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Ask the Expert: Q&A with Shonali Burke, part one on social media and PR

Award-winning [1] communications consultant Shonali Burke, [2] ABC, principal of Shonali Burke Consulting and adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, delivered a webinar on designing a social media-optimized PR program. This presentation was part of an ongoing six-part series sponsored by Marketwire and HubSpot titled “How to Supercharge Your PR Program [3].”

In her presentation, Shonali, a well-known PR measurement guru and active blogger [4] based in Washington, D.C., talked about how social media allows PR practitioners to build a community, giving them the ability to expand their messages and connect with people like never before. Several points she stressed are the importance of aligning PR objectives with business objectives, integrating all facets of a PR strategy or campaign, measuring the ongoing success of the campaign and tying all tactics to a central destination, or hub. 

To explore these concepts in greater detail, we asked Shonali a few specific follow-up questions. In Part One, below, she delves into social media and public relations.

How does social media change the practice of public relations?

Before social media emerged as a powerful communication mechanism, PR was primarily a one-way form of communication. Most people perceived PR (and many still do) as mostly publicity. Information was pushed out to media and PR people depended on the media to get their stories and news to publishers. Social media gives customers the ability to talk directly with organizations. This can be great or terrible. I think it’s great because companies benefit by learning how to make a product or service better. Traditional PR has been good for telling stories well. Social media adds the ability to share them with different channels and to build audiences, customers and communities – to build a community structure. Sometimes social media falls under PR, marketing or a different area of an organization because of the functional area’s ability to talk directly with consumers and interact with people they hope will grow their community. This aspect is very exciting – your community can make or break you.

How do you decide which social media tactics to use for a PR campaign?

Whether you’re putting together a PR strategy (long term) or campaign (short term), you have to look at business objectives and tie your PR strategy to them. At the end of the day, you’re working for a company with business goals. Look at your company’s strategic plans and objectives. Talk to executives leading the business units for your organization to find out what their objectives are. 

Once you know what those objectives are, start working backward. Find the people you need to reach. Learn where the conversation is taking place among the social media communities that you want to inspire to take action and to change behavior. You need to do your research and then decide which social platforms to incorporate that will help you reach your objectives.  

A lot of organizations see chatter going on in the social world. The quick reaction is to make sure people hear what your business is saying. It’s unrealistic to assume that because “Company X” is using this platform very well that “Company Y” should too. You have to focus on business objectives and what is going to help you achieve them, and then base your tactical decisions on that.

What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking about incorporating social media into his or her traditional PR practices?

Align your PR/communication objectives with your organization’s business objectives (I’m not leaving out non-profits since they have business objectives as well).   

Realize that:

Stay tuned for Part Two in which Shonali discusses integrated communications and the “hub and spoke” approach.

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