Is Social Media Really the Secret Sauce?


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The synergy realized when PR and social media are strongly aligned and fully integrated can create a truly remarkable brand experience. And even more broadly, social media can help fuel effective marketing across disciplines.

Much has been written and said about the relationship between PR and social media in recent years. The formula is quite simple to me. In most cases, a brand’s newsworthiness is the lifeblood that makes it interesting and compelling to its consumers. If a brand has news to share, it most likely will employ a public relations strategy to share that news. And if the brand chooses to use PR, then it’s most likely generating relevant, shareable content. And if a brand has appealing content to share, then it has the foundational elements needed to fuel a successful social media strategy.

To me, the link between public relations and social media is undeniable.

Public relations has always been about a two-way dialogue vs. a one-way monologue. PR is an effective way to cultivate and nurture relationships with key influencers, ultimately leading to the end-goal of driving brand advocacy. Unlike most advertising or paid media, PR is non-linear, “always on,” and happens in real-time. PR can give brands a human voice, helping to bring them to life in authentic and relevant ways. Sounds an awful lot like social media, doesn’t it?

But the parallels don’t end there. Properly conceived and executed PR strategies can effectively integrate distinct campaign elements in the paid/owned/earned media continuum. Similarly, social media also can provide the power to energize the paid/earned/owned components in cutting-edge brand campaigns. For example, paid media benefits when brands collaborate with consumers and influencers to inform campaign content, and then engages them to help spread the word. Earned media profits from the use of social media as a platform for two-way content sharing, effectively extending the traditional new cycle (the concept of “bonfires” vs. “fireworks”). And owned media gains from content that’s liquid – flowing across channels – and linked – driving consumers back to a website or social media property.

Like PR, social media offers an efficient way to drive outcomes in a number of meaningful ways:

Listening to the Conversation 

In many respects, social media has given consumers a new voice and a new platform in which to use that voice. Brands and organizations that tune in can learn a lot just by listening. Or as baseball great Yogi Berra once quipped, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” By monitoring the conversation, brands can gain a deeper understanding of their consumers’ perceptions and concerns, driving valuable insights. Forward-leaning brands can uncover trends and opportunities. And social media is a powerful tool in flagging early warnings signs when challenges or problems emerge on the horizon.

Building Personal Relationships, at Scale

“Personal relationships at scale” may sound counter-intuitive until you consider social media’s ability to connect. Brands derive greater value through an approach based on relationships vs. transactions. Social media allows brands to connect with consumers in new and more intimate ways – essentially building one-to-one relationships, but with the added advantage of doing it at scale. Imagine the luxury of being the brand manager for Coca-Cola and having the ability to speak directly to 53 million fans on its Facebook page – in real-time, and with a built-in feedback loop.

Driving Conversations through Sharing

It’s been said that remarkable results require remarkable brand experiences. Social media is an ideal tool for creating “talkability” for your brand by providing experiences that are relevant and interesting. For consumers, relevance helps drive engagement, and engagement helps drive loyalty. What makes content remarkable? It needs to be emotional, portable, and repeatable. Think about the last piece of viral content you shared with a friend. Very likely, it moved you at some deeper level, it was easily shared, and you could explain it in 30 seconds or less.

Benefiting from a Federated Approach 

A robust social engagement practice can benefit an organization across multiple functions, but for many, that requires a new way of thinking. Social media doesn’t fit neatly into existing functional silos. But properly built, an enterprise-wide social media strategy can create value in a variety of ways. It can be a resource to help surface and identify issues, risks and opportunities on the front-end. As a service tool, social media is a smart and effective way to resolve product concerns or issues. A plethora of available data provides the opportunity for nimble, real-time campaign and brand diagnostics. Conversation metrics around volume, sentiment, and attribute-tracking can provide a longitudinal evaluation of your brand’s performance. And social media is a strong tool for both trend identification and insight exploration.

Leading with Key Influencers

Having worked in the PR field for 25 years, I’ve always believed that it matters who you tell first. Social media allows brands to share important news with their fans and loyalists first. Combined with outreach to key online influencers like bloggers, this can be an effective way to jumpstart a campaign and ensure its success. Providing a sneak peak at new advertising creative or packaging makes followers feel like “insiders.” Asking them for their feedback engages them even further. Ironically, the fragmented landscape in which our brands operate has created even more opportunities for them to micro-target key opinion leaders. In other words, a brand doesn’t have to matter to everyone – but it does have the opportunity to matter to someone. Proactively building and then nurturing relationships with the right people benefits a brand in immeasurable ways – during both the good times and the bad.

Playing by the Rules

The hallmarks of good PR apply even more pointedly to social media. Authenticity, transparency and integrity are essential. Brands that don’t live up to that commitment will hear about it – often in a very public forum, and often policed by members of its own community. It’s true that not everyone will like everything that a brand or organization does – that’s just the world we live in today. But in the end, social media should make us better marketers, and make our brands and organizations better.

So is social media really the secret sauce? On its own, probably not. But when tightly linked and synced with a strategic PR approach, the combination can be very powerful. And when thoughtfully and strategically integrated across marketing disciplines, social media can be a game-changer for many brands, providing the fuel to energize campaigns in new powerful ways.

– Greg Zimprich, SVP, Kohnstamm Communications