How to Get the Most Out of Social Media

By Robert Wynne

Using social media for public relations is mostly a waste of time. It’s where you announce your opinion on politics or music, exercise your thumbs by clicking “Like” and “Follow,” and engage in other harmless endeavors. Less nutritious than cotton candy and more repetitive than Candy Crush or Pokemon Go, social media can vacuum hours, if not days, out of your work week. But somewhere in the vast wasteland, after the nonsense ends and common sense begins, PR professionals, small business owners, and entrepreneurs can find useful tools for harnessing the web for good, not evil.

Rule One: Be Brief – Don’t Be Boring

Greg Galant is the CEO of Muck Rack, a website that connects PR practitioners to journalists via free and paid resources and champions exciting and meaningful posts.

Boring doesn’t work on social media. The last thing you want to do is simply take a press release and post it to a social network. It’s much better to tailor your announcement in a human way for each social network your audience will care about. On Twitter, come up with an exciting way to say your announcement in 117 characters (remember you’ll need to save 23 characters for your link). Find a great image related to your announcement to include in your posts to Instagram and Pinterest. Make a six-second video about your announcement for Vine. Even on social networks where you can post a lot of text, like Facebook and Tumblr, don’t post a press release. Rewrite it without the jargon, stock quotes, and meaningless phrases (e.g., “we’re thrilled to announce” or “best in class”) as though you’re telling a friend why your announcement matters.

Jeet Banerjee, an entrepreneur, speaker, and author, swears by one service to promote his upcoming speeches – Instagram. Keeping the information meaningful is key to his success. “I’ve found the greatest conversions/success through promoting on Instagram,” Banerjee says. “Since speeches are such a visual thing, by posting promo pictures or pictures after my event, I get the highest amount of conversions and responses. I have constantly used Instagram more as a running picture blog to showcase who I am and what exciting things I’m working on next. This is much easier on the eyes and far more appealing to the press.”

Rule Two: Be Newsworthy

In the old days, pre-social media, when a news story broke, PR pros would send emails and faxes and make phone calls to their lists of reporters to announce that their client was available to comment on the story right away.

For breaking news, journalists need an expert to comment on a situation quickly, in real time, via a phone interview, video-conference, live video interview, tweet, email, instant message, or other communication vehicle. Reporters generally contact their usual list of suspects, experts whom they know or trust.

Smart PR pros, small business owners, and entrepreneurs can sometimes insert themselves or their clients into a story. Here’s an example of what I call “insertion.” Other authors have different terms for it, but let’s be real – the concept has been around since Ivey Lee and Edward Bernays engaged in PR.

Sometimes, a story falls from the sky. When actor Harrison Ford crashed his classic airplane on a golf course in Venice, California, the media needed experts. All the public knew, at first, was: Famous Actor. Plane Crash. Then it became apparent that Ford was flying a World War II vintage plane. If you were an expert on planes, or had a client in the aviation industry, this was your chance. An opportunistic publicist or entrepreneur would call the media, give them information about the plane, when it was built, its safety record, how many are still in operation, and other data.

Insertion can be used for almost any breaking news story every day: Black Lives Matter protest. Police shooting. Police being shot. Terrorist attack in France. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suspended for Deflate-Gate. Tom Brady reinstated for Deflate-Gate. Stock market falls sharply due to reaction from British exit from European Union. Stock market rebounds thanks to apathy over Britain’s exit. Government officials deny dangerous amounts of lead in the drinking water. New study shows officials lied about amounts of lead in the drinking water.

The model remains the same – pay attention to a breaking news story. If you’re an expert or your client is an expert, prepare an opinion on the story. (It’s also smart to have a short biography prepared in advance, and make sure that the bio is on your website and Twitter page.) Contact reporters and producers who are covering the story. On Twitter, follow the hashtags.

Rule Three: Be Helpful

Ayelet Noff, the CEO of digital public relations company Blonde 2.0, makes friends with the media via social networking. Instead of contacting them by way of Facebook or Twitter with a note (“Have I got a great story for you!”) that’s destined to send all your PR efforts to purgatory and your email to the blocked address list, Noff preaches payoffs instead of pestering. “A great way to get your story covered is to be on the giving end instead of the receiving end with press. Too often we only try to ‘get a story’ from a reporter, instead of thinking what could be useful/helpful to this writer.”

Noff works with a startup that helps passengers get compensation from airlines when their flights are delayed or canceled. “We continuously search for reporters who are going to be at major conferences (CES, SXSW, etc.) and are experiencing flight issues, and tweet them, letting them know about the service and how we can help them get compensated. By doing so, we are not only making the reporters aware of our service, but we also help them out at a time of real need.”

Rule Four: Avoid Facebook

There’s a PR person in Orange County whom I used to follow on Facebook. Her posts included “I’m at the gym!” and “I’m going on a hike, feel the burn!” along with photos of friends at parties. She seems to attract a lot of followers, but does it mean anything?

