Social Media and Online PR: Trends, Dos, and Don’ts in 2014
Online PR success is a mixture of many different elements: the right timing, the right hook, involving relevant influencers to support you, understanding your audience and formalising a well thought-out strategy that is deliverable and measurable.
In this blog I want to look at how social media can help you with at least some of those critical success factors, and some relevant social media trends for 2014.
I recently talked to Michelle Goodall (@greenwellys), a digital communications and social media consultant, CIPR Social Media Panel member and an associate of Search Laboratory.
She said: "It's critical for anyone involved in SEO, Content Marketing or PR to get to grips with existing mass market social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.
"It's also important to understand which local social platforms are important to their sector and audiences in their international markets (e.g. China, Germany, Russia etc.). If that's not enough, they must stay abreast of rapid changes in this area - nascent platforms can experience disruptive growth quite unexpectedly.
"Instagram is a good example of this. There were countless stories about Facebook's 'demise' in 2013 - we'll have to wait and see about that - but it is critical to appreciate that younger audiences use social media differently to older ones and are rapidly adopting platforms beyond the big five, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp etc."
The importance and growth of different social media platforms
Different social media platforms can add different value to an online PR campaign. Some are excellent to help identify social influencers (e.g. with a wide following or expert knowledge) whereas some help identify consumer insights, market trends and developments that can help you to find that perfect hook for your story. Depending on your industry, you will have a preferred tool to stay updated with news, current affairs, and viral content.
Michelle continued: "If you are a fashion brand Instagram and Facebook are likely to be your primary social media channels. If you are a B2B media organisation then it's much more likely to be Twitter and LinkedIn.
"I'd have to say that Twitter is the number one 'visibility' engine for most but, as it grows, it is getting increasingly challenging to filter out poor quality news and information. This is why Google+ is still on my personal radar, that's where I tend personally to get a huge amount of interesting, relevant and serendipitous information. In my experience LinkedIn tends to be underused as a source of fairly well filtered news via status and company updates."
The list of social media platforms and tools is ever growing but not every site is here to stay. Answering the question, which social media platform will experience the biggest growth in 2014? is tough, however.
"I think I'll have to say Instagram. Its user base is still young. Historically we've seen growth in more mature social media platforms, such as Facebook, being driven by older demographics" Michelle added.
"Acquiring Instagram was a very shrewd move by Facebook. I'd love to say Google+ in the UK will experience mass adoption as I love the way in which you can segment audiences, but I'm yet to figure out what will tip the scales for Google+ in this country.
"This will be an interesting year for Twitter. It's a rapidly growing platform in the UK but its reputation is taking a real hammering in the UK media in relation to its stance on abusive behaviour.
"The big question is whether Twitter is doing enough to counter it. As it is IPOing this year, growth and profitability are critical.
"Media coverage and consumer trust will be incredibly important to them - if users feel scared to be active, celebrities deactivate their accounts and brands re-evaluate their comms and customer experience strategies, then there might be room for an alternative platform to step in and Twitter's dominance as the 'glue of the internet' could decline.
"We've only just seen the start of short-form video on platforms like Vine and Instagram - their growth and adoption rates are pretty phenomenal. Any new social platforms in 2014 will be mobile first and focus heavily on photo/video content."
Dos and donts for 2014
Businesses feel the pressure of being social and building a community online more than ever. However, social media firstly isnt for everyone and secondly, requires a well thought-out strategy.
Rather than jumping on the social media bandwagon for the sake of it, businesses need to carefully consider whether their niche will see the anticipated results.
Michelle explained: "Very heavily regulated industries such as the pharmaceutical, gaming and financial, tend to find it much harder to navigate through social media but I can't think of a sector that shouldn't at least evaluate the potential strategic fit and business case for social media.
"Align your social media strategy to your business objectives and get your measurements right. Get your systems, workflows and processes streamlined and understand the risks, the time for experimentation is over.
"In the last five years we have evolved from simple social media marketing measurements, such as 'Outputs' (e.g likes, followers, friends, reach etc.), to a greater focus on 'Outtakes' (e.g. what our customers understand and feel about our business) and 'Outcomes' (e.g. What behaviours happen when we engage with our customers through social? How does social media help with acquisition, loyalty, retention and advocacy).
"Both large and small organisations are also evaluating how social media can help with cost savings and efficiency. They are also considering the more difficult to measure qualitative business insights to be gained through social media listening and engagement."
If you have made the decision that social media is right for your business and its audience, you will have to walk the fine like between newsjacking (right) and over-doing whats already out there. Timing is the crucial factor here and if you decide to jump on something newsworthy or a piece of content that went viral, at least be the first to do so.
"Don't meme-jump unless you are first or best - it got to a stage last year that "Keep Calm and X" pushed up my blood pressure to dangerous levels - every man and his dog jumped on that one.
"Create less content but make it better quality and make it work harder for you. Don't spread your social media efforts too thinly, it's better to be effective in fewer channels than to be half-hearted across many and over-stretch your resources and budgets."
Whether you work in content marketing, online PR, traditional PR, or SEO, social media can and will help you to understand what type of content you should create a promote to achieve your business goals. Yes, social media can be confusing and unpredictable and yes, social media will only get bigger, but dont panic.
Identify those social media channels that will answer your questions in your given industry and use it for your market research and strategy creation. Whats trending? Whats big? What does my audience want? When do they want it and why? How much will it cost? How can we deliver it? Who do I need on board to make it a success? Where are those people? How can we work together?
As a business, ask yourself whether you need to be on social media and if so, why? What is it that youre trying to achieve? Remember, being on social for the sake of it will not bring the desired success.
Useful documents, contributed to by Michelle Goodall:
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