Tip Sheet: Reaping The Business Benefits Of Social Media


Social media was, not long ago, associated with the Web niche - technology innovators, online enthusiasts and companies with a tie to Silicon Valley. In fact, according to Wikipedia (an example of social media itself) the term "social media" was only coined in 2004 to "describe the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other." Social media has now exploded into the mainstream. Words and phrases such as blogging, tagging and wikis have become ubiquitous. Sites like YouTube, del.icio.us and Blogger attract millions of web users from all demographics. In terms of PR, social media is now a maturing business tool, offering new and innovative ways to speak directly to target audiences and to drive business. This article discusses the various ways in which agencies and companies can use social media tools for business advantage. Blogs Blogs are quickly becoming as relied on for information as some parts of the mainstream media. For business leaders and PR professional, blogs can be a means to showcase themselves (and their companies) as thought leaders within their industries. Prospective bloggers should consider both the upsides and the downsides to blogs. Blogs can help to elevate profile, establish credibility and allow the individual to become spokesperson for his or her audience. However, blogs require a significant amount of time and effort, and bloggers must be prepared to accept (and sometimes fend off) criticism. Recently, companies, including such bedrocks of American business as General Motors, have turned to blogs as a communication tool during crisis situations. However, when using or recommending a blog as a crisis tool, one must weigh the rewards - immediate, candid disclosure of information - with the risks - immediate backlash due to the candid disclosure of information. For companies considering outreach to bloggers, a good resource is the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, which has published "Ethical Blogger Contact Guidelines" to assist marketers in deciding when and how to best engage bloggers. WOMMA provides a 10-item checklist of principles with which to make sure they are always appropriate and ethical when communicating within the blogosphere. http://www.womma.org/blogger/ Bookmarking & News Sharing Del.icio.us is growing in popularity as a tool for bookmarking and finding interesting sites on the Web. Agencies can use del.icio.us to build bookmark lists to educate prospective clients and agency staff on innovative methods of communicating and sharing common interests. Agencies can also generate additional exposure for client news by incorporating del.icio.us links into news releases. Similar to del.icio.us, Digg lists the most popular online stories from sources including traditional news sites, blogs and company Web sites. Agencies and clients can gain further traction for their news and milestone events by submitting a story to Digg and tracking its progress. News releases can also be tagged in the same way they are optimized for del.icio.us. Multimedia With broadband proliferation and the popularity of social media sites such as YouTube and Blinkx.tv, Web video has become the latest "must do" in online marketing. The potential to attract millions of eyeballs a day has become an attractive proposition for many companies keen to promote themselves in a dynamic manner. It has also become a lucrative business for many marketing and PR firms. There are many options open to companies that want to leverage multimedia to build exposure: * MNRs (or multimedia news releases) combine the text-based format of the traditional news release with digital video, audio and still images. Delivered in HTML or through an embedded link in an e-mail, the MNR bridges the gap between PR and marketing. * Live Web programming provides a means for communicating detailed information in an interactive setting. There is no need to pay for a conference hall, foot the bill for travel expenses or buy commercial time. All that's needed to participate in an online event is a computer and an Internet connection. * Podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular way for companies to reach valuable niche audiences. Podcasts can be used to update consumers on new developments or maintain interest in past promotion. It is important when considering a podcasting program to plan ahead - companies that have regular, scheduled events or projects to communicate will benefit most. Social Media Release Uniting the various Web 2.0 technologies into a single, functional format is the social media release. Inspired and designed by prominent PR bloggers, the social media release combines a written account of the news with a host of social and multimedia elements, including photos and video, hyperlinks to blogs, digital tags, RSS feeds and search engine optimization. Advocates of the social media release see the new format as especially beneficial to reporters (and bloggers) in that it allows people to self-select the level of information they desire - whether it be detailed background information on the company or top-line quotes from senior executives. The template itself also encourages readers to provide feedback to the authors and their Web sites or blogs. Looking Ahead Social media, once a fringe marketing concept, is now an accepted tool for marketers. Online communities based around social media forums are growing exponentially. myspace and facebook are two of the most popular sites on the entire Web, while Secondlife.com, a "parallel world" where participants live, meet and exchange goods and services, now has more than one million "residents" (see PR News, January 8, 2006). Savvy marketers and PR pros already recognize the benefits of social networking sites such as myspace for reaching vast numbers of people with like interests. Widespread participation in online universes such as Secondlife is still a few years away, but there are already several blue chip companies that have staked a claim in this alternative reality including American Apparel, Dell and Reuters. The strategy for these companies is simple - get involved now and you'll be ahead of the competition when the action heats up. As we've witnessed many times over, trends that were once on the farthest fringes of the Web become mainstream with lightning speed. Contact: Dave Armon is the Chief Operating Officer of PR Newswire. He can be reached at darmon@prnewswire.com.

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