How to Use Social Media for Public Relations and Branding in 2018

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Branding matters. Just look at what is happening with what Netflix is facing with the Kevin Spacey situation. Imagine you were faced with a similar situation. Can your brand (what people think of you when you’re not around), sustain such a hit?

Or imagine that you’re a small, yet thriving technology company. You’re past start-up mode, are sustaining AND growing, and need to scale what you’re doing.

Often thought to be nearly useless, public relations (PR) can vital to advancing and supporting your brand—especially in times of crisis. Both brand and PR activities have moved online, specifically to social media platforms. Low barriers to entry have made it possible for virtually any business to promote its brand identity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social channels.

Unfortunately, this has also created excessive noise, and required businesses to be on their A-game and ever vigilant. Given this, I wanted to share a few branding and PR social media-driven strategies that can drive business value for you in 2018.

Leveraging online social platforms for public relations

Back in 1982, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) stated that “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” In 2011, the association modernized its definition to define public relations as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Public relations activities strive to shape the image of brands to communicate and/or reinforce an idea, encourage sales, promote accomplishments and expand influence, in support of organizational goals and mission. In the age of the connected consumer, public relations is occurring predominantly on digital channels and particularly on social media, a critical audience engagement tool leveraged by large enterprises and SMEs alike.

Public relations on social media can be broadly categorized into two actions: conveying positive messages through compelling stories and formulating the best responses to crises and bad news. In this sense, PR on social links to an organization’s overall reputation management strategy. It is strategic and purposeful, requiring social media managers to be creative, attentive and fast thinkers.

How to gain PR coverage on social media without breaking the bank

Influencer marketing

You may already know how influencer marketing works but are you aware of the right and wrong ways of going about it? It isn’t about paying a social media influencer to promote your link. In fact, it shouldn’t be; the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires social media stars to clearly disclose their endorsement deals with marketers. Influencer marketing is about building trusted, genuine and mutually-beneficial relationships with journalists and influencers in your industry, who have a healthy and active following on social media.

Say you want to reach out to influencers on Twitter. You can search for journalists by topic or location on MuckRack and discover top Tweeters based on reach and influence on Twitter Grader. Once you have your list down, the next step is to get the attention of these guys and pitch them something they are likely to share. Once this early bond is established, it is a matter of sustaining the momentum and connecting more intimately. It is not as easy as it looks and won’t work unless:

  • You have an active, engaging Twitter profile with a decent follower count.
  • You share quality, relevant and share-worthy content on the platform.
  • You speak in a friendly, accessible voice.
  • You return the favor by retweeting, liking or replying to influencers’ tweets.

If the influencer marketing rush is expected to normalize over the next year and businesses as well as individuals go back to unsuspicious ways of connecting with influencers that don’t require them to spend big bucks, then the rather old method of social media takeovers and compelling story-telling – now made possible through exciting new features such as Instagram Stories – is expected to persist and grow stronger.

Before Stella Artois teamed up with Matt Damon and Adidas joined forces with Snoop Dogg, Burberry and General Electric hosted their own takeovers as far back as 2012. A takeover is a great way to spread a positive message about your brand by enlisting the support of celebrities or frequent Instagrammers. A successful Instagram takeover campaign looks like this:

  • It sets end goals and metrics, including likes and comments received, total engagement and engagement per follower.
  • It includes the right people: an influencer, employee, customer or community member who provides value-generating content that drives social engagement and communicates brand values.
  • It leverages the right format: post, live video, or Instagram Stories.
  • It uses hashtags creatively to allow users to participate easily

Instagram Stories is another PR strategy to consider. Many brands are engaging their followers and growing brand awareness by having them tag their best friend in their Instagram post, generating excitement around new product releases, or marketing specific products that create differentiation (Whole Foods promoting new store additions, such as gluten-free pasta). What you would traditionally announce via a press release, you can do on social media, start building momentum around the news immediately, and even determine how your story performed.

If you don’t have an announcement to make, share a behind-the-scenes look at your company to create a positive perception around your brand and reinforce the image you’re trying to disseminate to your target audience.

The 24-hour news cycle

Social media makes it easy to share play-by-play updates on a crisis that has hit your company, however small or big. On the flip-side, given the speed at which bad news traverses the social landscape, you may also have to endure one or more days of criticisms, depending on the severity of and responses to the issue.

In April this year, United Airlines botched their response to a man being dragged off an overbooked flight. When the incident sparked off a public fury on Twitter with the hashtag #flight3411, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for ‘having to re-accommodate customers’. His corporate jargon bereft of any empathy did not sit well with people and led to the #reaccommodate hashtag mocking the company. To make matters worse, Munoz’s letter to his employees commending them after the incident was publicized online and worsened the crisis.

