As its name indicates, public relations is all about managing relationships with various stakeholders, including employees and investors. With the advent and subsequent explosion of social media, this responsibility has becoming increasingly challenging, especially in terms of customer relationship management (CRM) and media relations. The reason: These two stakeholder groups have merged.
“Media relations isn’t just with the media anymore,” says Robb Hecht, digital managing director of imc strategy lab. “Your customers need to be related to online. Social media relations is the new customer relationship management.”
This new PR reality forces communications professionals to evolve their media and customer relations strategies—which traditionally existed within separate silos—to appeal to this stakeholder amalgamation. Here are some best practices for doing so:
â–¶ Don’t pretend. As is the case with any stakeholder group, communications with media and customers must be authentic and transparent, especially online.
“Today, anyone can deliver unfiltered stories to everyone,” says Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations. “People choose their influencers. If you treat them like they’re stupid, they will do the same [to you]. The future of PR belongs to the smartest guy in the room.”
Social media enables customers to operate like journalists by giving them a platform for communicating facts and opinions to anyone who will listen. Likewise, it gives journalists the opportunity to become brand ambassadors by democratizing media and dismantling the notion of a strict definition of “news.” But all this enabling comes at a price: If they have a bone to pick with your brand or your messaging, media and customers alike have no problem talking back. “Saying ‘we really understand your pain’ makes customers go ‘show me how,’” Laermer says.
â–¶ Listen up. It’s important to enter the world of social media as a bystander before becoming an active participant.
“Learn what customers are saying,” Hecht says. “Listen to the conversation, learn the language and seek to understand.”
He identifies these tools and techniques to gather this necessary intelligence:
• Monthly brand tracking;
• Threat tracking and alerts;
• Influencer reports; and,
• Audience segmentation analysis.
â–¶ Don’t overlook traditional PR tools. Just because the media is no longer comprised solely of traditional journalists doesn’t mean traditional communications techniques no longer apply to PR.
“Traditional tactics are more important than ever, but they’ve evolved,” Laermer says. “Every story is multimedia now.” This means that the old reliable PR tools like press releases should still be used, but they must include modern features such as hyperlinks, visuals, video and audio—but only when it suits the communications initiative (see next tip).
â–¶ Don’t throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Using every form of social media in every PR effort just because you can won’t impress customers or journalists; on the contrary, it will smack of inexperience.
“Don’t distribute messages willy-nilly on social networks,” Laermer says. “Each online outlet has a distinct form, function, reach and audience. Not every outlet is appropriate for every message.” He breaks down the various online outlets by offering these examples:
• Blogs: Corporate, personal
• Microblogs: Twitter, Jaiku, Plurk
• Wikis: Wikipedia, Plurk
• Groups/Discussion Boards: Google and Yahoo groups
• Social Networks: Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Eons, LinkedIn, Flickr
• Podcasts: iTunes, PodcastAlley, Podcast.com, PodcastDirectory, Podseek
• Social Bookmarking: StumbleUpon, del.icio.us
• Social News: Digg, Mixx, Reddit
• Ratings: Yelp, epinions
â–¶ Don’t control—influence. “Give up any idea of control. Be a brand hacker,” Hecht says. “Information gains value by being shared, so share what you know. Talk to the influencers, identify brand advocates and contain and educate critics.” Indeed, containing and educating critics is just about all the control you can have over your brand when it comes to customers and media conversing online. The best thing communicators can do, Hecht says, is to influence the conversation.
â–¶ Be committed. “New media can’t be called new anymore,” Laermer says. “Everyone is online.”
This means the time to take the plunge was yesterday, but when you finally do take it, remember this: “Social media is not a campaign,” Hecht says. “It’s a commitment.” PRN
Contacts: Richard Laermer, firstname.lastname@example.org; Robb Hecht, email@example.com