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    Public Relations and Social Media

    PR has been a priority for most major corporations whether they retain a team inside or hire an agency outside of the business. “According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. …” In some cases PR specialists were some of the first to embrace social media, in other cases PR specialists have stuck to their more traditional means of fostering relationships with key media in respective areas of print, radio, television and used the news wires to distribute their press releases with follow-up to their ongoing contacts to whom they have formed relationships.

    Now the internet has changed the face of PR and how these professionals are operating. Twitter can disperse news in real -time and the companies who used PR to promote positive relationships or  images for a brand – now have the opportunity to engage directly with their customer and can create relationships that allow those customers to promote those relationships with their friends and family with the speed, breadth and transparency that traditional PR methods just cannot reach.

    Interestingly I have had some great meetings with some very skilled PR people in the last few weeks as we here at SHARE – look at our various projects – and the mix of offline and online marcomm tools needed to make a marketing campaign powerful and profitable. There are still many viable uses for PR as well as the integration of social media as a PR tool. Mashable.com has posted an article today by Erica Swallow – who in this post spoke to several PR professionals who provided their take – on the future of long standing PR tools, such as the press release, the evolution of social platforms, building relationships and current limitations with solutions for the challenges that arise leveraging social media.

    With the advent of Twitter and sites like HARO  for which I subscribe – where you can help a reporter out by answering to a post, as a source for an article of interest. Rather than having PR reps make the first moves all the time, now members of the media can put out requests for pitches from particular types of experts.” For me the most powerful statement to that – is that the author Erica Swallow used HARO to write this article and received 200 quality responses. I personally get several HARO feeds daily and am always looking for someone who might be interested in my expertise as part of an article they may be writing.

    At the end of the day PR and social media is about the human factor of building and engaging in relationships. Social media has changed that relationship – as it is no longer a one way dialog – but rather one that can be shared “a bonus for both the company and the customer”. Melding the two together can be a powerful duo!

    Best Nicole

    Public relations specialists were some of the first people to embrace the power of social media, and as a result they are often the ones leading the way in the social space, whether they are consulting with clients from an agency point of view or strategizing on an in-house PR team.

    In the past decade, the Internet has had a huge impact on how PR professionals function. As of late, social media is changing the face of PR, as well. We interviewed 14 PR pros on the future of public relations and how they see social media changing the industry. We collected their thoughts on how social media will affect the future of the press release, the evolution of social platforms, current limitations and solutions for those impediments, connecting with other PR pros, cost savings, and building relationships.

    The Future of the Press Release

    The first press release was created during the fall of 1906 by Ivy Lee, known by some as the founder of modern public relations. For much of its proceeding history, the press release was unchanged from its original form. It wasn’t until the ’90s when online newswire services like BusinessWire and PRNewswire began to appear, decreasing reliance on fax machines and e-mail for disseminating news releases.

    During the past few years, we’ve witnessed a shift towards what some are calling the “social media release.” Services like PitchEngine, PressLift, PRX Builder, and MindTouch are bringing the press release into the new millennium with embedded multimedia and easy distribution through various channels, including social media and e-mail. We asked our PR experts about the future of the traditional long form press release, and we received quite a bit of feedback that showed that while it is here to stay, it will continue to be influenced by the brevity and accessibility of social media.

    Amanda Miller Littlejohn, founder of Mopwater Social Public Relations, commented on the importance of the social media release and how it enables readers to share and interact with it:

    “While I don’t believe the press release is dead, it has been transformed, to become this living, breathing thing. If a release doesn’t have a social element — that is, a way for viewers to comment or share to their social networks — it doesn’t have legs.”

    The format of the press release isn’t the only factor in its evolution. In an e-mail interview, Vice President of BLASTmedia, Lindsay Groepper, discussed how distribution of the press release will continue to be key to its future:

    “When I first began my career in PR more than decade ago, we would e-mail or fax (gasp!) the full press release text to the press. What we see now is new methods of distributing the info, driven by social media. Rather than e-mailing a press release, PR people are sending journalists to custom landing pages created just for that specific announcement, contacting them via Twitter with a BUDurl link to the release, or even directing them to a YouTube video with a message from the CEO making the announcement.”

