Creating a social media communications plan

Public relations has gone through a radical change over the past five years. This is as a result of the growing influence social media channels have had on consumer perception and on traditional media.

A new skill set beyond the glossy PR spin is now required and this week I will guide you through crafting your digital communications strategic plan.

Credibility

There are billions of bloggers and micro-bloggers in the world today. However, finding the credible ones is like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.

Tools such as Technorati and Alexa provide blog rankings based largely on traffic and SEO scores. Klout, Kred and PeerIndex assess influence measured on the surface level of social media activity.

There is a lot of scrutiny over the validity of the data returned by these services. For example, is influence truly identified by a higher score because someone is more active online? Services such as Klout also offer “perks” from brands to influencers who score over 20 and this leads to a question of “paid media” or “earned media”, which is best and most influential?

The problem with software – and this includes some of the clever listening software from services such as Radian 6 – is they can’t really read semantic terms or conversations in context and therefore predicting human behavior, intent and influence is skewed.

Simply earned media is more credible, true recommendation from real experience, than from a Klout perk or from someone who constantly chatters away online with lots of followers.

The Strategy

Whilst slow and laborious, and with a heavy requirement on human interaction, for an effective social media communications plan this is the recommended process:

1. Vet the market

  • Broad-based research: Use all the tools at your disposal, including those mentioned above. Lots of them are free to build out a wide net of potential people.
  • Community research: Taking your broad base, then filter by working out and tracking what communities these participants are part of and most engaged with. This is a manual human process.
  • Subject matter research: With your filtered list, now track the subject topic with the conversation, response commentary and connectivity of the target blog/ bloggers or community owners and most active participants. This is a manual human process.

Top Tip: Don’t be blinded by Top 100 blogger lists and so on. You need to be very targeted by social media participants and/or bloggers’ passion for their topic/subject and how they share that in an engaging, credible way. They may not be the most famous, most followed, loudest and most connected on the social media surface, but they are likely to own a special niche as a go-to person for a certain subject.

2. Reach Out (with some humility)

  • Don’t start sending out the press releases!! This is the very non-digital part of the strategy: pick up the phone! Ask your targets if they are interested in talking with you and collaborating over XYZ? If they don’t answer the first few times, leave a message and send a follow up email. Build a relationship at the outset, as opposed to sending unsolicited information.
  • Be personable and clear about what you are contacting them about and ask what information they would like to receive, as opposed to assuming you know what they want.

Top Tip: Customise the information and give them an opt-out too: “If this is not your thing, could you let me know, so I don’t send you unsolicited info.”

3. Collaborate

  • People like people; and enthusiasm sells; your outreach strategy needs to be based on building a genuine shared passion and relationship. Authenticity is hard to come by, especially if you are not really into your client’s subject or product. This is where I think the PR industry has really struggled with the changing climate of social media.
  • Content! You need to give great content to the people you reach out to, as discussed in previous blog posts. Make sure it is relevant and you do this through a process of collaboration with your outreach targets. Ask them!

Top Tip: One great tactic is to open your/your client’s business and its people as part of your social outreach program. With the outreach and online PR work my company has done over the years, I have always found people are the biggest assets a brand has got, well beyond just the product story.

4. Content tactics

There are a variety of ways you can use content to engage social media participants. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sneak peeks – advance insights into product developments and marketing campaigns
  • Experiential – trials
  • VIP status – access all areas of the business and senior executives/founders
  • Special product and pricing
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Social giving programs – charitable programs

“Do not” reminders:

  • Do not use press releases, and no cut, copy and paste
  • No mass emails
  • Don’t start with bland communications and NEVER start with Dear Blogger … yuk!
  • Don’t be demanding or pushy or oversell
  • Don’t use top 100 blog lists blindly
  • Don’t send anything unsolicited

Fi Bendall is the managing director of digital and interactive consultancy company Bendalls Group. With over 20 years’ experience, Bendall has worked with global brands including BBC and Virgin, and is an expert in how businesses can approach strategy in the digital world. You can follow her on Twitter at @FiBendall, and can contact her through Bendalls Group.

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