Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.
If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.
But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.
Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.
You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.
If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.
Just stumbled across this on YouTube. It was one of my favorite ad campaigns back in the mid-90s. It’s from AT&T and it looks at what “You Will” be able to do for business, pleasure and the merging of the two in the future. It appealed to the cyberpunk in me, looking at how business was expected to change. And most of it has come true, but not quite in the way shown in the commercials. (It WAS the 90’s after all) I particularly like the idea of consulting from the beach…
Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).
Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company. Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations. Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building. What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.
What social media tools then did was lower the bar for strong content creation by these groups. Once the bar was lowered these groups were able to produce their message cheaper and for a potentially larger audience. This content creation then works hand-in-hand with social networking to build a larger base of volunteers, or as they tend to be called in a business setting, “evangelists.”
I call this idea “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0″. (but I didn’t create this idea, it’s been out there for a while, but I wanted to look at how to use evangelists to passionately support and bolster your organization.) A quick history lesson for y’all:
Thomas Huxley was a 19th century biologist from England. He was a fierce proponent of this burgeoning scientific theory called “evolution” at a time when evolution was still being derided by many intellectual elites in England. It was because of this devotion to his cause that he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.”
Huxley was groomed by Darwin and for a time became the face of public debate in favor of evolution. He was known for his spirited debate about evolution with Samuel Wilberforce in 1860. After this debate he served notice to the forces of traditional orthodoxy that evolution would not be easily pushed aside. He stood in the face of this adversity for much of his career after the Wilberforce debate, giving as good as he got.
What does this have to do with public relations in the Web 2.0 world? Quite a bit actually, especially when you advocate for your position or organization.
You can see much of the same kind of fervor online today, usually in political partisans (see Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Eschaton, etc.) since blogging entered the political realm back in the wee early 2000s.
While not all organizations or industries would need someone to vigorously defend them, as your organization moves into the social media realm, or develops a social network of allies (on Facebook or Ning, which I recommend) you can start to “feel out” if there are any of your online evangelists that could/would serve as your fervent supporters or defenders.
Trying to put together a “viral” social media campaign will not be successful without some level of separate, independent evangelism from your supporters. (see “Walmarting Across America” or the definition of “greenwashing.”) This is where working with Ning, Awareness Inc., a site like My Barack Obama, or Facebook can help with creating a community for your supporters. Giving them a chance to interact with each other, sharing and improving on ideas for your organization or product.
Suffice it to say, you will need to monitor and nurture this potentially burgeoning community. As your community grows, you’ll get opponents signing on to keep track of what your organization is doing, and potentially flaming your community and sabotaging your efforts in growing the community. You need to have a member of your social media team, probably one of your bloggers (if you have the luxury of hiring more than one person to take care of your social media creation needs) also oversee the community and interact with your evangelists in it. Check out Dell’s IdeaStorm site for ideas to build on.
It’s important that these people be organically independent of your business. You don’t want to be caught in the position of “paying” for support,” and the following blogstorm that will ensue. (see “Walmarting Across America” for an example of what not to do)
If your evangelists do work for your organization, they have to be up front about it – and then go the extra steps to prove that they mean what they advocate, and aren’t just cashing a paycheck. As long as they own up to working for the company, they aren’t disqualified for representing their company with passion.
To my PR readers out there, what do you think? Should your organization have a “bulldog,” someone who is out there passionately defending your brand? What do you think the downside is? Can they be seen as a “loose cannon” who can do more damage to your brand? Should you let one of your internal defenders speak out for you, or do you think that will cause more damage to your organization’s brand?
If you are interested in social media, and learning how to get started or engage more in this burgeoning online media-sphere, then you have probably run across quite a few stories/blogpieces/ads pimping how “You Can Get 10,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days!” or “You Too Can Become a Facebook Gawd!!1!!” and other such nonsense. To me these are nothing more than just the latest “How To Get Bigger Boobs Through Social Media”-esque BS lures to remove you from your money or time (both of which are important).
A lot of these try to latch onto our need to be recognized, to be acknowledged quickly for our brilliance – and claim to provide a quick, “gimme gimme gimme now” fix to achieving this. Like most things in life and business, working in social media is going to require a lot of patience, time, strategic planning and hard work.
One of the big ideas these “plans” leave out – especially important if you are a business owner or corporate type – is the need for some kind of merging of your strategy between social media and communications. Social media are great tools for building additional communications and increasing your community outreach/developing a community relations platform, but they will never really replace your communications/pr strategy. They can help augment it, but your social media outlets are really one more avenue to communicate with people, and need their own strategy to . But you need to have a firm strategy in place before you really jump in and drown in all the noise out there.
