Over the last few years, it has become apparent that social media has captured the fancy of most people. The extensive use of social media has drastically changed the way people communicate and share information.
According to a 2015 finding by Pew Research Center, almost two-thirds of American adults (65%) use social networking sites, up from 7% when they began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005.
In September 2015, Facebook said that 1.01 billion people log onto Facebook daily (daily active users or DAU), which represents a 17% increase year over year. Twitter isn’t far behind either. As per Statista, “As of the third quarter of 2015, the microblogging service averaged at 307 million monthly active users. At the beginning of the 2014, Twitter had surpassed 255 MAU (monthly active users) per quarter.”
Social media has had a huge impact not only on people, but also on brands across industries as they devise strategies to engage their audiences and win their loyalty. Public relations (PR) is no different as professionals constantly seek to communicate with and hear from customers, who are ever-present and active on social media.
It, therefore, makes sense for PR practitioners to use it to their advantage. In fact, most of them have made it an integral part of their practice and offer social media management services.
It’s not just Facebook and Twitter where brands strive to make their presence felt. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ cannot be overlooked if modern PR practitioners want to convey their story successfully.
Let’s take a look at how PR practitioners can use each of these platforms advantageously.
Wherever you go, you’re sure to find people using Facebook as if they were addicted to it. You can love it or hate, but you certainly cannot ignore it. It is extremely popular among the masses, and allows you to engage your audience through high-quality content in the form of posts, images, videos, infographics, and links.
In order to succeed on Facebook, you will need to become a conversational brand. Only then will you be able to build a strong base of audience. Once you’ve developed that, they will be able to follow your page and receive updates about your brand as and when you post them.
Apart from that, PR practitioners can also explore other features that may be helpful in engaging audiences. These include Mentions (open only to public figures), Facebook’s improved search function that makes public posts more accessible, Facebook’s shopping tab (not available to all) to partner with marketers and leverage it for better sales, Instant Articles (for iOS) to offer valuable content to customers, and Facebook Events to manage the many events that will be organized.
Additionally, Facebook’s ‘Donate’ button, Music Stories and Facebook Professional Services are other features that can be helpful to PR professionals.
Another platform that is widely used by PR professionals in modern times is Twitter. ‘Short and sweet’ should be you mantra on this platform as you are limited to 140 characters, which is why it can get challenging to get your message across and ensure that it is thoroughly understood.
However, Twitter is particularly great for making announcements to the public about businesses or clients such as the launch of a new product, the winning of an award, an upcoming event, introducing a new brand in a new market, or to keeping your audience updated during a crisis or an emergency.
Of course, you need to let the hashtags (more on them mentioned later in the post) do the talking for you. PR practitioners can also use Twitter to conduct research by keeping tabs on what clients, competitors, friends, media or influencers are tweeting about. It is an effective networking tool which makes it easy to connect with new people, follow them and get them to follow you.
Using the Twitter app on iOS devices now comes with an added benefit to keep followers engaged. With Periscope integrated into it, users can now view broadcasts as a live stream on Twitter itself. PR practitioners can now tap into audiences with interesting visual content. Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour says that a lot more is to come from this integration, which is why PR professionals need to keep their eyes peeled and ears tuned in. Also, this feature will soon be extended to other platforms as well.
One of the reasons behind the success of Instagram is it’s ease of use. All you need to do is click a photo and post it. Plus, the Search and Explore functions are turning the social network into an easy-to-navigate news source.
Pictures can speak better than text. The main motive of Instagram is to offer interesting accounts, photos and places to consumers. The biggest benefit for PR practitioners here is that they get a ready-made source of influencers to investigate. Some of the most successful Instagram campaigns have capitalized on this aspect.
In addition to showcasing their client’s offerings and credentials on Instagram, PR practitioners can use visuals to create and raise awareness about issues and causes, take followers behind the scenes to make a personal connection, and promote events before, after and while they are in progress to entice, create interest and keep tongues wagging for a long time. Features such as double-tapping and tagging people go a long way in increasing user engagement as well.
Through Pinterest, you can create value for your audience by content curation rather than creation. You can simply ‘Pin’ images and other content (typically DIY) systematically from other sources on the Web into designated pages. These images can be viewed by your audiences for inspiration or entertainment or both.
If PR practitioners succeed in getting this aspect right, they can build an army of loyal audiences in no time.
The ability of Google+ to build avid communities of fans who support a cause or a person is tremendous. PR professionals can explore this platform and find several communities related to varied causes, interests and people.
PR practitioners can use ‘Circles’ to create groups of targeted audiences and send them information that they know they will be interested in.
Face-to-face communication is a necessity when it comes to PR. This is where Hangouts comes into the picture. Google+ ensures that everything that is posted is out there for the world to see. This makes it an ideal platform to post media releases, announcements, podcasts and articles.
Most people are still of the opinion that LinkedIn is more of a professional networking platform rather than a social one. But that has changed with its new emphasis on publishing. LinkedIn can now be used as a blogging forum as well.
PR practitioners can use LinkedIn to highlight their client’s experience, disseminate content, finding influencers, gaining industry insights, connecting with new clients, discovering media opportunities, identifying new business opportunities and amplifying clients’ media coverage.
