How To Use Twitter For PR

June 21st, 2013 | Shonali Burke | 15 Comments

the Twitter ecosystemWhen I first started writing this post, I was going to call it “How I Use Twitter.” Then I thought again, because a) I’m not as frenetically active on Twitter these days as I used to be, and b) who the heck cares how I use Twitter?

So instead, I thought I’d write about how I think you can use Twitter for PR, be they your own (personal, say if you’re a business owner also wearing your own PR hat) or your clients’/organizations’ public relations efforts.

Image: TheNextWeb via Flickr, CC 2.0

Where Twitter for PR usually begins… and ends

It’s not that people are not already using Twitter for PR. They are; in fact, it’s one of the favorite tools in journalist toolboxes, therefore it’s one of the favorite tools in the toolboxes of PR pros.

But here is where the typical use of Twitter for PR begins, and ends:

1. Publicizing news, blog posts, videos… basically, any kind of content. A lot of companies still only share their own content on Twitter.

2. Retweeting what other people have said about their own companies (or about them personally) ad nauseam. You know, the ones that go: “RT @{original tweeter}: You’re such a rockstar, @{person being talked about}.”

3. Participating in #followfriday, doing a reply-all on Twitter that includes that hashtag (as well as possibly people you really don’t know), or RTing a Follow Friday tweet you’ve been included in.

4. Live-tweeting from events, using a hashtag that has been set up for the event, or creating one from scratch.

5. Pitching journalists on Twitter.

These activities are pretty standard; #4 in particular can be really useful (or really overwhelming for some people, depending on which way you look at it).

I think there are better and worse ways of doing them all; for example,

  • #1 should be much more about others’ content than yours;
  • #2 makes me barf;
  • ditto on the reply-alls and/or RTs for #3;
  • also for #5, when I see a person’s timeline filled with @ messages to journalists/bloggers, that all contain the same query/pitch (and I have even seen people on the other side of the media fence, when trying to get attention for a new product or service, do this).

Taking it a step further

There’s a lot more you can do to use Twitter for PR in a smart way. These include:

6. Using Twitter lists smartly.

You can make these lists public or private, but depending on the nature of your work, set up any number of lists to track what specific people/companies are saying. People like being added to lists, so you’re both giving them an ego boost, as well as making it easier for yourself to find relevant content. Once you’ve done this, you can:

  • Keep tabs on what specific groups of people – who are important to your business or organization for a variety of reasons – are saying, and @ reply them regularly, to start building that R word that is so critical for our profession (nowadays people are calling this “influencer engagement”);
  • Monitor the needs of target journalists & bloggers, since often they will field queries on Twitter;
  • Learn who could be potential evangelizers, community leaders and influencers for your field by keeping tabs on who regularly, and appropriately, participates in conversations around specific keywords/keyword phrases.

Joan Stewart, who calls herself the “publicity hound,” has some more ideas.

7. Stop using Twitter’s web interface, and balance scheduled and real-time tweets.

I’m still surprised at the number of people who don’t use a dashboard such as HootSuite (my dashboard of choice). You can monitor lists, schedule tweets, and participate in so many social networks from that one place, that if you’re not, I truly believe you’re making more work for yourself than you need to.

It doesn’t have to be HootSuite. I tend to use HS for day-to-day activity, Buffer for curation (I’ve written extensively about Buffer before, as well as other tools I use and recommend), and TweetGrid for Twitter chats. Figure out what works for you (Ian Cleary has some nice tips on scheduling tools for multiple tweets here).

8. Actively participate in Twitter chats.

If you are a regular here at #WUL, you’ll know that I created the hashtag #measurePR and founded and curate a chat of the same name, focused on PR (and social media) measurement. Before I did that, however, I participated in quite a few other chats, notably #soloPR (exactly what it sounds like) and #journchat (the first Twitter chat ever, I believe).

