College Public Relations Students and Social Media : Maximizing Twitter Value

Here's the latest in our reader Q&A series . . . from a college student in Toronto who asked questions in the comment box on a recent post about questioning twitter boundaries.

Thanks to Cory for giving me permission to answer her questions as a blog post and to and to everyone who contributes to this conversation.

Here’s Cory’s question . . . 

Hi Barbara. My name is Cory Angeletti. I’m a public relations student at Humber College in Toronto, Canada. I have recently been exposed to Twitter as an important social media tool. In my program we are encouraged to get involved with various social media outlets because of its increasing popularity and the fast pace at which it is being included into PR strategies and tactics. So I joined Twitter and embarked on the beginning of my social media adventure. The only thing is that I don’t really know where it’s taking me. I understand the basics of Twitter, and I may even understand the merit and value of frequently updated tweets, IF they contain specific goals or targeted messages. Unfortunately, this is not the case with me. I don’t feel as though I have important enough or interesting messages/updates to post on Twitter. I also don’t want to say the wrong thing. But if I can’t post what I’m really thinking or feeling than what is the point? Instead I refrain from tweeting most of the time. So, if I make infrequent tweets, is it still valuable for me to be on Twitter? Is it enough for me to have a social media presence with tools such as Twitter? Or do I need to be more actively involved in order for my involvement in social media to make a difference when I’m trying to enter the work world in less than four months?

Answer: Thanks for writing, Cory. You’re not alone. I put up my first twitter update, “planning our summer vacation,” in June 2007. I stopped there and didn’t even check back in again until about six months later. I had about six followers and two were people I wanted to block. I was discouraged and confused, but willing to try when I decided to begin again. There are – still – many days where I’m not sure what to tweet about. Developing a presence on twitter is an ongoing project.

Here are five steps to help you get you started on maximizing twitter’s value:

1. Find people to follow on twitter

Search for people you know

Check out who your friends follow

Look for people in your location

Connect with people in your industry

Add in people who like what you like

Check into #journchat on Monday nights to meet PR people

2. Have something to say

For most people, this is tough – at first.

Be interested

Join a conversation

Ask a question

Post a finding

Comment on something in the news: movies or culture

Talk about what you’re eating or drinking

Bring your pet into the conversation

Link to what you’re reading

Tell people when you post pictures

3. Be known for who you are

Be mindful of search terms like “pr student”

Develop a personality

Define, to yourself at first, how you will add value to the conversation

Take care of your community

4. Organize

Set up tweet deck to follow and respond to streams of information

Draw up a publishing calendar

Target some sites to tweet about

Plan your update frequency

Start or join a social media club

5. Promote yourself and others

Say where you’ll be at events

Blog about what you’re working on

Form a student group

Connect with others who can teach you

Be a news breaker

Now, onto your specific questions:

I don’t feel as though I have important enough or interesting messages/updates to post on Twitter. I also don’t want to say the wrong thing. But if I can’t post what I’m really thinking or feeling than what is the point?

Being intentional about what you’re writing is important – on any platform. You can post what you’re thinking and feeling, as long as you’re comfortable with it. How much do you want people to know about you? What kinds of emotions do you want to emit? Make a list of words and feelings that you want to be associated with and use those. This may sound too fictional, but it’s really not. By deciding who you want to be, you are being authentic.

Instead I refrain from tweeting most of the time. So, if I make infrequent tweets, is it still valuable for me to be on Twitter?

If you’re listening in and getting value by hearing what people have to say, yes. Sounds like you’re looking for more conversations to be part of, though. Try keeping a written journal of things you’d like to talk about on twitter when you’re away from your phone on your computer. And, invite friends from other platforms like Facebook to talk to you on twitter, too.

Is it enough for me to have a social media presence with tools such as Twitter? Or do I need to be more actively involved in order for my involvement in social media to make a difference when I’m trying to enter the work world in less than four months?

Twitter’s a good start, but not everyone – including your prospective employers – will be on Twitter. Publishing a blog shows an employer that you can organize your thoughts, communicate ideas and manage projects. Like most communication vehicles, all social media sites are what you make of them. On Facebook, you can start a group, have flocks of friends and be a leader in your online community. It’s not too early to think about posting a profile on LinkedIn.

Finishing up your last semester of college is an important time in your life. Having an active social media presence may or may not be a huge differentiator for your new employer. If you’re familiar with the terminology and know how to use the tools, that may be enough. If you have the time and the interest, then jump in. Going to live events, like tweetups, is a great way to meet people you only know online. Good luck to you in your studies and your job search!

What advice would you add for Cory?

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