Aug 09, 2011

Using Facebook for Public Relations

It can be a little overwhelming at first, but Facebook represents great opportunities for PR.

Our series, “Integrating Social Media into Public Relations,” continues with this discussion of using Facebook for PR.

Building Facebook into PR strategies can either be an obvious win, or a terrible idea. With an audience of more than 750 millon who log 700 billion minutes on the social network monthly, the potential this platform presents to communicators is undeniable. However, as is the case with any social outlet, Facebook is first and foremost a very personal space for many users. Communications – even (and maybe especially?) between brands and individuals – have an intimate, one-on-one aspect. Respecting individual preferences and boundaries is important.

Audience research

I’m in the camp that agrees Facebook has a place in public relations strategies. However, the charge to “get it out on Facebook” isn’t a tactic I’d recommend. 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.

“For our clients, we first determine if Facebook is the appropriate outlet and customize our approach based on our client’s goals,” says Mike Nierengarten, an internet marketing consultant at Obility Consulting. “For example, our client Animation Mentor, an online animation school, is perfect for Facebook because it has tons of great content (video, events, pictures), a strong (current) student presence on the site, and our target customers (potential students) use the site regularly.”

But exactly how does one research an audience on Facebook? You can start by simply purchasing an ad on Facebook. As you go through the process, you’ll learn more about your audience in terms of size and demographics. That said, I prefer the gumshoe method – meaning you log in and start looking. Demographics won’t give you the insight into where people gather, what sort of messages they share, and the overall “vibe” of the community on Facebook interested in causes related to your organization’s objectives. Any social media strategist worth his or her salt will tell you the first step in planning a strategy on social networks is to listen, and you’ll find the same advice here. Find active groups focused on relevant topics, and join them. Spend most of your time listening and observing.

Desired outcomes

Secondly, consider the desired outcomes. Do you want to use Facebook to develop relationships with media people and bloggers? Or are you more interested in finding and engaging your enthusiasts within your marketplace, and building awareness among them? Do you have calls to action you’ll measure, such as lead-gen (e.g. filling out a form), building web site traffic, or generating conversation and buzz? Deliberate planning with your outcomes in mind is always a good idea.

How Facebook can fit into your PR plans

As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways you can weave Facebook into your communications plans. Let’s look at a few specific ways a PR pro can use Facebook.

Media & blogger relations

Virtual environments lend themselves well to building real relationships with media and bloggers.

Andrea Samacicia, founder and president of Victory Public Relations, a New York PR firm, told me that in her former life, several years ago when she was employed by another PR firm, she communicated with editors all day long, but didn’t really start building real relationships with them until she started using social media. “I’m much closer to the people I interact with now,” she says. “I have much closer relationships with the editors, producers and journalists I’m linked to on Facebook and Twitter. It makes keeping in touch much simpler. You can “like” something they’ve done on Facebook and they get a little reminder about you.”

In addition to building relationships and establishing another line of communication with key journalists and bloggers, by paying attention to what they share and post, you can learn more about what interests them, and what they’ve written lately. You may even find a story opportunity amongst the interactions.

You can even pitch media via Facebook – with some conditions.

“For the reporters in the Web 2.0 space, I have begun pitching them via Facebook. I have found they often respond quicker to my Facebook messages as opposed to the emails I send to their corporate accounts,” says Andrew Miller, vice president, external communications at Integral Systems, in a discussion on LinkedIn. “Please note that I have relationships with these reporters and have linked to them on Facebook. For PR people interested in using Facebook as a means to pitch reporters, I suggest doing the same.”

Finding and connecting with enthusiasts and influencers

There’s something for everyone on the web, and on Facebook, or so it seems. For most organizations,

Facebook represents a great opportunity to find and connect with “your people.” Developing a presence people will want to connect and interact with requires the ability to produce, curate and share interesting information and the willingness (and resources) to interact with your audiences one on one. Yes, you want to encourage people to “like” your page. But building interactions with your content – getting people to like, share and comment on the things your organization posts – is where the Facebook magic happens. Those liking and sharing interactions can trigger viral distribution of your message. People won’t like or share boring things, however, so sharing good stuff is an imperative.

Good old fashioned promotion

Facebook is a great place to generate publicity – that’s obvious. And once you’ve done your research, identified what your audience likes, developed the content plan attract and keep your audience’s attention and have been rewarded with a growing following, then you can actually start to promote your company. Please note – promoting the company comes after you do all the heavy lifting described above. Building context – and communicating within that context – is important on social channels. It would be jarring – and uninviting – if a friendly, funny brand presence suddenly switched to the hard-sell.

That said, I believe that people do understand that brands need to promote themselves, and their products and services. And, let’s face it – if you’re in the market for a particular item, you’re probably going to be interested in information related to that item. So it’s perfectly OK to promote your business, brand and products on Facebook. However, if you want to do so effectively, most of your commnications should be focused on building relationships and credibility with your audience. If 80% of your communications are consistently focused on educating and entertaining your audience, they’ll tolerate 20% promotional content – as long as you maintain the context you’ve already built. So go ahead and promote your blog posts, white papers and other promotional content, invite your audience to special events and offer them special deals and discounts for being loyal fans.

Simply put, Facebook can be a terrific medium for public relations, as long as communicators respect the personal nature of interactions and care is taken to connect the right audience with a carefully crafted message.

Related reading:

Study: How People Are Engaging Journalists on Facebook & Best Practices

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr user stoneysteiner

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