On December 7, 2011, I participated in a Vocus Webinar on “The Techniques of the New PR Champion.” It was exciting for me to present some of the material from my new book, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional.” With a lot to say on the topic and very little time, the Q&A period was cut short. So, I’m taking the time now to answer questions asked by the participants that were not addressed during the session.
Here’s Part I of my Q&A:
1. How do you convince dinosaurs in companies to join in with the social media revolution?
At this point, it’s important for people who are not active in social media to understand that social media is not a trend that’s going away. Social media is a way of life and business. The people, who you want to interact with your company, including customers, partners, suppliers, media, bloggers, employee, etc., are active and using social media daily for their news and information, to connect with their family and friends and to receive updates, promotions, discounts and customer service from their brands. Not everyone in a company will participate the same way. I wouldn’t expect every CEO or senior executive to blog or to be out there on Twitter. However, if company stakeholders were actively participating in web communities, I would expect executives to provide the resources, tools, trust and empowerment to their employees who need to make meaningful connections with constituents, from creating awareness and interest to generating leads and sales.
To provide the inactive with a better understanding of the value of social media is to approach employee participation through a more formal “ask” process. Social media is not something that you can just throw out in a casual conversation. It deserves research including: uncovering best practice examples, identifying what competitors are doing, and showing how its use can save the company money, increase awareness as well as coverage and credibility. It’s also important to be prepared with information on the internal resources and people who would be involved.
2. How do you implement a social media strategy, with company policy restrictions?
The numbers of companies restricting social media is less than in years past and these numbers will get smaller in 2012 and beyond. It’s important to educate your executives on employee use of social media, regardless of restrictions; they will use their smart phones during the day and go home and be active on Facebook at night. It’s much better to open up the social media channels and to have a social media policy along with an overall company strategy to guide the proper participation. It’s also better to offer employees the tools, empowerment and guidance they need. This may be a crawl, walk and then run type of effort, but baby steps are really important. If you’re currently participating in social media activity, then your strategy will reflect the types of social media that is permissible, as stated in your company policy. Of course, you will need to focus your efforts on showing some benchmark wins on what’s currently working. If you can show some small wins then executives will slowly move toward more activity and less restrictions. The PR Champion often uses a grassroots approach, in this case, and rallies other champions to form a team or a Social Media Core Team. Forming a strategic team or perhaps even an Advisory Board outside of the company is an opportunity to create a solid strategy where social media contributes to the higher-level company goals and proves to executives there’s true value in social media and employee participation.
3. The PR Champion role looks like it’s becoming an internal social communicator, as well with external audiences, would you agree?
Absolutely! The PR Champion works from the inside out, realizing there are new processes and procedures that should be set in place to accommodate better communications externally with the public. A few examples in my presentation included the Internal Collaboration Generator who creates better team sharing on the inside of the organization and the COMMs Organizer who guides the content creation and distribution of communication, as the process has changed from mass communication to direct one-on-one engagement in web communities.
4. Is it the C-Suite who creates the core team?
The C-Suite is informed of the effort to create the Social Media Core Team and they buy into the idea. But, typically, the Core Team is not picked/appointed by the C-Suite based on title, but rather a person’s knowledge, use and passion with respect to social media. A Core Team usually develops from the first set of champions in PR, marketing, web and IT. Sometimes, it could even include HR, Sales or other active departments. These people are social media actives and they (1) have a greater understanding of social media, (2) realize there will be different objectives to reach social media goals, and (3) will uphold policies within the organization. The C-Suite should, of course, give its blessing and communicate to all employees that they are on board and senior leadership should show employees there’s buy in from the top down.
5. What kinds of policies?
PR Champions will be involved in the creation and guidance of social media policies, which include:
- Overall employee policies for participation
- Department policies
- Comment policies
- Public participation policies
- Training / education of policies
- Blogging guidelines, with respect to advertising/spokespeople endorsement
6. How do you us PR to promote a small business, which seldom has news stories to put out over the wire.
Social media is great for small business, which have stories to tell that are more targeted and customized, and should be shared directly with their stakeholders. More companies need to realize that not every story should go over the wire. Small business can make great connections with bloggers and the media who are looking for interesting and unique story angles. Using social media is also a great way to build community through awareness and to drive people to the company’s website, where you can offer more information and have people engage more intimately with the company. Of course, this all starts with a plan. Using PR through social media is a more targeted way to create one-on-one interactions through direct connections. You can “listen” or monitor keyword conversations to hear what interests your audience and then use social media as an opportunity to share relevant content, provide meaningful advice and build relationships with them.
7. How do you start knocking down the walls between departments to incubate the hybrid position?
You should start by auditing your social media properties to see who is active and to take a look at the useful and not so useful efforts to date. This is often the impetus to approach management with the idea that there needs to be a dedicated team of champions to create a plan/strategy for the company, rather than different departments working in silos and not using social media to align with higher level goals. Let management know that forming a social media Core Team will begin the strategic policymaking process, which will make senior leadership more comfortable. Share the audit with the champions in different departments and once you have the buy in from management, begin the process to meet on a regular basis. You will slowly start breaking down the silos with internal communication (you will also need to set up an internal sharing platform, if one is not already in place) and get your champions on the same page. Using the audit, you will work together on the policy and a social media strategy to guide the organization’s participation. The effort will naturally take off from there.
8. How can I get my social media team on the same page so our social media content is consistent?
A good social media policy will often refer to the brand guidelines and also to acceptable content that can be used. An Internal department and universal calendaring system helps to keep everyone on the same page with respect to content, so you can visualize what’s be shared, by whom, every week or month. It’s also important to remember that there will be a brand voice often supported by resources and materials (perhaps your driving to information on your website) but that employees should also be developing their own unique voice. There are great examples of companies who use internal twitter feeds to share daily, in 140 characters or less, what’s going on in the company (a tweet or a message a day). Employees are encouraged to take the tweets and use the content, but to say it in there own voice externally through their social media participation. You have to make sure that everyone understands what’s considered acceptable and unacceptable, and you have to trust people to use what you provide and to share it in their own unique way.
9. What are a few of the top resources for keeping up to date with PR practices and social media action?
- PR Daily
- Spin Sucks
- Social Media Today
- Bulldog Reporter
- Social Media Examiner
- eMarketer Charts
10. How do you build thought leadership through PR?
Thought leadership is built through direct interactions. You’re able to create trust and credible communications by sharing insight, direction and industry information that’s forward thinking. Social media in your PR program is an excellent way to build thought leadership because you can listen, evaluate and respond in direct one-on-one conversations, and use interactive mediums including video, podcasting and blog communities to go deeper into a subject and to also show more of your passion, interest and knowledge. Many B2B companies are capitalizing on thought leadership through social media sharing more information and resources in communities, where they would never have been invited to participate before. You can use social media to create multimedia and collaborative learning opportunities with your constituents, and to position your experts as valuable and knowledgeable resources.