Even a major brand can get their PR wrong. When at fault, accommodation strategies work well for brands: by making a full apology, taking corrective action, and ingratiating affected customers – as Dell successfully managed via their social media and blog after a spate of laptop battery blow-up incidents – you can put out fires without getting singed.

Your public relations strategy for 2018 should include a structured response to negative feedback and brand crises that includes a prompt response, an acknowledgement of the mistake and clear indication of the corrective action being taken, publishing a statement on your blog, social media platforms and website, and acknowledging every complaint from followers to make them feel heard.

Taking sides

Controversies and pressing social issues have become hard to ignore. Brands are increasingly voicing their opinions on what they perceive to be injustices or outdated practices/mindsets. There is a risk involved, but it can pay off for brands that genuinely believe in and support a cause that resonated with a larger consumer base.

Following President Trump’s controversial travel ban, Starbucks announced that they would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide. The announcement first earned criticism and the #BoycottStarbucks hashtag became a trending topic. However, the company also received praise and purely from the engagement point of view, their tweet promoting inclusivity become their second-highest performing, getting over 9,000 Likes and almost 3,000 retweets; it also led to a 34x follower growth in just a day.

If you want to take sides and show your support for an important issue on Facebook or Twitter, make sure the exercise isn’t all optics and no substance. The issue should be relevant to your business: Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext Twitter campaign encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers sits well with their image as a technology leader with a strong social purpose.

Conduct an assessment of how your audience is likely to respond. For instance, will most of your audience endorse your stance and who do you risk alienating? If you speak out correctly and thoughtfully on a meaningful issue, your brand reputation is sure to benefit.

Public relations and reputation management on social media can take another form: responding swiftly to criticisms over your lack of judgment in relation to a hot-button social topic. For example, razor subscription business Dollar Shave Club was criticized by Instagram and Twitter followers for continuing to advertise with Sean Hannity following the conservative talk show host’s defense of accused sexual predator Roy Moore. When the criticisms persisted with #GrabYourWallet tweets, the company announced that it had ceased advertising with Hannity.

An ‘always on’ monitoring approach is necessary to your overall social media PR game. There will always be someone around reminding you to act responsibly! When such a situation arises, you must discuss the issue at the leadership level to respond in alignment with strategic objectives and core values.

Social Media Branding Tips for 2018

1. Improve your visual content

By 2019, video content is expected to drive 85% of search traffic in the United States. 4x as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than read about it. Relevant images paired with information drastically enhance recall than if that information were to be text-only. The statistics all point to the importance of visual assets for effective social media branding.

Dedicate your time and resources to creating interactive videos and graphics that inspire audience engagement. It is only a matter of time before augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies enter the mainstream. Experimenting with visual content will help you set the groundwork for advanced technologies in the future.

2. Explore assumptions about your brand

In the face of growing competition and disruptive entrants, you may feel the need to make big changes to long-standing strategies. For instance, if you have been competing on quality all this while and been losing market share to new companies undercutting you on price, you may want to rethink your pricing strategy and add an element of affordability to your brand image.

Consider running Facebook ads to A/B test two versions of your pricing page to understand if low-price or value-added offers elicit greater response than ads with other value propositions. This will help you understand if you should compete on price or focus on translating the existing value of your products in new ways.

3. Use LinkedIn creatively

LinkedIn is a hotbed of B2B leads. Nurturing relationships with leads, existing clients and professionals from your industry as well as adjacent industries is yet another way of expanding brand reach and recognition. Showcase brand authority by publishing informative and educational content on LinkedIn Pulse. Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to form relationships directly with your target audience, establish brand value, and inspire positive word-of-mouth about your business.

LinkedIn is a great place to feature your clients, colleagues and community who know you and align with your brand values. By giving them a shout-out, you will be drawing attention to your brand identity and contributions. Here too, it is time to express your views and ideas openly, and prepare to be challenged. As long as you’re making solid arguments, your topics are relevant to your business, and you communicate respectfully, you should be able to generate a buzz and elicit interest in your brand.

More tips:

  • Consistency in brand messaging and voice
    Social media is a fertile ground to showcase the personality of your brand. Avoid showing symptoms of multiple personality disorder; invest in a consistent expression of your brand voice to distinguish yourself from the competition and connect deeply with customers.
  • Staying involved
    This advice never gets old: reply to followers’ and fans’ comments, thank them, and engage them in your unique style regularly or at least frequently. Be personal and specific in your wording.
  • Leverage third-party content
    It is challenging to keep coming up with original brand content, particularly if you have a small digital marketing team or you’re a new B2B business inundated with several strategic tasks. Explore and utilize free or affordable content discovery and curation tools that hook you up with authoritative and relevant third-party content. Your client will appreciate how you’re able to share industry news, trends, reports, statistics, white papers and other valuable data continuously on social platforms.

Have you had to deal with a PR crisis? What tips would you share?

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