Social Media’s Influence on Public Relations

A Deeper Look Into Social Media and Public Relations

By Ann Willets, Utopia Communications

To say that social media has revolutionized the public relations field is a bit of an understatement. In the past there were two ways to influence your target markets, either through advertising, which lacked credibility, or via the media, which provided credibility but little control. Getting a journalist to tell your story meant letting them tell it their way, which didn’t always benefit your organization.

However, with the advent of social media, organizations can reach more influencers – directly and at a lower cost – than ever before. They, in turn, can become credible advocates of your brand. The filter once provided by the media is off, and organizations can tell their stories in their own words. They can also tell it with audio, video and links to more in-depth information.

Interestingly enough, that doesn’t mean they’ll get their story out effectively. Very often, the stories an organization’s management team thinks are worth telling won’t resonate with their audience. After all, managers aren’t always good communicators (although you can’t always tell them that). So, the ability to strategically craft a message that will not only influence an audience, but lead them to action, remains a critical skill.

And, depending on who the audience is, you’ve still got to choose the most effective social medium to reach them. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? Or, are they reading Yahoo news? In the case of social media, all roads don’t go to Rome. Public relations professionals, who are trained to research, segment and develop specific messages for your target markets are uniquely suited to help guide you.

The social media platforms with the most value must be used by a client’s target audience and be a meaningful place for brands to connect with consumers and journalists.

While mass social platforms like Facebook are important, niche, industry-specific networks may ultimately be of greater value to an industry or organization.

We’re also beginning to see the downside of the social media rush that had big brands, organizations and corporations setting up shop on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare over the past two years. Several large companies are being hit with a new type of reputation crisis, one that emerges and spreads via social media channels. It’s pretty clear that new tools are required in defusing a crisis caused by damaging “news” that can break in just minutes from a Twitter feed, blog post or YouTube.

On the plus side, social media allows provides a channel whereby an organization can listen to its audiences like never before. In doing so, they may find ways to tweak their messages, products or services in a way that leads to better performance. Right now, Facebook is getting an online earful from its users in response to the changes its making. By monitoring the conversation, the company has an opportunity to either strengthen its user relationships or lose them to Google+. The outcome remains to be seen.

All in all, the advent of social media is a good thing. It allows for more conversations in more depth than ever before. Keeping on top of these conversations, ensuring that they are accurate and relevant and targeted to the most influential audience will keep public relations practitioners very busy for the foreseeable future.
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