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April 5, 2010

All I Need to Know I Learned Through Twitter

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All I Need to Know I Learned Through Twitter.

Guest Post by Lauren Sandelin

My professors would cringe if they heard that question come out of my mouth.  Perhaps because a tiny bit of them

Image via Flickr Creative Commons

knows that this is true.  Now let me back up a second here – we all need that foundation we build through coursework, I’m certainly not arguing otherwise.  But in a field that is based so much around learning on the job and from actual experiences in the industry, textbooks and class assignments can only take an upcoming PR graduate so far.  Those textbooks I speak of?  Constantly changing.  New editions come out left and right as those in the academic world struggle to keep up with the newest industry rules and trends.  Want proof?  The AP Stylebook is the only book I’ve ever reused in more than one class, but even that gets the occasional facelift.

We work in a field that is always changing based upon the latest trends.  There is no guarantee that what’s working for you now will still have the same level of success six months down the road.  So how do we cope?

The jury may still be out on that one, but with social networking sites this has become much easier.  Not only that, but it has given me the hands-on education required for PR.  The things professors and textbooks can only speak of, Twitter does.  So what are these things and why are they so important?  Read on, my friend.

Networking. Now I’m not saying fill your Rolodex to capacity and call it a day.  Absolutely not.  We’ve all heard this before – “quality over quantity.”  Sure, that may be the overused phrase of the day – but let’s be honest, it’s true.  It’s not about the size of your network, but rather who’s in it.

You don’t follow people on Twitter that don’t add value, do you?  Nope.  You follow those that bring something to the table.  People that share information, provide industry updates, or post links to relevant content.  If all you ever Tweet is what you had for lunch, what song you’re currently listening to on Grooveshark, or you’re exact location while sipping on a coffee, I could probably do without your updates filling my Twitter stream.  Don’t get me wrong, this is all okay in moderation (I want to get a feel for you personally, also) but if you’re not adding much value, say goodbye to your space on my Twitter stream.  But remember, others are evaluating your value as well…and it’s not just on Twitter.

Building Relationships. Open up that Rolodex and blindly pick a name, any random name.  When was the last time you communicated with one another?  The last time you reached out to either provide something or ask for something?  Relationships are all about the give and take, requiring an equal effort from both parties.  In any industry, you need those relationships and PR is no exception.  So build, build, build.

You Are What You Tweet. As professional communicators, we are only as good as our word – and that word better be pretty darn good.  On Twitter, your value is what you tweet.  Sure, a 140-character limit doesn’t give you much room to get your point across, but all the more reason to make each of those characters count.  We’re taught throughout college to write concisely – get to the point, support your point, and get out.  Easier said than done, but Twitter forces us to do just that.

Instant Information. Yep, it’s no surprise that we’ve become a society that demands to know about things as they happen.  Thanks to the Internet and the evolution of social networking sites such as Twitter, this has shifted from being only a possibility to becoming a reality.  Admit it – we’re spoiled.  We are provided with up-to-the-minute news, often before a story’s even fully developed.  With a few taps of the keyboard and a quick click of the mouse, the story goes viral.  Oh, and some of those sources of information?  Well, let’s just say they’re not so reliable.

It’s no surprise that all PR professionals must keep this in mind.  Use what you can to your advantage, but be wary of what you find.  Sure, it can become a challenge – but armed with the right knowledge and a little social media savvy, this becomes yet another asset to benefit from.

Become an Extrovert. Twitter is all about engagement, and you can’t engage by keeping your mouth shut.  Luckily, this forces us all to become extroverts whether we want to or not.  As communications folks, we like to think that our social skills are up to par (and I’m sure for many, this is indeed true).  We want to share ideas; we want to expand our networks; we want to get to know other people, learning from them and about them.  To put it simply, this all relates back to relationship-building.  No shocker here.  Welcome, once again, to one of the major foundations of PR (and social media platforms).

A Little Help, Please? I’ve always considered myself an optimist.  You know, that annoying “glass is always half full” and “everything will work out” kind of attitude.  So why is it that I was so shocked by the generosity of those in the Twitterverse?  People want to help.  People like to help.  People will help.  It didn’t take much time to realize that this wasn’t just a quality unique to Tweeps.  I can’t speak for other industries, but the PR pros I’ve spoken with are always up for sharing their knowledge and expertise.  I’m sure this is not unusual – in fact, I’m confident this is the case across the board, in most (if not all) other career fields.  The key to advancing any profession is learning from one another and growing as a group.  Seems pretty obvious, right?

So there you have it.  Those are the teachings of Twitter as I’ve chosen to apply them to PR and the professional world in general.  Yeah, it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few.  Think of any others (or do I need to reference the value of sharing ideas again)?  Come on.  Go for it, I’m all ears.

Lauren Sandelin is a senior at Miami University (Ohio), where she currently serves as the PR Director for the university’s PRSSA chapter.  She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations.  Connect with her on and , or visit her blog.

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  • johnwhitcomb

    These are all great points. As we all know Human interaction in general is built upon relationships, the new tools just let us enhance the ability to make those connections. It doesn't stop at just creating the connections however, and your points about putting the work in are dead on. No effort means no value will ever be produced.
  • I SO hear you. I had a good mix of amazing and awful professors when I was an undergrad. The amazing professors were those who picked textbooks very wisely (some assigned books, not textbooks), took the material and helped me see how it has and could be applied and then helped me learn how to apply it. The awful professors lectured, got lost inside their own heads, and were irrelevant.

    And that's just it. The rate at which we can learn things from others who want to share those things with us via Twitter, their blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. is SO fast that some professors -- who have tradition and the bureaucracy of the higher education system working against them -- are facing extinction. They are becoming irrelevant. And the worst part is that students who are ten steps ahead of them are NOTICING.

    To this I say -- ROCK ON. I'm in graduate school now and you have no idea how different (and better!) my world is because I chose to go the extra mile and learn a few things on my on.

    However, I also want to say, worry not. There are people out there who want to help higher education institutions change. For example, see what Social Media Education Connection is doing. You, those reading this post, and hopefully many others are the group of people that will re-shape education. I, for one, am VERY happy to be a part of all of this.
  • jasonmollica
    Great post Lauren!
    You hit all the right points here, especially one of the more important ones: Building relationships. PR is, well, built on that. That is one of the things I enjoy see folks on Twitter doing.. get to know people, see what they are reading, what interests them, etc.

    I would also add "don't assume" to this list. What I mean is don't assume that just because you talk to someone over Twitter on occasion that you can ask for a reference or a job. Refer to building relationships before you ask any of those questions. That being said, you should ask for advice and input on the field. I never have a problem sharing my thoughts and giving input, especially when it comes to cover letters and resumes.

    I hope many of our PR folks read this and print it out. Very valuable input, Lauren!
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