Building Community through PR Webinar with Awareness Inc.

Social Roles and ResponsibilitiesI was introduced to Mike Lewis (@bostonmike) of Awareness Inc., through Justin Levy (@justinlevy) of New Marketing Labs.  What a great connection!  I participated in a Webinar with Mike on May 27th and it was not only on an interesting topic (Building Community Through PR:  From Virtual to Physical) but the Q&A with Mike was dynamic and even at one point stumped us both for an answer.

I have to admit that the presentation started off a little rocky on my end because it was the first time I was doing a webinar outside of my office.  So, despite jumping onto the call about 2 minutes before the program began, it was one of my best programs yet.  Here’s why I liked it so much.

The topic was extremely relevant. Everyone in business is trying to figure out that magic question:  How do you build community through PR.  I focused on some high level information, i.e. the challenges and opportunities, which include:

Service factor.  What is your offering to the community?

  • What value will you provide and to whom?
  • How will you be prepared and ready to respond?

External factor. Factors for consideration:

  • Easy access to other communities because resources are no  longer limited to close proximity

Commitment factor.  Silence is not always “golden:”

  • Manage and direct continuous conversations and  relationships

Participation factor. The homestretch of Social Media:

  • Ideas are not useful until people get together to produce something meaningful

PR/Marketing factor. Align with business goals:

  • Align community building goals with  business goals (include all areas of the company)
  • Develop actionable enterprise within the community (increase participation, research, recruiting, endorsements, leads & sales)

I tried to drill down into the false assumptions, including how building community is simply hosting negative commentary and providing a destination for poor content, grammar and shallow messages.  I also discussed how the role of the PR person expands to include technology and programming, content review, comment strategy, customer service, web analytics and identifying trends for engagement.  All of our added responsibilities make us that more valuable to our organizations.

I presented a strong focus on the sociology of community building first and then the importance of technology:

  • Social Media marketing starts with the observations of human behavior and interaction within online communities
  • Technology then provides the tools to facilitate conversations online
    • Monitoring and tracking conversations
  • Humanize your story by aligning it with the culture and the people driving the communities you’re trying to reach
    • What matters to them?
    • How do they talk to each other?

It’s the listening that matters the most! As my co-author, Brian Solis (@briansolis) stated in one of our interviews, “It’s the listening that separates the social media experts from the social media theorists.”

Of course, I couldn’t resist discussing the anti-community building approach with:

  • Broadcast messages (top down strategy)
  • Selling
  • One way messages
  • Spin, hype and jargon in our traditional press releases

As always, I thought the Q&A was the best part and I didn’t have the answer to the question:  Is there a website that rates all of the social networks?  I’m on a quest to find out the answer to this question, so if anyone knows, please comment : )

Other good questions included:

  • Has the traditional press release gone away? I said no that it still exists because there are industries that continue to find it to be a valuable tool for fair and timely disclosure released over the wire (but, it should be void of all of the spin, hype and jargon).
  • What is the biggest mistake companies make? It’s moving out too quickly with their social media programs and setting up FB and twitter profiles, and not really knowing why or how to measure their efforts.
  • How should you start with community building? I believe that blogging/commenting is the easiest way. In some cases, brands are experimenting internally with their employees on intranet sites.
  • The $10 million question: How do you measure ROI and how do you measure ROI from PR. Two tough but good questions. ROI depends on what objectives are set and could be measured in the form of authority, ranking, participation and engagement, registration and leads/sales. As for PR ROI, it depends on the relationships that are built as a result of the SM outreach and how these relationships develop into opportunities including, but not limited to endorsements from key influencers.

I’m sure that we will see a lot more great presentations and case studies in the area of community building.  I mentioned Starbucks as a good community and brand experience and a few of my favorite communities including PitchEngine and MyRagan.  However, I forgot to mention how non-profits are building community, for example, the Red Cross is setting up Flickr groups because they searched and found over 40,000 pictures from Red Cross enthusiasts.

I would love to hear from you about your PR and community building experiences.  What do you think are the best ways to build community through PR?  Please share your insight with me.