Social media has become a monumental force in contemporary culture, a fact that has been a key driver in successfully embedding this interactive medium deep into the marketing strategy of virtually every business across every B2B and B2C sector.
After all, savvy marketers know that in order to reach their coveted target audience, they must disseminate their message where that audience can hear it, and it’s simply no longer enough to buy ads on network TV, syndicated radio or in the major print pubs.
Not to be outdone, public relations professionals (80 percent of whom already use social media) know that social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Instagram and Pinterest can be powerful vehicles for reaching and engaging both target audiences and journalists to disseminate news.
In fact, it’s become such a core part of the PR toolbox that practitioners of just a decade ago would hardly recognize the new workflows around distributing news and cultivating journalist relationships.
Social media has driven a fundamental shift in the way both in-house and agency PR practitioners manage brand awareness, corporate communications and media relations. In a dramatic shift from the top-down methods of yesteryear, PR pros are now faced with an onslaught of new media outlets and unfettered two-way communication, not to mention a whopping new workload.
Here are just some of the changes the social media revolution has ushered into the PR landscape, and how PR pros can capitalize on the new opportunities and challenges:
1. Social media goes straight to the audience, bypassing the traditional media gatekeepers.
Getting a journalist to bite on a story is historically one of the toughest jobs PR pros face. No matter how good the pitch, unique the angle or hot the topic, it still has to cut through the clutter and editors’ inherent filters to get coverage.
Social media doesn’t just break through those barriers, it completely circumvents the system. Now, any story can become a viral sensation from a single tweet, post or pin by taking it straight to the masses.
In fact, this often turns the tables on the media gatekeepers who are then forced compelled to cover a story they may have first passed on, simply because of its viral explosion.
Tip: Post your news on social channels in addition to pitching.
2. Social media is interactive (for better or worse).
Unlike traditional media, social media provides a two-way forum to converse and interact with the audience, gauge their interest and collect feedback. This open exchange can help PR pros gauge audience sentiment and better refine their message by listening to direct feedback from their constituents.
At the same time, it gives the audience an open and public forum to air their complaints, grievances and rants—all under the open view of the billions of social media users and traditional media. Handling these situations is never easy, but keeping a truly open dialogue is critical for maintaining credibility. Address concerns reasonably, directly and truthfully in the open forum, rather than dodging or deleting unfavorable banter.
Tip: Respond to social media feedback with the same urgency and care as you do for any other inquiry or feedback.
3. Social Media is real-time
As an instant mechanism for both proactive and reactive communications, social platforms are perfect for disseminating breaking news or keeping the media and public informed during a crisis. And, because it’s free, companies can invest more time and resources into getting the message right instead of spending big bucks on press release distribution and wire fees.
Of course, this real-time nature is a double-edged sword, and many PR pros have been blindsided by a crisis born and played out on social channels. The key is to listen as much as (if not more than) you speak with a good social media monitoring software, and be prepared to react with a solid plan that preempts a knee-jerk reaction.
Note: Social media can cause a crisis to spread like wildfire so make sure you address any potential issue quickly.
Tip: Announce news on social channels simultaneously with traditional channels as many turn to official social accounts for news.
4. Social media enables authentic communication that lets the brand’s personality shine through.
In traditional PR efforts, each word of every press release is carefully scrutinized, spokespersons undergo extensive training to stay on message no matter what, and despite the PR pro’s best efforts, journalists can take a much different approach to the story than intended. As a result, the message can become formulaic, regimented and even diluted.
Conversely, the very nature of social media fosters a more informal and authen-tic conversation between a brand or company and its audience. While some careful word choice and strategic messaging must still be part of the process, the social sphere is much more conducive to creativity that lets the brand’s personality shine through. So go ahead—have fun with it. It won’t kill you. We promise.
Tip: Alter your messages to match the flow and structure of each individual social media platform.
5. Social media adds more channels to the mix.
With more distribution channels comes greater opportunity to disseminate news exactly where the desired audience consumes it. For that reason, social media makes it much easier for PR pros to more precisely target relevant messages to the most interested audience.
At the same time, more channels mean more to monitor and maintain. Already swimming in run reports, clips and Google News alerts, PR pros can now add hundreds of new social channels to the list of outlets they must monitor and manage.
Fortunately, integrated tools that incorporate multiple platforms into a single management and monitoring system can make this job faster and easier compared to manually scouring through dozens of reports and data feeds.
Note: There are social media management tools designed specifically to help businesses and PR pros manage multiple networks. Consider each carefully when choosing one.
6. Social media never sleeps
As a global medium spanning all 24 time zones with no press time or on-air schedule to worry about, the social media news cycle never ends. Breaking news travels via Twitter like a global pandemic exploding onto news feeds as dawn breaks around the world.
Because social media is “always on,” PR pros need to be too, with real-time tools to monitor and engage audiences anytime, anywhere. Web accessible dashboard tools can help, and new mobile apps for social media management can make it easier to keep up even while technically off the clock. Who really needs to sleep anyway, right?
