What’s Next For PR In The Social Media Landscape?

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Sarah Evans has been named to Vanity Fair's America's Tweethearts, Forbes' 14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter, and Entrepreneur’s 10 Hot Startups, among others.

As part of the Q&A series we’ve been doing on PR at Sunrise, I had the opportunity to interview the self-described “social media freak,” Sarah Evans, on what the future holds for PR pros and agencies in a changing social media landscape.

Q. Can traditional PR agencies win more social media (SM) business or do you see more SM agencies gaining market share? Will companies start looking at more in-house options?

Even though a successful campaign might incorporate PR and social media, don’t make any mistake – these are two completely different animals. Hiring a PR agency, a social media consultancy or an in-house associate really depends on whether these players have an in-depth understanding of social media AND the experience to back it up.

Several glaring signs that indicate you’re social media expert isn’t really an expert include:

(1) They call themselves a “guru” or “expert” (when no one else does).

(2) They haven’t done anything of significance using social media (i.e. results).

(3) The strategy they provide you primarily includes a Twitter profile and a Facebook fan page. For more examples of this, you can check out the blog post (click here) I co-wrote with Peter Shankman.

Q. Now that many companies are on Facebook and Twitter, which platform do you see becoming the next big thing Does that platform even exist yet?

Your Facebook page, Twitter account, blog or whatever is only beneficial if the company using them knows what they’re doing. For a business that doesn’t understand how to interact online, “the next big thing” really won’t make a bit of difference.

Q. What is the best way to educate staff and clients on how to properly use these networks and build a strategy that is not just tools-based?

The first step towards building a successful online campaign is teaching companies how to LISTEN. They don’t need to fire up a twitter account that spews scripted messaging or advertisements left and right; they need to study their space, look for opportunities to insert themselves into the conversation and serve as a helpful resource to their peers. This leads to meaningful conversation, credibility and the aptitude to share information that resonates.

Q. Do social media specialists/experts/whoever have a real future, or do you see these professionals having limited opportunities in the future as more PR people look to become SM savvy?

Becoming social media savvy certainly doesn’t happen over night. Chris Brogan, Brian Solis and Beth Kanter didn’t just sign up for Twitter on a whim so that they could become social media “gurus” – far from it. Building a following takes creative strategy, an in-depth understanding of how to engage and knowledge of how your followers consume information.

Sarah is the owner of Sevans Strategy, a public relations and new media consultancy. She created and moderates #Journchat, the weekly live chat for PR professionals, journalists and bloggers on the microblogging platform Twitter. She runs her own blog at PRsarahevans.com, shares a daily resource for PR professionals called Commentz and interviews celebrities and news makers via Sarah Evans LIVE.

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How Brands Should Approach Their Social Media Strategy

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Steve Farnsworth is a 13-year communications veteran who has counseled brands such as Apple, Mitsubishi, and Philips.

With more than 40,000 Twitter followers, it’s no wonder that Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) is looked upon as a PR/social media influencer.

Steve advises a variety of companies on how to increase brand loyalty and make high impact changes to online social marketing and branding programs, and offered his thoughts to the PR at Sunrise readers on a variety of social media issues.

Q) What Are The Biggest Mistakes Companies Are Currently Making With Their Social Media Strategy?

The problem is that many companies have implemented a tools-based strategy, which is not a strategy. When companies use this half-assed approach, it’s going to look half-assed and will be a waste of time and resources. They should either do it the right way or don’t do it at all. That means asking why they are doing it, and what will be different after they are done with the project.

Where companies and senior executives go off the rails is that they see social media as a new and questionable expense. Fundamentally, marketing has always been about conversations between the maker and buyers of goods or services. In the past it was always one-to-many, like broadcast advertising. However, given the roll of the Internet in our everyday communications we now have a many-to-many, or omni-directional, conversation, with consumers talking and sharing with others on a social media channel.

