Social Media and Media Relations: Like PR’s Peanut Butter and Jelly

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How many times did you check your favorite social media channels today? I’m willing to bet it’s definitely more than one, and if you’re anything like the average person, it’s probably more around 14 – and that’s just Facebook. Even if you haven’t reached the point of constant connection, social media is a big part of everyday life.

In the professional world, social media is a great resource for info gathering. Most of us are on at least a network or two, and given the time we spend on said networks, we leave a trail of facts and tidbits about ourselves that can be useful for taking care of business. Competitors can suss each other out, business development pros can track and connect with leads, fashion influencers can gauge the style tendencies of the season – the list goes on. It’s stalking, really. I don’t mean this in the literal, creepy sense, of course; it’s a jargon-y terms that explains how we employ Twitter and the like to learn about the people around us.

In PR specifically, social media is an invaluable tool when it comes to connecting with members of the media and building strong relationships. While excellent for tracking down specific contacts, media databases like Vocus and Cision don’t always give us the robust and ongoing information on journalists their own social channels can. Social media is also a fantastic way to talk with consumers and efficiently manage communications – any good PR strategy should include social media presence, after all. Social Media Today reports that between 2012 and 2013, brands using social media to respond to customers increased by 143%, and 71% of consumers are likely to view a brand in a positive light and recommend it to peers when they receive satisfactory communication through social media. With that in mind, platforms like Twitter – definitely the holy grail of making media connections – are indispensable resources in a successful PR pro’s box of tricks. Here are a few key best practices to keep in mind:

  • Spot trends: Twitter has easy trends to follow on its sidebars, which can be tailored to your city, the location of key influencers– wherever you’d like. However, that’s just the beginning when it comes to your ability to track trends and current events on the network – plus, the “suggested” trends are often dominated by non sequitur topics. Follow news organizations from hyperlocal to international, sync up with journalists you’ve worked with or have collaborated with in the past, connect with fellow publicists and look to movers in shakers in industries relevant to your clients  – these people will be on their game when it comes to current events that matter to you.

Once armed with this information, think about how you can pull together a creative and impactful pitch that piggybacks on current events and will be all the more likely to catch a journalist’s eye. Is a writer at a big fitness publication talking about gluten-free foods that actually taste great? Did the health food brand you work with just roll out a new line of GF treats? Bingo.

  • Make friends: Journalists are people, and people are more likely to work with others they know and trust. So, use Twitter to “make friends” with media people you’d like to collaborate with. Understand who they are, what interests them both inside and outside of work, what they like to write about, and even their “voice.” Engage with their content and ask questions – genuinely, of course. Don’t pretend you’re an expert on nuclear fusion because you want a writer to cover something in Scientific America.
  • Do your research: Continuing on the trend spotting component of Twitter, it’s important for PR pros to have a handle on what’s going on in the world. However, PR being an extremely busy profession by nature, it can be hard to stay on top of news. Twitter is perfect for quick updates – its snackable content gets to the point, and if something piques your interest, you can choose to take additional time to read more.
  • “Listen” and learn: Targeted “social listening,” or monitoring social channels for topics that relate to your industry, is a great way to track sentiment. Social listening can help you out when:
  1. You’re dealing with a cool launch, a big announcement or a crisis comms situation. It’s a quick and direct path to connecting with the consumers talking about your brand or product. Simply type a search term, or better yet, a hashtag, in your Twitter search box and voila – hundreds of conversations at your fingertips. From there, you can plan responses and next steps, build a social sentiment report, or plan for a follow-up campaign.
  2. You’re running a social media campaign or contest with a special hashtag, this will give you an easy rundown of how quickly the Twitterverse is picking up on your content.
  3. You’re trying to build a quality follower base. Use social listening to find conversations that make sense to become engaged in – give opinions, retweet good points, and ask your community for their input. As like-minded users see you sharing their content, it’s likely they’ll return the favor somewhere down the line and earn you a new follower. For more advanced brands, this is a great way to find brand advocates – bloggers, industry leaders, and the like. If a conversation takes off or they tweet something that indicates they’re the perfect match for a brand or product, a publicist can take that cue and make a connection outside of social media.

