The Importance of Social Media for Public Relations
PR professionals today are using social media to either supplement or add to their existing strategies, signaling an evolution in the role of PR over the last few years. Public relations specialists were among the first few to understand the power of social media, making them leaders in the social space. Along with handling website content, more and more PR pros are responsible for their company’s and clients’ social media presence. The gradual shift towards, what industry experts call ‘the social media release’, indicates how the traditional long form press release is changing. According to David McCulloch, director of public relations at Cisco Systems, “The press release of the future will deliver its content in text, video, SMS, microblog and podcast form, to any choice of device, whenever the reader decides, and preferably it will be pre-corroborated and openly rated by multiple trusted sources.”
eMarketer expects PR as well as ad agencies to witness an increase in their social media revenue in 2011. Findings from a joint study by the Transworld Advertising Agency Network and Worldcom Public Relations Group show:
• In 2010, 28% PR firms said that between 15-33% of their revenue came from social media.
• This number has grown by 44% in 2011.
• The study indicates that, when compared to ad agencies, the PR industry is more effective in leveraging social media.
The Road Ahead…
Industry research firm IBIS World has predicted the factors that are likely to fuel the growth of PR firms in the coming years and the expected rate of growth.
• PR firms are expected to grow at an average annualized rate of 5.7% to $12.8 billion from 2010-2015.
• This spurt will be attributed to the increase in demand by companies who want PR firms to handle daily interactions with consumers and the press on their social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
• The recent shift from traditional media to more direct media (social media) will result in PR firms specializing in or launching divisions devoted to blogs, social networking sites, mobile media and podcasts.
• Over four-fifths of PR firms are anticipating an increase in digital and social media work in the future.
Whether it is consulting with clients from the agency point of view or working with an in-house team, PR agencies need to be social media ready. Position² lists a few guidelines that will help your agency survive and stand out in the digital space:
1. Making a Pitch
Social media has given a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘pitching’. While the idea of e-mailing a press release to journalists, editors and bloggers is not completely obsolete, it is easy for the readers to hit the delete button and forget about it. Incorporating social media in your PR strategy will ensure your pitch is heard above the din. In order to effectively use social media in your PR pitch plan, we recommend a few points that can be added to your ‘to do’ list:
o Avoid the Fancy Stuff:
Too much information laced with fancy catch phrases like ‘cutting-edge, mission-critical applications to improve business process, etc’ can put off readers. Keep in simple.
o Getting your Tweets Right:
If you are planning on using Twitter to make a pitch, keep in mind, you have 140 characters to get it right. According to Nicole VanScoten, a public relations specialist at Pyxl, getting your tweets right leads to high response rates than e-mail.
o Don’t Spam them:
Whether its journalists or bloggers, no one likes to receive random tweets or Facebook messages. It would be a good idea to learn about the journalist or blogger before reaching out to them. Read their Twitter profile or personal blog to find out if these are the contacts that need to be targeted and then make your pitch.
o Build a Relationship:
Once you have figured out your contacts list, the next step is easy. Building a relationship with a journalist or editor involves getting on their radar. What you can do is a) check out their Facebook page and comment on the posts you like b) retweet their messages and c) comment on a blog post. This will ensure your presence on their radar, even before you decide to make a pitch.
Here’s an example of a good pitch made by a PR professional to a marketing blogger:
For PR pros, using social media to make a pitch saves time as well as money, besides yielding much higher response rates.
2. Delivering Value to Clients
The last 2-3 years have seen PR agencies don an entirely new role in organizations. A large part of a PR specialist’s job involves educating clients on the benefits of social media. Handling a company’s or a client’s account these days includes everything from building brand loyalty to promoting and monitoring content on various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). In order to be a successful, we believe a PR firm should deliver value to its clients. Here are a few simple suggestions:
o Creating Content:
PR companies are expected to be experts when it comes to writing. Therefore clients expect your agency to figure out how to turn a boring announcement into interesting content. This could either be a campaign or a company blog. Churning out good content will not only get the required media coverage, but will also help generate leads.
o Identifying the Influencers:
Identifying and developing relationships with the ‘influencers’ in the PR domain is an added advantage. Instead of simply looking for bloggers and journalists who are magically expected to create buzz and drive sales, it will be wiser to:
o Determine who the real influencers in a noisy market place are. This can be done by connecting with reporters, bloggers and journalists who cover the topics that are closer to the market your client is interested in.
o Keep in mind, the size of one’s audience does not always translate into influencer popularity.
o Engaging and Monitoring Conversations:
Social media monitoring and engagement is vital for any PR agency that wants to deliver value to its clients. Brands understand that they not only need a social presence, but are also keen to work with PR agencies to know what is being said about them in the market. By using social media monitoring tools such as Brand Monitor, you can:
o Measure your influencer scores: Social media monitoring tools make it easy to identify journalists and bloggers with high influencer scores.
o Handle Crisis Situations: By keeping a watch on blog conversations, twitter messages and Facebook posts, your agency can help identify signs of trouble. Following this, you could either diffuse the situation yourself, or alert your client asking them to respond as necessary.
o Measure the consumer sentiment for clients’ brand (s) and products (s) and quantify impact.
o Measure the connection between press releases and news coverage with social media activity.
o Assess the effectiveness of your communication strategies.
o Provide you clients with domain expertise based on the data obtained.
o Measure detailed metrics such as popularity, share-of-voice etc.
