Jul 07, 2011

Integrating Social Media into the Daily Practice of PR

When you ask PR pros about social media, you’re bound to get a broad range of responses.  Some have embraced the social layer, and have incorporated social media fully into their daily workflows.  Others are curious, aware of the opportunities and developing their own plans. And a healthy number of skeptics remain, questioning the value of social word-of-mouth versus journalism, and the credentials of the new crop of social media consultants one meets at every turn.  Gloria Gasaatura, a corporate communications consultant at Bluefront Capital, sums the situation up well, saying, ” Conversation is moving from word of mouth to online, and it’s an IR or PR’s duty to follow and go where the market is – online.”

For this next post in the “Integrating Social Media & PR” series, I wanted to learn more about how PR people were using social media in their daily practices, and the challenges they encountered and the results they generated from doing so.

It’s part of the workflow

Tyler Williams, the author and executive editor behind the Haute and the City blog, is a luxury publicist who lives and works in Manhattan.  For him, social media is “a daily occurrence.”  Social media content is mapped each month as part of the overall media plan for his clients, and he monitors key networks around the clock.

Tyler emphasized the importance of the opportunities springing up in real-time as he explained his commitment to ongoing, real-time monitoring of the social layer.

“If you join in on a conversation early enough you’re considered a leader,” he noted as he described his 24-7 approach to monitoring social networks, to keep tabs on his clients and to find conversations to join.  And he wasn’t kidding – during our conversation, his Blackberry pinged several time, alerting him to @mentions of one of his clients on Twitter.

Andrea Samacicia, founder and president of Victory Public Relations, a New York PR firm focusing on consumer-based health and beauty businesses, has also built social media into her firm’s daily workflows, and her clients’ campaigns.

The first tasks each morning are no surprise – the Victory PR team scans the media, checks their Google alerts and updated everyone’s Facebook page.   The team stays on top of their clients’ Facebook accounts throughout the day, responding to all comments and interactions on the pages.

The team also spends quite a bit of time curating content, looking for news and information and bookmarking the content for future sharing on Facebook. They also encourage their clients to stay in touch.   If anything funny or interesting happens, the clients know to let the Victory team know.  They’ll post pictures of flowers sent to the office by clients, recount funny happenings, and wish staffers happy birthday on Facebook.  “The front office staff don’t understand PR,” says Andrea. “But Facebook they get.”

Media relations(hips)

Social media now plays an undeniable role in media relations.  Services like ProfNet fire out queries from reporters on deadline seeking quotable experts.   Savvy journalists and bloggers use Twitter like their own personal newswire service and trawl Facebook for stories and trends.   Any way you look at it, the social layer represents one more way to get a journalist’s attention.

Social channels also play an important role in connecting people and developing relationships.

Andrea noted 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.”

Tyler has also used social media to build key media relationships, recounting an instance last year when he needed a celebrity reporter’s contact info but couldn’t find anything.  He located her on Twitter, where she was active, and tweeted to her about an event. “She responded in three minutes,” he told me. “And she came and covered the event, and now we’re friends!”

New objectives and outcomes

The integration of social media into PR brings new tactics – also new expectations and new outcomes.  Victory PR handles group buying deals on sites like Living Social for their clients, which generate new business for their clinets. .

“As a result of some of these deals they, patients inquire about other services,” Andrea notes as she describes how group buying deals have worked for one of her clients, a periodontist. “Typically – a patient comes in for a cleaning.  They wait, get cleaned, pay and leave. But now that we’re connect with patients on Facebook, we’ll see long term customers say ‘I saw some things on living social, and I didn’t realize that you did XY and Z, can you let me know when the next deal is?’  It helps break peoples’ routines and allows us to encourage people to move out of their routine without imposing on their time.”

Eric Bryant of Gnosis Arts, a New Jersey-based internet marketing and PR firm that caters to microbusinesses noted the shift in customer expectations.

“PR outcomes have shifted.  Marketing and PR are not as distinct as they once were – social media spillover has blurred the lines. The internet brought the worlds of marketing, PR and sales close together – uncomfortably so for some,” he notes. “The outcomes are different – lead-gen and prospecting. Social media has changed the outcomes people expect – and people expect more.”

“People are expecting ROI from PR,” Eric continued.  “As a result of the power of the internet for marketing.  Now that people can measure things they want specific measurement and ROI.  But social media gives people the false idea that social media is free or no upfront costs. It’s forced PR people to demonstrate ROI in some way, shape or form.”

Common themes:  content, monitoring and priority

The new opportunities social channels afford, and the changing expectations of customers, put some distinct pressures on PR.

Social media monitoring:  Across the board, everyone I spoke to mentioned social media monitoring repeatedly.   Keeping their thumbs on their clients’ digital pulses was clearly the most important and pervasive tactic used by the connected communicators with whom I spoke.

Priorities:  The ongoing activities in social networks can present opportunities at the drop of a hat.  Making time for real-time PR requires a shift in priorities and resource allocation.  It’s probably a good time to take stock of PR workflows and activities, and to end activities that are no longer productive.

Content: Most of the discussions I had invariably wound up focusing on the importance of content.  Developing interesting content your audience will care enough about to read and share is absolutely job one in a social media strategy – and most PR pros are well acquainted with the role good content plays in any communications plan. However, social networks up the ante, requiring a steady diet of compelling graphics, catchy videos and meaty text.   (For those days your stuck, here are some good ideas:  21 Ways to Develop Compelling Content When You Don’t Have A Clue)

There’s no question social media increases the scope of the public relations role, touching customer service, prospecting, content marketing and lead-generation.   It’s safe to say (at least I believe) that PR and the other communications disciplines are morphing into something new.  Social media isn’t just a tactic.  It’s a new universe for communicating with our publics – which is at the heart of public relations.

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

Image courtesy of Flickr user nan palermo.

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