Note: Social media is accessible to anyone, at any time. Mobile apps help PR pros stay on their toes when they’re away from their desk so they never miss a beat.
7. Everyone’s a journalist
The rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets has turned everyone into an investigative reporter with the power to reach a massive audience in minutes. In fact, Global Web Index reports that the number of people accessing the Internet via a mobile phone increased by over 60 percent to 818.4 million in the last two years.
Now, anyone anywhere can snap a photo or record a video to document and share any event via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. Again, this poses both an opportunity and threat to the PR pro. News surrounding planned events can be broadcast from potentially thousands of different sources for an incredible viral effect.
But on the other hand, Joe Public also now has the capability document, post and tweet the good bad and the ugly about your company or brand. This power to the people makes controlling the message incredibly dificult, if not impossible.
8. Content creators are tech savvy
In the era of traditional media, the best PR pros were revered and valued for their high-profile contacts lists, years of experience and deep industry knowledge. And, while this is still true, companies today are now relying on younger, more tech-savvy employees to head up their social media outreach efforts because they’ve grown up as heavy users and consumers of the technology.
Does that mean there’s no room for the seasoned pro with years of experience under his or her belt? Absolutely not. It just means that today’s PR pro must keep pace with the evolution of technology to meet audiences at their level.
Tip: Social media is constantly changing so PR pros must stay on top of trends and new innovations.
9. Social media is quantifiable
Effectively measuring ROI has long been a challenge for PR pros. How do you determine the value of a stellar reputation, a well-positioned CEO/subject matter expert or a run item in a Tier I publication?
With social media measurement tools, PR pros can learn instantly and easily what actions and content create buzz and drive spikes in traffic—and what falls flat like a lead balloon. This ability to measure and track results in real-time enables practitioners to better pinpoint effective strategy and how best to capitalize (and monetize) on it.
Note: While social media provides PR pros with another outlet to reach an audience with news, they must be aware of the unique offerings and structure of each platform. Be cautious and cognizant of what you post.
10. PR pros must do their homework
In the days of traditional media, outlets listed beat reporters in handy media directories and even on their website, making it easy to know exactly who to contact with the story or pitch. The toughest part was making the cold call.
Now, PR pros are expected to essentially stalk reporters, researching their previous stories, tailoring the pitch to their specific areas of interest and presenting a relatable angle. In the social media era, PR outreach must be personalized to even cut through the clutter and prove you’ve done your homework.
11. Social media has transformed even the smallest blogger into a true influencer
Long gone are the days when circulation numbers and viewership determined the value of a placement. The democratization of influence made possible by social media is giving a powerful platform to even the most obscure, solo bloggers.
The challenge for PR pros is first identifying these individuals and then cultivating a meaningful relationship to gain their respect and attention—and ultimately leverage their platform.
12. Social media forces transparency
Not long ago, PR pros had the upper hand when it came to applying the appropriate “spin” to outgoing news stories. Often pressed for time and lacking sufficient sources, journalists—though compelled to dig deeper— relied on trustworthy PR pros to package and deliver stories ready for publication.
However, with social media, journalists are no longer the only sources of information and blatant spin doctoring will quickly be exposed by the crowd on massive, interconnected networks. While this might make it tougher to control the message for the modern PR pro, we can all benefit from a refreshing dose of transparency.
Social is here to stay and there are tools to help
While some PR pros may lament the proliferation of social media for making their jobs harder, more stressful and time consuming, the fact is the ability reach such enormous audiences directly and in real-time has tremendous benefit.
By no longer relying on traditional media outlets to disseminate news, PR practitioners can bypass those gatekeepers and get their message straight to the people that matter most—their consumers.
There’s no debate that working social media channels effectively takes a more integrated approach, more time and a commitment to timely response than traditional media. But, the enhanced measurability, direct audience contact and ability to build a strong and loyal following makes social media a must-have for the modern PR toolkit.
While it may seem overwhelming, social media is opening up tremendous opportunities to make PR more effective and measurable, but having the right tools at your fingertips is critical to successfully orchestrating an effective, results-oriented social media PR strategy.
The most advanced social media management suites provide an efficient and effective platform that enable PR pros to post, manage, engage, measure and analyze social media efforts all in a single comprehensive tool.
By integrating all channels into one, user-friendly dashboard, these tools can provide an instant snapshot of audience engagement and sentiment, enable you to identify key influencers and see how all of these tie directly to sales and revenue, all in a single, stream-lined solution.
Tip: Take the hassle out of managing multiple social platforms and use a social media intelligence tool that provides you with an all-in-one solution to meet your social media needs.
- 665 million – daily active Facebook users
- 1.1 billion – monthly active users
- 44 percent – growth in number of Twitter accounts from June 2012 to March 2013
- 21 percent – portion of the world’s Internet population using Twitter every month
- 79 percent – growth in new Twitter accounts among users age 55 to 64 (its fastest growing segment)
Tip: Do research about each platform’s social etiquette before jumping in.