The rise of social media is undeniable with a growing body of statistics that is hard to ignore says Caroline Beswick, Managing Partner of Trinity Public Relations.
In 2012, 33 million adults used the internet daily, compared with 16 million in 2006 according to the Office of National Statistics. One of the most popular online activities in the UK is reading the news. Almost half of adults (48%) now use social networking sites and for the younger age group (16-24 year olds) this leaps to a massive 87%. While social networking is lower amongst the older generation – it is by no means an irrelevant figure with just one in ten over 65s using social networks. So, it would seem that social media use now spans generations, demographics and professions.
Don’t undervalue PR’s worth
Many leading brands across the world utilise social media extremely effectively and it’s fair to say that for most companies, social media is now a critical component of an effective marketing strategy. The potential audience reach is undoubtedly appealing, particularly if you’re heading up a new marketing drive for your company or appointing a PR or marketing agency and want to be able to attribute these types of figures to your campaign.
So, we’re agreed – social media does indeed give clients and marketing agencies a new “playground” to communicate in and the potential to reach – and crucially interact with – a huge audience. However one word of caution – it would be unwise to see social media as a total replacement for other PR and marketing tactics. In our experience, it is important to keep an “open mind” in particular at the brief and pitching stage and consider social media (networks such as Facebook and Twitter) as a package alongside so-called traditional communication routes (e.g. a double page spread in Good Housekeeping or the headline interview for the company spokesperson on Radio 4’s Today programme).
The prognosis is healthy
Be reassured, if you’re currently undergoing a PR agency selection process, most PR agencies will take a holistic view of your brief and consider all the options available to engage with your target audience to meet your business goals. Budget is clearly a key consideration when developing and signing off a PR programme – so while the ideal is a well-rounded, far reaching campaign, it may be that the reality is slightly more targeted in one media area.
How to brief a PR agency
So, what’s the best approach if you’re developing a PR agency brief? My advice would be – don’t turn your back on the value of “traditional media”. Many of the UK’s longest-standing media outlets have a huge influence on consumers thinking and behaviour and with the fast-evolving nature of today’s media, many of the best loved “brands” are diversifying. For example, the Daily Mail’s printed newspaper circulation of 1.6 million per day is now greatly outweighed by the MailOnline (the site recently passed nine million unique browsers in a single day for the first time2) – with many readers loyal to both formats. So, the lines between the traditional and social are becoming blurred.
As I said earlier, the key therefore is to take a holistic view and invest in an integrated campaign in which PR is fully immersed in your wider digital strategy.
Here are our key points to consider when developing an integrated social media and PR campaign:
■Develop a creative idea or strong news hook for your campaign that spans all media platforms to ensure consistency of message across all areas and good editorial pick up Ensure that you have your own social media “house” in order – use your own platforms (e.g. website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ , LinkedIn) to share news, and engage and interact with your target audience and the media . You, or your PR or marketing agency, should also use your own social media networks to listen to and monitor conversations to assess what customers feel about your products and services and gain valuable insight into what is happening in your industry.
■If you’re working with a PR agency, remember that contacts are still king! The digitalisation of processes i.e. emailing releases to journalists, uploading blogs and Tweeting editorial coverage all have their place – but need to be used alongside tried and tested ways of building personal relationships with journalists including regular phone contact, meeting up at events, lunches etc.
■While social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest can reach a huge audience and help to build a community for a brand or campaign, in-depth content and analysis is naturally limited. So, these platforms are best used within the wider PR programme to “broadcast” real-time news – supported by more in-depth content on additional platforms (e.g. print /online editorial features, blogs, video etc.). Social media networks and news organisations are increasingly integrated – so should be viewed as a holistic target. While many internet users go straight to news sites for their information, others are keep-up-to date in real time via social networks e.g. Twitter updates – and then go directly to a particular newspaper (e.g. The Times) or broadcast outlet (e.g. Radio 4) for greater analysis.
■Social media networks such as Twitter are increasingly used as a tool by journalists – so producing engaging and innovative content for your campaign is increasingly important if you want to capture the media’s attention. According to Dan Pacheco, chair of journalism innovation at New York’s Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, “The brands with most impact will be connected to individual journalists.