PR pros, how else do you use Twitter and other social networks to enhance your skills and effectiveness?

Pay for Play: Will Facebook Get in Trouble?

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The concept of pay for play isn’t new. Rather, it’s age old, or perhaps the oldest profession in some respects. But as Facebook further monetizes its platform, it’s falling down a new slippery slope.

Months ago, Facebook implemented the capability for pages to gain Likes by paying for page promotion. The theory goes that the more Likes a page has, the greater likelihood a given post on that page will be seen by its target audience. Targeting the promotion to specific attributes, in turn, can shape the target audience. For example: Have a new luxury car to trumpet? When promoting the car’s page, you’ll choose to target people who have interests in “Automotive” and “Luxury;” maybe specific brands like BMW, Lexus and Mercedes; or people living in certain areas and of a certain age range. Then, when you post about your new car, those more interested in your message will be more likely to see it.

Sounds good in theory, but the potential disconnect is whether the people truly interested in “Automotive” and “Luxury” are engaging with your page, since there are no barriers to anyone doing so. From Facebook’s perspective, it is delivering on the promise of increased Likes. But if they’re not the quality of Likes you’re seeking, it can be a false sense of accomplishment.

The problem worsens when you post to your page. At first you may be dismayed that few see the post, and that fewer still Like or comment on it. Engagement is low. To counteract this, you opt to boost the post to more of your audience – pay for play. However, while the post Likes may increase, there oddly still seems the lack of engagement. You wonder why no one is actually commenting and engaging with you. The reason may be your page’s target audience became diluted with false Likes – people who clicked Like, but really don’t care about luxury cars. So the boost is going to more people, but to fewer who actually care about the subject of your post.

Facebook isn’t motivated to address this issue because its monetization is at stake, and a recent Youtube video sheds light on this. Some may feel as though this is a conspiracy theory with insufficient evidence.

Others may feel an ah-ha! moment.

At (W)right On, we advise a smaller but engaged audience is better than a larger but disengaged one. Facebook and other social media promotion has its place, but when done in moderation and with care.

What’s your take? Conspiracy? Real? Somewhere in between? Let me know your experience!

Hashtags: You’re Doing it Wrong

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You just wrote a solid 115-character quip on your deeper analysis of a common observation that you’re sure will get at least five retweets and a handful of favorites from your followers. But you have 140 characters worth of space. You can’t just waste 25 characters, but the current draft already reflects perfect wording. What do you do? Of course! Add a hashtag!

That seems to be the thought process behind many of the tweets I see stream across my somewhat-cluttered Twitter stream. As a professional communicator, it’s bothersome that these tweeters don’t have the courtesy to ask themselves, “How does this add value to my message for my followers?” Meaningless hashtags are so prevalent that I considered whether or not the majority of tweeters understand what a hashtag is and its purpose. It’s not as absurd a question as I thought, made apparent when lifelong broadcaster and Emmy Award recipient Vin Scully asked “What is hashtag?” on live TV.

The simple answer to Scully’s question, of course, is a search indexing tool for Twitter that allows the site to more easily sort messages focused on a specific topic. The hashtag allows for a collective discussion around a single topic, whether it be a conference or trade show, current event of interest to masses of people, or an informational theme such as “dailymotivation” or “fitnesstips.” This helps the Twitter community build their social network with people who provide content they’d enjoy.

But just how the use of texting has evolved from its initial purpose as it’s been adopted, so too has the hashtag.

We’ve seen the “hashtag as the punch line of a joke” tweets. Ending a message about a trip to Dog Beach might be #Wetdogsmellairfreshener. Capping off a confession of love for Nutella we could expect #NoreallyIcouldeatNutellaateverymeal. Or concluding an observation of road workers sitting down on their lunch break someone might announce #Mytaxdollarsarepayingforyoutoeatasandwich. I’m not convinced others will search any of those hashtags with interest in joining the conversation.