To create an effective strategy brands need to ask which channels are most relevant to their audience. Not every company’s fans are on Twitter or Facebook. It might be a niche message board or other specialty community. They need a reality check to see where their audience is and in what context those consumers talk about their brand. If they can afford social media monitoring, I highly recommend it. If used correctly it will pay for itself. If that’s not in the budget, at the very least they should be asking their customers in what communities they are talking about the company’s products. Figure that out and you’re on the way to developing a cogent social media strategy.

Q) Is It Really All About ROI (Return On Investment)?

The goal should be ROI, but the mechanisms to cost-effectively track that right now are not easily available. Regardless if your product is B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer), and costs $49, $4,999, or $49,999, we know that during the sales process a prospect goes through different phases in making a buying decision, and each of those phases has unique informational requirements. With social media and other Internet-enabled communications we can now see what’s most beneficial in persuading them to buy our products, and what effects the process at each point.

While difficult to show straight ROI, we can track what’s creating discussions or causing a desired forward action by a prospect, and that is good enough for now. So, what proof do we have that social media has a worthwhile return on investment? We have always known that customers seek social proof that they are about to make the best buying decision they can make, whether it’s choosing a restaurant or a million dollars of equipment. For that they look to friends and colleagues for recommendations and advice. Given this you would have to be pretty dim-witted not to grasp how a social media investment can help your company.

Q) So How Can You Truly Judge The Success Of A Campaign?

Well, ask yourself if you achieved your goals. Before you start a social media program, or project, it is imperative to have clear goals: goals that are S.M.A.R.T. While a familiar acronym, I make one crucial change. So, for my clients the acronym is Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, and Time-specific. Aligned is what is new, and it means, “Is the goal aligned to our department or business’s stated goals?” If it doesn’t support them, why are you doing it?

The second part of the equation is selecting what you measure. Most companies measure things that are irrelevant to meaningful achievement. You need to understand and measure both output (byproducts of what you are doing like the number of comments, fans or RTs) and outcomes (results that are impacting the business like brand sentiment, literature requests, product demos, or share of conversation).

Q) Companies Are Throwing Money At Giveaways And Prizes To Build Fan Count And Followers. Is That Really The Best Way?

To just grow fan numbers is really misguided. The impressive numbers of quickly generated fans doesn’t equate to more closed business, and the body count doesn’t equate to the value of your audience. Companies and large agencies like doing big gimmicky campaigns so they can point to numbers. If your goal is a lot of followers who want free stuff, than giveaways and prizes are the quickest ways to do it, but really how loyal or valuable are those fans? To grow quality relationships with fans, you need to do things that are truly relevant to your audience. Figure out what’s most important to them in the context of your brand. Find those overlapping areas of mutual benefit and interest. That’s the sweet spot where social media can make an impact to your company’s marketing and sales.

So, what’s more important to growing a business? Having a large number of fans or having more consistent, interaction with brand champions who influence other customers to consider your product before they make a buying decision? If you have only 100 passionate followers, is that bad? Some would be devastated with that kind of social media fan base. However, what if your industry has only a few niche communities where consumers talk about your product category, but five of your loyal fans are major influencers in those groups? Most companies would gladly buy that if they could. They can’t. They have to earn it.

Learn more about Steve Farnsworth and his company, Jolt Social Media, by clicking on his homepage, which can be found here.

What Every Company Needs To Know About Social Media

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Arik Hanson is a blogger and communications veteran who has worked with many clients including Mall of America and Select Comfort

If you’re a marketing or PR pro active on Twitter, it’s likely you’ve seen @arikhanson crop up once or twice. Arik Hanson is a digital PR consultant with more than 14 years of PR/marketing experience under his belt. He was recently included on PRWeek’s “required reading” list for his blog, Communications Conversations and was kind enough to spend some time talking with us about the future of social media and mistakes he has seen companies make in this space.

Q. Are you surprised to see how big social media has become? And how useful?

I don’t know if I ever thought Facebook would hit 500 million users or that we’d see our 20 billionth tweet, but you could see the huge potential early on. That much was clear from my vantage point.

