Celebs don’t need PR on Twitter

“My name is Heather and I’m addicted to following celebrities on Twitter”.  What a confession!

I’ve had a Twitter account for some time – http://twitter.com/greenbanana – and finally decided to begin to Tweet (much to Judy Gombita‘s amusement  – okay, I’m also a hypocrite). 

My motivation was a conversation with a couple of students on Saturday and seeing Steven Fry on the Jonathan Ross show last Friday talking about his own involvement.

The celebrity use of Twitter is fascinating from a PR perspective because you get a sense of a real person without the “gatekeeper” of their publicist or other intermediary. 

Stephen Fry is a real aficionado with over 63,000 followers – Wossy has under 14k by comparison.  I’m also following Phillip Schofield (who was Twittering from his itouch at the ice rink on Sunday, the scene of the infamous, and hilarious, Todd Carty “exit” manoeuvre) – Schofe has also introduced Andi Peters to Twitter.

Through these, I’m now following Dragon Den’s Duncan Bannatyne and pucker celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver.  At a CIPR Wessex committee meeting tonight, someone told me to check out Lance Armstrong, so I’m following him too now.  (Do tell me of any other real celebs, I am that sad.)

I know it sounds a bit like stalking, but I honestly have a professional reason for my new celebrity fixation – that is, if the PR gatekeeper is being removed by these celebrities, what is the implication for companies? 

So far, I’ve only found one press office on Twitter – the Royal Society of Chemistry.  It (no person is identified) has been talking about the Italian Job competition which I also caught on the BBC Breakfast programme. 

Of course there are a lot of PR practitioners using Twitter – including to pitch journalists – but I’m less interested in their use of the medium.

It is the celebrity use that has caught my imagination as you get a real sense of their personalities and lives, much more so than with blogging or any other more considered or gate-keepered communications.

When companies, press offices, etc use Twitter, it can never quite have the same personal connection from the “brand” perspective.  Does this matter? 

The PR person who Twitters is a real person, but are they talking for and on behalf of themselves, or their company/client?  Either way, there are dangers and issues.

Of course, celebrities are real people as well as being a “brand” – unlike companies, their PR representatives, employees or senior executives.  So the celeb’s enthusiasm and use of Twitter is exactly the same as anyone else.  And that, for me, is what makes following them so interesting.

Anyone agree?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

15 thoughts on “Celebs don’t need PR on Twitter”

  1. Hi Heather,

    I’m Jon, also known as @JonSatriani and also @RSCPressOffice. I set up the two accounts so I could tweet about lots of things yet keep work/personal separate. I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks I haven’t managed to develop the two-way interaction with the press office account that I have with my personal account. I worry that if I start being too active with the press office one, any actual news may get lost in the mass of tweets. Then again more activity could entice more followers who would see that news…

    Is it your opinion the RSCPressOffice account should be from Jon, not from the office? I tend to want to lean more toward the personal side but haven’t seen anyone else doing the same.

    I’ve seen a lot of sites that say PR and Twitter just don’t mix. I disagree, but there needs to be a compromise between mindless trumpeting and interaction with followers. In my opinion of course. Feel free to follow either or both of these accounts! I’ll be trying more activity from the RSCPressOffice account in the near future… trying to engage in the social media thing the way it’s supposed to be!🙂

    On celebs and tweeting, you’re right – I don’t like the Hello! staged photos or contrived “insider” gossip, but tweets that bypass the publicist (we assume anyway) really give you an insight. I’m that sad too – I find it interesting that they have as much problem with french homework as the rest of us. By the way @bobbyllew is Robert Llewelyn and a very entertaining tweeter.

    Hope you enjoyed the Italian Job, anyway – from a PR perspective it was one of our more successful campaigns.

    cheers, Jon

  2. >Celebs don’t need PR on Twitter
    Who – in general – needs Celebs?

    A Twitter/Facebook contrast. Twitter seems to be low commitment/low immersion – like facebook “Friends” (i.e,. acquaintances) for many people (that statement is asking for trouble). I have been running Twitter and Facebook icons above the fold since Christmas, and seen a steady tickover of growth in Twitter followers (130 -> 160). The same thing did not work for a Facebook “Readers Group”, but it does seem to work for Facebook Friends. In my case it is probably people who know the blog realising that I am active on Tw and FB.

