By Josh Cline
Social media is a tool. It is a channel, like a newspaper or radio; a media channel and a communication channel. What does this mean for public relations practitioners?
One of the main reasons to hire a public relations agency is because they have the connections with the media, industry-knowledge and know how to communicate a message. They aren’t just relying on a media database, but have real relations or the know-how to build others. PR practitioners gain these relationships primarily through networking, whether it’s a cocktail party, industry event, or trade show. Public relations agencies succeed because of their personal relationships with journalists, other influencers and new relationships they know how to cultivate.
Social media networks can provide a networking space to build relationships. They are, by definition, social. On Twitter, you can speak one-on-one with many journalists and influencers. It also can help them reach out to you. For example, as the result of a recent contest that one of our clients won, which was posted on Twitter and spread via relationship-building and conversational engagement, several media outlets reached out to us, asking to cover the client. Not only are these potential stories that might not have otherwise been published, but unlike in many other cases in which the agency approaches the media outlet, in this case, the outlet approached us. This is more likely to lead to a higher placement and a better story. Simply because we embraced a communications channel that is used by 10% of North American Internet users. For B2B businesses, this is also very common on LinkedIn, using networking to position the client as an expert in its field and gaining recognition from customers and potential journalists.
Another role of social media and public relations is blogger outreach. Who is a blogger? Today, this can be anything from your neighbor who has an opinion to Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. At the same time, your neighbor might have more readers or influence on his or her niche topic.
If you are only writing in print, many companies or journalists might not find you. As an example, Avi Hein writes a popular wine blog on Israeli wine. Very few people are writing about this niche topic in English, but there are a few – who are far more influential and knowledgeable than he may be . However, because they were writing in print and not online, journalists frequently approached him when they were looking to do a story on Israeli wine and newspaper’s online editions link to his site. Of course he always refers the journalists to the other experts, but despite that, there might be times that he was quoted and not the expert. Alternatively, because his blog serves as an influential channel, others will sometimes send content in order to increase their influence.
It’s not about the technology: it’s not about blogging or RSS or HTML or WordPress or Joomla or whatever. Rather, social media is just that – media – and it is the role of the public relations practitioner to be fluent and comfortable in all media, whether it’s a print newspaper, student radio station, or blog or Twitter.