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Want to be a success at PR in the era of social media? Start with listening.

Social media and public relations innovator, thinker and lecturer Todd Defren [1] kicked off the Marketwire/HubSpot six-part webinar series, “How to Supercharge Your PR Program with Social Media [2].” Todd’s session on May 5, “PR: That Was Then, This Is Now,” was filled with tips and insights for PR pros who are serious about making social media part of their overall strategy, and it helped set the stage for the next five sessions of the series. Here are some highlights:

The Top-down Early Days
The PR industry is about 75 years old, and for much of its history there was only one way for organizations to reach their publics: through mass media channels such as newspapers and radio. The man on the street really had no say except via letter-writing campaigns. And those letters to the editor very rarely saw the light of day. In other words, PR was all “top down.” And media relations was relegated to the anonymous PR person – the voice on the phone or person’s name on the fax or pitch letter. In fact, the PR person ranked in the same category as the vilified used car salesman and lawyer.

Today Everyone’s a Publisher
Social media has challenged the mass communication model in a major way. For the past five years public relations has been about public relationships. Consumers can now talk back. It’s a two-way dialog, and everybody is a publisher. Yes, we’re still trying to reach and influence our media audiences, but who those influencers are has dramatically broadened and dialog is relationship-based – not campaign-based. 

It’s still exciting to get placement in The New York Times or talked about by a prominent industry blogger, but in the social media era it’s about how “output” (e.g., media coverage, blog coverage, press releases, online video) and “outtake” (e.g., comments/likes/shares, tonality, share of voice) translate into “outcome” or business results (e.g., site visits, registrations, purchases).

We need to look at PR as if it’s a funnel and ensure that leads are qualified on the way down. To do this, our job requires us to get access to internal resources such as web analytics – an often tough job since company departments tend to operate in silos. PR folks can enlist stakeholders in key informational areas to become social media evangelists and work together to boost their entire company’s social media ROI.

Don’t Bring the Wrong Dish to the Potluck
Success starts with listening to learn what our audience wants. Todd used a potluck invitation as an analogy:  There are those who are afraid to bring a dish – similar to the era from 2005 to 2009 when most organizations listened to social media conversations but were afraid to jump in. After 2009 many folks became over-confident and jumped in but didn’t contribute appropriately. This is similar to someone who brings a meat-heavy dish to a potluck filled with a group of vegetarians. We must do our homework.

Following effective listening is “focus” – knowing exactly what we want to accomplish. Then delivery – of conversation-sparking, relevant content via the right channels, and ensuring it’s credible and findable. To accomplish this, we need to make search engine optimization [3] a factor in everything we do. Finally, we must measure our efforts and report on their business impact. Remember, anything that can be clicked on can be measured.

Creating a Social-media Optimized Plan
Our second webinar of the series is “Creating a Social-media Optimized Plan” on June 2 with Shonali Burke [4], ABC, Principal, Shonali Burke Consulting. She will help us understand how to set benchmarks and key performance indicators that align with our company goals and increase our brand reach. She will also help us understand how to incorporate landing pages, tracking tokens and SEO so we win followers and generate leads – and leverage the social media press release to speak to the needs of influential bloggers and consumers. Click here [5] to find out more about the series and to register.

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