PR Pros Use Twitter to Reinvigorate Brands, Engage in Conversation

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts operates luxury properties in countries all over the world, from the U.S. and Canada to Asia the Middle East and Africa. Aside from traditional promotions, one of the ways it connects with current, past and future guests is via its main Twitter account. Several accounts are also maintained by individual properties.

"We push out news and information; we think that's valuable," Mike Taylor, Fairmont's public relations manager, told the Hotel Marketing Strategies blog. "We include package and rate offers. We don't see Twitter primarily as a distribution tool. But if we have something that's a great deal we're going to let people know about it."

In terms of results, it has seen hotel occupancy rates rise after tweeting "online only" discounts, and it's been able to reach out and promote its brand.

"Twitter has introduced us to people we otherwise wouldn't have a relationship with," he said. "So it's sort of that global neighborhood concept where these people wouldn't have reached out to us or vice versa if we were not participating."

Other Twitter PR success stories include Comcast, Dell, JetBlue and Shaquille O'Neil. They have all reinvigorated their brands using the service. All are near becoming social media case study cliches.

Some in the hospitality industry take it one step further: The Roger Smith Hotel, for example, is connected to every corner of the social web. But its innovative use of Twitter is where it really shines. The New York City boutique hotel attracts travelers based on its regular -- and charming -- use of Twitter.

"I really found the genuine ability to connect with people valuable," Brian Simpson, the hotel's director of social hospitality, told Techipedia, "and we have continued to use this as just one of many pieces of the funnel hopefully driving people to be more involved with us outside of just booking a room."

These successes are well documented. However, many businesses, organizations and individuals have trouble converting the case studies of others into success for themselves. As it turns out, public relations thought-leaders suggest it's less about the tool itself and more about learning to adapt and adjust to the new medium.

Conversation is Key


Maggie Fox, CEO of the Social Media Group, suggests Twitter has become the driving force of the news cycle.

Her company has been Ford's social media agency since 2007, and claims status as "one of the world's largest independent agencies."

"From a PR perspective, Twitter is the circulatory system of the news cycle," she said when asked if PR practitioners can use Twitter effectively if only checking once or twice a day. "It is a constantly churning stream of scoops, updates and perspectives generated by millions of users and mainstream media outlets. Twitter interaction advances the story in realtime, as you watch."

She said knowing about Twitter is one thing, but engaging in conversation is what is key. "Twitter [usage] patterns are different for different people," she said. "Some tweet every quarter hour, others, every day. Whatever suits your style and objectives, go with -- as long as it's regular and consistent. I think the point is you have to use the platform to know it; setting up a Twitter account and tweeting once six weeks ago is not using the platform."

Dave Fleet, a well known PR blogger and the account director at Thornley Fallis, a national Canadian PR firm, said it requires more than just becoming a proficient user of one tool like Twitter.

"If you're able to connect with people through Twitter then great, but you can also make great connections through in-person contact, over the phone, through other online tools or through any number of communications media," Fleet said.

Customization is Essential

Edelman Digital's Steve Rubel agrees with Fox and Fleet's assessment, suggesting "it really depends on the individual PR professional's focus."

Rubel said "customization is key" for both clients and PR pros adopting Twitter as a business communications tool.


"Generally speaking, however, I believe that every PR professional needs some level of situational awareness about what is going on in a given community at a given time and will need to check into Twitter accordingly," he said. "In addition, those on the front lines will need to become increasingly visible online and offline -- including their client affiliations."

When asked how he advised clients to stay on top of the changes and evolution of Twitter, Rubel said, "I generally don't."

"There's way too much focus on the technology and tools," he said. "Instead I advise them to study audiences and trends and then identify tools that fit. Too many people start with the tools first. That's like buying paint before you have a floor plan."

Fleet said the same is true for PR pros.

"Most people don't need to stay on the bleeding edge of the latest tactical client," he said. "It's more important that they use the various social media tools effectively and strategically rather than looking for the next shiny object. With that said, part of our job as consultants is to stay on top of these tools, and to be able to recommend the best tools for our clients. So, part of that onus falls on us."

Ian Capstick is a progressive media consultant. He worked for a decade in Canadian politics supporting some of Canada's most charismatic leaders. He is passionate about creating social change through communications. Ian appears weekly on CBC TV's Power & Politics, weekly radio panels, and is regularly quoted online and off about the evolution of public relations in a connected world. He describes his small communications firm,, as a blog with a consulting arm.

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Playdom Provides Fellow Social Gamer MetroGames With $5 Million Funding


Social gaming startup Playdom is putting this past fall’s $43 million funding round to quick work lately. The San Francisco company is investing $5 million in Argentina-based social gamer MetroGames as part of the South American company’s first round. The investment comes a barely two weeks after Playdom acquired Offbeat Creations, the developer of several Facebook-based titles, including dice game Super Farkle.

When it got its $43 million first round in November, Playdom said it intended to use the proceeds for acquisitions and to expand its own gaming platform. For its part, MetroGames will use the new money to build up its own pipeline of games—it currently has 30 games available on Facebook—and ramp up development of its social gaming platform. The Buenos Aires company didn’t say whether it was seeking additional investors as part of this first round.

