PR News Q&A With Christopher Lagan: Beware of Using Facebook as Push Tool

Christopher Lagan

For Christopher Lagan, chief of social media for the United States Coast Guard, knowing your audience and creating a two-way dialogue are the essential building blocks of any successful Facebook communications strategy. Lagan will discuss engagement tactics, content strategies and more at PR News’ Digital PR Summit on February 16 in San Francisco. We offer a preview of his presentation here.

PR News: What are some of the key elements of an effective Facebook PR strategy?

Christopher Lagan: The driving force behind any communication strategy has to be an honest assessment of your institutional priorities, resources and publics. The Coast Guard's social media strategy is based on the principle of using the right tool at the right level for the right audience. Determining where Facebook fits into that construct was essential to building our Facebook strategy.

Know your message. Know your limitations. And, most importantly, know your audience. Armed with those three pieces of information, your Facebook strategy should become immediately apparent.

PR News: How do you keep your audience engaged?

Lagan: Engagement is at the center of the Coast Guard social media strategy. The moment you start using Facebook as a "push" tool, you lose credibility with your audience. We try and keep our content relevant and dynamic by posting multiple times a day and using different mediums (cross-posts from the Coast Guard Compass blog, our national YouTube channel and great photos from operations in the field), while also sharing relevant third-party content with our audience. We also try to take advantage of Facebook functionality, such as Facebook Questions, when it fits the tone and helps highlight the messages we are trying to engage our publics on.

PR News: How many staffers are assigned to social media and how much time are you spending a day on Facebook efforts?

Lagan: While we cannot man these tools 24/7/365, Facebook is an impulsive tool with an audience that expects instant responses to their queries. If you don't answer for your organization, someone else will willingly fill the gap.

On our team of four, we have one person who manages our day-to-day Facebook presence, but we also have a public affairs watch, which provides us with additional coverage after business hours and on the weekends. In all, we have eyes on Facebook regularly for approximately 16 hours on a weekday and 12 hours on the weekends and holidays.

PR News: What's one key tip you'll share with the attendees at the Digital PR Summit on Feb. 16?

Facebook isn't a public relations silver bullet. An organization's use of Facebook, or any other communication tool, cannot exist in a vacuum. Facebook is a powerful complement to existing public relations (or, in the case of government, public affairs) campaigns, products and vehicles. Absent a larger communication strategy, which encompasses and considers the implications of traditional, new and social media with respect to your institutional priorities, jumping on the bandwagon is a recipe for disappointment and disillusionment.

Attend PR News’ Digital PR Summit on Feb. 16 and get more tips and best practices from communications leaders like Christopher Lagan.

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