    PR professionals are now experimenting with these new distribution channels. Likewise, many are finding that the form of the press release isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every channel. Vistaprint’s Public Relations Manager Jeff Esposito believes that the press release will continue to evolve into multiple iterations for various audiences, channels, and situations:

    “Over the next five years, I think we’ll see three types of press releases that will assist different audiences. The first is in a video format where there will be a short description followed by a link to a video giving information on the news from a company source, hitting on the five W’s and also offering sound-bites that can be used for stories or added to a news story. The second iteration will be a further evolution of the social press release that is being used today, except more brief and more focused. The final is similar to what we see now with company boiler plates, stock quotes and additional information.”

    In the end, the press release’s future may simply depend on media consumption trends, according to David McCulloch, director of public relations at Cisco Systems:

    “In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a marked shift in [the press release's] format to reflect the accelerating societal shift from mass consumption of media (“push” media) to personalized consumption or “pull” media. That’s a shift that has led Cisco to spend less time telling reporters and bloggers what it is we expect them to write, and more time helping them understand how what Cisco is doing might fit with their interests.

    “…[I]t’s pretty clear where the press release will go next: It’s going to get shorter; link to more sources; be focused on simplification and explanation; and it’ll come in many more flavors. Practically speaking (assuming the SEC keeps pace with media evolutions), that means the press release of the future will deliver its content in text, video, SMS, microblog and podcast form, to any choice of device, whenever the reader decides, and preferably it will be pre-corroborated and openly rated by multiple trusted sources.”

    Kelly McAlearney, an account supervisor at Edelman Digital, agrees that based on natural progression, the press release will continue to get shorter, for concision’s sake:

    “Engagement with journalists and consumers has evolved considerably over the past five years, to shorter formats. Often, we find that our most effective pitches are our most succinct. And interactions have naturally become more concise as many brands are in constant, direct contact with consumer audiences and media via online channels.”

    Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency, brought an interesting perspective to this conversation. He said that the backlinks generated by press releases are reason enough to continue syndicating them, even if the contained information is of little use to the audience. He speculates that if search engines were able to point out and devalue republished news releases and their included backlinks, companies would find better ways of dispersing news:

    “I don’t think the news release will die in the foreseeable future, say the next five years. Even if the syndication of this content has little impact on the target stakeholders, they’ll still be generating backlinks, which by themselves deliver a decent ROI.

    “Looking beyond five years, I could see the algorithms of search engines becoming smart enough to discern whether a backlink comes from syndicated content, which in turn causes it to greatly reduce the value of the backlink. In other words, even if a news release is syndicated on the Wall Street Journal, with all the “authority” that comes with the site, the search engine figures out that it’s nothing more than a republished news release, so scores the backlink super low. If this happened, we would see the volume of news releases significantly decline.”

    The Evolution of Social Platforms

    The social media platforms with the most value must be used by a client’s target audience and be a meaningful place for brands to connect with consumers and journalists. Our PR experts said that mass social platforms, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, will continue to be important on some level, but niche, industry-specific networks will be of greater value in the future.

    “The most important platforms for PR pros in the future will be the ones most targeted for their clients,” said Cara Stewart, founder and principal at Remarx Media. “Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are ‘fun;’ getting nitty-gritty into community sites that are industry-specific is less ‘fun,’ because PR pros have to really understand clients’ technologies, business models, services and more. Really, it’s more about PR pros becoming better PR pros and understanding their clients’ businesses, as well as what their clients do … Social media is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

    Social media platforms will continue to evolve, but “A PR person’s job remains the same,” said Heather Whaling, founder and president of Geben Communication. “It’s critical that we’re innovative and staying on top of the latest and greatest; however, we also need to avoid ’shiny object syndrome’ and instead make recommendations based on the client’s business needs.”

