Public relations has always been a social endeavor. Even vendors in old-as-dirt markets understood the importance of spreading the word about town as a way to drive business. After all, those ripe batches of juicy plums weren’t going to sell themselves or improve with age. And, there was always another vendor just up the road, potentially with better prices and fewer bruises on the fruit.
Thanks to technology and digital channels, the social component in PR is now amplified. Online conversations and communities present invaluable opportunities for brands to tap into people’s needs and interests as they raise their visibility. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to cut through all the noise on social channels, not to mention pulling folks away from Pokemon Go.
In a webinar called “Unleashing the Power of Social PR,” Shonali Burke made the point that it’s not enough to communicate your messages, you must build community that you can then motivate to tell your story for you. If you’re wondering how exactly you’re supposed to do that, here are some of the top takeaways from that webinar combined with some best practices we follow here at Sterling.
Social PR is about engaging, not broadcasting. In the ongoing battle for thought leadership, it can be easy to push, push, push content and talk at people instead of with them. But this is a damaging mistake. Growing brand awareness through social media starts with meaningful engagement where organic conversations flow in both directions. Also, listening is key. Pay close attention to what you see and hear online, and then use what you learn to inform your online engagement strategy. The more you embrace real-time conversation, the more comfortable your audiences will feel engaging with your brand.
Focus on community. Keep your friends close, but your brand ambassadors closer. It’s essential to nurture your relationship with brand advocates — the 1% that will “share and drive your content to their own networks.” Rather than fight tirelessly to lure passive audiences that may or may not be paying attention or willing to take action, you should build your community from the inside out by first enlisting your brand ambassadors. (When those people feel inspired to spread your message, they encourage others to do the same.) A strong community core is tough to ignore.
Keep your content fresh. Everyone knows that content is king. But to maximize the value high-quality content can have on your brand, you must do more than pump out a blog post or two on random topics each month. Content must be carefully curated, regularly refreshed, and crafted with SEO in mind. Digital PR entwines content with strategic search and keyword optimization across all channels—social media, web copy, the company blog, press releases, etc. The first step is to identify the words and phrases your audience already uses, and then infuse them into your content, so that when you put them online, they get due notice. Not only will Google show you some love by improving your search ranking, but your communities will appreciate the meaningful information you offer, and be more likely to share it.
Be patient and prioritize. Best practices don’t just materialize overnight. It can take months for digital PR efforts to bear fruit in the form of coverage, increased website traffic, improved sales, and growing your online follower base. While it’s tempting to conquer all these areas—and others—at once, it’s best to prioritize what’s most important to your near-term business goals. Are you looking to gain mindshare or drive more leads? The answer to that will show you the right initial focus areas.
Building a loyal community takes a concerted effort over time, but it becomes significantly easier if your social engagement is more effective. If you can authentically convey who you are over social channels when conversing with your brand advocates, you’ll bring people together and, in the process, capture audience attention more successfully.