Danny Rogers on PR: How Twitter can fulfil its commercial potential


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The Independent Online

Reputations are often built or broken via Twitter these days, but now the social media firm has started investing in its own reputation.

Last week Twitter UK hired its first PR agency. The site wants to throw off the perception that it is a resource for journalists – or, worse, a promotional tool for celebrities – and be known instead as a "people-focused" brand.

M&C Saatchi PR is the agency handling Twitter's campaign. It is the latest step in the path to maturity for the micro-blogging site set up in March 2006.

Although Twitter can claim 500 million active users and £89.3m in ad sales last year, it still has problems. One is that most people still associate the brand with tabloid scandals. British interest peaked last year with revelations about footballer Ryan Giggs's personal life and the news that he was trying to sue Twitter. Frequently the site makes headlines because of publicity gaffes or insults carried in 140-character missives.

The second, related, problem is that Twitter is failing to fulfil its commercial potential. Despite incredible reach and penetration – the UK has the highest registration rate in the world at 39 per cent of the population – the company was operating at a financial loss as recently as 2010. Facebook, on the other hand, makes more than £128m profit annually.

Facebook's success has been down to its continuous engagement with users and hard-gained relationship with advertisers, both of which Twitter is striving to emulate.

In the UK Twitter's 10 million active users are dwarfed by Facebook's 30 million, but Twitter tends to benefit from big live events and is keen to capitalise on a surge of interest during the Olympics.

Twitter UK's first head of PR, Helen Prowse, was appointed last month and will want M&C Saatchi to position Twitter as a brand-savvy social medium through which the public can share their opinions.

Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week