaign drove a 1400% increase in mentions over the previous month (although this was big news their stakeholders and would have received some degree of attention without bought tweets).

American Red Cross uses Twitter generally to engage its volunteers and donors and in crisis situations to get urgent information and updates to people who need it. They teamed up with Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, on a promoted tweet donor compaign that quickly reached its $10,000 goal.

These are great examples of how PR objectives can be reached using promoted tweets, trends and accounts. But they are not for every promo-task. In the above cases, a paid tweet was used for major news, events and campaigns. They were part of much larger communication plans.  Don’t even consider using them if you find yourself in these situations:

1. If you are new to Twitter and haven’t already established a community there. A 2012 post by i360 points out that “it’s only for those [already] taking part in Twitter” and further that “no one should get on Twitter solely to take advantage of ad options.”

2. If you are tasked with daily marketing of promotions (last minute deals, limited time offers, etc). No one likes junk mail and telemarketing so what are the chances they will tolerate a mountain of promoted tweets? Zero. Remember what Twitter is and why people use it – to connect with other people and share information. Don’t overuse promoted tweets.

3. If you don’t have a larger plan or engaging content to support it. In the case studies I have highlighted, promoted tweets were used (sometime multiple times) as part of multi-facted communication plans that included video and other online content, and even events. Keep in mind that using this tactic in isolation may not yield the results you’re hoping for.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment. What do you think?

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