Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Is your media release Twitter ready?

If you’ve ever played Telephone, you know how easy it is for a simple message to lose its meaning.

Sending out a media release is like playing this childhood game. Very few journalists will ever replay it the way you want and the essential message can be lost as people reword and rework your beautifully crafted prose into just a few short sentences.

That’s just the name of the game in public relations, but the advent of social media has made the job even harder. Thousands of citizen journalists are now reinterpreting your media release into less than 140 characters.

A recent example was an announcement from the Northern Territory Government in Australia during Cyclone Carlos allowing non-essential public servants with child-caring responsibilities to take personal leave if they could not get alternate care arrangements for their children. Employees should check with their supervisor if they were not sure if they were regarded as “essential”.

The tweets from those spreading the word looked something like this:

Non-essential public servants urged to stay at home due to #TCcarlos

The result? Hundreds of public servants with and without children stayed at home without ever contacting their supervisor.

It’s hardly the fault of the multitudes who retweeted this message, but it is a great example of how a message can lose its full meaning very quickly.

At Creative Territory, we’ve seen hundreds of original media releases, stories and blogs get mangled as well-meaning tweeters try to make sense of what the writer was trying to say and rebroadcast it in a tiny package.

So what can PR professionals do to make it easier for others to pass their message on?

We’ve recently created the “Twittercue”– the practice of adding a set of words to the bottom of media releases that enable tweeters to pass on your message without distorting the meaning.

So if I was writing a media release for the situation above, I would add the following to the bottom of the release:

Twittercue: NTG non-essent staff who need 2 care 4 kids may take prsnl leave. Chck with supervisor #TCcarlos

Some tips for writing a great Twittercue:
  • Forget the flowery language – concentrate on the facts
  • Use an appropriate hashtag
  • Include a url pointing to the full copy of the media release
  • Keep it to 120 characters in total to allow for unedited retweeting
  • Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations – speak the language of your Tweeps.
Twittercue for this release: Is your media release Twitter ready? #PR #SM #twitter


  1. Anonymous10:56 AM

    I had never thought of using a "twittercue." Might be a good idea to start incorporating in my news releases though. Thanks for your insight.

  2. This is probably the best #twittervice I've read in a month! Thank you! Thanks @tweetsmarter!

  3. Found your blog thanks to your sharing of this on the LinkedIn PR/Comm group. I direct communications for a university campus and serve as PIO for our incident response.

    I LOVE the twittercue idea and will start using it immediately.

    However, I'd guess the real problem here is that agencies need to do a better job of helping employees understand the definition of "essential" personnel and how it applies during an incident or crisis.

    I wonder how many people who stayed home really got that message via Twitter and how many just saw mainstream coverage, perhaps read the release itself online, or read an email from a supervisor that didn't clarify the definition and include links to the policy manual, let alone get training well in advance of any emergency so they would know what it meant.

    We've encountered occasional concern--in a climate of severe budget cuts--over the definition of "non-essential", as in, if I'm not essential am I liable to be the next one let go in a budget cut? Helping people understand that term and then apply it in an emergency is a long-term project for any agency.

    Director of Communications and Public Affairs
    Washington State University Spokane

  4. Thanks for your comments Barb. I agree that understanding who is essential and non-essential is critical. As agencies and companies get better at crisis planning, hopefully they will identify these roles up front rather than waiting for something to happen.

    Please feel free to share your Twittercue stories with us - we're keen to see if it is working for others. You can also view our follow-up post at

  5. An additional idea: Use to create the tweet already preloaded. I just found that utility thanks to someone else on Twitter. It lets you type in the text (including the link you want to direct people to), then creates its own link that you could embed in the text of the Twittercue. When clicked, it launches a tweet ready to edit/send.

    Director of Communications and Public Affairs
    Washington State University Spokane

  6. Love the idea of the Tweetcue. Very practical and you are increasing your chances of accurate reporting while making it easier for others to tweet your content.