Why PR Should Run Your Company’s Social Media Efforts

Jeff Esposito mug-smA short while back, Keith Trivitt wrote a thought-provoking post entitled Are Your Clients Ready for PR 2.0? We had an interesting conversation that started in the comments and worked its way offline to an agreement that whether a company liked it or not, they needed social media. I would love to be able to say that I am omniscient, but who am I kidding? So instead, I’ll simply speak from experience.

Now that that’s out of the way, we’ll start with how social media fell into my lap and turned me into an evangelist for keeping it clean and in the hands of the company’s communications team (PR, MarComm, agencies, etc.). About two years ago, our team was pulled into a meeting and told that the search team was going to use and manage Facebook and LinkedIn, and that it fell under Web 2.0 (remember that term), so we were to leave those sites alone.

After about six months, they had lost interest in these pages and the information got stale and dated – enter our VP of PR. After she told me to take ownership and fix the page, she gave me a copy of Businessweek with Twitter on the cover and told me to figure it out.

The key thing about this is that the PR group took ownership of these pages because the marketing team didn’t see an immediate return. Why is this important? Thought you’d never ask . . .

Why PR Should Run Your Company’s SM Efforts

Content is King ­– While this header is cliché, it is also something that flacks, by nature, do well: produce content. If you don’t believe me, think about it for a second. Who writes press releases and their quotes? Briefs executives for interviews? Script the external communications? You do. So why should you leave writing a real-time, let’s-hope-we-don’t-blow-it outlet directly to your customers to anyone else?

There is no I in team – Let’s face it, social media is something that supports all areas of the business and touches every nook and cranny of the org chart. PR, by nature, is there to support the business and partner with every team. It is a natural progression to disseminating the intel gained through social channels to the rest of the organization.

Crickets – Whether you like it or not, the conversation is happening with or without you. Every time someone mentions your brand, good or bad, there is the opportunity to either turn them positive or turn them into a brand evangelist. Just remember don’t be the creepy guy (read as sales) at the cocktail party.

Dollar Menunairs – Perhaps the biggest reason for social profiles to remain within the ranks of the communications team is that while we all like money, we are not blinded by it. Yes, at the end of the da,y it is a bonus to drive revenue for the company, but our main focus is to uphold and bolster the reputation of the company. Don’t let executives be blinded by Dell’s numbers. Instead, show them the time and resources that it took for Dell to achieve those numbers.

While I could go on and on, I promised the #PRBC crew that I wouldn’t pull a Curt Schilling blowhard move. So I will leave you with this parting shot: If your client or company is on the fence of social media, you might want to consider taking the plunge into it because it is always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission.

Jeff Esposito is the PR manager at Vistaprint, and manages the company’s social media efforts. He also pens a blog on social media and PR at www.jeffesposito.com, and can be found tooling around on Twitter @jeffespo

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  • Nice post Jeff. I agree, and I think a few years down the road this will be the standard best practice. It just makes sense. As the gap between 'social media' 'traditional media' and 'tech' continues to close, it will all fall under the umbrella of communications, like it has in the past.

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  • jeffespo

    It has been an uphill battle at times, but from a sheer volume standpoint we see that the conversation dominates the space for our brand. Am I perfect all the time? No, but I m human so if I was it would be creepy.

    For a company flack I see this as a torch or cross that needs to be taken on by the PR team, only bad things can happen when it becomes SELL, SELL, SELL mentality. Consumers are getting smart and we need to see through the spin.

    For agency folks this could be a great opportunity to show off skills and potentially getting brought in house so to speak. Since they have an intimate brand knowledge and the SM cred that all organizations will be looking for.

  • When you say “search team” do you mean all-around internet/SEO types? That's a shame that so many larger companies lump anyone with technical skills in with Stuff That Starts With WWW. They should be involved in the beginning, surely, but there's no reason why PR flacks can't be expected to use teh tubes.

  • Laney

    I think your first argument “Content” is an interesting way to think about this. People are up in arms about the transparency factor of this whole game…but if you really think about it, how is having approved SM responses different than press release quotes?

  • jeffespo

    We have a search team that covers SEO, Organic and Paid Search who we work closely with

  • keithtrivitt

    Jeff – Interesting point re: agency folks getting heavily involved as a means to move more “in-house” with a company and its PR efforts. That's a really strong point, as I think it would actually help to alleviate a common complain among clients in that agency folks either don't know enough about the ins-and-outs of a company's business or industry, or are too detached from things to truly understand a company's story.

    But by getting heavily involved in managing a company's social media efforts, the agency folks can become more of an insider within the company, which can help to engender trust and respect from many execs who often don't see the true value of social media for many projects and initiatives down the road.

    The only downside and difficulty of this, of course, is that agency folks don't often stay on with a company for more than say a year or two, as companies move through several different PR/social media agencies. That's why I view much of an agency's job when it comes to social medias as a counseling, resource and oversight/management function, where we educate and empower internal advocates to really make the magic happen with a company's social media efforts.

    But that's an entirely different post in itself!

  • jeffespo

    Laney, because it isn't scripted. I was not saying that it should be scripted it was kind of poking at that. Granted I have some stock thank you responses (but how many ways can you say TY?), but everything else is straight from me.

    It was also saying that PR for the most part understands the overall message of the company and shapes it.

  • jeffespo

    Very good point as well Keith and to be honest I am clueless about agencies on the D2D basis. But I was thinking along the line of the role that happened with our former VP of PR who was with the agency that did our PR and was brought in-house when we went public.

    I was thinking that SM may present the opportunity for many flacks to make that jump.

