Why is social media so important for PR? One factor is the decline of traditional media.
The media landscape that we knew as recently as six months ago is fast becoming extinct. More and more newspapers, magazines and other traditional news outlets are losing readers/viewers and are shutting down or scaling back. As a result, public relations campaigns can no longer rely as much on traditional media to reach their audiences.
Enter social media web sites.
Their popularity is impossible to ignore, and the PR professional who does so is putting his or her career in peril. Companies that don’t make social media a point of emphasis in their PR planning risk losing control of their message, their brand and, therefore, their bottom line.
More than Popularity
For public relations, the value of social media is not only the popularity of the web sites, but how those sites can connect a company directly to its audiences. Social media should be a key for driving traffic to your own company’s web site, expanding awareness about the company and boosting its business.
Through social media web sites, companies can also track what their audience members are saying about them and, therefore, monitor and better control their brand identities. Companies can also track competitors’ brands through social media web sites.
With social media, the all-important “buzz” that most PR campaigns try to create is laid out in the comments, complaints, accolades and other web site postings. The first step for incorporating social media into PR is to understand the basics of the various web sites, starting with a handful of sites that are most important to the company’s audiences or industry.
By opening accounts or becoming members on these sites, it is easy to become familiar with their content and culture, before developing a strategy for how to interact with the various audiences connected with the site.
In December 2008, Facebook had 220 million unique visitors and 80 billion page views, while MySpace had 125 million and 43 billion, according to Techcrunchies.com.
By June 2009, Facebook was the fourth most popular web site in the world, capturing nearly 3 percent of the global page views and with each user spending an average of 25 minutes per day on the site, according to Alexa.com. MySpace was 10th in the world, 3 with more than 1 percent of the global page views and each user spending an average of 20 minutes per day.
Facebook and MySpace weren’t the only social media web sites that were highly ranked on the overall popularity list. Flickr was ranked 30th in the world, Twitter 34th, hi5 35th, Skyrank 49th, Tagged 75th, Friendster 80th, LinkedIn 93rd and Bebo 175th, according to Alexa. Last year, Twitter was growing at 5,000 to 10,000 new accounts per day, according to HubSpot.
Meanwhile, two bastions of the traditional media, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, were the two top-ranked U.S. newspaper web sites, way down the list at 109th and 347th in the world, respectively.
Figure 1: Top 10 Social Network sites by monthly visits as of January 2009 For the PR professional, the top 10 sites should be a starting point for becoming familiar with social networking sites and their possible application for social media public relations. Each company’s PR goals, of course, will be best served by using different kinds of networks to reach specific audiences.
For a site like LinkedIn, for example, one PR strategy for a company or its managers can be joining various industry or professional groups and distributing content that may be of interest to its members. That content can include thought pieces or white papers that serve the secondary purpose of promoting the company’s reputation as an industry leader
Learning the culture of a LinkedIn group, or any social media web site, is a crucial step before disseminating information to its members. It is important to avoid the perception of brand-damaging boosterism or self-serving promotion that will be resented or otherwise be frowned upon by the other members.
Participation, and regular participation, is crucial to help generate and maintain a beneficial PR presence with social media. The payoff may not be instant, but it is critical to keep posting periodically to keep up the company’s visibility.
Reversing a Negative
Some social media sites, such as Twitter, can be thought of as vast series of mini-blogs, with short postings distributed widely to those with an interest in following the blogger--a ready-made PR tool. Or it could be viewed as a PR nightmare, if negative postings by other users about your company or product go unanswered.
This leads us to another key point about utilizing social media as a PR tool. Companies and their PR professionals have to monitor and then determine whether negative postings on social media web sites are just idle chatter or something significant that needs to be addressed.
Because of the nature of the medium, it’s very easy for a minor customer-service issue to go viral if it happens to come with an amusing anecdote or, in a worst-case scenario for the company, a captivating video that can be posted to a site like YouTube.
The tried-and-true “customer is always right” principle comes into play when dealing with a negative PR issue. The company should always take the opportunity to go on the offensive, not play defense by ignoring the problem, and strive to resolve the issue to turn it into positive PR. E-mailing or calling the complainant directly and quickly is a good strategy for gaining control of a situation, considering that the most upset customers are those who feel ignored.
A chief goal of a company’s social media PR strategy should be search engine optimization, or SEO--boosting the company’s search-engine rankings, or online visibility.
Utilizing social media web sites to communicate with audiences helps a company’s SEO by increasing the number of links and online references to the company’s own web site. A company can help its cause with the previously mentioned white-paper distributions, as well as developing blogs, Tweets and other website content that is updated and kept fresh on a frequent basis.
Besides white papers, video files, photo files and other portable content can be disseminated through social media, helping to further the reach of the company’s SEO effort by making it easy for others to pass it along
The buzz created by social media exposure also helps draw media attention. According to a survey of journalists by the Arketi Group, 55 percent of those surveyed said they used blogs to dig up story ideas and about 10% said they had used Twitter to find a source or story idea. The 2009 Arketi Web Watch Survey also reported that 68 percent of the journalists surveyed said that social media’s impact on business to business reporting had been “positive.”
Social media can no longer be dismissed as a fleeting trend, and it is proving to be one of the most significant public relations tools available. PR professionals and clients who embrace social media--those who develop a dedicated social media PR strategy and implement it on a consistent, long-term basis--will reap the rewards from a fast-growing communication medium that is capturing the shifting attention of millions of people.