When videos of rats running around at a Taco Bell outlet in NYC were posted on YouTube, owner Yum Brands saw its stock sink to an all time low, with customers doubting Taco Bell’s hygiene standards. Within hours, duplicates and versions started multiplying. Customers looking for reassuring information from the brand had a hard time finding it. Although Yum Brands’ PR team was not entirely ignorant (the CEO posted an apology on YouTube), monitoring the situation better and engaging with customers in real-time could have averted the PR crisis.
With the public relations industry evolving rapidly, the need to monitor social media channels has never been more important. According to Daryl Willcox, founder of PR industry information firm Daryl Willcox Publishing, listening is a critical part of social media strategy – a proactive process as much as a reactive one. A survey by his company indicates that almost 60% of PR agencies and departments that monitor social media channels spend less than two hours a week doing so. These statistics indicate the growing need for PR companies to monitor social media.
3. Sorting Out your Social Media Toolkit
With so many social media platforms to choose from, how would you know what’s best for you? As professionals in PR domain, it’s not always about putting a PR pitch on Twitter or Facebook; the social media platforms with the most value must be used to connect with a client’s target audience and should function as a meaningful place for brands to connect with journalists, bloggers and consumers. We believe that each social media tool has its own benefits, depending on what your agency wishes to achieve.
o Facebook & LinkedIn:
While Facebook and LinkedIn are almost perfect for establishing and maintaining relationships with media, these tools are slightly more personal than Twitter. It would be wise not to start sending friend requests to every reporter possible. After using Twitter to initiate a friendship with a journalist or a reporter, you can then follow this up by connecting with them on Facebook or LinkedIn.
If you are looking to increase engagement or reinforce your brand’s reputation for value, then Facebook is the place to be. For instance, when the Healthy Choice brand aimed to grow its fan base and increase engagement, the company decided to target its huge Facebook fan base and launched a progressive coupon on the Healthy Choice Facebook Page. This was supported through a variety of PR tactics. Efforts by the brand’s PR team resulted in the Healthy Choice’s Facebook page growing from 6,800 to nearly 60,000 fans. The PR team also distributed over 50,000 buy-one-get-one-free coupons.
Twitter is a great tool:
o If finding influencers in on your agenda: What you can do is look for influential blogs in your industry, subscribe to them and start following the authors on Twitter.
o For connecting with other independent PR professionals: This will help establish valuable relationships with other PR agencies and professionals. By using Twitter, you can connect with the rapidly growing independent PR community to exchange advice, references, and suggestions in general.
o For Increasing Tweetability: Writing a headline with ‘tweetability’ in mind can influence the number of tweets or retweets your press release registers. This will help get your agencies or client’s name noticed in the social web. While writing a tweetable press headline you must: a) keep it short enough to include a Twitter handle and link b) ensure that the company or product name is in the beginning so that it does not get cut off c) add relevant keywords to make it searchable d) and keep it attention-grabbing enough to generate retweets.
Blogs can be useful for sharing multimedia content and news that does not always require a press release, but is important enough to pique the interest of the media. Blogs are beneficial:
o If you have a small budget, but want to influence your customers and increase readership.
o For creating a sense of community with your present and future potential clients and customers.
o For providing valuable content to your clients or their customers instead of simply advertising to them.
o For publishing successful case studies; this will also help build your brand.
o For designing campaigns for your clients.
When the BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire decided to use social media to stand out in the digital space, the hotel partnered with agency bobdonpaul. The agency’s PR strategy involved selecting one ‘resorter’ from several entries and allowing him to blog and post videos (in addition to other social media activities) about his experiences. The campaign was a success and saw 20% increase in hotel bookings in a month.
4. Measuring ROI
How can you tell if your public relations efforts in social media are working? To determine the success of your PR strategy or programs, we suggest measuring the return on investment (more appropriate in case of PR- return on efforts). The benefits of measuring ROI include:
o Knowing if your efforts are generating the desired results.
o Helping you decide if your current strategy needs to be reworked.
o Bringing about positive changes in popularity and online traffic.
o Helping your client make informed buying decisions.
How to calculate your social media ROI?
o Assess you reach: Evaluating how many Facebook fans or Twitter followers you have. How many ‘likes’ has your Facebook page registered.
o Tracking how many ‘likes’ on your clients’ Facebook page are actually converted to sales.
o Comparing Results Before and After Launching Social media initiatives: Has your newly launched Facebook page or your new twitter account make any difference to your brand’s reputation online?
o Listen, Measure and Engage: Social media monitoring tools like Brand Monitor offer you a platform to listen, measure and engage with customers across the social web.
What gives the modern PR firm the edge over its yesterday’s counterparts is the fact that today’s public relations professionals are more open to syncing social media with their existing strategies. Whether it’s in-house assignments or working for external clients, PR agencies understand that surviving in the digital space is centered on getting their social media strategy right. While mass social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will continue to be important to a certain extent, niche, industry-specific networks are expected to be of greater value in the future.
In the next five years, the most important tools in PR will be monitoring and measurement tools. PR specialists, as well as their clients, will be more concerned with what happens after a message is out there. We expect PR companies to not only dedicate a budget for their social media efforts in the future, but also hire social media specialists to handle their client’s social media activities. The social media world is dynamic; however, the job of the PR person remains the same: generate positive coverage across media to help build brands. It will be interesting to see how PR pros in the years ahead will leverage the power of social media to do what they always have been doing; communicating and connecting.