  • Laney

    I think I have to approach it differently because I am in pharma, things are regulated so heavily that we have to pay particular attention to every word written and how it could be interpreted. (There are some companies that require seeing our pitches before we send them out.) I am not saying that we should have a canned response for when someone asks a certain question, but when you make Q&A documents you are doing the same thing. When your clients are up in front of media at a press conference and questions start firing at them, that's real time is it not?

    In a FDA regulated world, there is no way the Legal and Regulatory departments would let me, even understanding the company message and culture, respond without approval first. That's one of the problems pharma is facing in even just starting the whole SM deal. Unfortunately, until the regulations work itself out – for pharma at least – its going to be scripted.

  • jeffespo

    I see your point and would point you to the work that @chimoose is doing with Humana – http://crumpleitup.com/. Regulated areas are going to be tough sells moving forward for SM, but to be honest in my opinion, by the time the lawyers have lifted their heads, SM will have changed and what they have approved will be a little behind.

    I would put on the creativity hat and see what kind of things you could do. For instance can you talk about X program that encourages X folks to ride bikes to work or exercise benefits. Almost become the expert in these fields as “sponsored by co X.” Folks will understand that this is what you can talk about and not complain that their co-pay went up X.

  • adamvincenzini

    Jeff – nice post. Content is definitely the king, but the other facets you mentioned are also important.
    I wrote something similar earlier in the week which made a case for all disciplines, but I think PR should take the lead. – Here's the link: http://bit.ly/grabgrab

  • Nice post Jeff. I agree, and I think a few years down the road this will be the standard best practice. It just makes sense. As the gap between 'social media' 'traditional media' and 'tech' continues to close, it will all fall under the umbrella of communications, like it has in the past.

  • jeffespo

    It has been an uphill battle at times, but from a sheer volume standpoint we see that the conversation dominates the space for our brand. Am I perfect all the time? No, but I m human so if I was it would be creepy.

    For a company flack I see this as a torch or cross that needs to be taken on by the PR team, only bad things can happen when it becomes SELL, SELL, SELL mentality. Consumers are getting smart and we need to see through the spin.

    For agency folks this could be a great opportunity to show off skills and potentially getting brought in house so to speak. Since they have an intimate brand knowledge and the SM cred that all organizations will be looking for.

  • When you say “search team” do you mean all-around internet/SEO types? That's a shame that so many larger companies lump anyone with technical skills in with Stuff That Starts With WWW. They should be involved in the beginning, surely, but there's no reason why PR flacks can't be expected to use teh tubes.

  • Laney

    I think your first argument “Content” is an interesting way to think about this. People are up in arms about the transparency factor of this whole game…but if you really think about it, how is having approved SM responses different than press release quotes?

  • jeffespo

    We have a search team that covers SEO, Organic and Paid Search who we work closely with

  • keithtrivitt

    Jeff – Interesting point re: agency folks getting heavily involved as a means to move more “in-house” with a company and its PR efforts. That's a really strong point, as I think it would actually help to alleviate a common complain among clients in that agency folks either don't know enough about the ins-and-outs of a company's business or industry, or are too detached from things to truly understand a company's story.

    But by getting heavily involved in managing a company's social media efforts, the agency folks can become more of an insider within the company, which can help to engender trust and respect from many execs who often don't see the true value of social media for many projects and initiatives down the road.

    The only downside and difficulty of this, of course, is that agency folks don't often stay on with a company for more than say a year or two, as companies move through several different PR/social media agencies. That's why I view much of an agency's job when it comes to social medias as a counseling, resource and oversight/management function, where we educate and empower internal advocates to really make the magic happen with a company's social media efforts.

    But that's an entirely different post in itself!

  • jeffespo

    Laney, because it isn't scripted. I was not saying that it should be scripted it was kind of poking at that. Granted I have some stock thank you responses (but how many ways can you say TY?), but everything else is straight from me.

    It was also saying that PR for the most part understands the overall message of the company and shapes it.

  • jeffespo

    Very good point as well Keith and to be honest I am clueless about agencies on the D2D basis. But I was thinking along the line of the role that happened with our former VP of PR who was with the agency that did our PR and was brought in-house when we went public.

    I was thinking that SM may present the opportunity for many flacks to make that jump.

  • Laney

    I think I have to approach it differently because I am in pharma, things are regulated so heavily that we have to pay particular attention to every word written and how it could be interpreted. (There are some companies that require seeing our pitches before we send them out.) I am not saying that we should have a canned response for when someone asks a certain question, but when you make Q&A documents you are doing the same thing. When your clients are up in front of media at a press conference and questions start firing at them, that's real time is it not?

    In a FDA regulated world, there is no way the Legal and Regulatory departments would let me, even understanding the company message and culture, respond without approval first. That's one of the problems pharma is facing in even just starting the whole SM deal. Unfortunately, until the regulations work itself out – for pharma at least – its going to be scripted.

  • jeffespo

    I see your point and would point you to the work that @chimoose is doing with Humana – http://crumpleitup.com/. Regulated areas are going to be tough sells moving forward for SM, but to be honest in my opinion, by the time the lawyers have lifted their heads, SM will have changed and what they have approved will be a little behind.

    I would put on the creativity hat and see what kind of things you could do. For instance can you talk about X program that encourages X folks to ride bikes to work or exercise benefits. Almost become the expert in these fields as “sponsored by co X.” Folks will understand that this is what you can talk about and not complain that their co-pay went up X.

  • Jeff – nice post. Content is definitely the king, but the other facets you mentioned are also important.
    I wrote something similar earlier in the week which made a case for all disciplines, but I think PR should take the lead. – Here's the link: http://bit.ly/grabgrab

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