Finding the perfect social media balance

Social media can give PR pros a great advantage and allow them to broaden a company's message.

Social media can give PR pros a great advantage and allow them to extend efforts to broaden a company's message. It has transformed communications and how we think about our interpersonal relations. We are gaining a better understanding of social media's impact, but many of us are still learning what works and how to manage it.
In some cases, social media can make a PR problem worse, leading to misinformation and lots of clean-up. It's important to have a strategy that makes sense and the right balance of traditional PR and social media outreach. Be sure to have the right message for the right audience at the right time. Do your homework and look at examples that worked and those that didn't, so you can learn from them.
It's important to streamline social media activities in your organization, with governance, a policy, and authority to implement a strategy. It should be managed at one source, preferably the PR office, in coordination with others in related areas. Be sure that you're monitoring all social media activity through a service or in-house dedicated resource.
PR professionals are best equipped to respond to incoming media requests, foresee potential problems, and develop a strategy to respond appropriately and quickly. Also, PR folks best understand the organization's corporate messages and are trained in reputation management. Importantly, a strategic communications strategy should be driving your social media efforts in most cases.
Used carefully, social media can educate the public or slow a brewing storm, giving you time to prepare and respond appropriately. Used carelessly, social media can cause a crisis or make one worse. Public reaction based on misinformation can challenge your ability to manage a message and can be long-lasting.
Sensitive or complex topics like a hospital shooting or a major policy change – we stopped hiring smokers – can easily be misunderstood or cause concern. Managing public scrutiny through social media requires strong, simple, and consistent messaging.
If information gets out incorrectly, the best approach might be to use traditional PR methods that are straightforward, simple, and personal and delivered by a compelling spokesperson who offers great credibility, compassion, and facts.

Social media requires communicators to be more solid than ever – prepared with strong messages, a good strategy, and a rapid response. Sharpen your skills to make yourself more of an asset to a corporate communications team. The stakes are higher than ever.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column focuses on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at

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