“Who gives a damn what I had for breakfast?” We’ve all said it. We all meant it. Most of us, though, got over it. Didn’t we?
Hopefully most PR students and newly fledged flacks will have come to accept that social media is just one element in the communications mix. It doesn’t exist to scare us. Its sole purpose is not to trick us. It’s our friend. And even those that initially feared/resented/snubbed it, have learnt to love it. Most of us, in fact, wouldn’t be without it.
But, for each one of us new to the industry – excited by the prospect of getting stuck into the twittersphere – there exists an old school PR practitioner, terrified at the prospect of scaring away their stakeholders with tales of this morning’s dippy egg and soldiers.
If you’re lucky enough to have experienced working in a company that jumped on the social media bandwagon – and held on – then this article’s probably not for you.
But if, like me, you’re new to the industry, you may find that trying to apply your knowledge in the workplace has seen you swiftly plummeting back down to Google earth. Whilst the private sector may have grabbed the bull by its photo-shopped horns, some practitioners in the public and third sectors are left feeling more like a bull in a china shop when it comes to embracing social media.
When I got my first job in the press office of a district council, social media was akin to ‘he who shall not be named.’ If you acknowledged it, you’d have to deal with it. And, to my colleagues, who’d been slogging away in the council for many a year, that was new. And scary. “Delete it! Delete it!” was the office’s social media mantra, with the occasional automated tweet about the latest ‘corporate performance overview scrutiny committee’ thrown in, for tokenistic measure.
“And?” I hear you say: “councils are not exactly renowned for being leaders in the sector.” You have a point – local authority press offices have a bad rap (thanks Malcolm Tucker). But social media fear is not an exclusively public sector phenomenon – many in the third sector break out in a cold sweat at the thought of someone writing a swear word on their social media pages too. I know, I’m now in my second job – in the press office of a national charity.
The biggest problem in embracing social media is control. Many of us are in PR because we’re perfectionists. Some of us are borderline control freaks (sometimes it’s just not worth arguing about a comma).
And after years of closely guarding your organisation’s reputation, tightly controlling your key messages and spending hours deliberating over punchy headlines – it’s not that hard to see why social media can be scary for the seasoned communications professional.
And that’s why I want social media to sod off.
I don’t mean let’s finish Facebook or terminate Twitter. I actually mean the opposite. It’s the term ‘social media’ that’s too daunting. We’re not all ready to join the ranks of the twittarati or upload videos of our children biting each other’s fingers on YouTube. But for those of us that understand PR – using a new platform to communicate our message really needn’t be that scary.
What we, as PRs, do online isn’t new or risky. It’s just PR. If you’re already good at that then you’re 95% there.
But if you – or your more experienced colleagues – still don’t believe me, then the best way to combat the fear, as the saying goes, is to face it head on. With that in mind, here are some tips to get you started.
- Ask yourself why: Social media is set to stay and embracing it is a must. But, as with more traditional PR tools, you need to ask yourself the usual “ws” – who, what, why, where, when. If there’s no reason for you to be on Facebook that’s ok. Perhaps Twitter will be more relevant to the audience you want to target? Or maybe LinkedIn will better suit your needs?
- Start at the beginning: There are thousands of websites, blogs and articles out there to help you get started online, but sometimes the source is the best place to begin. For example, Twitter has some great advice on where to start.
- Stop being a scaredy cat: Nobody wants to get it wrong but be confident in your ability. A good question to ask yourself before you post something online is – would I say this over the phone? If the answer’s ‘yes’ then give it go. If it’s ‘no’ then ask yourself why.
- Engage: The great thing about social media is you can get feedback from your stakeholders. Don’t just push out information, start a conversation. And be polite – say thank you when people do engage with you.
- Include an ask: The best received posts often contain a call for action. Keep it simple. Quick and easy asks such as ‘Share this picture if you agree we’re better without bullying’ allow people to interact with you at the touch of a button.
- Be human: There’s nothing more annoying than someone gumming up your feeds with obviously automated posts.
- Let sleeping dogs lie: Sometimes deleting a post can look like you’ve got something to hide or spur further negative comments. Don’t get drawn into arguments and don’t take it personally. There are some great tips for dealing with negative comments here.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Make sure you have enough time to maintain the pages you set up. Unpopulated or out of date profiles look unprofessional. You also need to make sure you regularly respond to questions and keep an eye out for negative comments.