By Heidi Cohen published November 8, 2010

How to Use Social Media to Drive Your PR Goals

Contrary to some beliefs, the press release is alive and supports marketing and communications objectives to a variety of audiences (employees, customers, investors, the public) to build favorable relationships with them. However,  simply sending a press release out via the wire isn’t enough. In today’s increasingly socially-connected media landscape, PR professionals are expanding their communications methods to include a wide range of social media platforms to engage specific market segments.

Here are five ideas on how you can use social media to enhance your PR efforts.

Create a tribe to position your firm among prospects

Part of your PR strategy should be to build a following of like-minded people and facilitate the conversation. While this is obvious on a professional site like LinkedIn or niche sites like Spiceworks or ITToolbox, Canon built a 70,000 member users’ group on Flickr containing over 13,000 discussions. The content includes photographs, comments, tags and other interactions, most of which is user-to-user.

Creating a group raises your visibility as you draw more people in. When building your group, continue to provide reasons for people to join and participate. In the beginning, it can be important to seed the conversation and to create most of the interactions.

Give senior management and/or corporate thought leaders a platform

From a PR perspective, creating a platform for your thought leaders is a critical function that can be served by a wide range of social media options. Despite the proclivity to use these channels to blast out messages, it’s important to provide insight into your business without the promotion gobbledygook. This is the opportunity for senior executives to show personality and check their marketing-speak at the door.

For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh uses Twitter to talk directly to customers. Zappos encourages employees to tweet and highlights these employees on their website.

Similarly, Richard Edelman, who heads the PR firm that bears his name, has blogged for years giving his perspective on PR.

To avoid potential issues, companies in regulated industries may focus on a related topic. For example, a bank could discuss its support of its local community or provide retirement planning information.

Do social good

Does your firm donate large amounts of money to not-for-profits or other causes? If so, instead of simply giving the money and issuing a press release, get customers and the public involved in the process of where to give the money to help expand your corporate giving message.

For example, Chase created a fan page to get input as to how they should distribute $5 million dollars to the community. It was so successful that they gave away another $500,000. From an engagement perspective, Chase reduced barriers to interaction as participants only needed to vote to help their neighbors.

Provide a meeting place for your employees: past, present and future

Many businesses overlook the power of former staff as potential clients, prospective suppliers, referrers of future employees and future employees themselves. Take a page from the premier consulting firms like McKinsey who work hard to maintain contact with these groups.

LinkedIn, a professional networking site, is well positioned to support these efforts, especially with its new features. From a PR perspective, start by looking at which of your employees are already on LinkedIn and how they are presenting themselves. Is this in line with the image that you’re looking to promote? If not, why not talk to these employees to gather feedback and what you can do to improve?

This requires thinking about the type of job-related content people look for on LinkedIn. Remember members of this social network position themselves broadly for future jobs and may not use your firm’s idiosyncratic titles and language.

Extend investor relations

While many companies are required to make public announcements, social media can add personality and fun to otherwise dry press releases. From a content marketing perspective, think about how to create engaging information about your firm to get investors and others interested in the work that you’re doing. Use a variety of formats such as videos, audio and slide presentations.

Staying consistent to their brand, Woot created a delightful video announcing their acquisition by Amazon. The quirky video attracted a lot of press for its unique qualities. How can you make your company’s useful information engaging for a broader audience? Expand your notions how to communicate with your investors. Let your company’s personality shine through.

Final thoughts

A few notes about using social media to achieve PR goals:

  • Social media is participatory by its nature and requires on-going engagement.
  • When using social media for PR, your goal is to create a tribe that engages around a specific interest. Therefore, where possible, target influencers.
  • The context in which the content is consumed can influence how readers interpret it.
  • If your specific tactics require users to create content in the form of posts, photos, videos, comments and sharing, bear in mind that creators in the U.S. have reached a plateau according to Forrester, so think in terms of low risk, easy-to-do interactions.

Unlike the traditional press release’s well-established marketing format, these social media recommendations provide a variety of alternatives to engage with your prospects, your customers, your investors and the public while creating on-going communications platforms. They need to be tested and adapted to meet your firm or your client’s specific needs as well as incorporated into the rest of your marketing and communications plans.

If you have any other suggestions, please include them in the comment section below.

Author: Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is an actionable marketing expert. As president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi works with online media companies and e-tailers to increase profitability with innovative marketing programs based on solid analytics. During the course of 20 years, Heidi has obtained deep experience in direct and digital marketing across a broad array of products including soft goods, financial services, entertainment, media entities and crafts-oriented goods. Heidi shares her actionable marketing insights on her blog. Find Heidi Cohen online at Twitter @heidicohen, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Other posts by Heidi Cohen

  • http://chriswrenla.blogspot.com Chris Wren

    Social Media Optimization (SMO) can come into play big time here. While these following 5 rules of SMO cross into content strategy a bit – I believe they have great implications for PR. Check them out here: http://www.rohitbhargava.com/5_rules_of/

    • Heidi Cohen

      Chris–Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree one of the strong reasons for using social media to extend your PR efforts is the search optimization benefits that many forms of social media yield. If you’re looking to enhance your search optimization, it’s important to consider the keywords that you’re already using to integrate them into your social media efforts. Also, think about using online video since it’s very search friendly. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • Rich McElaney

    We’re about to embark on a PR campaign so your post is very timely and provides some great food for thought on tapping the synergy between PR and Social Media. I was especially intrigued with the reference to Forrester’s work on the content creator plateau – unfortunately your link led to a dead-end – can you provide the link to that report or additional background on it? Much appreciated Heidi!

    Rich McElaney
    http://www.cleverwraps.com