Digital public relations is evolving into a very powerful medium because of the viral nature of the web and the two way communication that it offers. Now what is digital public relations? Traditionally PR is “the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics. Public relations gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment” – Wikipedia. That in the digital age is a somewhat direct morph into social media and social components on the web. The communication of a brand, business, etc. with the public through a Facebook Fan Page, Twitter conversation, blog or management of reviews on a site is a Digital PR function. PR is powerful because it elevates and spreads positive messages and mitigates and manages the negative messaging – that is an aspect of traditional PR that is harder to maintain due to the amount of content but is necessary in digital.
What prevailed through Internet Week is that the public wants to see full disclosure in the companies “voice”. No fake anonymity. Tweets should be coming from real people, about real subjects and things that matter. No one wants to see astroturfing – “generating public excitement in a subject by posting anonymous comments to blogs, wikis and other public venues.” or be meat puppets “a person who publishes comments on blogs, wikis and other public venues about some phenomenon or product in order to generate public interest and buzz. Using alias names, meat puppets pretend to have experience with the subject or masquerade as an exceptionally satisfied and unbiased user of the merchandise.” This really upsets the public!
Here is my advice: Be as open as possible – when something goes wrong – admit to it and involve your digital community to offer suggestions how to make things better when it does well – be humble.
Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media
DO understand the core premise of social media. Social media is about helping brands engage with stakeholders, create dialogue and educate a broad audience. It’s not just about talking points, corporate messaging or playing “spinmeister.” Make sure your PR agency grasps the distinction.
DON’T let agencies pose as someone they’re not. Authenticity and transparency are two basic tenets of social media participation. Agencies shouldn’t tweet as a brand’s CEO or post comments under someone else’s name. Disclosure is required. Without it, be prepared to feel the wrath of your network. Warning: It won’t be pretty.
DON’T think social media happens in a vacuum. Agencies and clients must work closely together. Brands can’t expect to take a non-participatory role in social media. While an outside agency can provide strategic direction and support, the agency is not your brand. You are. As such, you must play an active role in implementation.
DO let agencies help with monitoring. One of the most valuable services agencies can provide involves listening to online conversations. Who is saying what, and where is it being said? Listening to relevant dialogue is time-intensive. But, it’s also the most critical part of social media participation. Using services like Radian 6, Filtrbox or Techrigy, agencies can sift through the noise and help brands find people and places to engage.
DO let agencies assist with content development. Often, the hardest part of blogging is coming up with fresh topics for posts. That’s one area where PR agencies can assist because they’re used to finding interesting story angles when pitching the media. Depending on the subject, the PR firm may also be able to help with research or some writing – as long as all parties involved adhere to the previous guidelines about transparency.
DON’T implement a cookie-cutter strategy. Agencies that immediately recommend starting a blog, creating a Twitter account and developing a Facebook page are giving bad advice. Yes, Twitter is the current media darling; however, it’s not the right tool for every company – especially those with limited resources to devote to social media. The smartest consultants understand the value of listening first and then developing a customized strategy to help brands engage and participate in ways that will support overall business objectives.
Time to Get Social
Communicating through social media requires a different approach than traditional marketing. It means communicating with … not to. Having actual conversations … not just repeating key messages. It’s changing how business gets done. Agencies and brands need to understand that this new form of communication centers on listening, engaging, providing value and being personable – whether it’s handled in-house or with outside assistance.