Clearing the way in the Social Media jungle

Having settled into the jungle at 3 Monkeys, my priority is to help us and our clients immerse ourselves in the fast-moving online PR world. These days, it is hard to avoid mentions of social media when discussing PR – according to a new survey from recruitment agency The Works, 85% of the consumer agencies asked are planning to offer digital services this year. But whilst there is much chatter about undertaking these activities, there is still a lot of uncertainty about they actually entail.

The confusion surrounding the discipline starts with the fact that the term ‘social media’ is still poorly defined – Econsultancy found 34 definitions for the term! So where to begin?

Well, imagine you’re with friends at dinner, at a party, or just hanging out. John enthusiastically plays the new album he downloaded while Jane mentions the face-cream she uses, and Sophie shows pictures of the hotel she has just returned from on holiday (“absolutely wonderful – you must all go and stay there”). Paul meanwhile relates the story he heard at work about his boss’ wife’s best friend’s husband who had a terrible meal at a famous restaurant (“The chef even came out and swore at them! I’ll never go there if they paid me!”).

Now imagine that instead of a few friends exchanging these thoughts, there are hundreds or thousands or millions sharing these snippets. That is what “Social Media” is about.

It is people having conversations online, which can involve words, pictures, videos and audio. The important element is that conversation means interaction and with interaction comes involvement. The internet makes this social connection not only possible but inevitable, because it allows people with similar interests to interact online and share information and passions (such as a love of cheese).

It is in this environment that PR agencies can join the conversation; offering brands the opportunity to talk directly to the consumer. However, it is vital to understand that two- (or more) way communication has replaced the traditional monologue. The point is not to tell the public how to think or act, but to engage with them and listen to what they think, and then react accordingly. By building relationships, a brand can build trust and loyalty, and develop a whole network of people willing to spread the word positively or defend a brand if any negative sentiment appears. These people start feeling connected and “belonging”.

There is an (understandable) fear at allowing the brand message, cultivated through hard work and big budgets, loose on the web. However, brands are starting to realise that journalists, industry peers or the general public will talk about them online no matter what, discussing their products, their advertising and what their mate told them in the pub. By having a presence where these conversations are happening, companies can follow them and act upon them when necessary.

A social media campaign can include a wide range of activities from campaign amplification, through blogger outreach to community management. But all online strategies should follow the same three core tenets:

  • Visibility – put simply, for an online campaign to work, people need to know about the product or brand, so the greater the visibility (be it in blogs, search engines or social networks), the better. Awareness can be raised through increased brand mentions online.
  • Reputation – there is no value however in getting people talking about a brand if they are going to criticise it – this is where reputation-management comes into effect. By continually monitoring online mentions of brands or products, PROs can detect negative sentiment brewing under the surface, and take action to stop it before it becomes noticeable.
  • Action – all online activity needs a specific output, whether it is pushing sales, driving engaged traffic or registrations, or steering opinions. Having a clear idea of what success looks like at the start will allow for benchmarking throughout the campaign to ensure the best results and greatest ROI.

Social media offers brands the opportunity to get closer to their target market than ever before (but in an extremely cost-effective way), sharing in their excitement and enthusiasm about their personal or business interests. By understanding what they are looking for and by providing it where possible, brands can build powerful online advocacy. However, by not undertaking the necessary research or engaging with the online community properly, companies will find themselves in the middle of a very dangerous, and some would say deserved, reputational minefield.

Rob – Social Monkey

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