Strategies for Engagement Shared at PR News’ Facebook Conference in D.C.

More than 100 PR pros looking to broaden their Facebook knowledge attended the PR News Facebook Conference Wednesday, Dec. 1, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Attendees heard from experts in eight different sessions, covering the latest Facebook features, battle-tested Facebook campaign strategies, important metrics, integration of Facebook with other PR outreach platforms and more. In addition, three “Digital Doctors” provided “life-saving” PR prescriptions for Facebook success.

To kick off the all-day event, B. Bonin Bough, global head of digital for PepsiCo and recent winner of PR News’ social media professional of the year award, stressed the concept of digital fitness. “We’re strung out on technology,” said Bough. "The moment technology became mobile and social parts of our society, we adopted it into every aspect of our lives." But for communicators, it's now survival of the digital fittest, as the people able to adapt to the digital world will be the ones most apt to be successful. To get fit, Bough stressed that PR pros must invite innovation, experiment and push past the point of comfort with concepts which we may want to say no to at first. "Understand the way technology works and use it to your advantage to drive engagement," said Bough.

How to best engage a brand's community of followers was a prevailing topic throughout the day. Katie Harbath, Facebook's associate manager for policy, described Facebook's new page elements and offered engagement tips. "Posts between 100 and 250 characters see about 60% more likes, comments and shares than those with more than 250 characters," said Harbath. "Ask your fans questions in order to gather insights and feedback about your market, and always talk about current events topics." Harbath also recommended sharing behind-the-scenes pictures and videos whenever possible.

While earning likes is only part of a brand's Facebook equation, it's still an important first step to building a community. So how do you get liked? Through situational awareness, said David Almacy, SVP of Edelman Digital, Washington, D.C. "Pay attention to things happening outside your company and brand," said Almacy. "Monitor current events and start conversations around them to gain fans and to engage with your community."

Afdhel Aziz, brand director, digital, PR and brand activation for Heineken USA, said contests, promotions and partnerships are great ways gain awareness for your Facebook community, but you also must add value, inform and inspire fans to take action once you've caught their attention. "Facebook is a great hub to tie your digital assets together, including competitions, articles, photos and videos," said Aziz. "This is a community of people that are interested in your brand—give them regular postings and links and, of course, listen to them."

Luncheon keynoter Ed Moran, co-author, The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media, said that most organization's internal and external communication structures, which were likely neat and organized before social media, have changed. "There are cross-functional social contracts, and an increased ability for employees to interact," said Moran.  "Anyone on the outside of the organization can now speak to anyone on the inside, and vice versa—all without media training."

One session focused heavily on media relations through Facebook and featured a panel of journalists discussing how they use social media to cover their fields, and how PR can aid the increasingly digital newsroom. "PR pros need to understand that because were being asked, as journalists, to engage in social media to such a large extent that it's sucking up a lot of time on our jobs, so they need to make their pitches even more succinct and relevant to how we work," said Fierce Wireless editor Phil Goldstein.

While the panel members expressed that they still prefer being pitched through e-mail more so than through Facebook, they did offer tips for PR pros on pitching. USA Today reporter Donna Leinwand Leger said she only reads a pitch if it's tailored to topics she covers. "Releases need to be succinct, news-worthy, have resources for more background information, correct e-mail addresses and phone numbers and times that I can reach someone for a quote," said Lefer.

On the subject of measurement, Rebecca Davis, executive VP of digital influence for Ogilvy PR, said it's crucial to identify upfront what your goals and expectations for your Facebook program. "Use a measurement dashboard—whether it's basic Facebook Insights or another service—to track a consistent list of metrics over time," said Davis. "Set key performance indicators (KPI's) that align with your brand's business objectives in order to provide a view of the success of your social media efforts to your organization's executives."