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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Social media: You at the Helm of Your Own New Starship

from Tracy Olmstead Williams





Social Media, like Global Warming, has now left doubters behind.

According to the brand-ranking database Engagement DB, companies embracing social media grew revenues by 18 percent in the past 12 months. They are Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google and Microsoft. Brands lagging in new media shrank by 6 percent.

The change is wrenching and exhilarating. Each of the top 25 newspapers in the United States declined in circulation in the first quarter of 2009, except for The Wall Street Journal, which had a gain of .06 percent. Meanwhile, all of us get more news and information than ever, sliced, diced, pushed or aggregated by Web sites, email alerts, blogs, Facebook, Tweets and the socalTECH newsletter you’re reading now.

As a result, new media, and public relations in specific, is more alive with potential than ever in its history. Despite the devastation of our cherished Fourth Estate, a challenge as dire as any to our form of government, social media has brought a new universe of information tools that permit instant analysis of the world marketplace and instant feedback for our every action.

It’s like finding ourselves on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk nowhere in sight. Suddenly, like it or not, we’re in command. We must boldly go where no one’s gone before.

Taking Command

How is your company maximizing its social media potential? What are the ramifications beyond general financial projections? What can you do, and what is it you’re not doing?

The fact is, that regardless of new media, we must still communicate with investors, customers, prospects, potential employees and thought leaders in language that generates excitement, support and ultimately sales. And an even better fact is that most of us already know how to do it.

The accelerated world of texts, Tweets and borderline old-school emails beaming to your Blackberry or iPhone is only a distillation of what we’ve already learned: that explaining yourself in 140 or 160 characters is an excellent discipline — concise as an elevator pitch. In the past it was easy to forget that interest and the scrutiny of due diligence comes after attention is won. Today it’s safe to say that nobody is willing to listen to proposals, concepts or even the most brilliant ideas that cannot be introduced with brevity and precision. That’s a revolution to be welcomed. Like the serve in tennis, clarity of presentation is something you can practice and perfect before the game even starts.

Going Boldly

A company that doesn’t already have a blog should begin there. Sites such as wordpress.com and blogger.com have free blogging options that will suffice for most new sites. Then, use Twitter to promote all new posts. It should be routine that whenever a news release is published it also is blogged and sent out as a Tweet. Your attention should be on the needs of the medium and the new tools available to help you use it. For example, a long URL or Internet address linking to a blog post is undesirable, since Twitter only allows 140 characters to communicate an entire message. A site such as tinyurl.com can be used to shorten the URL and make it more Tweet-friendly.

Social media is all about quick, instant communication, but the time required to make it work is long. Your investment in success will require several hours per week and, frequently, a substantial commitment each day. Your immediate goal is to provide information people will care about and find useful or entertaining. Your more important goal, and the reason for committing your energy, is to build a following. Followings are earned only by hard work — perhaps the least understood path to success with social media.

Sites such as Twellow.com, which bills itself as “The Twitter Yellow Pages,” can make it easier to sort the millions of Twitter users. Its categories make it easier to find and follow biotech CEOs, high-tech startups and strategic business contacts. It doesn’t do anything to ensure that people will reciprocate and follow you, but it makes sure you’re targeting people who will care about your message.

Twellow’s primary designations, such as “biotechnology,” and sub-categories such as “geeks,” “software” and “tech companies,” are all located under the “information technology” category. There are categories for “employment” and sub-categories for “journalists” and “reporters” in the “news” section.

Time and effort are required to drill down into the dozens of sub-categories. There is no alternative. Welcome to command of your own starship.

MuckRack.com is similar to Twellow, but focuses exclusively on journalists and separates them by publication and by beat, such as “technology” or “health.” The major news wire services (Associated Press and Reuters), top-tier newspapers, broadcast outlets and even the most influential blogs are all represented by numerous reporters and editors. Muck Rack also has a one-line press release service that reaches their database of almost 4,000 top journalists nationwide through Twitter for just $1 a character.


As you build out your Twitter following and more and more people start to Tweet about you, TweetMixx.com, just launched in September, can help track what others are saying without having to read through multiples of the same post. If hundreds of people post a Tweet to the same story, TweetMixx will assure it posts to your account just once.

Engage, engage, engage

Constant monitoring of the company’s Twitter account and other social media efforts will require the dedicated responsibility of one of your team members. There is no such thing as passive success. (Was there ever?). Send a personal direct message each time you start following someone new on Twitter. Engage, engage, engage. Those not fully involved with the audience are merely building a SPAM list and will achieve the unintended result of being unsubscribed in every sense of the word.

You’ll eventually want to develop multiple Twitter accounts for different audiences. For example, Google has separate accounts for Google News, Google Reader, Google AdSense and other functionalities. CNN, the BBC and other major news outlets all have multiple accounts as well. If your business operates in both the medical device space and pharmaceutical drugs industry, for example, you might want separate accounts for each of those audiences. The more targeted your audience, the more likely you are to build relationships that help the company connect with a key new partner or client.

And by the way, that’s what social media is all about.

Don’t neglect Facebook and YouTube. Cross pollinate all of your efforts so that engaging with you and your team is nearly unavoidable for clients and prospects.

Promote links to your social media sites and pages in your news release boilerplate. Pay for a national wire service such as BusinessWire or MarketWire to help distribute your releases with social media links imbedded. All it takes is a second for readers to click on your Twitter or Facebook link and start following you or become your “friend.” PRLog.org offers free wire distribution, which helps with search engine optimization while driving traffic to your media.

Hold the Dilithium Crystals, Scotty

Once you’ve embraced the new media world and the additional exposure that comes with it, try not to overreact when you don’t get exactly what you want.

In the days of newspaper dominance, editors served as gatekeepers in limiting and often eliminating mischaracterizations and blatant inaccuracies from public forums such as letters to the editor pages. Today, it’s not unusual for a company to land an excellent article in a major publication, only to be dismayed once it appears online and a competitor posts a nasty or untrue comment in response.

As with print publications, set the record straight or involve your legal team as needed if there’s libel or slander — but know that you can’t control everything, and no one expects you to as you explore and colonize the new universe.

Tracy Olmstead Williams, president and CEO of Olmstead Williams Communications, works with technology, healthcare and cleantech companies as well as law firms and other professional service firms to grow business and create solid reputations through public relations. For more information, visit http://www.olmsteadwilliams.com, http://thebigmouthblog.com, http://twitter.com/owcpr or contact Williams at 310.479.7055 or tracy@olmsteadwilliams.com.


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