 

Q. Do you think it’s possible for brands/companies not to be involved in social media and still be successful?

Oh sure. I certainly don’t think it’s a “must have” for all brands. It’s all about employing the strategies and tactics necessary to reach your key audiences that will drive results for your business. Resources and company culture have an awful lot to do with a brand’s engagement online too. There’s a lot of “me too” marketing going on right now as it relates to social media. Just like the late 90’s with the Web boom: ‘my competitor has a web site – I need one too.’

The smart companies are taking their time researching, evaluating options, exploring — before moving ahead. Without moving too slowly of course.

Q. Sometimes we see companies make mistakes when it comes to social media. What do you think some of the major, common mistakes are?

1) Not narrowing their focus. Typically brands are short on time and resources. They’re not infinite. You have to make the most with what you have. I think some organizations get into trouble because they have so many great ideas, and they want to execute them all. Not possible. I usually suggest a “slow-but-steady” approach. Start with a narrow focus. Put your time and energy where the biggest payoff is, and build out from there.

2) It’s about them–not you. By their very nature, most brands want to talk about themselves. A lot. But to be successful online, you need to frame up posts, tweets, updates, etc. in terms of the customer–not your organization. Take blog content, for example. Some brands will use a blog to talk about new products, features and benefits, new hires … the list goes on and on. All about “me.” Now, it’s OK to have some of that, no question. But the bulk of your blog content should focus squarely on the people reading your blog–your customers (and potential customers). List ways your product can help make their lives easier. Use guest posts from customers and other experts in your field. Have conversations with other customers about how to make your product/service even better. Organizations just need to flip their thinking a bit.

3) Social is pay-to-play, not pay-for-play. I can’t remember exactly who coined that phrase, but I think it rings true. Some organizations treat social like advertising: ‘I’m paying a consultant/agency to handle this for me.’ They want the consultant/agency to basically manage their community for them, and I guess that’s fine. But, I don’t see it that way. In order to be truly successful online, your organization needs to embrace the key tenets of what’s happening online these days. You get what you put into it. For example, if you’re blogging for business, and you only post twice a month, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of it. Now, if you’re posting 2-3 times a week and actively building community around your blog, I bet you’re going to see some results. You get what you put into it. That’s a different kind of concept than what marketers and PR pros are used to.

Q. Do you think these are mistakes that will continue to be made, or do you think that over time, brands will better understand how to execute on social media?

I definitely think companies will learn at a faster rate, but to think we could reach a nirvana-like state where everyone is operating perfectly? I think that’s a little far-fetched.

Q. What is your first suggestion for organizations getting ready to jump into social media for the first time?

Listen. But, don’t just listen—research!  Sure, you want to listen to what your customers and key stakeholders are saying about you online. But, if I’m new to the space, I also want to know: 1) What my competitors are doing and what’s working for them and what’s not ; 2) Industry best practices; 3) Audience profiles for my key audiences; 4) Key influencers in my niche (among other things).

Armed with that information, you are definitely ready to create an informed social media strategy.

Q. What is one of your favorite examples of an organization using social media right?

I love what Punch Pizza is doing locally here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I just wrote about the case study in a post the other day.


This post was written by Amanda Grinavich who is an account coordinator at SHIFT Communications. Amanda tweets  via
@agrinavich and blogs about one of her favorite things: hockey. Amanda Guisbond (@agbond) also contributed to this effort.

Related Articles:

Business Missing Social Media Boat

Tech firms ignoring the “social” in social media

The regulations, rights and wrongs of social media marketing

Part II: Q&A with Author and PR Expert, Deirdre Breakenridge

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In part two of this Q&A, Deirdre discusses how companies and individuals are using/embracing social media, and also where she sees the PR industry heading over the next several years.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Deirdre for participating in the first Q&A for this blog, and hope everyone found this interview helpful.

What is the no. 1 mistake that individuals and businesses make on social media networks – particularly Twitter?