While networking opportunities are the biggest draw of LinkedIn, PR practitioners can also use it to establish the relevance of their clients’ company page(s). Such a page can prove to be a critical touch point for your brand.
The company’s Twitter feeds can be plugged into its LinkedIn page, which can be supplemented with an RSS feed from the company’s blog.
Further, there are tabs that allow you to emphasize key products and support images and videos related to the company’s offerings. Page admins can see the page activities with the help of analytics.
PR practitioners can increase their reach by joining LinkedIn Groups where customers and prospects are, or by creating one themselves. The focus, however, should always be on quality rather than quantity. Being in numerous groups does not mean having more contacts or referrals.
By contributing quality inputs on these groups on a regular basis, PR practitioners can help businesses establish themselves as influencers or thought leaders. The groups are also helpful when it comes to conducting market research. Marketers can create free polls and post them to LinkedIn Groups to collect feedback on a product or service.
Why Hashtags Matter on Social Media
Hashtags are all over social media. They date back to 2007, when Twitter users began to prefix their words and phrases with the ‘#’ symbol in order to create groups. Today, however, all major social networks use it.
The hashtags importance lies in the fact that when you click on one, on any social network, you will automatically be shown all other public posts that contain the same hashtag.
This can be tremendously valuable for small businesses and their PR because hashtags can expose their content to a wider and a more targeted audience, and help businesses get discovered.
However, be careful that you do not use too many of them as doing so can hurt your engagement. It has been found that when you use more than two hashtags, your engagement actually drops by an average of 17 percent.
Want to know how to use hashtags to your advantage?
Continue to write your posts the way you always have; only turn a couple of keywords into hashtags individually.This can be done by prefixing the ‘#’ sign before each word. When placing a hashtag before a phrase, do not include spaces in between the words or you will break the hyperlink.
That’s it, it’s that easy!
PR practitioners can benefit a great deal by using social media optimally. Social media campaigns can become a powerful tool in their arsenal.
Running a social media campaign, however, is no mean task. It requires planning, which will help you devise a potent strategy. Without it, even the most experienced PR professional can falter.
The following few tips should help you kick-start your social media campaign with a bang:
- Plan, plan and plan. Decipher the primary and secondary goals for the campaign. These could be related to lead generation, direct sales, or increasing brand/product awareness.
- Further, figure out how you will measure whether or not they have been achieved.
- Pick the right platform to run you campaign. When doing so, check for specific rules for running a promotion on it.
- Facebook, for example, had stringent rules on running a promotion on the Timeline, and selecting and/or contacting a winner. Non-compliance can result in the termination of the business page.
- Choose from among a variety of free and low-cost apps to amp up your campaigns with contests, coupons, offers and branded social landing pages.
- Before launching your campaign, make a list of the keywords to use in your posts for SEO optimization.
- It may help to supplement your social media posts with low-cost Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, email campaigns, and other cross-promotional tactics.
- Make it easy for your visitors to reach a specific page on your website to carry out the desired action by creating a campaign-specific landing page. This will help your conversion rates rise.
- Reach out to influencers and garner their support by offering them a pitch they cannot refuse. In turn, they will help in spreading the word about your campaign.
- Make sure to keep reviewing your success metrics throughout the campaign and even after its completion. Doing so will help you understand the scope for further improvement.
- Do follow up with your new contacts post the conclusion of the campaign to build a long-lasting relationship with them. You can reach out to them with monthly updates, newsletters or mass emails.
- Refrain from reacting to negative comments with aggression. Remember, it is impossible to keep everyone happy.
However, ensure that you can distinguish between a disgruntled customer and a troll. Pacify the former with a genuine apology and an offer to make things right. Then, politely ask them to remove their comment. Ignore trolls as any interaction with them will only encourage their bad behaviour.
Did you know that social media is widely being utilized by publicists in electoral campaigns as well?
In fact, U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are two of the most shining examples of how social media can aid in boosting people’s images and project them in the most favorable manner. (Of course, both are stalwarts in their own right, but a little extra help never hurt anyone.)
The 2012 Presidential election in the U.S. saw Obama clinch victory for the second time by defeating Mitt Romney.
It is interesting to note that in October 2012, President Obama had over 20 million followers on Twitter and Romney had 1.2 million.
On Facebook, Obama had over 29 million likes on his page and Romney had 7.9 million.
On Instagram, Obama had 1.4 million followers and Romney had 38,000 followers.
President Obama had higher followers on all of his other social media accounts including Spotify, Pinterest and YouTube. Further, President Obama also utilized his social media accounts more than any other candidate online.
Like President Obama, Prime Minister Modi too leveraged the power of social media and reaped its benefits.
India has a huge population and what better way to reach out to the masses than through social networks!
Doing so helped him tap about 12 crore first-time voters. He tugged at the heartstrings of the previous voters of the party through his social media messages and urged them to vote for his party.
He used the platforms to publicize the party’s policies and the idea of growth. His modern outlook and manner of functioning inspired the country’s youth to make a difference to the political system by voting for him.
Social media is a formidable tool and those who can use it right will always be at an advantage over those who don’t. The above pointers should make it easy for you understand its prowess as well as its functionality. Do make it a point to include social media in your PR strategy to ensure that your Social Media campaign is a hit right from the word go.
(Image Source – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of PRmention.com.