Continuing his series on Digital PR, Head of PR, Jay Evans looks at the role of social media in digital PR.
Social Media, that ever-changing landscape of audiences that both excite and frighten businesses – whether they know and understand it or not. The unpredictable nature, the instant effect of reactions and conversation and the easiness of making even the slightest mistake offers real-time issues for business owners. Social Media has created an immediate platform that can instantly affect reputation and trust.
If you have often asked if Social Media is a PR strategy the answer is yes. Social Media sits on both sides of the line. Below the line activity, such as community management, crisis management, influencer relations and delivery of core messages to protect reputation, relations with your customers (whether a B2C or B2B audience) and trust of the brand very much falls with communications specialists and therefore should be closely aligned with your internal PR team and PR (or integrated) agency.
Above the line activity including content creation and strategy, paid-for activity and cohesion with direct marketing activity will fall with your marketing teams. However, all should be aligned beautifully to a solid marketing strategy, clearly defined messaging, tone of voice and brand image. Communication between all your teams and agencies is essential as social media straddles the line of your marketing plans.
How PR and Social Media are a solid partnership
Your PR strategy should include social media activity as part of communication efforts. Compared to 10-15 years ago, the media in general, bolstered dramatically by social media, has become instantly accessible and quickly updated. News breaks on social media so fast that newspapers, magazines, TV news (even 24 hours services) and radio are behind the curve of breaking news – with some relying on social media to give them instant access to early news reports and are then able to scramble their journalists.
Crisis Management During a crisis, social media will come into its own as news spreads fast - but also rumour, falsehoods and slanderous attacks will be rife. Crisis management should be clearly defined by your public relations team and therefore in times of concern, managing your messaging – what to say and when to say it – should be managed by your PR team/agency. They will be prepared to ‘put out the fire’ and bring the messaging back in line with a defined plan. An external social media agency should immediately communicate noticed issues to public relations professionals to protect and manage reputation.
Community Management Organic posting and responding to a dedicated social media audience is an essential strategy for any business, but time-consuming and difficult to manage internally. If you are outsourcing your social media activity, community management is where you will see a slight rise in cost, but this is offset with a direct customer relationship and what can soon become a direct sales tool. Some of the most discussed social media activities are where forward-thinking companies use humour to engage with consumers, even their competitors, that creates interaction – developing your audience relations, increase followers, and creating a personality for your company or brand.
Influencer Relations Influencers, especially in the consumer market, are a resource that offer the greatest social media opportunities, but relationships take time to develop and build. Influencers in the past have been segregated into PR and Social Media; bloggers and media (celebrity) collaborations have been handled by PR pros, where social media influencers (particularly noticeable with Instagram) have been a social media activity. Influencer relations, with multiple influencers, can be a time-heavy exercise and something best managed by PR and social specialists combined.
Consistent messaging and brand cohesion Even when posting during above the line activity, the consistency of messaging is key to a successful marketing strategy. PR, Social Media, Direct Marketing, Advertising and Public Affairs agencies should work cohesively on a marketing strategy, with quarterly and yearly reviews to ensure it is fresh and current. For a smaller business, this can be more easily achieved by using an integrated agency that can advise and implement all activities with specialists in all areas of expertise.
Communication…communication…communication PR is a communication marketing strategy, but the fundamental communication should be between internal teams and external agencies. A reluctance to work together, or a communication breakdown between two or more marketing disciplines will essentially lead to mixed messaging, incohesive marketing and an obliteration of any marketing strategy. As an integrated agency, we are lucky to work as a unified team across many clients. If a client is just utilising us for PR activity, we are equally able to integrate with other agencies, combining our expertise with theirs with a combined goal of working to deliver the agreed marketing strategy.
In summary, social media is essential, straddles on both sides of the line and should be carefully managed – equally as important as PR, advertising, or direct marketing.
You can read the other articles in the series here: