The role of marketing and public relations within professional organizations has shifted drastically with the advent of social media and the move to greater emphasis on storytelling. Traditionally, organizations would simply broadcast news, or channel it through one specific type of influencer—members of the media—and observe the reaction, then respond on a somewhat more flexible timetable. Today, it’s not simply about beaming out a message: It’s about building trust with end-users, telling a compelling story, and creating social streams of dialogue that work two ways.
In a connected, online, and multitasking world, companies first must find ways to connect with increasingly fragmented audiences, then work to build empathy and awareness, and create channels through which customers and influencers of every sort can engage with brands and products in exciting new ways. Moreover, customer impression carries increasing weight, with brand impression able to travel greater distances in less time than ever before, and users looking to their personal networks for expertise and validation as opposed to traditional media channels. However, while the media matrix and consumption patterns have irrevocably shifted, the value of powerful communication strategies has only become more vital. In fact, traditional marketing and public relations principles play more of a role than ever, and practitioners can excel in the modern world—provided, that is, they adapt to changing markets and best practices.
As I discovered while researching my new book, “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World,” following are several hints and tips to keep in mind as you work to create and nurture positive conversation.
Establishing a Social Media Policy
- Make it clear to employees what’s OK to share online, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. With every employee a brand ambassador, training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce and instill the importance of these corporate values—establishing formal rules of engagement, clearly communicating them to workers, and explaining what’s expected from hires is crucial.
- Guidelines are only the beginning, however: Establish an internal program designed to teach social media literacy and aptitude, provide continued education efforts, and reward employees for successfully practicing these skills. You may wish to consider regular skills refreshes, training sessions, certification courses, and gamification-based programs to reinforce these maxims.
- Be straightforward and specific about what’s expected in terms of tone, attitude, end results, and output from your social media pros, and regularly monitor and assess how they’re aligning with and meeting these goals. Providing running feedback and commentary to help them grow and improve is a vital way to bolster performance in these areas. To this extent, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts, or updates to provide a sense of how to better shape these communications efforts.
- For sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, also post formal guidelines for communication within your own blogs, communities, and online venues, public facing or otherwise. Having established guidelines in place helps set expectations up front, provide a level playing field, and help you address any issues that may arise, such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.
Proper Press and Media Outreach
- Make sure you’re sending your press releases, e-mails, and marketing materials to journalists and members of the media who actually cover the topic you are promoting.
- Be sure to target the specific editor of the section or area of the publication you’re looking to reach.
- If you’re not sure if someone is interested in receiving your information, don’t be afraid to try the old-fashioned route: Make a phone call and ask them, or drop a note, before adding them to mass mailing lists.
- Be polite, be professional, and know when to back off. If a reporter isn’t interested, don’t take it personally, and don’t spam his or her inbox.
- Be timely: If a member of the media makes an inquiry while he or she is working on deadline, jump on it and be as helpful as you can. Often, the PR professional who gets back to a reporter on deadline the fastest gets the best placement in a story, and enjoys a better measure of trust from the journalist going forward as a reliable source.
- Likewise, do not promise access to contacts, information, or material you cannot deliver, or that cannot be delivered by the necessary deadline: All it takes is one blown promise to undermine one’s trust and credibility.
- Do not ask to see the story or video before it goes public—this is highly inappropriate, and a severe breach of trust.
- Do make sure your press releases are polished. You never know if a writer or editor will publish what you’ve written verbatim.
- When following up, be respectful of a journalist’s time and interest, and attempt to contact him or her in total no more than two to three times.
- Be aware of publications’ various lead times. Know that most printed works have long lead times that may extend 90 to 120 days into the future. For example, a press release about an event happening next month sent to a publication that files its content four months in advance is an exercise in futility.
- Know that writers and reporters aren’t the ultimate gatekeepers. If their editor doesn’t clear a story, or decides for whatever reason it cannot make print (even for unexpected lack of space in the section due to lowered ad count), it won’t run.
- If a journalist makes a mistake, be polite in requesting a retraction or a correction.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a reporter what he or she is working on next: You might be able to help with another story or feature.
Corporate News and Announcements
- When you send a press release to groups of contacts, make sure to BCC them, so you are not exposing all other journalists’ e-mail addresses to random strangers.
- If it is an important announcement, be clear about any specifics, including embargoes.
- If you negotiate an exclusive deal with a journalist, be certain to specify all specifics up front to avoid later issues or concerns—e.g., is it a print exclusive, online, based upon a certain time window, etc.? Do not promise an exclusive if you cannot deliver.
- Respect publications’ editorial calendars and lead times when pitching—many are publicly available for reference, which can help you optimize pitch timing and angles.
- Once you issue a press release, be responsive to interested journalists and members of the media. Be available to answer all questions, conduct interviews, and provide access to necessary information, parties, or assets.
Expressing Your Brand’s Online Personality
- When people go to social media sites, they expect exchanges to be more personal, more immediate and more engaging: Be less formal, but make sure you adhere to the rules and guidelines your company sets forth about your brand, message, and tone of voice while also creating value for your audience.
- Casual and fun doesn’t equate to flippant, glib or self-centered—think about how you or your brand may be perceived, and take care to present yourself as affably and respectfully as possible. Be cognizant of post quality, as well, including taking care to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors. Note that kindness, courtesy, positivity, and empathy should be reflected in every post.
- Humor is appropriate to use depending on context—however, only the same sort of humor that is appropriate for use in an office or business casual setting. Avoid risqué or controversial statements.
Excerpt from “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World” by Scott Steinberg.
Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World,” “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty,” and “Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.” The founder of Select nightlife magazine, and host of Next Up on NewsWatch, his Website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.