Social Media Engagement Tactics Shared at PR News’ Digital PR Summit

There's no silver bullet for proving the value of social media to senior managers—it all comes down to the business goals of a particular organization. Every PR professional has to decide for herself or himself which digital tactics will translate to a positive return on investment and choose the tools that suit their needs to measure success, said many of the presenters at PR News' Digital PR Summit at the Westin San Francisco on Feb. 16.

But there is one commonality—a silver bullet, if you will—that all communicators should invest in: the greatest value that social media provides is engagement on both massive and intimate scales, and engagement comes down to sharing passions, interests and content. The 250 attendees at the Digital PR Summit were reminded time and again that total number of followers or likes can be an empty, meaningless metric, and misses the point of social media.

"Don’t focus on increasing likes, focus on building relationships," said Chris Lagan, chief of social media, U.S. Coast Guard. "10,000 brand ambassadors is better than a million likes."

Lagan's comment about brand ambassadors vs. likes was either directly referenced or expressed in the form of specific tactics during the summit, which included sessions on Facebook, Twitter, tying social media to the bottom line, online video and LinkedIn, as well as discussions of hot topics such as Pinterest and managing the fallout from data breaches.

In her morning keynote address, Stacy Green, VP, marketing & communications, for Mashable, said the potential exists for PR pros to be a part of all media, but the most important step is to find the influencers that matter to you and your organization. "The wave of the future is finding your peeps," said Green. "Those are your influencers. Everyone is passionate about something, and they want to share it."

Afternoon keynoter Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media and author of Likeable Social Media, told attendees that one of his core values is responsiveness, and as such he responds to every tweet he gets. All organizations should take a similar approach, he suggested.

"There’s nothing you can do on Facebook or Twitter today that will drive massive sales," Kerpen said. "But over time it drives results. And listening is the biggest part of social media. There’s a big difference between listening and monitoring. No one wants to be monitored, but everyone wants to be listened to. The word monitor should be stricken from the social media vocabulary."

Jim Newcomb, director, brand management & advertising, for Boeing, took a mathematical approach to explaining how absolutely essential it is to actually listen to and engage with one's audience on social channels. First he asked a rhetorical question: Why does a company like Boeing need to be on social media? After all, it's not selling soft drinks or shoes to consumers. The answer to his own question: Fan enthusiasm and feedback makes Boeing smarter.

And to build enthusiasm on a platform like Facebook one must come to grips with the reality that Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm—which decides which posts and content will be seen by more people—favors interaction and comments. "All algorithms are ruthless, and Facebook’s is no different," said Newcomb. "Using a human voice can help you move up in the algorithm. Use data and read everything to gain insights. Look for repeating motifs, disconnects and spikes in fan interest. Develop a long-term fan-centric content plan, and never automate your responses."

Another tip shared by several presenters: Stay attuned to key trends and connect with those subjects and topics that already resonate with people. In other words, request an invitation to join Pinterest today.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI