Master Class: How can social media monitoring assist in planning PR campaigns?

This month's panel discusses the role of social media monitoring in PR campaign planning.

Johna Burke, VP, BurrellesLuce

Blake Cahill
SVP of marketing, Visible Technologies

Alecia O'Brien
Director or marketing, dna13

Kye Strance
Director of product management, Vocus

Heidi Sullivan
Director of media research, Cision

Johna Burke, VP, BurrellesLuce

The rapidly growing use of social media by business users reflects the channel's suitability as a real-time promotional tool. Thus, for an increasing number of companies, government agencies, and nonprofits, social media – including microblogging vehicles like Twitter – are assuming an important role in the planning of PR campaigns.
The requisite to any kind of social media participation is engagement, and the PR team should participate in the conversation. Given that baseline, here are three ways social media monitoring can enhance PR campaigns:
Research what resonates. What are people talking about? Which topics are attracting the attention of bloggers and the Twitterverse? Tracking of microblog coverage should entail fewer and more explicit keywords than would be advisable in monitoring a blog or a magazine article. Universal microblog keywords could include an organization's name or a topic (as identified, for example, by Twitter hashtags). 
Get the facts. Social media friends and followers don't comprise a scientific sample, but can serve as a ready-access focus group. Both Twitter and LinkedIn offer polling features for quick surveys. In addition, LinkedIn provides formal Q&A functionality. Ask a question about search engine optimization, a cool event venue, or examples of successful PR campaigns, and you'll receive helpful information – and fast.
Tie the campaign to the brand. Secure relevant names from all forms of social media, from Twitter to Facebook. The aptly titled Web site is a useful resource.

Blake Cahill, SVP of marketing, Visible Technologies

As conversations in social media have continued to grow in terms of volume and velocity, PR pros and their clients are increasingly leveraging new channels –
blogs, Twitter, forums, and YouTube – for faster information dissemination, influencer outreach, and buzz-building. The challenge now is how to most effectively leverage these potentially overwhelming and noisy channels, especially if they're not properly understood and approached from a strategic perspective.

Before planning and executing a campaign, PR pros should first work hand-in-hand
with clients to gain a 360-degree view of the target community: advocates, detractors, or even those who are “walking the fence.” The key with any PR campaign is to effectively understand who your targets are, where they are conversing, and how to properly interact with them in a way that influences their behavior for specific outcomes. This kind of insight can inform your PR strategy to help ensure that you're engaging with the right consumers at the right time, rather than doing so inefficiently or blindly reaching out to an irrelevant audience.
If the proper groundwork has been laid with not only monitoring and understanding these communities, but engaging with them through an ongoing dialogue, then product news, company updates, and big launches will feel less like “campaigns” and more like an update to a captive audience. Social media analysis tools today aren't simply helpful for identifying influencers and monitoring conversations, they can also be used to identify emerging topics and conversations with PR activities and results in mind. For example, by identifying, tracking, and measuring the sentiment and tone of top Web sites and bloggers in an industry, you can then interact with them and drive their attention toward an upcoming conference or announcement.
The social media landscape will change in the coming years: new tools emerge – and participation increases – almost every day. As a channel for PR activities, social media will only continue to grow as more consumers become engaged in online dialogue. So be patient, flexible, and analytical, and think about the big picture when creating PR campaigns for the social Web.

Alecia O'Brien, director of marketing, dna13

Trend analysis, tone improvement tracking, and future budget forecasting are just three ways that monitoring social media supports PR teams and their campaigns. Monitoring provides empirical evidence as to how reputations are being impacted, particularly with social media now acting as a chief brand influencer.
Smart enterprises are tapping into Web 2.0 tools and removing vertical barriers to ensure effective monitoring of social media. The reality is that without a presence on – or participation in – social media channels, conversations that could very well make or break a reputation can and will take place in your absence.
Investing in specialized, Web-based PR solutions to manage the volume of conversations is now the competitive advantage for businesses and agencies. Once you're listening, you're a step closer to being “in the game.”

Harvesting the data gained from social media monitoring is pivotal for planning any initiative. However, having a flexible campaign plan and being prepared to act quickly and strategically is equally important.
Monitoring platforms add significant value to the market and competitive research process. Monitor and derive actionable customer intelligence and apply to your active campaigns for improved customer acquisition. Listen to the unfiltered opinions of your communities and discover new campaign opportunities.
As a post-campaign strategy, use it as a means to analyze campaign success. Look at which of your key influencers actively engaged with your content. Measure the influence online conversations had on traditional media coverage. Analyze the reach of your key messages and track the spread of your campaign content.
Overwhelming it may be. But to be successful, PR pros need an application to support the paradigm shift taking place, and they need to make monitoring and analysis efforts cost-effective and practical.

Kye Strance, director of product management, Vocus

Staying abreast of what's new with social media is hard work. Harder still is monitoring the conversations within those mediums. From Twitter to Flickr, YouTube to Facebook, social media channels are different. Some are visual, some are textual, and all are, to varying degrees, interactive. PR pros are finding that monitoring social media has become essential to planning for this reason: it's counterproductive to try and improve what you don't monitor and measure.
Here are three ways social media monitoring is evolving in the PR industry:
Crisis preparedness. Saying that news travels fast online is clearly an understatement – an unhappy tweet turns into a comment on a blog, which turns into a post by an influential blogger, which then cascades throughout the blogosphere. This is now happening within hours, even minutes. Social media monitoring is essential to analyze existing interactions in order to respond to an emerging crisis or, better yet, to plan for hot-button issues before a crisis hits.
Improving content. Understanding who clicks, comments, or “retweets” your content is key to improving the quality of the content you provide – and you need to do so in the right doses. For example, is the motivation to click on (or avoid) your content related to the topic, time of day, or the frequency in which you post it?
Identifying key influencers. Participating in social media is like having a group discussion: some people speak with more credibility, authority, and authenticity. PR pros should observe these characteristics and identify how and when a conversation commences and evolves – and monitor the conversation's authenticity. Even the most influential person in the world will find their voice will be ignored if they are not truly passionate about their words. An analysis of such monitoring is likely to unveil the most influential people in your social media circle.  

Heidi Sullivan, director of media research, Cision

Social media's rapid growth has transformed the communications cycle stages: planning and research, connecting with media contacts, monitoring hits, and evaluating coverage. In the past, monitoring was used almost exclusively to gather clips post-campaign. In today's environment – driven by social media – it's a key element in the planning stage of the cycle. Here are three ways you can utilize social media monitoring for planning:
Identifying the right communities. Seth Godin wrote Small is the New Big – and he's right. “Big box” media outlets usually can't match blogs and social networks for detailed coverage of a small industry. But which bloggers and networkers carry the most weight? Social metrics help identify the right sites to monitor and engage – providing insights on the behavior and engagement level of users. Three key metrics are: number of inbound links, number of citations on content-sharing/bookmarking sites – both of which measure and track who is sharing news about your company or industry – and commenters, which provides quantitative and qualitative understanding of how engaged readers might be.
Trending and listening. Monitoring the social Web for current news, topics, and trends in your industry helps you develop story ideas, identify new audiences for your campaign, and position your company against the competition. Once you listen and know what others are saying about your brand, you can find ways to engage your fans or turn your detractors into advocates.
Reaching influencers. Social media is not driven by monetary revenue as much as it is by social capital. Influencers share opinions and their communities listen. Social media monitoring lets you identify and reach out to these key influencers in your industry – and can lead to a wave of coverage.  

The takeaway
Social media monitoring can help identify influencers who can then be targeted as part of a PR campaign

Crisis communications preparedness can be improved by monitoring social media

Polling tools on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter offer a way to conduct pre-campaign research

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