Social Media & Public Relations: Impact on Publics and Analysis of the Impact

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Public Relations Society of America defines Public Relations as: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

A PR professional is responsible for establishing mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and its publics. Social media, on the other hand, is a means to communicate with your publics using various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. Social media allows organizations to have conversation in a two-way symmetrical manner instead of simply relaying information using news and other mass media outlets.

Social media is very effective but can be dangerous to the organization, if not handled correctly. Not utilizing social media is ineffective, but not responding strategically while being active on social media page can be potentially damaging to a company’s reputation. When people decide to post negative comments on forums about an organization, the comment may seem insignificant. However, due to the intrinsic web of social media, the insignificant comment may become explosive and catch up like a wild fire, one which requires serious attention. Public relations understand the importance of having controlled conversation on social media platforms, which makes social media very effective.

Tom Malcolm, head of consumer, Diffusion, believes that social media is a big part of public relations. With the rise of various social media platforms, public relations have an added responsibility of coming up with creative concepts and ideas, those will attract people to the companies’ webpages. Public relations has to be the source of providing engaging content to media. A successful PR campaign involves feeding media’s hunger for interesting news, while engaging people by providing them with interesting stuff to talk and share about the company.

To engage media and publics, many PR agencies and firms have integrated PR and digital marketing mix. According to Andy Heaps, operations director, Epiphany, and Pete Goold, managing director, Punch Communications, their team creates content that is strategic while promoting online visibility by being engaged and thus builds brand engagement through social media channels. With the rise of social media, public relations professionals are becoming accountable and transparent. They are coming up with robust thinking that addresses a demographic sect instead of only an individual.

PR professionals like Tom Malcolm and Pete Goold have also tried to answer, “Have social media and PR become synonymous with each other?” They think that social media and PR are integrated but they are not synonymous with each other. Elements like creating and managing engaging content, which is a part of social media profile, support PR function. However, digital creative and paid media teams are essential in handling social media. Social media plays a major role in how companies succeed or fail due to their reputation. Social Media Statistics Compendium reported that, in 2011, 75% of purchase decision were based on reviews available online. These are the reasons why companies can’t ignore social media.

Engaging publics is a PR professional’s responsibility. To achieve that, PR has to stay abreast with innovative technologies. They use various platforms to build relations with publics and social media is one of the platforms. Today, new monitoring and analysis tools are developed which allow a company to track reviews or comments mentioned on social media about themself, thus allowing companies to respond if their reputation is challenged.

Engaging publics, and monitoring social media feeds using analysis tools like Social Sleuth is the basic step to use social media as a useful platform. The next part of handling social media is measuring the impact of social media on any organization’s relationship with audience. Counting mentions and measuring ReTweets and “likes” on Facebook page are ways of observing if the message is reaching the audience but the most important thing for an organization is whether social media is being used to reach the final goal. Social media contributes to PR campaign and ultimately helps in achieving the PR goal. It is essential to understand how to evaluate if the goal is achieved.

Social media has great potential to open up communication channels between an organization and the outside world. If a video or social media post is interesting, it goes viral in no time. Suddenly the organization is thrown into limelight. Organizations like Domino’s pizza and CNN have been in public’s eyes due to social media posts. Domino’s pizza’s reputation got tarnished when two employees posted nasty videos on YouTube. However, Domino’s management posted a video in YouTube in response to the nasty video and conveyed a strong message to public about their plan of action. Actor Ashton Kutcher said and I quote “I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network.”  It is essential that an organization understands social media’s potential and use it to maintain their reputation and build relations.

It is also essential that an organization understands the impact of a social media post before reacting to it. Social media provides PR with an opportunity to have an impact on the entire organization in the following ways:

–          Penetrate deeper in the demographics with your message

–          Generate sales leads

–          Gauge customer satisfaction

–          Increase Brand Recognition

Using social media is important, but in the end it boils down to determining success. After a PR campaign, the organization wants to get the right results, which means that the results impact the company and that the message conveyed through the campaign has penetrated. The success of this method can be determined using following key markers:

Follow your message: Simply posting a message is insufficient. The organization can determine success by observing where the message appears and analyzing the tone of the message.

Benchmark with caution: While determining the success markers, a company should analyze themselves before simply setting up very high benchmarks, those cannot be achieved.

Learn from success: An organization can learn from its success by tracking and comparing their activity and efforts against results. This helps in understanding activities are most effective in maximizing the message.

Spotlight the Results: After the PR campaign, it is important to translate success and PR success into revenue for the company to understand. Quantifying results is essential to explain the impact social media had on the organizations success.

To conclude, I believe that social media is an integral part of public relations. I would not call them synonymous with each other for the reason that public relations has a multitude of aspects and functions and social media is one of the function of PR. It is a very powerful tool and PR has the ability to utilize it to benefit a company. Social media is influencing PR. The role of PR is to establish transparent communication with audience and social media is a platform to do that. It has become a communication means to interact with media, customers, investors, employees, and other key stakeholders.

I can’t emphasize enough on how important are social media and PR for an organization. Despite being the core communications function for an organization, public relations professionals need to demonstrate tangible results to demonstrate the impact of social media. Social media has the ability to build relations with audience, or sabotage a company’s reputation even with a petty incident. It is essential that a company understands the gravity of a situation on social media platform and think strategically before reacting to it. Every key stakeholder has the power to influence the company’s online reputation. Hence, public relations professionals should have the authority to, and be prepared to control the company’s message and brand.

“Analyzing the Impact of Social Media: From Twitter to Facebook” is a white paper presented by Vocus. Link to article, “The impact of social media on public relations” is: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/03/21/impact-social-media-public-relations

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