Playdom and MetroGames also expect to work together on various projects, but neither one offered details on what areas. The deal not only increases Playdom’s own reach across Facebook, but the geographical expansion into Latin America is designed to help it keep up with rivals like Playfish, which was acquired by Electronic Arts (NSDQ: ERTS) last fall. Release


CrowdGather Buys For $1 Million


CrowdGather, which owns a network of community forums, is buying up, for $1 million in cash and stock (An SEC filing shows that FreeForums’ owner, Phil Santoro, is getting $600,000 in cash, as well as $400,000 in CrowdGather stock and additional compensation based on traffic). The three-year-old site lets anybody set up an online forum and claims to have the “largest community among free forum hosts”

CrowdGather is known for its acquisitive ways. It has bought up three sites since August, including MP3 player community site in November. This deal likely ranks among CrowdGather’s largest, since the company didn’t note the price tags of any of those other deals. Here’s the announcement.


YouTube Tries To Spur Wider Use Of InVideo Ads

YouTube logo

While Google (NSDQ: GOOG) continues work on reaching its $1 billion in display revenue goal, the latest blip in the search giant’s strategy involves getting more smaller marketers to use in-video ad overlays on YouTube. In a blog post, concedes that most small spenders don’t have access to the tools needed to create an animated display unit that appears across the bottom of a video stream. So Google has tweaked one of its AdWords tools, the Display Ad Builder, which offers font and template options for advertisers to now provide a space to add some animation for overlays.

YouTube has steadily tried to find the right mix of ad models since Google bought it for $1.65 billion over three years ago. At various times, YouTube experimented with a mix of overlays and pre-rolls, even betting on post-rolls, which were seen as less annoying to viewers, at one point. Through it all, overlays have remained popular. But in general, the video site has found that there is no silver bullet that would lead to profitability, so it has opted for for a variety of tools.

Meanwhile, Google has also been trying to find ways of making its $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick work as well. In a series of initiatives starting last fall, Google began ramping up its focus on the display ad sales platform by integrating it more closely with AdSense and AdWords. YouTube is already pretty central to Google’s display goals and the company expects a lot more tweaking of the strategy over the next few months, whether or not display spending strengthens.


How Magazines Use Social Media to Boost Pass-Along, Build Voice

Magazines have always prided themselves on their longevity as a medium and their pass-along circulation -- the additional readers each copy gains when it's passed from hand to hand.

Today, social media are providing opportunities for readers to share content and experience their favorite magazines as part of their social activity online. As a result, this is the dawn of a new era of pass-along.

Building a Community of Readers

So far, Facebook and Twitter have both been tested as ways to market print subscriptions and publicize magazines' online content.

Seventeen magazine tried offering a special subscription deal to its over 64,000 Twitter followers. If readers paid up front, they could get a $5 year-long subscription to the magazine through a link in a tweet.

"We had 170 paid subscriptions in 24 hours, which is a great number," said Julie Hochheiser, the senior web editor for the Hearst Teen Network, which includes Seventeen's online content. "We definitely thought that was a success."

Tweets and Facebook posts also help promote the magazines' websites, though Hochheiser said that posts should offer more value than just a link.

"With a content brand, your business is mostly driving traffic to your site, but Twitter users don't necessarily want to be driven to your site," she says. "They want what they're finding in those 140 characters to be useful."

Showcasing a Real-Time Voice

On the smaller end of the magazine spectrum, Lapham's Quarterly, a magazine focusing on history and culture, is also active with social media. Web editor Michelle Legro said Lapham's began using Twitter and Facebook simultaneously in October 2009, and that their efforts have grown steadily since then, mainly to showcase the ongoing research and discussions of the magazine staff.

laphams facebook small.jpg

"It's allowed us to give a real-time voice to the magazine," Legro said. "We're both a historical and a quarterly magazine, so social media let us give a voice to things we find out every single day."

Lapham's tweets, written by Legro, are noticeable for their frequent use of dates from the past and their placement of contemporary events within historical context. "I can see what people are talking about on Twitter, find a historical source in the archives and post that, then people share it around," she said.

The response to Lapham's social media efforts has been positive: Twitter and Facebook are now two of the site's main traffic sources.

"We've found that Twitter acts like a stock and Facebook like a bond," Legro said. On Twitter, "when people really like something, they join in bursts. With Facebook, people join slowly and steadily, but continue to join all the time."

Magazine Advertisers Join In

Magazines are just now beginning to find ways to make partnerships with advertisers work via social media. Katie Tamony, editor-in-chief of Sunset magazine, described the magazine's Facebook page as a "little laboratory" for new marketing ideas.

"We have 11,500 fans, so we can come to them not just with content, but also with some marketing ideas," Tamony said. This small group of generally younger readers and fans posts about 500 "interactions" weekly to Sunset's fan page, and offers real-time feedback to questions and offers presented by the staff.

Matt Milner, vice president of social media and community for Hearst Magazines Digital Media, described the careful balance required to integrate advertisers into a magazine's social media efforts.

