There are a multitude of companies these days offering to manage and track your corporate profile in the Twitter sphere. Of course, all it takes is one oil leak or harassment scandal, and all of that good work is undone. Your name is mud, and your Twitter reputation sinks very quickly into it.
Politicians are a case in point. Julia Gillard is now as unpopular as Lara Bingle, and people love Turnbull and Kevin07, who were helped along by a mutual love-in on ABC's Q&A last week.
So sentiment tools — like sentiment140.com — can help provide some measure of popularity, but there is a big question mark over their accuracy. For example, when @prestgontowers said that Paul Sheehan's article in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday was "good for a laugh," I don't think he was being positive. Yet, laugh is such a feel-good word, so it was given a feel-good sentiment rating.
In the corporate space, Suncorp gets a positive score on Twitter, but largely because it has the naming rights to a stadium that has been mentioned in numerous positive reviews of a Coldplay concert. Very few people tweet about the insurance company itself, even though it's one of our top 20 listed companies.
There's also the curiosity that banks generally seem to be doing rather well. Take Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank, for example: Three quarters of their tweets are positive. How can this be, when the majority of the human race is united in its dislike for banks? Am I just out of touch?
It's a sign, surely, that companies can influence tweets, but does that change attitudes? Does it follow that well-placed, company-issued propaganda that manages to get retweeted means that people will think better of you?
Take Julia Gillard as an example, and the accusations against her that started in parliament and are now festering in the public domain. Twitter is merely reporting what people think. If Julia Gillard was a company, a few tweets from the PR department would do nothing to change that attitude. In fact, it would probably make things worse.
Yet, I suspect that many companies see Twitter as a positive way to change attitudes about a brand. It can help, of course, but measuring how a few tweets have improved your sentiment score does not mean that attitudes have changed in society at large. It is, after all, just a tweet.