Most social media is a waste of time. It’s a great place to post photos of your cat, announce your opinion on politics or music, exercise your thumbs by clicking “Like” and “Follow,” and other harmless endeavors. Less nutritious than cotton candy and more repetitive than Candy Crush, social media can vacuum hours, if not days, out of your work week. But somewhere in the vast wasteland, after the nonsense ends and common sense begins, PR professionals and entrepreneurs can find useful tools for harnessing the web for good, not evil.
To discover these useful tools and more importantly, how to utilize them, I interviewed experts around the world and searched the web to find Six Winning Social Media Strategies for Public Relations. Why six instead of five? First rule of PR: always under-promise and over-deliver.
Rule One: Be Brief. Don’t be Boring. Greg Galant, the CEO of the website Muckrack that connects PR practitioners to journalists via free and paid resources, champions exciting and meaningful posts. “Boring doesn’t work on social media,” Galant says. “The last thing you want to do is simply take a press release and post it to a social network. It’s much better to tailor your announcement in a human way for each social network your audience will care about. On Twitter, come up with an exciting way to say your announcement in 107 characters, remember you’ll need to save 23 characters for your link. Find a great image related to your announcement to include on your posts in Instagram and Pinterest. Make a 6 second video about you announcement for Vine. Even on social networks where you can posts a lot of text, like Facebook and Tumblr, don’t post a press release. Rewrite it without the jargon, stock quotes and meaningless phrases (e.g. ‘we’re thrilled to announce, ‘best in class’) as though you’re telling a friend why your announcement matters.”
For more rules to punch up your prose, such as imagining your headline as a tweet, see a previous column on how to turbocharge your writing.
Jeet Banerjee, entrepreneur, speaker and author, swears by one service to promote his upcoming speeches. Keeping the info and meaningful is key. “I’ve found the greatest conversions/success through promoting on Instagram,” Banerjee says. “Since speeches are such a visual thing, by posting promo pictures or pictures after my event, I get the highest amount of conversions and responses. I have constantly used Instagram more as a running picture blog to showcase who I am and what exciting things I’m working on next. This is much easier on the eyes and far more appealing to the press.”
Rule Two. Be Newsworthy. Famed author and digital media expert David Meerman Scott (“The New Rules of Marketing & PR”) preaches the practices of speed and relevance. In the old days, pre-social media, when a news story broke, PR pros would send emails, faxes and make phone calls to their lists of reporters and announce their client is available to comment on the story right away. Today, Scott recommends what he calls “newsjacking,” http://www.newsjacking.com/ “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story to reach buyers directly and generate tons of media coverage.” As an example, Scott mentions Hillary Clinton who posted a hilarious tweet during the Super Bowl which read, “It’s so much more fun to watch FOX when it’s someone else being blitzed and sacked. “Gotta love the humor and subtle ribbing of going after FOX News, known for its conservative political positions,” Scott said.
Scott recommends these actions: “Blog your take on the news,” “Tweet it using an established hashtag,” “Send a real-time media alert,” “Hold a live or virtual news conference” and “Directly contact a journalist who might be interested.”
Rule Three. Be Helpful. Ayelet Noff, the CEO of digital marketing companyBlonde 2.0, makes friends with the media via social networking. Instead of contacting them via Facebook or Twitter with a note, “Have I got a great story for you!” designed to ban your PR efforts to purgatory and your email to the blocked address list, Noff preaches payoffs instead of pestering.
“A great way to get your story covered is to be on the giving end instead of the receiving end with press,” Noff says. “Too often we only try to ‘get a story’ from a reporter, instead of thinking what could be useful/helpful to this writer.” Noff works with a startup helps passengers get compensation from airlines when their flights are delayed or canceled.
“We continuously search for reporters who are going to be at major conferences (CES, SXSW, etc.) and are experiencing flight issues, and tweet them, letting them know about the service and how we can help them get compensated. By doing so, we are not only making the reporters aware of our service, but we also help them out at a time of real need.”
Rule Four. Avoid Facebook. There’s a PR person in Orange County whom I occasionally follow on Facebook. The posts include “I’m at the gym!” and “I’m going on a hike, feel the burn!” along with photos of friends at parties. This person seems to attract a lot of followers, but does it mean anything? Then it hit me. Facebook is a lot like Orange County: shallow, narcissistic, digitally and/or surgically enhanced, but mostly harmless. These posts might drive business for party planning or fashion or cosmetics, but for the rest of us who work in academia, engineering, science, legal or other industries, it’s best to avoid Facebook. Your posts and information should not be in the same newsfeed as wacky animals, political rants and vacation photos of sunburned partiers with bad tattoos. There are some exceptions, including community outreach, building groups and certain brand promotion, but there are more effective tools in the social media arsenal.
