The crush to embrace social media by companies today is driven by the need to secure a relevant voice in markets that are starting to awaken. It is encouraging that companies want to leverage social media channels and distribution options to create a greater share of voice. What these channels create is a means to connect directly with customers, partners, prospects and industry influencers.
In today’s public relations model, firms have to be as skilled in creating new media channels, or direct channels, as they do in maintaining the traditional relationships with the press and analysts that cover their clients markets.
We recently conducted a survey and an analysis of the social networking channels, Facebook and LinkedIn, and the news aggregation options, Twitter and Delicious, to see how many press and analysts were using them, and to what extent. The results were pretty surprising.
It turns out that press and analysts are a lot like us. When they use social media sites, it is to connect on a personal level, not a business level. They want to find friends from high school, catch up with cousins and share photos of their family’s individual accomplishments. They don’t use these sites to stay on top of company news, engage with spokespeople or try to understand broader industry trends.
Even services like Twitter are used to disseminate news posted on traditional online news sites and is used simply to make sure news isn’t missed. It is not used to share original content though. Our research also showed an interesting trend in how PR sites like Vocus track and categorize news coverage as positive, negative and neutral. When you add social media sites to your coverage report, it spikes the neutral coverage your company receives because it only registers the words used in the tweet or post, it doesn’t track if the content the tweet directs you to is positive, negative or neutral. That is a huge flaw in the reporting system as most news that is worthy of tweeting about is either very positive or very negative.
So if we rule out social media as a way to engage with press and analysts, how do we engage in today’s internet-driven news cycle? You have to factor in that the press and analyst corps have been drastically reduced over the past several years and reporters no longer have the luxury of a single beat or a week-long deadline. They are writing for now. And when reporters are writing for now, it is our job at PR professionals to give them the tools they need to quickly decide if the story you are pitching is relevant to the broader market, will have an impact on how the customer conducts its business and is a sign that your client is moving forward in the market.
Now this is where social media comes into play. The most successful pitches are ones that include links to your client’s blogs, maps to rising trends that show up first in social media sites, and enable the reporter to find unbiased, credible sources that back up your client’s claims. We recently pitched a business reporter a story about one of client’s work on the administration’s Broadband Plan and Broadband Stimulus Package. Our goal was to show that our client was instrumental in helping the government create the definitions of broadband, and help its customers understand how to apply for grants and programs. It also was an opportunity to demonstrate that our client had a clear pulse on what was happening in the market place which made them a valuable resource to a reporter on a short deadline. We showed our clients deep knowledge on the subject in a variety of ways, including setting up its own news aggregation site to track industry news on the topic, we sponsored a blog on the topic by a well-known industry reporter and shared these blogs on LinkedIn, Twitter and with a weekly news recap sent out to subscribers. We were able to share this information via links with reporters and were quickly able to get interest in a feature story.
So how do you keep press and analyst engaged? While the tools have changed over the years, the key to quality engagement is the same as it always has been—provide good, quality information that is compelling and honest and make it easy for reporters to get the access they need to write.
Richard Williams is founder and president o Connect2 Communications.