Quick note: You can also read more on this topic at PRCog’s Gear Grindings blog.
It’s not often I get really fired up over a few tweets, but when I saw some of the stuff coming out of Michigan’s 2010 PRSA conference on April 22, I reached for the blood pressure cuff. The event, titled “PRevolution: Creating Stability in a Shifting Landscape,” featured Peter Shankman as one of two keynote speakers. Shankman is well-known as the founder of HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and CEO of The Geek Factory, a boutique marketing and PR strategy firm.
Now, I subscribe to HARO and find it to be a very useful tool for folks in public relations. I also view Shankman’s Twitter feed. But what he had to say at the conference was, to me, borderline blasphemy. Before I get into my point/counterpoint, let me stress that I viewed a number of feeds from the conference. I wasn’t there. So, yes, I am basing my feelings on various tweets. I believe I have a good idea of what was said. Without further delay, let me give you an idea of some of the statements …
“Your debt to your Twitter following is to be interesting.”
A college professor of mine once told me to not use the word “interesting.” I asked him why. He said it was a boring word. It stuck with me to this day and when I read that tweet, I thought of my old professor. I also read that quote and knew it was bunk.
People don’t follow you on Twitter because you are interesting. They follow you either because you provide value or they trust your opinion in a given field. One of the things I always say to people who are following me is: “I hope you find value in my tweets.” If I’m not valuable, they are going to drop me like a bad habit. Don’t be INTERESTING… be VALUABLE.
“When people think you’re normal (meaning: just like them), THEN you have a problem.”
This was another gem of a statement. There are tons of “normal” people on Twitter (is Ann Curry abnormal?). But because they are “normal,” these people will lose followers since they are just like you and I. That is BOGUS.
You lose followers when you don’t provide any value. I follow people who are in my field that I admire and trust. But I also follow folks I used to work around in television and radio. I don’t want gibberish. If I did, I would follow Perez Hilton and the others like him. I want real people and honest information. That’s normal and it’s fine with me.
And last but not least:
“News is no longer relevant because most of it is filler, not breaking.”
Want to know what “filler” is? It’s the 20 second video on your local newscast of little Tommy’s elementary school class getting a visit from the station’s weatherman. Then they toss to said weatherman for the seven-day forecast. I worked in television and radio for a long time. I can tell you that news is VERY relevant, despite the lower ratings across the board for the big three’s 6:30 p.m. newscasts.
Take for example the crash of U.S. Airways flight 1549. Yes, the story blew up in social media circles. However, it was all over network AND cable news outlets. We watched passengers being rescued from the icy Hudson River waters on live television. That’s not breaking news? What about the earthquake in Haiti? I guess that wasn’t relevant when networks sent their main anchors to the disaster zone.
Sure, the advent of the cable news channels may have diluted the word “breaking” in news a tad (no, a car chase in L.A. is not breaking news to me). But in a recent post at TVNewser, CNN’s Ali Velshi was quoted as saying that TV to him is “about being different. It’s about providing a different product, serving a different viewer, and creating a different relationship than the one we’re used to in the TV world.”
You don’t need breaking news to make it watchable. You need solid stories, good reporting and savvy news executives who get the changing broadcast medium. Look at Shepard Smith on Fox News Channel. Regardless of what you think of Fox’s style, “The Fox Report with Shepard Smith” has become one of the most watched newscasts on cable (the channel’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” is often the other). This past March, it even set a viewership record.
In the future, I would hope that Mr. Shankman considers doing more research into his statements. His opinions on the news front are the same tired argument I’ve been hearing for over ten years. As far as his social media views (i.e. Twitter followers), I’d expect something more intelligent than to be “interesting.” My debt to my followers is to respect them and not insult their intelligence.
Maybe that’s not interesting enough for Mr. Shankman though.