Is Your PR Firm Social Media Savvy?

Thu, Aug 14, 2020

Bloggers, Public Relations, Social Media

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Note: The following article originally appeared in the May issue of the Marketing Watchdog Journal. A recent post by Mike Volpe of Hubspot on the role of PR firms reminded me I had not published it here.

While most business executives have never heard the term social media, PR and advertising agencies are adopting it as their latest buzzword, along with terms like conversation and community. These are powerful concepts that deserve attention at the C-suite level, so it is disheartening to see those with minimal understanding of the concepts attempt to cut-and-paste them into their marketing materials.

When used in relation to media or networking, the word social simply refers to people rather than computers. Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Bebo, Ning and other social networks connect people via an unseen maze of hubs and nodes, much like a LAN connects a business’s computers. Through technologies and tools such as blogs, YouTube videos or iTunes podcasts, social media allows people to interact with content creators, and it allows the employees, customers and stakeholders of a business to co-create content and engage in discussions that can reshape a company’s product or service offerings.

PR professionals, whether internal teams or outside agencies, are being swept up in the maelstrom created by the collision of top-down messaging and bottom-up innovation—and there have been casualties.

Recently, Gina Trapani, author of the top-ranked Lifehacker blog, published a blacklist of PR agencies who had spammed her personal e-mail address with poorly targeted press releases. She wasn’t the first. Last year Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail, did the same thing. Gina’s blacklist, however, went further: It included instructions on how to permanently block any e-mail address from a company’s domain name.

It’s important for companies to get coverage by top bloggers and online media outlets, but the practice of blogger relations is like navigating a minefield: You have to know where to step or you can trigger an explosion that will maim your campaign. It requires detailed knowledge of new and emerging media as well as old-school relationship-building skills.

Yet when it comes to PR and marketing campaigns, most of the executives responsible for decision-making have no personal familiarity with social media tools or technologies, let alone the culture or ethos of the blogosphere.

How can you tell if your PR team is social-media savvy? Ask these questions of the top people responsible for your public relations efforts—not the digital natives who are junior associates, but the digital immigrants who occupy the head chair at the conference table.

  • Which blogs do you read regularly?
  • Are you familiar with the popular feed readers? Which one do you recommend?
  • Have you ever created a blog or written a post for one?
  • How often do you comment on blogs?
  • Have you ever uploaded a video to YouTube?
  • Have you ever uploaded digital photos to a site like Flickr?
  • What social networks do you belong to? Do you use them for personal or professional reasons?
  • How do you use your cell phone besides making calls?
  • Do you have accounts on any microblogging sites such as Twitter, Jaiku or Pownce?
  • Have you ever had an audio conversation on Utterz or a video chat on ooVoo?

I’ll stop there because I’m sure you get my point: The people making the decisions usually have a total disconnect with social media and Web 2.0 technologies. They may be familiar with the buzzwords, but they have no hands-on experience.

Now, it’s not necessary for C-suite executives to be able to answer all these questions. The important thing is that they be willing to work with—and take advice from—those who know the answers. To bring them in at the inception of a campaign, not call them as an afterthought.

Some people are digital translators—those who can bridge the knowledge and experience gap between digital natives and digital immigrants in the workforce—and these are the folks you want on your PR team. They are old enough to have solid experience in traditional methods but have immersed themselves in Internet culture and practice enough to be adept at new technologies and open to innovative methods.

Like all translators, they are articulate communicators with finely-tuned people skills. At this stage they are not easy to find, but they do exist. Search out these people and nurture relationships with them if you want your PR efforts to remain relevant in the age of Google.

This post was written by:

Connie Reece - who has written 136 posts on Every Dot Connects.

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Jeremy Bencken Says:

    Connie, great post. You hit the nail on the head. Checking out a PR firm’s social media bone fides is job #1 for any early stage startup. I have a few more tips on a recent post folks might want to check out (from the PR4Pirates link).

    The key is to recognize a PR firm with social media mastery when you see it. One of the best PR people in Austin, Josh Dilworth, is a master of informal, back-channel conversation methods. Look for clues to how readily firms are finding ways into media beyond email and phone fallow-ups (pun intended).

  2. Crystal King Says:

    Excellent post. At my previous company when we conducted our agency review social media was a key component. It was interesting to see which firms were able to think in that world (or at least pretended to) and which were still locked in the email blast/dial-anyone-who-may-listen mentality.

    The agency I work with now is struggling to learn as fast as possible, but mostly I think because clients like me make it a priority. There is nothing more telltale than when I spoke with a colleague who had recently left that same agency (within the last year) and she admitted that while working at the firm she had no contact/knowledge of social media whatsoever. It wasn’t in the realm of what she thought she needed to know and now she is realizing she has to play catch up.

    I think the social media shift is a good one. It will take marketing and PR back to the root of what their business should be about-building more authentic relationships with customers, prospects and media influencers. It’s less about trying to get a story written as it is trying to find ways to facilitate the exchange and sharing of information among interested peers. PR firms will be forced to examine the strength of their relationships and the nature of their own dialogues in order to help their clients become part of the conversation.

  3. Alan Weinkrantz Says:

    Connie…. it’s not enough just to be Social Media savvy. I think the real opportunity for PR people is the make the transition to using Social Media as a value add to the PR strategies. Be it in PR or Social Media, the basics still apply:

    1. What are you communications goals?
    2. What market are you trying to reach?
    3. Are your messages focused to the right audience?
    4. How do you measure your results.

    My take is that that there is nothing really “new” about Social Media - or “new media.” Be it in old or new, you still gotta focus on the basics.

    On a personal note, it was nice to see you at the San Antonio BarCamp on Saturday!