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The Evolution of Social PR

March 31, 2012

By Meredith Schneider

Over the past few years, social media has become a central component of communications campaigns. While there has been no shortage of debate on which department owns social media, more and more PR pros have been adding social media duties to their day-to-day activities.

According to the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center’s seventh biennial Communications and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP VII) study published last week, social media has become a mainstream function of PR, with 70% of PR/communications departments reporting budgetary responsibility for social media monitoring and 66% for social media participation. The study also noted, however, PR/communications departments appear to be mostly taking on increased social media responsibilities without additional budget.

Where social media and PR meet

Last November, PRSA launched “Public Relations Defined,” an initiative to update the definition of public relations to reflect the industry’s evolution in the digital age. The new definition was announced last month:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Based on this new definition, it’s easy to see how social media can be a very useful tool for PR pros, as the goals and necessary skills for success in PR and social media are very similar.

How PR pros are (and should be) using social media

While common social media duties may include interacting with Facebook fans and tweeting the latest company news, there are many more ways PR pros can utilize social media to help build relationships and engage target audiences. Below are a few tips for using social media to enhance your PR efforts:

  • Pitch journalists on Twitter and Linkedin. While some journalists and PR pros still believe email or phone is the best way to reach the media, a recent study shows that 92% of journalists are on Linkedin and 84% are on Twitter. So how can you identify and connect with journalists on these social networks?
    • On Twitter: Check out directories like Muck Rack or Press Pass to find journalists using Twitter. Another way is to go to the media outlet’s main Twitter account and look at their lists and who they follow. For example, the TODAY Show has lists of anchors, staff and other people affiliated with the show. Follow the journalists at your target media and monitor their tweets to find out more about them and the types of stories they’re interested in – you may even get lucky and find them soliciting story ideas or interview sources.
    • On Linkedin: Since many journalists go on here to identify experts and interview sources, make sure your client’s company page and their spokespeople/experts’ profiles are up-to-date, and clearly highlight their products/services and areas of expertise, respectively. You should also read “How Journalists Use Linkedin” in Linkedin’s Press Center to learn more about how journalists use Linkedin Answers and other site features to find story ideas and sources.
  • Find out who’s talking about your client. While we’re used to tracking traditional media coverage of our clients, it’s also important to see what their target publics are saying about them. Use sites like Topsy and Social Mention to search for posts/conversations about your client on social networks. When appropriate, respond to questions and engage in conversation with users to help build/maintain relationships – just be sure to clearly identify yourself as a PR spokesperson to maintain transparency. Make sure to track and document tweets, Facebook posts and other social mentions/interactions to share with your client. In your report, you should include any important metrics/details about the user and the mention, such as the following:
    • User: number of followers, friends, fans or subscribers; geographic location; affiliations (media, organization, group, etc.)
    • Mention: number of comments, favorites/likes, retweets/shares, etc.; tone (positive, negative or neutral); type (question, complaint, sharing news, etc.)


  • Create social media-friendly content. The goal of this is to increase/promote sharing on social networks. Below are a few things to consider when developing content for social media:
    • Write tweetable headlines. Create a headline that is short enough to fit into a tweet that also includes a Twitter handle and a link. Remember, if you’re headline begins with your company’s Twitter handle, make sure to put a period in front of your tweet to ensure ALL followers (not just those following both yours and your company’s Twitter account) will see the tweet. For a more in-depth explanation of how this works, check out this article.
    • Use photos and videos. Photos and videos drive twice as much engagement as text posts do on Facebook. Again, our goal is to encourage users to reshare our content, so choose the most compelling images (which may not be a standard shot of your client’s product). The same goes for selecting photos for Pinterest (which you can read more about in my last blog post).

Are you currently incorporating social media into your PR efforts? Do you have other social media tips that you think should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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