    Once the industry settles in to a standard for finding the right platforms for each of its clients, the next step is measuring success. Miller Littlejohn pointed out that the PR industry is moving from placing importance on broadcasting to highly valuing monitoring and measurement:

    “Right now, the most important tools are the broadcasting tools … But in five years, the most important tools will be the monitoring and measurement tools — the tools that can tell you what happened to your message once it got out there. [T]he tools that can demonstrate (and quickly demonstrate) return on engagement will be winners.

    “Free measurement dashboards will also be winners. Right now, there are a few ways to measure mentions of your brands for free, but they are extremely limited in how much and what you can measure at one time. You can pay thousands of dollars per month for a nice platform to measure your brand on the social web, but most smaller brands and small businesses can’t afford that. I think if someone develops a more sophisticated social media and PR measurement and monitoring dashboard and offers it for free, that will be a rock star tool.”

    There is also a growing demand for social platforms that make it easier for journalists and PR reps to contact one another. Help a Reporter Out (HARO), PRNewswire’s ProfNet, NewsBasis, and Media Kitty are all enabling the communication lines to run in both directions. Rather than having PR reps make the first moves all the time, now members of the media can put out requests for pitches from particular types of experts. In fact, I used HARO to write this article and received nearly 200 quality responses.

    Current Limitations & Solutions

    While PR pros are experiencing lots of successes with social media as is it today, our experts pointed out quite a few limitations with the current offering of social platforms that will need to be worked out for continued adoption, understanding and success across the industry.

    • Broadcasting vs. Listening: Our experts pointed out that a vast majority of the PR people out there are using social media as a broadcasting tool for sending out press releases and recent client news. The next gen PR pros will use social media as a listening and communicating tool. Scott Bauman, vice president of Greenough Communications, elaborates:

      “In the future, I think we’ll see more … real-time interaction that demonstrates the brand is actually listening. This begins to build trust, which is highly valuable and highly perishable. This means continued growth in listening platforms (such as Radian6), but less for reporting (just showing share of voice, for example) … In the end, the real change is a more fluid, immediate, and nimble PR/communications practitioner, instead of one who simply follows a PR plan and rigidly adheres to it.”

    • Finding the Right Audience: Many of our experts agreed that while the mass social platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, are useful, the niche, industry-specific communities provide just as much, and sometimes more, value for clients. The current issue, though, is that finding these communities is quite tough and involves a lot of scattered research across the web. In the future, directories with the ability to search for target demographics across a broad range of social networks would make the process of finding the best platforms with the right audiences much easier.
    • Imperfect Data: With measurement becoming one of the most important features of social networks for marketers and PR pros, data is the key to enlightenment. “Social media provides a lot of information, but it’s also imperfect data,” said Chuck Tanowitz, founder and principal at PR and social media firm Fresh Ground. “So the trick is knowing what to accept and what to dismiss.”Tanowitz gave the example of the mayor of his home city of Newton, Massachusetts. Mayor Setti Warren has just over 700 followers on Twitter, which wouldn’t put him into the “influencer” category on most social measurement tools. However, in real life, he’s quite influential. Tanowitz notes, “It doesn’t tell you much. Yet, when he got elected [as mayor], he received a call from President Obama, so he obviously has the ear of some influential people. You can’t learn that from Twitter.” For now at least, social measurement data should be taken with a grain of salt.
    • Social Stream Aggregation: Nicole VanScoten, a public relations specialist at Pyxl, believes that the future of PR is all about a one-stop social dashboard for easy social media management. She says, “Right now, we’re forced to pay attention to a whole host of different networks. I think we’ll continue to see more aggregation here … People will continue to develop programs that save us time.”Tools like Hootsuite, TweetDeck, CoTweet, Postling, Vitrue, SocialTALK and more, aim to make it easier for businesses posting and monitoring across platforms. While there isn’t one perfect management tool quite yet, over the next five years, it’s probable that one or two clear leaders will emerge.
    • Client Buy-In: Lastly, PR pros are still finding it difficult to obtain client buy-in for investment in social media. Currently, a large part of a PR pro’s job involving social media is educating clients of its use and benefits. The solution here is data. As success measurements continue to improve, the case for social media will become much clearer.