At the end of the day you’re not going to land 10,000 followers in a month, nor are you going to achieve deitific bliss on Facebook or – Buddha forgive – MySpace. As with most things in life, you need to work at it and show patience. Engage with your target audiences, look at the strategy you have developed – what do you want to say to them? What goals are you hoping to achieve? Why are you writing or recording?
Social media is more about social interaction and being online as another means of message distribution than it is about “blogger relations.”
The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that we in public relations should not be focused as much on blogger relations in our social media planning and usage, we should instead be focused on creating cool content and building relationships with other bloggers/podcasters/etc. It involves being engaged with people on a smaller level, much the same way as the mainstream outlets are fragmenting more and more. But interpersonal relationships are like that, you can’t be best buds with thousands of people.
It’s the argument of the “cool kids” vs. the “popular kids.” The “cool kids” are too busy creating content to worry about whether or not you are hanging out with the “popular kids.” If you have to choose, you should pick the road less traveled – the one of creating content to attract an audience of interested people who want to listen to what you have to say, and then developing your online connections.
Take Twitter (please! Just kidding) for instance. You can have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, but is that anything more than just a status symbol? It’s especially telling for people like Ashton Kutcher, or other celebs on Twitter – those people with millions of followers, but are only connected to a couple of dozen themselves. In cases like this, these accounts are used as purely broadcast platforms for people who want to “see a part of the life” or “catch of a slice of AK.”
This is not a bad model, in and of itself, and it leverages the popularity of these celebrities quite well. But for average companies or people, it’s not really a model that works. Remember, people are interested in connecting with people, not with companies. It’s the uncommon company that can get away with having a fierce group who just want to be part of the brand (i.e. sports teams, Apple, etc)
In the meantime, it might be better for people to focus more on developing the content that will interest and attract people to their “brand” and produce enough content to keep them interested in returning. Believe it or not, the content might not be directly related to their work or product. If the people keep coming to check it out, your personal brand might achieve that “top of mind awareness,” or to put it another way, might stick in their mind.
When I spoke a little bit about this on the video linked above, I didn’t realize that tof the heavy hitters in social media, Chris Brogan had given a different take at his site. This is just my humble two-cents.
(Originally written March 10, 2010 – crossposted at PR Open Mic)
Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.
Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog. It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.
Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?
It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.
And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)
Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?
Ok, this is a quick note to remember that social media should be primarily about the content you create and how it helps your organization to develop an audience. That’s one of the first questions you need to ask when you’re coming up with your social media strategy, where am I? Who in the hell do I want to talk to? And what do I want to tell them?
Is it an internal audience? Shareholders? Customers?
Look, you need to connect with your interested audience via social networking (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and develop your community there, but it should always have the goal of bringing people back to your blog, your online home where you bring your social media elements together. You can show off other elements people won’t see on Facebook or Twitter, but you always have to keep in mind the goal of bringing them back to your site.
And with this, I have to disagree with the idea being floated around out there of some kind of “site-less Internet” future. This is asinine. Dude, you don’t want to keep a lot of exclusive content on Facebook or other external networks because you never know when Facebook is going to turn into the next Friendster and fall apart, which is possible if Facebook keeps screwing around with their privacy settings and not telling anyone about it, or pissing off their users.
It’s not about the “supremacy” of Facebook, or Twitter. It’s not even about SEO when you think about it. It’s about using these social networking elements to engage your potential audience on a more neutral field and then bringing them back to your site where you have your kick ass content.
How do you do this? A lot of this is social media 101 but it’s always good for a refresher.
Pre-load your site with content before you start reaching out – you want to have a lot of good stuff up before you start engaging with people
Listen before you leap – Monitor what people in your industry are saying before you start reaching out to them
Engage people – Once you start getting people commenting on your site, respond to them. Don’t ever develop the mentality that you are too important to talk with people who take the time to read what you’re saying.
Focus, Daniel-San – Remember that you need to dedicate time to working in social media.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Keep cranking out interesting content, depending on the social media vehicles you are using.
After checking out your content, continuing to give them additional great content should keep them coming back to your site. This will start to, if it’s not already, replace SEO. If you want to bring SEO into your strategy, look at making every third or fourth post an SEO focused post. This just means you need to build up content faster.
These are just a few of my ideas, what do you look for when thinking about how to add social media to your mix?