“Facebook Groups are an excellent way to manage membership relationships for a group or organization,” says Jeremy Porter. “If you’re just starting a group, or looking for a more cost-effective tool for managing communications to your members, posting an events calendar, or providing additional networking benefits for your members, Facebook Groups is an excellent option – and it falls in the ‘PR’ category.”
“The charge to “get it out on Facebook” isn’t a tactic I’d recommend,” notes Sarah Skerik. “Before one starts communicating via Facebook, it’s important to think first your audience. Chances are pretty good a large chunk of them are on Facebook. But why are they there, and how do they use Facebook? Do they tend to be eager and rampant networkers? Or are they more focused on friends and family? Are they active in groups? Enthusiastic game players? A little research into how your audience will help you develop more messages and strategies.”
Rule Five. Be Live. When possible, you or someone from your PR team should respond directly during an emergency. Sometime bland social media responses sound like “If you need assistance, please press five. If you would like to be put on hold for two more hours while obscure instrumental music plays, press six. If you want us to hang up on you, please stay on the line.” The American Express Small Business Forum advises companies to “Never make social media your crisis response bureau.” I would amend that by saying don’t make it your SOLE crisis response bureau.
“Sometimes bad things happen to good companies. Websites crash. C-level executives are indicted. Facilities burn down or flood. When crises arise, you need a PR response team in place to take charge and deal directly with media, providing up-to-the-minute support that reassures the public and customers. Some of the worst crisis PR in recent months occurred when companies defaulted to Twitter to handle press inquiries. Media went berserk and wrote about their frustration in trying to find a live human to answer questions. Angry customers used companies’ own tweets against them—retweeting the posts with ‘boos’ added.”
The Social Media Examiner offers some very good examples on crisis management and the social media tactics that work for each situation.
- “Social media is public. Your fans and followers have the right to make negative comments – it’s your company’s job to turn those negative comments around and defend yourself to change it from a negative to a positive situation.
- Monitor your business on social media and respond to tweets, mentions, and comments on your company’s profiles in a timely manner. Social media is real-time, so the faster you respond, the better your customer service will look.
- If possible, suggest that customers contact you privately to send their email address or phone number for more in-depth discussion.
- On Twitter, you must follow the customer so she can direct message you.
- On Facebook fan pages, you must share a personal profile the customer can send a message to.
- On YouTube, customers can visit your company’s channel and send a message.”
Rule Six – Be Video Proficient. Youtube Can Work, and many outlets, particularly the tech savvy ones like Forbes, Gizmodo, Tech Crunch, Yahoo Tech and Engadget, among others, post video links from companies when they are appropriate and professionally presented.
Mashable presented an excellent guide to You Tube for PR pros, noting: “The public relations profession is built on a foundation of two-way communication. Whether it’s working with the media, writing a tweet or building a website, communications professionals are tasked with raising awareness of their employers’ or clients’ work and perspectives -– and learning from and responding to the conversation. Video sharing sites like YouTube are an excellent way to break the ice because nothing online is as personal and human as video.”
The reasons for YouTube videos include kicking off a campaign, responding to crisis and brand extension. The American Express Small Business Forum recommends making the videos as professional as possible, otherwise your “Hideos” – hideous videos – will cause more harm than good.
“One of the most obvious ways to leverage YouTube and other video-sharing sites is by creating and sharing your high-quality videos with reporters and bloggers,” notes Mashable. “If you have good relationships and good content, reporters and bloggers may share your video with their readers by embedding it in a blog post. At the very least, a good video offers an excellent way to start a conversation. Just make sure the videos you are sharing are not merely leftovers of some other video project. To be truly successful, online video must be developed with the web viewer in mind, and they must add value to the conversation. If your videos aren’t high-quality, then your emails to bloggers and reporters will be just another piece of junk mail.”
Social Media can be a lot of work. But this is the environment we live in. The speed of news, both good and bad, has changed the relationship between PR pros and the media, along with business and their customers. Feel the Burn.
By Robert Wynne