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How Social Media is Changing Communication

Lauren Eichmann

There has been a lot of talk surrounding how social media is changing the way reporters gather information and seek sources, how the public absorbs information, and how it's being incorporated into many everyday job descriptions – publicists and PR professionals being no exception. Some have even likened the advent of social media to the Industrial Revolution (though a bit exaggerated in my mind), bringing with it an era of change and progress.

While it's hard to tell exactly how social media will impact our culture down the road, one thing is certain: it's a common thread connecting millions of people worldwide, and it's changing how all of us communicate and connect with others around us.

Though it may not be news to you, you may wonder what social media really means for brands wishing to convey their message online. Here are six instances of how social media is changing the way we communicate.

1. Brands Can Speak Directly to Their Audiences: No longer do you have to work through the media exclusively to disperse your message. You see this with athletes tweeting, brands building Facebook pages, and companies organizing via LinkedIn. The brands control the message and it's a PR firm or a publicist’s job to make sure that the message is correct and consistent.

2. Negativity Can Spread Like Wildfire: It's much easier for people to pan your show or slam some new company initiative without you being able to completely control the message. You never had control over a message in the media before, but at least there was a level of professionalism there. Now if you screw up you are going to hear about it fast (but it also means you have the opportunity to personally connect with unhappy consumers to resolve the negative experience).

3. It Opens the Door for Viral Messages: In contrast to the possibility of a negative message spreading fast, a positive message can likewise spread just as fast. Social media allows news to travel at a faster pace among consumers. For example, a popular video posted to YouTube can be posted to a blog, can be re-tweeted on Twitter 100 times and can also appear on the main page of Reddit. Publicists and PR professionals need to be creative about what will resonate with people. If there’s buzz about it in the social media world, there’s a chance it will also be covered by the media. In fact, there are some reporters out there who only cover social media as their beat.

We had one case study where viral traffic came in two waves, five days apart, and resulted in:

  • More than 500 re-tweets on Twitter
  • More than 13,000 page views to the website
  • More than 125 comments on our web page

That social media traffic came from: Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Delicious and numerous individual blogs.

We did two pushes on the first day: first, to an influencer with 100,000 Twitter followers, followed by one media outreach (via e-mail) 12 hours after initially reaching out to the first influencer. The key here is influencing the influencers of your target audience, and spreading your message via multiple channels.

4. There's an Opportunity to Coordinate With PR Efforts – Today’s publicists have to learn all the new, popular social networking services so as not to miss opportunities for media exposure or attracting potential customer leads. Some of these include: LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, message boards, etc.

Yet media outlets also often encourage reporters to have a presence in spaces where their readers are actively participating. Based on hearing what one Chicago Tribune reporter had to say about her use of social media, journalists use social media in several ways:

  • To monitor breaking news
  • To keep up on the conversation (i.e., looking at blogs for story ideas)
  • To build their source files
  • To distribute their own news content

You have to take social media seriously if you try to incorporate it into PR efforts, and consider developing a social media campaign. If you view it as a PR one-off, your chances of success won’t be very high. You must have a consistent presence in order to be effective. Over time, it becomes easier as you will have natural advocates who will recommend you, or recommend/link to you via other social networks and blogs.

5. Brands Can Have a More Personal Connection With the Media: Overall, social media is making it easier in many cases to form more long-term, effective relationships with journalists since you can connect on a more personal level – rather than just through a faceless e-mail or random phone calls. For example, as suggested in point 4, reporters may contact you directly after reading a particularly intriguing blog post.

If a journalist uses social media to ask for sources, it can be much easier to know what they are looking for and connect them with what they need. For example, some journalists actually like to receive story ideas via Twitter, or send out tweets requesting sources.

You should be careful about crossing the line between approaching reporters on a business level vs. invading their personal space, however. For example, some reporters have Facebook accounts that they like to keep for personal reasons. Friending a reporter here sometimes crosses the line of being too pushy with an industry research report or company news.

6. Social Media is Changing Traditional Media: It's an honest fact that the authority of media has shifted to the crowd. It used to be that if you had an article written up on about your client or company, it would instantly reach your audience. Now the main influencers may be a prominent blogger, or someone very connected on Twitter. Who you pitch about your company has completely changed and you need to be aware of the influencers.

All that being said, traditional media is still an extremely powerful vehicle for getting your message out and will be for a long time. The challenge for PR firms and publicists is integrating the traditional channels with the new forms of media. Doing so will yield the best results for business exposure.