This helped me get to know several of my peers better, and vice versa. Add in #measurePR, and the requests for guest blog posts, “appearances” on other Twitter chats, as well as offline queries from prospective clients and speaking opportunities steadily grew. Those first two are nothing if not “PR,” and the latter are exactly what I hope for on the business front as I grow my social PR consulting business (as well as some more PR thrown in!).

Integration and all that jazz

Obviously you can also use Twitter for PR by integrating photo-sharing via Instagram, tweeting out Pins from Pinterest, etc. etc. etc. The point of this post is not to list all the ways there are to promote content via Twitter, because that’s where most people start… and stop (see #1 above).

The point is to go beyond that, so that you can really start to use a platform that has truly revolutionized how we communicate, and that is still pretty simple to use, to make better, and mutually beneficial, connections with people for better business results.

Because that’s what public relations is really about.

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Did you say Twitter? Love it. It really is the mot unassuming way to easily connect with people if they have accounts and use the service. Unlike Facebook though you can message a stranger but it is kind of spooky there. So you definitely do media relations. Especially if you are smart and find the articles your target writes and tweet their content and support the media channel on social media.

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Lists, lists, lists. It's been a goal for a while to get my Twitter feed into lists on Hootsuite and I finally did it this week. Already it's totally changed the experience for me. (And has made me wonder whether I should continue to follow all those people not on my lists.) Obviously, the sooner this is done, the better. If you wait until you're following thousands of people ... well, good luck with that ...


These are great tips, Shonali!  I especially agree with participating in Twitter chats centered around areas of interest.  I had been active in one for social media and pharmaceutical companies back when I worked my old job, and it was a great resource for learning, connecting with peers, and generally building a good online community.  I've been happy to find another Twitter chat more recently that relates to my current job, where people who work in alumni relations and university fundraising share ideas and have a regular discussion.

Shonali moderator

@RobBiesenbach Ha! I know, I have to update my lists in HootSuite too. It really makes a huge difference. One of the things that annoys me about @HootSuite_Help is that you can narrow the width of your columns, you're stuck with four streams in your main view. I hate scrolling left/right to look at other streams, so often I just end up ignoring them. Maybe I should just set up different tabs that are associated with specific lists and click through those for a few minutes at a time... what do you think?

Shonali moderator

@Krista It's incredible how useful they are. I think a lot of people recognize the professional development aspect, but they don't make the further connection about seeding online communities with the people they meet on these chats (or at least learning, from a research point of view, about who future influencers & community members could be).

I know you've been dealing with your own stuff, Krista, but now that you are back, and especially as you engage in other Twitter chats, etc., are you feeling constrained by time? It's something I feel quite often now, which is not at all how I used to feel in my "early" days of using Twitter and being online. I was curious as to whether others of my "vintage" are also feeling the same and how they're dealing with it (or if they're not, what their secret sauce is!).


@Shonali @HootSuite_Help I've got that same issue, but then I think monitoring three lists is probably more than enough, or I'd be there all day. So fun stuff like Arts and Entertainment gets the shaft. I would love a function where I could actually get a list of people in my lists. I can get the streams, of course, but I'd love to just see a long list of names and twitter handles for each of my lists. Maybe I'm missing it, but there are lots of odd little things like that keep it a couple of steps shy of being truly great.


@Shonali I know what you mean-- I used to have more time for Twitter chats and social media participation in general.  My job constraints on a daily basis aren't as flexible as before but I try to make time in the morning and especially over the lunch hour.  The alumni relations one usually happens over the lunch hour but once a month.  

More than anything, I have to cut myself some slack and be okay with not being as active as I used to be.  If I only have time to read one or two blog posts or post one or two tweets a day, then that's okay. We're our hardest critics in the end!

Shonali moderator

@Krista I've been keeping your words close to my heart. "If I only have time to read one or two blog posts a day, it's ok." Thank you for that, you have no idea what a burden you lifted from me!


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