Social media: You at the Helm of Your Own New Starship
Social Media, like Global Warming, has now left doubters behind.
According to the brand-ranking database Engagement DB, companies embracing social media grew revenues by 18 percent in the past 12 months. They are Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google and Microsoft. Brands lagging in new media shrank by 6 percent.
The change is wrenching and exhilarating. Each of the top 25 newspapers in the United States declined in circulation in the first quarter of 2009, except for The Wall Street Journal, which had a gain of .06 percent. Meanwhile, all of us get more news and information than ever, sliced, diced, pushed or aggregated by Web sites, email alerts, blogs, Facebook, Tweets and the socalTECH newsletter you’re reading now.
As a result, new media, and public relations in specific, is more alive with potential than ever in its history. Despite the devastation of our cherished Fourth Estate, a challenge as dire as any to our form of government, social media has brought a new universe of information tools that permit instant analysis of the world marketplace and instant feedback for our every action.
It’s like finding ourselves on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk nowhere in sight. Suddenly, like it or not, we’re in command. We must boldly go where no one’s gone before.
How is your company maximizing its social
media potential? What are the ramifications beyond general financial
projections? What can you do, and what is it you’re not doing?
The fact is, that regardless of new media,
we must still communicate with investors, customers, prospects, potential
employees and thought leaders in language that generates excitement,
support and ultimately sales. And an even better fact is that most of
us already know how to do it.
The accelerated world of texts, Tweets
and borderline old-school emails beaming to your Blackberry or iPhone
is only a distillation of what we’ve already learned: that explaining
yourself in 140 or 160 characters is an excellent discipline — concise
as an elevator pitch. In the past it was easy to forget that interest
and the scrutiny of due diligence comes after attention is won.
Today it’s safe to say that nobody is willing to listen to proposals,
concepts or even the most brilliant ideas that cannot be introduced
with brevity and precision. That’s a revolution to be welcomed. Like
the serve in tennis, clarity of presentation is something you can practice
and perfect before the game even starts.
A company that doesn’t already have
a blog should begin there. Sites such as wordpress.com and
blogger.com have free blogging options that will suffice for most
new sites. Then, use Twitter to promote all new posts. It should be
routine that whenever a news release is published it also is blogged
and sent out as a Tweet. Your attention should be on the needs of the
medium and the new tools available to help you use it. For example,
a long URL or Internet address linking to a blog post is undesirable,
since Twitter only allows 140 characters to communicate an entire message.
A site such as tinyurl.com can be used to shorten the URL and make it more
Social media is all about quick, instant
communication, but the time required to make it work is long. Your investment
in success will require several hours per week and, frequently, a substantial
commitment each day. Your immediate goal is to provide information people
will care about and find useful or entertaining. Your more important
goal, and the reason for committing your energy, is to build a following.
Followings are earned only by hard work — perhaps the least understood
path to success with social media.
Sites such as Twellow.com, which
bills itself as “The Twitter Yellow Pages,” can make it easier to
sort the millions of Twitter users. Its categories make it easier to
find and follow biotech CEOs, high-tech startups and strategic business
contacts. It doesn’t do anything to ensure that people will reciprocate
and follow you, but it makes sure you’re targeting people who will
care about your message.
Twellow’s primary designations, such
as “biotechnology,” and sub-categories such as “geeks,” “software”
and “tech companies,” are all located under the “information technology”
category. There are categories for “employment” and sub-categories
for “journalists” and “reporters” in the “news” section.
Time and effort are required to drill
down into the dozens of sub-categories. There is no alternative. Welcome
to command of your own starship.
MuckRack.com is similar to Twellow, but focuses exclusively on journalists and separates them by publication and by beat, such as “technology” or “health.” The major news wire services (Associated Press and Reuters), top-tier newspapers, broadcast outlets and even the most influential blogs are all represented by numerous reporters and editors. Muck Rack also has a one-line press release service that reaches their database of almost 4,000 top journalists nationwide through Twitter for just $1 a character.
As you build out your Twitter following and more and more people start to Tweet about you, TweetMixx.com, just launched in September, can help track what others are saying without having to read through multiples of the same post. If hundreds of people post a Tweet to the same story, TweetMixx will assure it posts to your account just once.
Engage, engage, engage
Constant monitoring of the company’s
Twitter account and other social media efforts will require the dedicated
responsibility of one of your team members. There is no such thing as
passive success. (Was there ever?). Send a personal direct message each
time you start following someone new on Twitter. Engage, engage, engage.
Those not fully involved with the audience are merely building a SPAM
list and will achieve the unintended result of being unsubscribed in
every sense of the word.
You’ll eventually want to develop multiple
Twitter accounts for different audiences. For example, Google has separate
accounts for Google News, Google Reader, Google AdSense and other functionalities.
CNN, the BBC and other major news outlets all have multiple accounts
as well. If your business operates in both the medical device space
and pharmaceutical drugs industry, for example, you might want separate
accounts for each of those audiences. The more targeted your audience,
the more likely you are to build relationships that help the company
connect with a key new partner or client.
And by the way, that’s what social
media is all about.
Don’t neglect Facebook and YouTube.
Cross pollinate all of your efforts so that engaging with you and your
team is nearly unavoidable for clients and prospects.
Promote links to your social media sites
and pages in your news release boilerplate. Pay for a national wire
service such as BusinessWire or MarketWire to help distribute your releases
with social media links imbedded. All it takes is a second for readers
to click on your Twitter or Facebook link and start following you or
become your “friend.” PRLog.org offers free wire distribution, which
helps with search engine optimization while driving traffic to your
Hold the Dilithium Crystals, Scotty
Once you’ve embraced the new media
world and the additional exposure that comes with it, try not to overreact
when you don’t get exactly what you want.
In the days of newspaper dominance, editors
served as gatekeepers in limiting and often eliminating mischaracterizations
and blatant inaccuracies from public forums such as letters to the editor
pages. Today, it’s not unusual for a company to land an excellent
article in a major publication, only to be dismayed once it appears
online and a competitor posts a nasty or untrue comment in response.
As with print publications, set the record
straight or involve your legal team as needed if there’s libel or
slander — but know that you can’t control everything, and no one
expects you to as you explore and colonize the new universe.
Tracy Olmstead Williams, president
and CEO of Olmstead Williams Communications, works with technology,
healthcare and cleantech companies as well as law firms and other professional
service firms to grow business and create solid reputations through
public relations. For more information, visit http://www.olmsteadwilliams.