    Tw is also (via Direct Messages – currently) an excellent way past the “PR Manager” firewall that operates quite often if you send an email or letter. I have often had responses in a couple of hours from public figures who may usually filter messages heavily. If you are a PR who has some credibility with the figure and can be personal it can help. Boilerplate PR won’t work on Tw more than anywhere else.

    On keeping channels separate, Jon. What about feeding your RSC headlines through the RSC group and add in personal comments when appropriate. One way to do the separation is only to phone-Tweet to your two feeds from the separate phones (assuming they are).

    Just thoughts.

  3. I joined Twitter, having heard a pal who works in St Andrew’s university talking about it, but only discovered the celebrity element when Stephen Fry spoke about a month ago about it. I was delighted to fond The Dragons on it, but through following them and folk I actually know, I am now finding a wonderfully diverse mix of people to follow and converse with.

    One advantage for celebrities, to my mind, is that they can instantly quash any wrong press announcements, which must be a great feeling for them!

  4. It seems to me that when we only had blogs to connect us with whoever the corporate gatekeeper was protecting, then these were written on the whole by the PR team, or that crazy new job title, the digital biographer!
    Twitter really enables people to have an immediate connection with whoever they want to follow, whether that is a celebrity or not. After we listed the Dragons Den members this morning we have been inundated with traffic and feedback about the Dragons. Sadly three of them turn out to be fake accounts, but Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan are the real deal.
    It’ a brave new world of multi-channel communication, will ‘brands’ have the same courage as the individuals behind those brands? Who knows, only time will tell.
    Regards
    David Long
    CelebrityTweeter.com

  5. Jon,
    I tend to feel you are right to have two Twitter accounts as you are using one clearly as the RSC press office. But, of course, anything you tweet as Jon still reflects who you are professionally as well as personally.

    It is interesting to consider how the press office account can be more active without impacting on announcing news, but whilst engaging more followers. I feel you should do that by looking at what is of interest to RSC (and its publics) that could be worth a comment. This could be activity or thought originating with RSC itself, or external news or activities on which RSC could legitimately have a view. That way there would still be value in such tweets, even if not hard news.

    Maybe also when you do have hard news to announce, you use a simple device at the start of the tweet such as News: xxxx. That way it will be clear that these tweets are actual news announcements.

    Regarding the RSCPressOffice account and its personality, if I was advising from a blog perspective, then yes, I think the author of all posts should be identified. If others in the company/office are likely to tweet on this account, then I think it is good practice to distinguish your tweet from others, but that is hard with the character restrictions. You could have a quick sign off – say – J – at end of your tweets and likewise if others have different initials. Or maybe you could make it clear in the account information that tweets come from Jon if all from you or from members of the team. Just adds a human touch.

    I’m interested to see how PR and Twitter can mix – I like the idea of a press office being exactly that with real people clearly behind it. I think the problem is if you merge identities so you’d tweet personally on the company account.

    As you say, twittering isn’t about puff either or just linking to a press release – much more interesting say for you to not just tweet about the Italian Job story, but then give some ongoing info such as link and response to the BBC picking up on it, if you’re getting interest from overseas etc – maybe just add a bit more life to what is going on in the press office.

    Thanks for the link to @bobbyllew and the info on the ghost Jamie Oliver situation – interesting that he was outed by @rossy.

  6. Matt,

    I think you are right about how people who know you in one place (real or online) like to connect in another. Most of those who had followed me in Twitter before I’d even uttered a tweet were readers of the blog or people I knew from elsewhere.

    Joining groups seems a bit more of a commitment, I suppose and my feeling is that most Facebook groups have a very short life in terms of real activity. Like a lot of real world groups, they only work if there are at least a couple of really committed people who bring news, arrange activities, etc for the rest – and hopefully build momentum for others to stay connected.

    I do like the direct messages in Twitter – I’d been told it was a way that some people bitch, but like you, I’ve found it is a quick way of bypassing the gatekeepers and opening up communication then by email or phone, which is permission based.

    If their PR folk recogised the value of their charges’ being engaged with interested publics, they would work as better gate-openers rather than rotties keeping the public at bay.

