Three ways communicators can use technology effectively

Social media, mobile apps and other innovations are making it easier than ever to reach audiences. Here’s how to grasp changes without getting overwhelmed.

Technology has forever changed the way PR pros communicate with their audiences.

PR pros connect to consumers through more than just focus groups or email; they also hear from them on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

Added to pitching and securing interviews is an emphasis on content creation. Communicators must solve crises faster than ever before. The staggering amount of tools available to help PR pros complete tasks can be overwhelming.

However, these three insights—from Jason Musante, group executive creative director and managing director at Havas New York, and from Thomas Crampton, global managing director of social media at Ogilvy, can help PR pros use online platforms successfully:

1. Social media is no longer optional.

No matter the organization or client, PR pros must learn to embrace social media communications-including the technology behind their chosen platforms.

“You don’t need a social media strategy,” Crampton says. “You need social media within your strategy—which is to say that you can no longer think of social media as a separate add-on, as something that you bring in at the last minute. Social media has to be core to what you are doing. ”

PR pros should measure their efforts online, using them to help prove their worth.

“The more concrete and clear [metrics] are, [and] the more that they speak to people outside of social media, the better,” Crampton says.

No matter how solid your measurement is, social media comes with a level of uncertainty. Brand managers should realize that PR pros who reach out to consumers through social media are “no longer in control of the messaging,” Musante says. “It’s now a conversation. Once you release the genie from the bottle, you’ll have very limited control over where the conversation goes.”

Lack of control and quickly developing crises may make some communicators shy away from using social media.

Musante mentions the infamous #MyNYPD hashtag that went awry soon after it launched on Twitter. However, he says the department’s brand managers learned valuable lessons and grew stronger because of the misstep.

“While you cannot always prevent failure, we’re always better when we fail,” Musante says. “Success is on the other side of failure.”

2. Relationships are paramount.

It might be easy for PR pros to forget about the people at the other end of the computer screen or mobile device, but relationships are still the driving force behind using technology to communicate effectively.

“Remember that you’re speaking to an audience of one,” Musante says. He says PR pros should be more willing to spend time having meaningful one-to-one interactions:

Don’t be afraid to reach out to one person and have a deep connection with one person. From the point of view of PR, that one connection can have a ripple effect way beyond just blasting out a message.

Crampton agrees, saying PR pros must find ways to “bond with” their audiences.

“You need to take a more audience-centric approach to communication,” Crampton says. “This doesn’t mean you forget about the brand. You’re still brand focused, but you have an audience-informed element to it.”

Focusing on consumers and building relationships with them have always been important to PR pros, but Crampton says technology is highlighting its importance.

“The Web and apps are making the world a much more customer-centric place, so it’s not just about social media,” he says.

3. Tools and platforms should fit your brand.

Though it can be tempting to sample every technological tool that helps PR pros manage social media, pitch reporters and organize meetings, Musante says brand managers shouldn’t “chase technology.”

“You don’t always have to be on the cutting edge, on the bleeding edge, of technology to make an impact,” Musante says. “Sometimes doing the basic, well-known platforms really well—you never can go wrong with that.”

Crampton says selecting the right tools and resources can be hard, but PR pros should make decisions based on their organizations’ business and communication goals.

“There’s no shortcut to it,” Crampton says, “but again, if you look at the optic of ‘what I’m trying to accomplish,’ it becomes much, much easier.”

This approach will help communicators avoid taking part of trends that don’t fit with their brands, as well.

“Too often, I think what we’re seeing is a rush into a fad,” Crampton says. “Content marketing, brand journalism, all of these sort of things have a real risk of being fad-like. What people need to understand is that building a brand newsroom is not a strategy. A brand newsroom is…a tool, to accomplish a strategy. People need to figure out what their strategy is.”

Though it may take communicators significant time to select the perfect group of tools, it’s time well spent. Musante also says brand managers shouldn’t be afraid to admit when a particular platform or tool isn’t working, so they can find something better.

“Don’t allow the technology to drive you,” Musante says. “You’re in the driver’s seat.”

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