"Advertisers or partners can pay to join the conversation, but it's equally as important to show that we realize that there has to be value added to these communities," Milner said. "We give clear guidance to our advertisers: 'It's great you're joining the conversation, but you're not here to sell your product -- you're here to build your brand within our community'."

For example, Seventeen has used both sponsored tweets and sponsored Facebook posts to involve advertisers in its social media content.

"Our audience didn't really see the difference. As long as the content is interesting to them, they'll click on it," said Hochheiser, who works with Seventeen. "We make sure it's something useful to them and not just a blatant ad, but it has the sponsor language right there."

Enhancing Print Editions

Magazines' social media efforts have also paid off for their print products.

"We pose questions to our readership to feed into future stories," said Tamony from Sunset. Past queries included readers' favorite ways to use spinach and their favorite road trips in the West. "We give a sampling of the Facebook responses we've gotten, and it's fun for readers to see their names end up in print."

In another example, Tamony said a recent Facebook question about favorite weeknight meals revealed how often readers used chicken in their everyday cooking, and how much they wanted new ideas for those meals. Her staff can use this feedback to craft relevant stories in future issues. "So even if we don't use their comments, we're still using their ideas in the magazine," she said.

17 tweet with pic.jpg

The conversation with readers has benefited Hearst magazines as well. "Sometimes we just listen. What do they want from content? What do they want our web editors to be writing about?" said Milner. "We feel like there's a huge benefit to hearing that."

Magazines' use of social media also echoes and enhances the voice of the magazine itself. Legro is the social media "voice" of Lapham's, and she works to maintain a specific style in her tweets and posts.

"I try to be light and accessible, because often with history, it can be perceived as dry, but really it's extremely fun," Legro said. "My goal is to entertain. History can entertain in itself. It just takes an editor to find the right things."

For Sunset, using social media is like "having an event or a party going on all the time," said Tamony. "It feels that way because Sunset is all about enjoying life and pleasurable things, so you get this kind of happy buzz from it."

The lines distinguishing magazines' print and online content, their social media projects and their advertising will probably continue to blur.

"It might take 10 years until we figure out how to master this," said Milner. "Social media transcends departments -- it's beyond edit, beyond sales. It will inform more and more content decisions in a good way, but it's going to take a little while."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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Updated: @ SxSWi: Twitter Tries For Maximum Value With Least Effort

Twitter Cofounder Ev Williams

Watching Twitter CEO Ev Williams on stage at South by Southwest Interactive is a reminder that it’s still a work in progress—and watching people trying to cram into the overflow keynote was a reminder of just how much is expected. Ditto watching the steady stream leave as the interview by Umair Haque continued. The big news is the official announcement of @anywhere, a new platform that will let companies like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) feed Twitter results directly from their own sites, or, as Williams puts it, ‘giving people value with as little effort as possible.” Twitter becomes part of any site, not a destination, with a few lines of javascript. But what does it mean in terms of money? Advertising? Nothing that concrete out of this session.

Update: I wasn’t the only one who left with questions. There was little about the business model beyond the idea that being everywhere/anywhere and directly integrated into major sites will raise Twitter’s value as a service (Williams likes to think of it as an information network) and its value as a business. But the interview left some other issues hanging, which Williams picked up on via the unhappy Twitter backchannel. He offered to answer some questions tweeted his way, collected here by Mashable. A couple that stood out:

—will @anywhere put API developers out of work? Answer: @steyblind only if they can’t think of what to do on top of it. It should allow them to create more value.

—and from @anildash: Why would I ever, ever want a newspaper to @anywhere link to @anildash instead of using HTML to link to Answer: @anildash It’s not an either/or. It’s a hover action. Link still exists. Will result in more followers and ultimately traffic.

Williams also once again assured people Twitter isn’t for sale, at least not anytime soon. Asked if it would be sold or merged in next two years, he simply replied, “No.”

Ning CEO Bianchini Quits Four Days After Charlie Rose Appearance

Fast Company

Gina Bianchini, the long-time head (and co-founder) of build-your-own social network service Ning, is resigning; she’s joining Ning backer Andreesen Horowitz as an executive in residence. In a blog post, Ning Chairman Marc Andreessen emphasizes that the resignation is Bianchini’s decision and that “nothing else is changing” at the startup. Bianchini is being succeeded as CEO by Ning COO Jason Rosenthal.

Under Bianchini, Ning has posted steady growth; Andreessen’s post runs through a series of metrics, including that there are more than 2.3 million social networks under the Ning banner and that it is adding more than 5,000 a day (Worth noting however that the company had once predicted it would have 4 million social networks by January 2010).

The company has also managed to raise $119 million in venture capital backing over five rounds, including $15 million last summer at a whopping $750 million valuation.

Rafat adds: No secret, I have been very skeptical of Ning from the start. My skewering of the hype around the company, two years ago, didn’t sit very well with them. Now that Gina’s leaving, and my sources say Marc’s hardly involved (despite his pronouncements in the blog post), it probably means they’re moving on with their own ambitions about the company. Another white-label social service, buried among tons of other me-toos. Interestingly, this announcement comes four days after Gina’s appearance on Charlie Rose, where she talked at length about her undying love for the social net. Great timing.