  7. Citril – you are spot on about having someone influence you to join Twitter. It is definitely a word of mouth thing. I’m sure that Stephen Fry and Phillip Schofield being so open about their use has attracted more users.

    I was dismissive of it initially as what I’d seen of the PR Twittersphere seemed to be a lot of immediate reaction to matters, often quite nasty comments and nothing particularly interesting.

    I haven’t yet connected with people through Twitter in the same way that I have through the blog – but like to see how other people are conversing in different ways.

    I totally agree about the use of an open access medium like Twitter for celebrities – and the potential is there for companies – to quash press rumours and get their advocates on side and using that powerful word of mouth.

    They could also be open when they have got things wrong and use the medium for their side of the story. But like anything, if they are using the medium to lie and cover up, it won’t be successful.

  8. David,

    I am conscious that I’ve now written responses to the four comments received which with Twitter would be an easier @ thing to do. But then I’m not a 140 character writer in general.

    The ghost writing is an interesting phenomenon whether by celeb or corporate PRs (or digital biographers). I wonder if this is an extension for celebs of the fact that it is accepted that they don’t write even their own books (whether a biog or a novel) and so they are simply a brand. Ironic when the trend in corporates is for execs to be “allowed” to craft their own opinions especially for social media.

    On the one hand there is nothing wrong with having advice or help in writing if that isn’t your thing (or you don’t have time), but we do expect genuine connections in social media.

    So as you say, Twitter is about that immediate insight into what someone thinks or is doing. I think that is an opportunity for “brands” (organisations) in respect of needing to be very clear about what they care about and want to comment upon. The challenge really is what Jon said, do they do that as an organisation (in his case the press office) or through named individuals.

  9. Oh Judy– ever the Twitter critic =)

    I’m not sure I agree with you, Heather. Call me a cynic, but I’m hard pressed to believe that the “celeb” I’m connected with is who they say they are. Case in point: I follow Richard Branson, and there is little, if any, evidence to prove that he (or his publicist, or whoever is on the other end) is using Twitter for anything more than an informational push. The same is true for UFC lightweight champ BJ Penn, who’s Twitter stream shows almost no evidence of interaction.
    There is a growing base of name imposters on Twitter (see the cast of Mad Men for a strange, but obvious, example). In a world of connectedness, I feel largely disconnected with most of these celebrity Twitterers. Perhaps it’s because I’m part of that crazy crowd who believes that social media=interaction, and I see right through these information push accounts for the marketing ploy that they are.

  10. Brandon,

    What you illustrate though is the point – celebs don’t need PR on Twitter and those who are using gatekeepers and ghost writers don’t come over as genuine or interesting. Judi sent me a link to a post by Stephen Fry re his “rules of engagement” for Twitter – http://www.stephenfry.com/blog/2009/01/29/twitter/

    He is one of the people who really gets how social media can be relevant for celebs – but only if they are human and not seeing it as a marketing too.

  11. Just adding my tuppenceworth here as my digital alert spotted mention of the term ‘Digital Biographer‘ in a comment. For the record, it’s not a crazy new job title, it is my job title and a trade mark

    The problem, many celebs are actually boring farts with little interesting to say, tweet or blog. The real celebrities are people who are just interesting, share useful insights, and who interact. Most of the PR and Marketing organisations, albeit they’re desperate to prove they are ‘down with the kids’ and are trying to grow digital feathers, are still fatally assuming that pushing content out and making ‘viral’ stuff is how it works.

    That’s not how it works – this is the Age of Conversation.

  12. David – nice to meet a Digital Biographer (or The Digital Biographer),

    I’ve worked with those celebs before in respect of trying to get a decent road-test of a car they had been loaned. Of course, we used to ghost-write, but I always spoke to the celeb first to try to glean something interesting from their experiences.

    Sometimes I’ve wondered if this was wrong as they deserve the boring personality that they have rather than that crafted by the professionals surrounding them. For me, Twitter has brought out the personality of some “celebs” in a positive way.

    You are also write about those PR/marketing folk who don’t understand that pushing content doesn’t work online. I run courses where people expect me to tell them how to make anything viral – they don’t seem to understand it isn’t just what you do with what you’ve got, but ensuring what you’ve got is interesting enough to others for them to pass it on.

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