Then there are hashtags that were invented specifically so that anyone interested can join the conversation and offer an opinion. These are hashtags like #WeCan’tDateIfYou and #ThingsshorterthanKimKardasiansmarriage. Rather than being a reactionary product to something else, there is no reasoning for these hashtags to exist beyond the fact that they can exist.

The variations of hashtags are so vast that, in their quest for constant irony as a counter culture, hipsters adopted the hashtag #hashtag. Is it ironic? More like self defeating.

So are hashtags a trend? Will they go the way of Ed Hardy T-shirts and Von Dutch trucker hats?

Essentially, as online conversing continues to become the status quo, the hashtag is showing characteristics of natural language. People are manipulating, misusing and experimenting with it. They’re the opposite of a trend because they’re not one thing and are constantly evolving. In that sense, I guess, explaining the “right” way to use a hashtag is like explaining the right way to deliver a joke or what facial expression is correct for the subject of discussion. You can’t define what’s “right.” In the same way you can’t stop that one co-worker from winking after each sarcastic statement he makes, you can’t stop tweeters from hashtagging every other word in their message. But you can unfollow them. #Winning

Rise Thee Virtual Web, Rise!

Fall color tour to Ouray, CO.

Did you receive some sort of electronic device over the holidays? A smartphone like an iPhone or Android? A video game, camera, iPod, tablet, or laptop or maybe a new PC or Mac?  If you didn’t chances are you know someone who did.

A year ago I wrote that for the first time smartphones sales exceeded yearly PC sales. And a few months back, I mentioned that there are African countries that have largely skipped the landline era and gone straight to mobile phones, with there now being more than 715 million in Africa. In the U.S., Comscore reports 114 million Americans used smartphones in July 2012, and that this represents roughly half the potential market. So, add another 100 million or so and the American market’s done. Thinking about the 2012 holiday period, I bet there was a healthy dent in this remaining half. So, what will people do with, and demand of, all these powerful devices?

Where I’m going with this is that I think we’re in for another sea change, and soon. Like many things, communication evolves, sometimes slowly, and sometimes with startling disruption – witness the printing press, typewriter, PC, Internet, email software, mobile text, Facebook, Twitter…

Sure, there are relative periods of stability – long like the ancient days of cave walls and word of mouth; medium like the era of print newspapers and magazines; and short, like mobile texting.

It’s this last one which days are especially numbered, at least as we know texting today. With so many smartphones capable of so much more than a simple text message; with WiFi proliferation and data costs dropping like a rock; carmakers now incorporating WiFi and imminently 4G in vehicles – texting and Twitter don’t stand a chance. Why type something when you can just Voxer someone or blast a picture or a quick hi-def video with Tout? All hail thee visual web!

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At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show happening in Las Vegas as I write this, one theme seems to be even larger smartphone screens to come. Personally, I don’t want to hold a brick to my head (been there done that with cell phones in the 80s). And who knows where a smartphone ends and a tablet begins. Smablet anyone? Another CES theme seems to be the connection of all the new devices to traditional devices like TVs. But ALL of these devices point to the need for more audio and visual content, and less thumbing of the written word.

While the need for compelling information, good storytelling and devices like humor and emotion are among the few communication components that are ‘traditional’ anymore, how the information is conveyed, story told and emotion evoked is ever changing. Increasingly, the cut-through will be achieved through multimedia – sound, video, graphics, animation and, I predict, soon enough smell. Yep, they’ll figure a way to trigger your device to release bacon and perfume scents. Forward thinking firms are already thinking of ways to respond to, if not lead, the rise of the visual web so as to remain connected to their target audiences wherever they are.

(W)right On celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, but we’re just getting started. Owing to our great team and amazing clients we are privileged to serve, (W)right On was recently honored as a 2012 Most Admired Company for its professionalism, integrity and accountability. But like it also leads on the more tangible fronts such as social media evolution and communication program results, you can expect (W)right On to remain on the forefront of the visual web rise. Will you be there too?