Although there are many common mistakes that individuals and businesses make when social networking, the no. 1 mistake has to be: not listening.  Whether it’s personally or professionally within an organization, you cannot be a part of a community or a conversation if you haven’t taken the time to learn about the culture of the people, the topics of interest, and the norms or accepted behaviors. I see this a lot on Twitter because it’s very easy to just take Twitter for face value and answer a question; first it was “What are you doing?” and now it’s “What’s happening?” Unless you actually take the time to listen, observe and identify what is relevant to the members of the community, then no one really cares what you are doing or what is happening in your life or in your organization. The key to successful communication is to understand that social networks are made up of people who want to talk to other real people. And, the people driving these communities have strong interests and are looking for other like-minded people, who can relate to their situations, offer useful advice, share meaningful information and even help them to solve a problem. 

Businesses also need to think about engaging with people and to be seen as a helpful resource, whether they are on Twitter or another social networking platform. They have to listen through monitoring key words that are related to the brand, whether it’s in reference to their products, services or even their competitors. By listening and identifying important conversations, the information can be dissected and shared with the rest of the organization so that a strategy can be put in place and the brand can then share valuable insight and participate in a community the right way without looking like it’s being self serving or selling snake oil. The marketing messages of the past are not accepted in a social platform. People will immediately tune out the commercial like information and only engage with people and companies that are real and show a human side to participation. I think it’s key to listen and observe first, which enables you to be a much stronger contributor to a web community. 

It seems like all brands, from consumer to B2B and everything in between, are finally embracing social media (SM) and putting programs into place. However, would you say that companies as a whole are really buying into the SM effort, or are they doing this because everyone says they should?

For me it’s very easy to tell the difference between the brands that are really buying into the social media effort vs. those that are just doing it because someone said they should. The brands that are truly embracing social media are the ones that make it a company wide effort. These are the brands that believe in an employee culture of participation. Many of these organizations are empowering their employees to engage in social networks and providing them with the trust and the tools to do so. At the same time, they are training employees and educating them about social media and the value of conversations and engagement for the company. They are also framing employee participation around social media policies and guidelines so all employees (not just the blessed few) understand their roles and responsibilities and there is never a question of what they are suppose to say or not say in the social sphere. These companies realize that having a strong voice starts from within their own four walls, and if you can get your employees involved in social media, you will create an army of champions.

Is there a particular brand(s), outside of the Zappos of the world, that you particularly admire and would say is doing SM the right way? If so, what are they doing that others should look to emulate?

I look at IBM and it amazes me that an organization of over 386,000 employees can have its social media act together. Yet, I see companies with less than 100 employees who are still trying to control the communication. I think that if IBM can do it then any company can do the same. I like the IBM model and how social media participation is appreciated and supported from the top of the organization. The CIO of the company has been blogging as a means to interact with employees and to create global collaboration. IBM has many different social networks (both internal for employees to collaborate worldwide as well as external platforms to brainstorm on innovative ideas), including BlogCentral, Beehive, WikiCentral, InnovationJam and Greater IBM Connection. I also appreciate that IBM realizes that the closer it lets customers get to employees, the closer those customers feel toward the IBM brand. That’s a great lesson for other companies to embrace and follow.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

There are two large challenges I’ve faced in my career of equal importance. The first was the transition from being on the PR team to running a PR business, as the owner and President in charge of operations. My heart has always been with the PR team, rolling up my sleeves and getting the job done for a client. Although I still stay closely connected on the strategy level and customer relations, there are often times I still wish I was in the trenches with the team feeling the rush of success and even the agony of defeat, as you work together.  However, I’ve learned over the years that taking a leadership role allows me to mentor and encourage the team to excel and get involved in the many parts of the PR profession that I enjoyed for so many years.

Second is the entrepreneurial challenge. As an entrepreneur, I tend to want to do everything myself, but it’s near impossible to run a business by yourself, especially if you want that business to grow. When you reach this point in your career, and you know you want your business to reach a higher plateau, that’s when you have to learn to let go of the control. Not only was this a challenge, but also an important lesson I learned as the owner of a company. It’s critical to find the best and the brightest talent and surround yourself with these people. And, by finding the best and brightest, I was able to overcome the control issue and let my company flourish with a great team of professionals.

