Social media PR advice for newbies

There seems to be a somewhat belated Eureka moment for many PR practitioners regarding online and social media – perhaps stimulated by tougher economic times. 

Looking at some comments on a survey that I created for MIPAA, this area is identified as both a key concern and a development need by many at least in motor industry PR.

But are there shortcuts and easy returns for newbies and their clients? Is expecting to leap into this new area reasonable or fair?  Should those of us who’ve spent hours across months and years getting to grips with how it all works and pioneering or championing responsible PR in social media, be open and generous in welcoming these late-comers?

Is it right that they simply sign up to Facebook and LinkedIn and claim to clients to be au fait with social media?  Clearly that’s what clients expect as they turn to their existing PR consultants for help as they too have finally recognised they need to understand Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I am happy to share my own knowledge, since most of what I know is derived from the generosity of others online.  I feel part of a community and hope that the newbies will see this is the essence of the online world.

It is easy to see why everyone is suddenly getting interested – mainstream media has been twittering on about Twitter – so clients are asking about it too.  The Social Media Demographics as identified by iCrossing show phenomenal growth of use, particularly in the UK. 

Mainstream news is certainly driving traffic online – in the Autumn, comScore linked financial concerns to increased online interest.  Although it is debatable whether the banking websites recognised the new media PR role that should support these publics.

At a recent MIPAA workshop, Edmund King confirmed that the recent snow conditions had driven huge traffic to the AA website.  I used to work for a competitor breakdown organisation, and the potential for social media with such organisations where there is a natural constituency of people looking for advice is phenomenal.  I like the AA Patrol Podcasts for example, which could be really useful for guiding car maintenance from your mobile phone.

I’ve also been running some training courses on brand and PR recently for Lions Clubs International across the UK.  Organisations like the AA started out as motoring clubs, and LCI is still a global network of clubs doing great work in their local areas.  Again, there is a constituency of members, possible members and supporters who could benefit from online social media connecting with their real world activities.

For me, this is what other organisations need to consider if engaging in social media – who is going to care that you are talking with them and how should you do this?  What is the organisation’s primary objective and how will social media help realise this.

Simply being in Facebook (or Facepack as one friend calls it) or setting up a Twitter account isn’t enough.  Social media takes an investment of time and will work best if you are offering something that is really helpful to your existing customers or online publics.

Yes, the audiences are there – but they aren’t passive recipients.  They may be looking for you – but you’d better deliver and be prepared to engage in a genuine way.

So welcome newbies – but please take some time to learn about what you’re doing here, or your clients will become fed up with Facebook and tired of Twitter, very quickly.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.