What social media should do for you

Some thoughts on how we should be viewing and using social media in the amazing box of tools to which we, as PR pros, have access.

After having had the pleasure of penning this column for more than three years and having written various things online – and off – for longer than I'd like to admit at this stage in my career, I've recognized a few things.

First, it's really easy to second guess others and be critical. The important thing is to provide alternates, solutions, and differentiators, not to simply point out the errors you perceive in others' ways. Second, you need to know your audience. Recognizing what they want to see – or watch or hear – is absolutely critical.

With that in mind, I thought it worthwhile to take a moment to share some thoughts on how we should be viewing and using social media in the amazing box of tools to which we, as PR pros, have access. Practicing what I preach above, I will avoid “picking at” things people aren't doing. Subtle difference, perhaps, but let's file it under “optimism,” shall we?

Beyond that, lists, numbered items, and bullets are always fun. So I present the following.

Social media…

•Should be considered as a key part of almost any PR program we're building, even if only to identify the habits of key audiences. Within that, you need to understand how they might react to tactics that happen offline or on.

•Helps us scale, sometimes transforming our budgets – and teams – into far more productive resources than originally believed.

•Is measurable, if you put in the effort to do so. While not a perfect science – and not without its own challenges – the ability to track Web traffic, app downloads, searches, and other behaviors can help us, as PR pros, do a better job at evaluating “what's working,” as opposed to just providing a book of clips or seemingly arbitrary proxy as to the “value” of a media hit.

•Differentiates brands and organizations from the competitive set. By now, we're all familiar with those who “do social well.” Hopefully, we are starting to recognize those who “are getting real value out of social” beyond simply how many Facebook fans they have. Just as we might appreciate a coffee company's variety of offerings or a hospitality brand's superior customer service, social media “attributes” have begun to be recognized as part of an organization's “persona,” if you will.

•Is one of the only “always-on” tools in our toolbox. Has it caused a lot of agencies and teams to adopt an almost “follow-the-sun” workflow? Sure. But as someone who has a teammate who moved to Europe from Los Angeles, it's been helpful to have our West Coast team wake up with all the overnight mentions from a notable movie-theater client already flagged and in our in-boxes, rather than doing so at 8am PST.

•Keeps us all alert and accountable, clients and agency teams alike. From instant feedback about products and services that help our teams pitching media adapt to identifying crises before they spiral out of any sort of mitigation-friendly level, social can be an asset when deployed properly.

By no means am I portraying social/digital/mobile as the be-all, end-all when it comes to PR success. It just seemed like a smart time to reiterate why we're all in this boat and add some perspective on what has been an overhyped and sometimes over-managed set of tools.

Plus, I have also fallen into the trap of taking a dig when it appears to be deserved. This seemed like a productive outlet to share a few things that people much smarter than I have infused into what I have the luck of being able to do every day – deliver smart ideas and value to my team's clients.

Tom Biro is VP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com or on Twitter @tombiro.

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