Then it hit me. Facebook is a lot like Orange County: shallow, narcissistic, digitally and/or surgically enhanced, but mostly harmless. These posts might drive business for party planning or fashion or cosmetics, but for the rest of us who work in academia or engineering, science, legal, or other industries, it’s best to avoid Facebook. Your posts and information shouldn’t be in the same newsfeed as wacky animals, political rants, and vacation photos of sunburned partyers with bad tattoos. There are some exceptions, such as using Facebook for community outreach, building groups, and certain brand promotion, but there are more effective tools in the social media arsenal.

“Facebook is bad for business,” says B. J. Mendelson. “Either it’s a total waste of funds or the results are nowhere near worth the amount of time, energy, and effort placed to get them. Facebook is specifically built for friends and family. If you want to share pictures with mom, awesome! For small business, money spent on social media is money wasted.”

 “The charge to ‘get it out on Facebook’ isn’t a tactic I’d recommend,” notes marketer Sarah Skerik. “Before one starts communicating via Facebook, it’s important to think first about your audience. Chances are pretty good that a large chunk of them are on Facebook. But why are they there, and how do they use Facebook? Do they tend to be eager and rampant networkers? Or are they more focused on friends and family? Are they active in groups? Enthusiastic game players? A little research into your audience will help you develop more messages and strategies.”

PR blogger Jeremy Porter recommends some uses. “Facebook Groups are an excellent way to manage membership relationships for a group or organization. If you’re just starting a group, or looking for a more cost-effective tool for managing communications to your members, posting an events calendar, or providing additional networking benefits for your members, Facebook Groups is an excellent option – and it falls in the ‘PR’ category.”

Rule Five: Be Live

During a crisis, when possible, you or someone from your PR team should respond quickly and directly to media coverage. Sometimes bland social media responses sound like: “If you need assistance, please press five. If you would like to be put on hold for two more hours while obscure instrumental music plays, press six. If you want us to hang up on you, please stay on the line.” The American Express Small Business Forum advises companies, “Never make social media your crisis response bureau.” (I would amend that by saying don’t make it your sole crisis response bureau.)

Sometimes bad things happen to good companies. Websites crash. C-level executives are indicted. Facilities burn down or flood. When crises arise, you need a PR response team in place to take charge and deal directly with media, providing up-to-the-minute support that reassures the public and customers. Some of the worst crisis PR in recent months occurred when companies defaulted to Twitter to handle press inquiries. Media went berserk and wrote about their frustration in trying to find a live human to answer questions. Angry customers used companies’ own tweets against them – retweeting the posts with “boos” added.

The Social Media Examiner offers some very good examples of crisis management and the social media tactics that work for various situations. “Social media is public. Your fans and followers have the right to make negative comments – it’s your company’s job to turn those negative comments around and defend yourself to change it from a negative to a positive situation.”

Monitor your business on social media and respond to tweets, mentions, and comments on your company’s profiles in a timely manner. Social media is real-time, so the faster you respond, the better your customer service will look.

If possible, suggest that customers contact you privately to send their email addresses or phone numbers for more in-depth discussion. On Twitter you must follow your customer so she can send a direct message to you. On Facebook fan pages you must share a personal profile that the customer can send a message to.

Rule Six: Be Video Proficient

YouTube can work for you, sometimes. Some channels, particularly tech-savvy ones such as Forbes, Gizmodo, Tech Crunch, Yahoo Tech, and Engadget, post videos they receive from third parties if they’re appropriate and professionally presented.

A few reasons for using YouTube videos include kicking off a campaign, responding to a crisis, or trying to extend your brand. The American Express Small Business Forum recommends making the videos as professional as possible, otherwise your hideos (hideous videos) will cause more harm than good.

Mashable recommends that you leverage YouTube and other video-sharing sites by sharing your videos with reporters and bloggers.

If you have good relationships and good content, reporters and bloggers may share your video with their readers by embedding it in a blog post. At the very least, a good video offers an excellent way to start a conversation. Just make sure the videos you are sharing are not merely leftovers of some other video project. To be truly successful, online videos must be developed with the web viewer in mind, and they must add value to the conversation. If your videos aren’t high-quality, then your emails to bloggers and reporters will be just another piece of junk mail.

Using social media effectively can take a lot of work. And the results may not be worth it. But it’s the environment we live in. The speed of news, both good and bad, has changed the relationship between PR pros and the media, as well as between businesses and their customers.

ROBERT WYNNE is president of the public relations and events agency Wynne Communications. He also writes a monthly column on public relations for Forbes. He was formerly Director of Communications at USC’s Marshall School of Business, Director of Marketing at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and a reporter for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times.

Excerpted, with permission from Straight Talk about PR: How to Get the Most Out of Social Media

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