Back when Danielle Cyr and I studied together at a college in Connecticut, social media wasn’t even a topic of discussion let alone a college course or major. But as Director of Social Media at Co Communications in New York and Board President at a local PRSA, Danielle is now all too familiar with the increasing importance of social media. So I gave her a call and here’s Danielle’s thoughts on how the PR industry can incorporate social media into their communications approach each and every day.
How has social media changed the PR and communications industry?
Social media has significantly impacted PR and the communications industry. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, became mainstream communication tools for nonprofits and business at a time when traditional newsrooms were shrinking and many smaller communities found themselves without a dedicated print newspaper. This shift laid the foundation for the rise of self-published content.
As social media has become more widely used by businesses and consumer brands, it has also evolved into a real-time customer service tool. Internal marketing communications teams and their agency counterparts now find themselves answering questions and fielding complaints about everything from service outages to shipping snafus and too long lines at the register. This has led to an increased amount of resources being dedicated to online brand monitoring, regardless of whether or not the company is active on social media. Just because an organization isn’t on Twitter, Facebook or the like, doesn’t mean people aren’t buzzing about them – be it positive or negative – on the platform.
Social media’s growth has also inspired for-profits and non-profits to reallocate their marketing budgets. Beyond traditional marketing tools such as display advertising, direct mail, tradeshows and public relations, companies are now budgeting for community managers, social media contests, Facebook and LinkedIn ads, and the list goes on.
How do you use social media for your PR efforts?
Most often, we use social media to support integrated communications campaigns. Social media may serve as the conduit for getting out an online petition, sharing updates from hearings and press conferences, or aggregating questions from those in the community who can’t attend a workshop or press conference but still want to ask questions. In some instances, we use clients’ online communities as focus groups to get feedback on everything from currents products and services to the type of content they want to the organization to share through its social media platforms.
In some instances, we have also transitioned media relations efforts on behalf of our clients onto social media. We encourage clients to follow and interact with relevant media through Twitter and to use social media as a tool for building relationships with reporters. As practitioners, we do the same.
What are some examples of how social media has helped you meet client goals?
In 2011, our agency was tasked with helping to get a vote passed by county legislature. The vote had been a topic of conversation for a decade and was split every time. We needed to engage an entire county in advocating for the vote to get passed. While we employed an aggressive media relations strategy, email marketing and limited advertising, social media allowed us to reach new audiences with timely, shareable content. The Facebook Cause, Twitter marketing and an associated online petition were key to getting more eyeballs on our content. It also gave us access to residents who were well-known in both their real life and online communities. Getting these individuals to help spread the word was invaluable. In 90-days, we were able to generate the most letters of support on an issue that the legislature had ever received. We couldn’t have done it without social media.
Social media has also proven a valuable tool for pitching media, helping us to break away from the clutter of reporters’ inboxes. Receiving media queries in real time, via platforms such as Twitter, has helped us strengthen media relationships be serving as not just a source but also a resource.
By guiding clients through sharing and interacting with content from strategic partners and like-minded organizations via social media, we have also helped clients to form relationships with new partners, reach relevant but geographically distant audiences they couldn’t reach through in-person marketing initiatives, and develop an online presence that accurately depicts the depth and breadth of their organizations. While a nonprofit may not post 100 event photos on its website, it great Facebook content and a good way to jumpstart a conversation. The sharing and subsequent interaction are key to strengthening existing and building new relationships.
What advice do you have for PR professionals when it comes to social media?
For many PR professionals, social media represents a fundamental shift in the way information is shared. While a sound, integrated strategy is still vitally important, you can’t plan ahead for social media marketing the way you can for event marketing or rebranding. It’s just as much about being reactive as it is proactive. PR pros need to remember that social media is a living, breathing organism and just as kids in the 90s needed to consistently feed and nurture their Tamagotchi to keep it alive, they need to feed and nurture their clients’ social media communities.
It’s also important to remember that every platform isn’t right for every organization and that for some organizations, especially those dealing with highly sensitive populations, the risks of engagement may outweigh the rewards.
Lastly, PR professionals need to be mindful of how quickly content can go viral. If you create compelling content that’s relevant to the target audience and they are excited to share the information, that’s great. If someone misfires a Tweet from a brand handle instead of a personal handle, that’s another story. Not only does social media make it difficult to recover from a misstep, it’s also highly unlikely that it will go unnoticed…regardless of how quickly you react. It’s a whole new dimension of crisis communications.
Thank you for your time, Danielle. It’s amazing how social media has transformed your communications approach both from the view at 30,000 feet and on the ground. If you have any questions for Danielle, ask them here and she’ll try to respond!