Is there a word or phrase that comes to mind when thinking about how much PR has changed in your 20+ year career? Secondly, where do you see it going over the next 20 years? 

When I speak to various groups of people about PR and social media communications I usually ask them what they think of two words that relate to PR:  Revolution and Evolution. As a matter of fact, the advertisement Brian and I used for our book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, was a blended version of these two words: R(e)volution. It’s fascinating that the changes in public relations have been happening over the years; yet social media makes many feel as if we are going through a revolutionary time right now, when communication has been evolving for a long period of time. 

For example, the news release after 100 years required a much-needed facelift. However, if you look at the many different variations of the news release, it’s clear to see that there were several different kinds of announcements that morphed and changed over the years between Ivy Lee’s original press release and today’s social media release (SMR). Although the SMR appears to be very different and almost revolutionary because it offers community building and social sharing options, I believe it’s the result of an evolutionary process. Other news releases have appeared in between including: the customer focused release, an SEO enhanced release, the Video News Release (VNR), the multimedia release, the VNR 2.0 and then the SMR. Using the different types of releases over the years makes the transition less revolutionary and more evolutionary for our industry. 

However, for many PR professionals the revolution is in the approach, more so than the tools we use to accomplish successful community building or engagement. PR 2.0 allows you connect in different ways through conversations and even directly with customers, when PR is accustomed to working through the credible third-party endorsement. I always say that whether you feel like it’s evolution or revolution, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, you should be a part of changes and it’s your participation that will make the difference for our industry moving forward.

Q&A with Author and PR Expert, Deirdre Breakenridge

Deirdre Breakenridge

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Once in a while I’m going to try and post a Q&A with an industry leader who I admire and think can help all of us PR pros out. For that reason, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to interview Deirdre Breakenridge.

For background, Deirdre (@dbreakenridge) is President and Executive Director of Communications at Mango!, which is a new marketing agency that launched in February. Prior to this venture, Deirdre has spent more than 20 years counseling senior-level executives at companies including ASCO, Hersheys, JVC, KRAFT, and Michael C. Fina. She is also an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is the author of four books: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, The New PR Toolkit, Cyber Branding. She is also co-founder of #PRStudChat on Twitter.

The following is part one of an interview with Deirdre, which discusses life at a new agency, as well as her advice to young PR pros. Part two, which will be posted on Monday, 3/15, will include her thoughts on social media and where the PR industry is headed.

Q: First of all, tell us a little bit about your new agency, Mango!, and how you became involved.

I love to talk about Mango! because there’s a good story behind it. Whenever someone asked me in the past about my former agency, PFS Marketwyse, and what the “PFS” stood for, I would always take pause. There was no major moment or epiphany that created PFS.  Rather the PFS stood for two companies, Paradigm and Full Scope, which merged in 1994. I used to joke around and say that the PFS stood for “Pretty Freakin’ Special.”

But, Mango is entirely different. I believe the agency was born out of a need in the market. We listened carefully to what our customers were saying. They were having a hard time managing the transitions in the media landscape and questioning the relationships of their agencies because social media is a game changer (both for the client and also for agencies and the services they need to provide). We realized that our experience in social media, as well as some really good traditional communications history, could produce a hybrid agency that is flexible, shows great versatility in media, knows how to listen to the market and, at the same time has those fun, bold, bright and exciting qualities that an agency should possess. To me, Mango! represents those characteristics and more.

Q: How is Mango! different from other agencies/companies you’ve worked with?

I’m sure there are other agencies out there that are taking this very same approach. But for me, based on the companies I’ve worked with, I feel Mango! is different because it builds community through conversations and engagement; a great way to reach people and have them interact and speak directly with you. We understand that there will be traditional needs (whether it’s traditional PR, direct mail, TV or radio) yet we want to make sure that we are listening to people from the bottom up, in all cases, so that we understand whether it’s offline and/or online what the people need from their brands. This changes the entire broadcast model, which just doesn’t work in today’s fast paced and collaborative social web. We’re looking forward to having Mango!’s clients learn a better approach to relationship building and also to seeing how communication is extremely integrated. Public relations (with new roles and responsibilities), marketing and web all must come together at the strategy table because of the new ways that consumers are behaving, interacting and choosing the media they want to consume.