      Connecting with Other PR Pros

      As more and more independent PR professionals launch their own consultancies, the independent PR community at large is becoming an important place for individuals to get advice. Social media is driving those relationships.

      LuAnn Glowacz, an independent PR strategist and founder of PR firm WordCove PR notes, “My most valuable business connections are other independent PR and related professionals in Austin, who I connect with daily on Twitter and Facebook. We refer each other, give advice to each other, co-work and socialize together. It’s like having co-workers and employees while keeping the paycheck all to myself.”

      Glowacs also connects with other PR pros every Wednesday at the #SoloPR Twitter chat, moderated by her colleague and PR/social media consultant, Kellye Crane. Crane also runs a blog and LinkedIn group for Solo PR. Glowacs commented on Solo PR: “In my opinion, it’s the top social media resource for indie PR pros. [It consists of] very high-caliber PR pros from around the country helping and learning from each other.”

      Twitter chats seem to be popular among contemporary PR pros. Stewart and her team at Remarx attend the #B2Bchat on Twitter every Thursday to keep up with social media trends and share their own knowledge of the space. And Whaling co-moderates the popular #pr20chat, a weekly exploration of social media’s influence on public relations.

      Saving Money and Putting It to Good Use

      Social media has the ability to save companies lots of money through enhancing traditional and online campaigns. INgage Networks‘ Corporate Communications Manager Kathy Saenz explained how her company saved $270K in expenses via social media. They had previously paid $250K annually for an external PR agency, and $20K in events budgeting for venue, traveling and promotions expenses. They saved all of that money by bringing their PR in-house and focusing on social media. Instead of running large events at expensive venues, they now run webinars. Of their latest webinar, Saenz said, “It was a targeted B2B audience we wanted to reach; [we] broke record attendance numbers. We didn’t have to pay for anything as a result. Great exposure and big money saved.”

      For PR professionals, social media also saves time and money by yielding higher response rates to pitches. VanScoten explained:

      “It’s amazing to me that I get a MUCH higher response rate when pitching reporters via Twitter than e-mail. I would actually go as far as to say that every time I’ve pitched a reporter via Twitter, I have gotten some sort of response (often resulting in a story for my client). Via e-mail, I have maybe a 50% response rate. The phone call response rate would be my lowest.”

      As these success stories become more publicized and the PR industry begins to see the cost savings behind social media, it’s inevitable that the stragglers will jump on the bandwagon.

      The Human Factor

      No matter which tools PR pros use to connect with media members, the most important factor is the human factor. Public relations and social media are both about creating and fostering relationships. Our PR experts agreed and emphasized the fact that personal relationships will continue to propel the bond between social media and PR.

      Dave Delaney, social media coordinator at Griffin Technology explained, “Today, not only can we send a press release to a valuable group of media contacts, but we can now take that message wider using social media. Whether our communication is a press release, blog post, or a tweet, the important thing is remaining relevant and engaging our friends, fans and followers.”

      Emphasizing relationships, Hoffman also discussed his agency’s use of social media:

      “We’re definitely using social media to connect with journalists and customers, but this outreach involves a news release maybe 20% of the time tops. The other 80% of the time we’re talking with journalists, bloggers and other influencers about issues and macro topics. In short, we devote most of our outreach to helping our clients serve as industry and business sources, as opposed to promoting their products.”

      McAlearney reiterated the importance of building relationships with influencers. “Regardless of how an announcement is shared -– via wire, blog post, tweet, or otherwise –- the critical step has historically been, and will remain, the human element. By directly reaching out to key media and influencers with whom we maintain relationships, we’re able to ensure their timely awareness of the news.”

      Groepper backed up that point in saying that “Despite the changing landscape of press release distribution, the most effective communication for a PR person still remains unchanged: Building relationships with the most influential press in your space. Having key relationships is what helps drive the type of media the client is seeking, and no press release can accomplish that in its place.”

      “In truth we’re talking about the same positive PR practices that good PR people have been doing for decades,” Tanowitz concluded, “They read and understand their target audience, then help craft stories that speak to and with that audience.”

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