SEATTLE, Wash. (AP) -- Twitter may seem like something that only kids use. But local public relations experts say it is a useful tool that can add value to a business, if used correctly.
The Northwest Environmental Business Council recently hosted a luncheon presentation in Seattle on social media. Jaime Quick of Scoville PR and Colleen Moffitt of Communique Public Relations offered some tips, a few warnings and ideas about how to get started.
"The rise of social media has definitely happened and it really has become mainstream," Moffitt said. "Social media really does have a power and an influence in our day to day."
Quick said social media like Facebook and Twitter won't sell products or services, raise money or make your firm number one, but it will support those efforts. Social media turns monologues to dialogues and lets customers interact with a business. "It's really about relationship building."
Twitter, Moffitt said, is especially powerful because it is an open network, unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, which are closed. Twitter allows a business to connect with new people, track the competition and monitor what people are saying about it anywhere in the world.
Companies everywhere are using Twitter for different purposes. Veratect Corp., a Kirkland-based company, detected swine flu in Mexico in March and used Twitter to keep the public informed about the outbreak and how it was spreading. The University of Mississippi is using Twitter to provide daily updates on energy consumption in its buildings as part of an effort to decrease energy use.
Moffitt said Twitter lets users share information quickly. Companies are using it to drive sales, gain market share, improve customer service and recruit employees. Moffitt said Twitter helps her develop a reputation as a social media expert, which provides value to her company and improves business.
Kristina Walker, an associate at EnviroIssues, began tweeting a month ago for her company. So far EnviroIssues uses Twitter to monitor information that agencies it works for, or would like to work for, are sharing. She said Twitter offers a huge opportunity to find work, especially on stimulus spending projects.
Chris Morse, chief technology officer for EnviroIssues, said the company also has LinkedIn and Facebook pages, but, "It's more interesting, more bang for the buck, to go with Twitter at this point."
Dell uses Twitter to drive business to its outlets. Moffitt estimated Dell has made $3 million by using Twitter.
Moffitt said a company must allocate resources for managing a Twitter account and concentrate on sharing useful information. About 20 percent of information a company shares on Twitter can be about the company, but 80 percent needs to be on related and relevant topics.
Moffitt called Twitter "the world's biggest cocktail party." When she first joined, she said she felt intimidated, but people are friendly and informative when you engage with them.
Moffitt has three tips for people on Twitter: think of yourself as a brand, share information that is relevant to the brand and audience, and engage in the conversation. Also, stay current with how social media is evolving. A year ago, she said, it was common to follow someone if they decided to follow you but no longer.
Whether or not a company joins Twitter, chances are someone at the firm already uses it. Moffitt said companies should develop a social media plan and share goals and messages with employees so they don't say something that conflicts with the company's message.
Crisis planning is also important in case someone's tweet gets a bad reaction. "The ability for something to spread like wildfire is just prevalent," he said.
Laurie Landeros, vice president at ShoreBank Pacific, has been tweeting for about a month. Generally her tweets are about companies and interesting nonprofits involved with the bank. ShoreBank is pretty new in the Seattle area and one goal is to use Twitter to help build the brand.
"Our 12-year history has been pretty organic," she said. "We don't do much advertising. (We're) word of mouth and now, hopefully social media will continue to help us grow."
Landeros said Twitter helps her learn about things quickly and easily. She spends 30 minutes every morning on the account. "I limit it to 30. I'm having so much fun with it, I could actually spend a lot more time on it."
Moffitt said she spends about 45 minutes each morning on Twitter, time she used to spend reading newspapers and blogs. She also tweets at lunch and in the evening. Quick said he spends about three hours on Twitter each week.
Paul Hausmann, a partner at Environmental Resource Management in Bellevue, said the talk convinced him there's value to Twitter but he isn't going to start tweeting any time soon. Hausmann said he's a traditional guy who reads the Wall Street Journal in print every morning.
He said Twitter seems a bit "wacky" because there is no editorial process. "It's kind of like TV, only commercials and then you hone in on these channels (and say) I really like commercials about cars!"
Hausmann said the presentation made him realize there is likely a marketing person at his firm of 3,300 people that is tweeting and that he should connect with that person. "There's value for me to connect to someone else who is a twitterati. But I'm not going to do it."