With its fast-paced evolution, social media continues to fascinate and frustrate PR professionals as they figure out the nuances and opportunities each network presents. Working in the technology industry, we’re often exposed to new concepts and innovation that challenge the communications function to translate them for their intended audience—a process that benefits from a framework to manage strategic planning. The following five-step plan offers just such a framework for engagement with social media.
1. Prioritize research. Plenty of organizations pay lip service to research, but it is often the first activity to be cut from a budget or timeline. Organizations that have failed to analyze and understand their target audience often have made infamous blunders. For social media engagement to work, it requires a firm understanding of the audience that uses them.
Researching social media should tell you who within your target audience is using which networks for what purposes, and the sentiment they currently hold toward your brand. Once you have a firm command of the audience, you’re ready to make informed decisions on how best to align your strategy for social media.
2. Align social media planning to strategy. Many senior practitioners are mistakenly viewing social media as a strategy in and of itself or referring to execution efforts as “social media strategies,” confusing marketing teams, senior management and junior PR people alike. You would not likely develop a broadcast-media strategy or a trade-media strategy, but many work diligently (and hopefully) on social media strategies. The fact is that strategy comes first. A strategy doesn’t change simply because we roll it out on social networks.
Organizations adopt any of a variety of strategies to be perceived as innovative. Perhaps yours seeks to create a brand-new category for a product or aspires to differentiate its brand. Whatever the strategy may be, it needs to be the guiding principle that defines how your team selects and executes the tactical elements of your communications program.
3. Execute against individuals. Unfortunately, it is during execution that the social media efforts of many organizations fail. In my experience, the most common reason for this is they neglect to provide their social media contacts the thoughtfulness and personalization that they devote to business relationships in other environments. Organizations too often treat the online community as a billboard, rather than as a sounding board or discussion forum.
We cannot view social networks as a mass medium—that suggests ignorance of their purpose. We must view them as a niche venue to reach targeted individuals (emphasis on individual) by customizing our message to gain their embrace of our brand.
Hence, a brand differentiation strategy executed over social media may seek to affect influencers first, achieving success by initially winning over a small, but select, group of individuals who have the respect and ear of the larger community.
4. Evaluate...and measure. As with traditional media, we can use digital channels to express a point of view, offer industry expertise and/or provide news. Social media diverges from earlier channels, however, after the point of initial expression. The relationship between a business and its “followers” does not remain static; we must continually refresh the conversation and—above all—listen to and evaluate the responses of those with whom we engage to advance the dialogue.
In this way, the cycle of quantitative and qualitative measurement in social media is not periodic; it’s perpetual and most valuable if done in real time and used to refine messages and other expressions. Likewise, social media results need to be collected in a manner than can be used to evaluate your relative success.
For instance, if your strategy is to differentiate your brand by activating advocacy within influential third parties, focusing your attention on your number of Twitter followers may not be as good a performance indicator as “influenced reach,” a selective measure of how individuals respond, in words or actions, to messages you’ve introduced to a select group of online influencers.
5. Repeat. Following this process and repeating it as necessary will allow you to evaluate, implement and examine the effectiveness of a PR strategy. Social media isn’t for everyone; but with a little diligence, this process should provide you the tools to develop an informed approach to social platforms, and to realize the potential they hold. PRN
Janet Tyler is president and cofounder of Airfoil Public Relations, and a member of the PRSA Counselors Academy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.