7 essentials for smart social PR strategy

Practitioners face many obstacles to building and engaging online communities for their clients and brands. These guidelines can help.

When I teach workshops, certain stumbling blocks to smart social PR strategy come up frequently.

As the workshop facilitator, it’s my job to help participants understand how to overcome these challenges or, at the very least, find a less painful way to deal with them.

Here are the seven most frequently asked questions in my social PR strategy workshops, and how I typically answer them:

1. ‘Too much to do; not enough time. Now you’re asking me to add social media?’

This is true—but this is true of life in general. As far as social media goes, that’s what smart tools such as HootSuite, Buffer and PostPlanner are for. There are hundreds more useful tools than I can name here, but for now, I’ll direct you to Ian Cleary’s excellent tools directory.

2. ‘Social media isn’t part of my job.’

Whoa, Nelly. Just because social media isn’t in your job description doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be keeping up with the times. Regardless of whether your work focuses on government relations, advocacy, member communications, media relations and so on, social media is part of everyone’s job.

Even if you are not directly responsible for managing your organization’s social media properties, there is always a way social media can support, supplement or complement your job. You just have to find it.

3. ‘I want to learn how to use Twitter to engage better with reporters.’

I love it when I hear this, because there’s a really important word flung in with all the rest: “engage.” What we uncover in the workshop is how to learn to engage without fearregardless of who’s on the other end—because that’s when true engagement comes into play.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using Twitter, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or ______. The basic principles of engagement are the same, but it works only if you work it.

By the way, “social PR” is not simply about pitching reporters via Twitter. If that’s all you’re using Twitter for, you’re missing out.

4. ‘How do I engage my audience?’

Once we establish that engagement is about a change in attitude, then we can start to change behavior. The key to building engaged audiences (and keeping them that way) is really very simple: You listen, and you respond. Then they respond, and you listen. Then you respond, and then they respond—and on it goes.

How you do this effectively gets us into the realm of tools, platforms, setting up listening dashboards, and so on. Though I truly believe there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there’s always a way to openly and sincerely listen.

Yes, it takes time, but it’s worth it.

5. ‘We have a lot of followers, but they don’t do anything.’

Assuming the majority are not bots, this is probably because:

  • You haven’t really started engaging with them;
  • You’re not asking them to do anything;
  • You only (or mostly) talk to them when you want something.

In other words, you have a lot of followers, but no community.

Strategic social PR isn’t just about using new channels to “get your message out.” That’s a dead-tree approach to PR in this day and age. What social PR excels at is putting community at the heart of public relations. Invest in your community, and you’ll be amazed at how much they do for you.

6. ‘There’s so much going on. How do we know what to track?’

That’s why you have to blueprint your social PR strategy. Begin at the end, identifying what you’re trying to achieve, and work backward from there.

If you don’t do this at the outset, it will be virtually impossible for you to set up an effective listening program (even if it’s rudimentary), which will hold you back on the engagement front.

7. ‘We want more ______.’

“More” is good—most of the time—but can you identify how more [whatever it is] is going to help you achieve results that make sense from a business point of view? If not, then you have to step back and figure out what you’re trying to do, and why it’s important.

It can take a while to get to the bottom of those questions, but it’s really important not to give up.

Because until you do find those answers, your efforts won’t be strategic. That’s a shame, because PR that isn’t strategic can be tiring and disheartening and make you feel as though you’re walking through a never-ending maze. Why would anyone want to put himself through that?

Shonali Burke is the founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, where a version of this article first appeared.


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