Today, I is mostly loving PR Week.
(Oooh, oooh – and its £3.70 cover price. Why £3.70? Why not £3.50? Or, for the amount of bearing that it actually has on reality, why not £763.27? These are the people after whom ‘Twitter’ was named.)
Which segues me, more smoothly than a freshly-oiled smarmoset, into my subject matter. PR Week and a small ‘news’ story about how Twitter saved the day for Boris Johnson. (For those of you not of a London persuasion, Boris is the rather shambolic chap who spends some of his time as Mayor.)
The first para of this ‘story’ reads “London Mayor Boris Johnson has won plaudits from PR professionals for apparently using Twitter to deal with roasting hot buses last week.” Implication – Boris was replying to tweets about the hot bus situation. Read on, young Paduan learner, and discover that the Mayor was ‘inundated’ by tweets (although how many is not revealed) and then that ‘after a number of days of tweets and re-tweets’ he went to see his transport adviser and asked him about it. After a number of days? Isn’t Twitter supposed to be about what you’re doing NOW?
Oh, yeah – and then the Mayor’s transport adviser (and I quote) – wait for this – “I immediately fired off a letter to transport for London.” Sent second-class, one can only presume. Yes, the world may be changing, we may be in the digital age, we may be able to IM and Skype, but thanks to the civil service, the time-honoured tradition of ‘firing off a letter’ is still alive and well. Brilliant.
So all in all, Twitter didn’t really save the day for Boris. It was one more medium of communication that alerted him to a situation which it took him a number of days to resolve. Let us reflect on the fact that it took him days to resolve an issue as serious as the heating being switched ‘on’ on London’s buses. How long do we think it would take him to resolve an issue like – ooooh – the pollution of the Thames by an antiquated sewage processing system? (Hint – it’s a couple of years, so far.) Going back to hot buses, Boris did (finally) respond to the heeted tweeters, but you can bet your bottom that other communications media were used more widely to disseminate the action that was taken.
The story was illustrated – presumably to illustrate how effective Twitter is in saving the day – with some figures for Twitter usage. I’ll repeat them here, for your delight and amazement:
900 tweets per week – Innocent Drinks
100% – Hyatt Concierge’s engagement with followers
738 – people following Asda
226 – number of updates by Boris Johnson
14m – total number of Twitter users
Now is it me, or are these statistics – while on the face of it quite impressive, even compelling – on closer inspection, in one way or another, wholly meaningless? 900 tweets – what about and why? 100% engagement – in what way and to what benefit? 738 followers – Asda’s got more stores than that, hasn’t it?
It gets better. Underneath the Boris story was a small piece with the head “Dell, Innocent and Kodak named as canny tweeters”. I’m not going to bore you with the whole thing – you can do your own clickery and find it should you so wish (or you can go and buy a copy of PR Week for $547.32) – but here’s an excerpt. Dell claims to have made more than $3m (the price of a copy of PR Week) worth of sales since 2007 via its @DellOutlet Twitter stream. That’s $1.5m a year. Loose change. Probably cost them more than that to activate and maintain the Twitter stream.
It’s not really compelling, is it? You know, I think a lot of the chasing around after the social media of the moment and the breathless reportage on how it is changing our lives irrevocably is down to the fact that – deep down – everyone loves science fiction. Everyone wants to be part of a Star Trek world. Which is great.
But to be part of the Star Trek world, it isn’t enough to know what a tweet is and to be able to throw the names of a couple of social networks into conversation. Or even to be part of an MMOG, like W0W or Second Life.
No. You see Star Trek world exists and deals with ddos attacks (which are real) and botnets (which are also real – and huge). Read this – it’s better than William Gibson.