5 PR and social media trends for 2014

Data mining, ceding control, tapping superfans’ influence, and being ‘useful’ are the keys to the future — and that future has already begun.

Want a glimpse into the future of what’s hot in PR, marketing, and social media for 2014? I’ll let you in on a little secret: The future is already here, and brands must get on board now.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of attending two fantastic conferences that left me feeling inspired, engaged, and ready to take action. First, I attended the Public Relations Society of America International Conference in Philadelphia. Then I traveled to Huntsville, Ala., for the Social Media Tourism Symposium (#SoMeT13US).

At these conferences, I heard from big-name speakers including Brian Solis, Jay Baer, and Mack Collier, along with PR and social media professionals down in the trenches at agencies and tourism offices.

A few major themes emerged from both conferences. Here’s what you must know about the top five PR and social media trends for 2014:

1. Let your brand’s superfans help do your marketing/selling for you. Who better to promote your product/service/destination than the people who are already head over heels in love with it? A brand’s superfans — the people who talk about them online, advocate for their products, and spread the word however they can — are a powerful marketing and selling tool.

As Mack Collier, the founder of #BlogChat and author of “Think Like A Rockstar,” said in his Social Media Tourism Symposium keynote, “You’re marketing to the wrong people…the real money is in connecting with your biggest fans. Your fans will go out and acquire new customers for you.”

Collier encouraged the brands at the conference to love those fans right back. Connecting with your superfans, giving them the tools to best help you, and treating them like gold go a long way.

There are a few brands I am completely loyal to that I write about often on my blog. (Dunkin’ Donuts, Temple University, and FatCow immediately come to mind.) I genuinely love all three of these brands and am happy to spread the word about them on my blog and social media accounts because I love their products, am a fan of their online and offline strategy, and appreciate the ways they connect with me as a consumer.

2. Give up control of your brand. Mack Collier went on to explain that brands must give up control to get control. Kind of scary, right? As communication professionals, our job is to protect the brands we represent, so the idea of giving up control can make a marketer feel a little uneasy.

It’s an important concept and one we must accept and embrace if we want our brands and companies to succeed. A trending topic at both conferences was the idea that your fans and community own your brand just as much as you do.

Fans now have the ability to create their own content (videos, tweets, posts, etc.) about your brand. The key here is to really take a hard look at your strategy for working with your brand’s superfans (see point No. 1 above). If you create content geared specifically toward those fans (key word: fans, not customers) and give them the tools to promote you, they will do it in a way that reflects on your brand positively. Remember, it’s all about trust and giving up a little bit of control.

Coincidentally, Mack wrote a post about this very topic after attending the Social Media Tourism Symposium, so head over to his blog to learn more about this idea.

3. Think about content more strategically, and plan for the long term. After attending a session on how content is developed, curated, and promoted at #SoMeT13US, I was inspired by two tourism organizations that have an incredible content strategy. Presenters from Travel Oregon and Miles, on behalf of the Louisiana Office of Tourism, showcased their incredibly organized content calendars, all the way from big themes for the year down to the nitty-gritty daily Facebook posts and tweets.

What I took away from this session was the idea that in order to make the most impact, we must be more strategic and think ahead for the long term. We must have a content plan. But more than having a plan for what content we want our brand to share, we must have a plan for which platforms the content will be posted and shared on. One of the presenters, Theresa Overby, shared her smart “rule of three”: If you create a piece of content, you must use it on at least three different platforms/channels.

In terms of how to create all that content especially if your team is not big enough to be churn out tons of original content on a daily basis? The presenters suggested finding a balance between original and curated content. Again, we go back to No. 1 and No. 2 above about using those superfans or brand ambassadors and allowing them to create content for your brand.

4. We have to be smarter about using data. There’s a running joke among PR pros that we got into communication because we’re bad at math. In general, many of us are fonder of words than of numbers — but that’s changing.

A major theme at the PRSA Conference this year was that as PR pros, we must learn to love numbers and understand how and why using data can be an extremely powerful tool. As my friend, author of The Future Buzz and Googler Adam Singer said during the session, “Data is sexy…because data equals more money.”

Numbers can help tell a story when working with the media, and numbers can justify a larger budget and more staff/resources at an organization. Instead of shying away from analytics, statistics, and numbers, we must insert ourselves into those conversations and gain access to the tools to help us better understand the data driving the success of our organizations.

5. Just be useful. This tip is simple and timeless. In boosting our brands, we must just be useful to our customers and fans.

Jay Baer delivered the opening keynote at #SoMeT13US and explained the concept behind his book Youtility. He said, “Youtility is marketing so useful, people would pay for it.” He gave an awesome example of Youtility by showing us his Facebook newsfeed.

As he scrolled, he showed the audience a message from a company, followed by a status update from a friend, followed by another company, then an update from his wife, another friend, and another company. His point here was that everything is blended now. Messages from brands we love are mixed in with messages from our family and friends.

If you’re useful and provide information that your customers are looking for, they will respect you and, ideally, purchase from you. He urged marketers to use their online tools to provide utility first and to promote themselves second.

A version of this article originally appeared on JessicaLawlor.com. Jessica Lawlor is a public relations professional and freelance writer in the Philadelphia area. Check out her blog at JessicaLawlor.com or follow her on Twitter.

Topics: PR

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