How can an organization control its own messaging when anyone can make public statements about it, to be viewed or heard by potentially millions of people, at any time?
This is the challenge that companies, governments, and not-for-profits face in the age of social media and digital news, where plenty of people use Twitter and other platforms to share information about current events, new products, and developments in business.
Public Relations for Small Businesses
Many organizations, of all sizes, rely on news outlets as part of their public relations (PR) efforts. While there is increasing fluidity between PR and marketing, you can think of public relations for small businesses as building reputation, while marketing drives revenue. (Of course, a strong reputation means people are more likely to respond to your marketing efforts, thus the grey area between the two functions).
While large organizations may have dedicated, complex PR departments, small businesses can likewise greatly benefit from a PR strategy.
For one thing, getting the media and others to share positive information about your business will cost you some time but require fewer dollars than advertising, and PR is 90% more effective than advertising when it comes to influencing customers.
How, then, can organizations use the new media environment to effectively shape their PR strategies?
The New Media and Public Relations
The relationship between the media and organizations looking for positive PR used to be more straightforward. A couple of decades ago, news was shared at regular times: the newspaper arrived once per day, and the radio and tv broadcast news at specific, limited hours. Now, digital news websites, 24-hour news radio and tv stations, Twitter, Facebook, and other channels mean that news stories can be shared almost instantly.
News items can also be “reported” by anyone: you might hear about the fire at a local pub through a witness with a cell phone and a Twitter account before you hear about it on the radio.
These changes require new public relations strategies.
PR Strategy: Respond Quickly
You can make the speed of news media work to your own advantage. While previously, news items might sit around for a short time, waiting for publication or air dates, you are much more likely to have your messaging reported quickly if you’re working with a media organization with a digital channel.
This means that it’s a good idea to plan ahead: anticipate situations that might arise within your organization and be prepared with messaging to address them should they come up. Whether you are responding to a crisis or announcing a new product line, you can try to get ahead of responses outside of your organization and direct perceptions of events by reaching out to news media quickly.
PR Strategy: Craft Compelling Press Releases
There was some debate for a while among PR practitioners about whether press releases are “still a thing,” given how easy it is to access information about organizations and events online.
However, with the decrease in budgets to traditional newsrooms, there are fewer reporters on staff. As a result, press releases have experienced a resurgence in use, since they make things easier for short-staffed media outlets (in fact, in some cases, you might see your press release published word for word as a news item).
So, make sure you have someone on your staff who knows how to draft excellent press releases. (There are plenty of resources and templates available online to help you get the structure right). Ideally, have these drafted ahead of time. For example, if you suspect you might be acquiring another organization, draft a rough version of the press release about it well in advance to, again, get your information to the media as quickly as possible when the time comes.
PR Strategy: Deploy Social Media to Your Advantage
It used to be that news about an organization flowed in one direction—from the organization, to the news media, to that media’s audience.
With the advent of social media, that communication now flows in multiple directions. The media’s viewing/reading audience may also be amateur reporters themselves. Your general public, customers, and potential customers can converse publicly online with each other about your organization and respond to official media stories about it as well.
If you do not have a strong social media presence, you will be left out of a great deal of the public conversation about your company.
So, use social media to your advantage, for both domestic and international audiences. Have someone on staff who can cultivate your presence on Twitter and give your company a profile on LinkedIn. Reach out to key influencers. Write blogs. Set up a space on your website where customers can pose questions to your organization.
The advantages of having a strong social media and public relations strategy are that you will have a better sense of your company’s online reputation, know when a crisis arises, have more control over your own messaging, and drive more traffic back to your own website, which will help not just with public relations, but with marketing efforts as well.
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