Q: For students and PR pros looking around, the big question they want to know is if you are hiring?! If so, what is the best way to apply for a job or internship (if you are offering these – and if so – are these paid or can you only achieve school credit?)?

The economy has altered our hiring practices for the time being. When we see college graduates with degrees in communications coming out of school and taking internships, we know that the economy is still on the mend. My agency has always offered paid internships unless the student is taking the internship for course credits (in this case, they are reimbursed for all of their expenses). However, it’s very important as a junior and senior in college to be active and network with professionals, so that they have good connections and people to turn to for advice and for career opportunities.

I see so many proactive students on Twitter and Facebook networking and making connections. I applaud their efforts. Many of them are joining in the Twitter PR chat sessions, whether it’s #Journchat, #PR20Chat or #PRStudChat. They are also participating in Help a PR Person Out or #HAPPO. These students send a very strong message that they are passionate, enthusiastic, and want to learn as much as they can either before they begin a career in PR, or look to excel at a faster rate. Whether PR professionals are hiring now or looking for interns/employees in the future, we will look to these students and young professionals who are already engaged in our public relations communities. For me, seeing first hand through social networking, a young professional’s engagement and interest in the profession, positively impacts their chances of being selected for a communications position within my agency.

Q: You are very much involved in helping students and young professionals through your blog and various tweetchats. What do you find is the no. 1 question you are asked, and how do you respond to it?

I try to be very active when it comes to students and young professionals because these are the communications leaders of the future. The number one question that is asked usually is in the form of “Is PR right for me?” and “When did you realize that you wanted to be in PR?” Now, I know that’s really two questions, but they go hand in hand. My advice to the student is: although professionals can guide you and offer their experience, you are the only person who can truly answer the question “is PR right for you?”

I realized the answer as I participated in PR initiatives as a junior PR person at a New York City agency. Despite the many challenges and stress (which comes from any job), I had this incredible force and drive from within, pushing me to do more, learn more and to rise to new PR heights. I found myself wanting to take on tougher challenges and enjoying how to be a part of the communications solution.

I realized that I wanted to be in PR during my internship – something just clicked for me and felt right.  It also really helped that a senior VP at the firm and mentor had a tremendous amount of faith in my PR abilities. I remember him signing a copy of the book “The Practice of Public Relations” (he was interviewed in one of the chapters) and his inscription said that I would have a stellar career in PR someday. I still have that book on my bookshelf today. I trusted and believed him. Of course, the whole time I also believed in myself. I let my instincts guide me knowing that someday I would give back to students and young professionals, so that they would hopefully feel the same excitement, drive and passion that I did early on in my own career.

Q: For professionals like myself who may have anywhere from 2 to 6yrs experience, what advice can you offer us as we look to move up the corporate ladder and make a name for ourselves?

This is another very important and popular question. I think it deserves a lot of thought depending on the person and their strengths.  Each and every one of us has to figure out what we do best and then highlight those strengths by going above and beyond in certain ways to stand out. Now, there are definitely some initial characteristics that get a person noticed right away by a supervisor or an executive in an organization, even before they have the opportunity to shine with their own unique talents. For instance, I always noticed the young professionals who were conscientious and in the office early, working and staying later to make sure everything was done, or those individuals who would see if anyone else on the team needed help. I also noticed the people who took the time to ask questions and who found interest in the client’s business (above and beyond the initial assignment). Then, there were those who asked for more work because they naturally wanted to take on greater challenges and excel.  These people tend to stand out.

Once you are recognized for your enthusiasm and passion, you can then show your unique talent whether it’s speaking, writing, social conversations, media, or great creative ideas in PR. For myself, the rule of thumb was to show the passion first, and then add the skills to the passion, to really get noticed and stand out above the rest.