Leaders From Coke, Peppercom and Virilion Share Top Tips

PR News’ “How-To Conference,” held Wednesday, Dec. 2 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., featured practical strategies public relations professionals can adopt that can transform their public relations plans, using both social media tools and traditional media relations. Eleven trainers, all PR thought leaders, delivered key strategies and tactics in rapid-fire succession at the day-long event.
Here are just some of the many best practices revealed at the conference:

Listening: Sam Ford, director of customer insights at Peppercom, addressed two converging worlds within the PR industry – traditional, managed relationships versus new, organic conversations.  According to Ford, social media challenges the reach of a public relations professional, making listening even more important.  Furthermore, Ford argued, a listening campaign will lead to better research and development, product research, solidifying and adapting messages, crisis preparation, outreach, lead generation, targeting new audiences, and customer service. “Connect the public relations and customer relations departments – the goals should be integrated,” advised Ford.  

Ford also recommended asking for customers’ stories—even though a single customer anecdote can “suddenly dominate the PR department’s week.” Ford said that anecdotes are “a great way to listen to the customer and make an interaction with a customer or a stakeholder a listening moment.”

Ford discussed several listening tools, from Amazon and Yelp to Survey Monkey to Communispace, which can be helpful as PR departments launch social media initiatives, noting that “PR departments don’t need an outreach plan or a social media strategy for listening—you have nothing to lose.”  [Author’s note: other listening/monitoring tools include dna13, Radian6, and Google Alerts.]

Executing a social media campaign:  Anne Carelli, digital communications manager at Coca-Cola, revealed the company’s four-part strategy for social media initiatives as the “Four R’s”: Reviewing customer mentions of the Coca-Cola brand, Responding to queries and crises with thoughtful messages, Recording all interactions with customers, and Redirecting customers to departments, contacts, or stories that would answer any questions.

“Our homepage isn’t coke.com, it’s google.com,” shared Carelli. “The terms 'Coke' and 'Coca-Cola' are searched on Google approximately two million times every month, and 70% of all Web users start their Web experience on Google.” Coca-Cola launches social media initiatives that are easily discovered through search engines with YouTube videos or Facebook fan pages.  As Carelli emphasized, “Engage with customers where they are—do you really need your own micro-site?”

Coca-Cola’s latest social media campaign, Expedition 206, continues the Coca-Cola tradition of allowing fans to be brand ambassadors while providing “compelling content that drives intent,” said Carelli. The introductory video on YouTube encouraged Coke fans to vote for which three young people should be global ambassadors, and will use fans to decide where the expedition team should go in each country.

Responding in a crisis: Shabbir Safdar, founder of Virilion, used case studies from the past decade to illustrate what practices are most effective and which instincts to avoid in a PR crisis.

“There are three steps to any crisis,” noted Safdar. “Admit you were doing something wrong, stop doing the wrong thing and make a material gesture of apology.”  Alternatively, Safdar listed some of the least effective ways to react to a crisis—or in some cases, the best ways to create a crisis.  Some of the practices to avoid during a crisis include:

  • Make attempts to “suppress speech” online. Safdar acknowledged that “suppressing speech – especially sending cease and desist letters – is the best way to convince bloggers to talk about you even more.”
  • Address the crisis after it’s over –  “Every crisis has a news cycle – don’t bring up a potential controversy if it has already passed,” he said.
  • Attack brand evangelists. According to Safdar, too many legal departments attempt to shut down trademark infringement violations, even if they have been unknowingly perpetrated by fans of the brand.  “It’s a great way to alienate a customer base, and a terrible way to sustain an online conversation with the customers you care most about.”

Instead, Safdar argued, follow the legacy left by Circuit City after they responded to a crisis inspired by a leaked memo about Mad Magazine: “Apologize with humility and a little humor, make sure the legal team and the PR department talk to each other regularly, and include PR in the company’s customer service strategy,” he said.

Follow the #howto hash tag on Twitter to get further step-by-step “How-To Conference” perspectives on managing social media initiatives.

Ashley Houghton is an Account Supervisor at Mike Smith Public Affairs.  For more information on MSPA, please visit www.mikesmithpa.com or follow @SmittyPA or @PRYouReady.