This post is about content and audience.
When we talk about public relations and putting the public back into the relationships, that's probably what we mean. There's also the other side of the coin, the digital marketing activities, that is converging with this reality.
I would not call it a trend and it's not really anything new.
While in traditional media relations you were intent on getting to know (hopefully) and pitching journalists and editors, those of you who had more success in doing that wrote for or shared information that was interesting to the readers of those publications.
Except for now more than ever, your chances or odds improve when you write the story yourself. Whether the story is the piece of news in the press release or not, for it to go social, it needs to have certain elements built in to appeal to the ultimate audience - your customers or prospective customers.
The degree to which it appeals to end users may also determine media pick up - traditional media and new media alike.
So where do you start?
1. Start with your product or service
What do you need to do to make it a valuable use of your customers' budgets and time? If you feel you need to improve it, but do not know where to begin, open up the communication lines with your customers.
This is the same deal as the employee suggestion box. It cannot be just lip service, you'll need to walk the talk. The main difference between old media and new media is the filter - with new media you have none. That can be really good, or really bad for you. You decide.
For you to do this well, it doesn't mean you create a public idea site. Let's not confuse tools with intent and process. Some companies may feel comfortable out in the open, others may already have such a strong community of advisers that all they need to do is engage those relationships.
But, you need to retain the power over facilitating the conversation and testing the viability of the resulting marketing decisions.
2. Integrate CRM with social to build long term relationships
The fundamental shift between your CRM system and the social Web to build relationships is that CRM is really a process where you capture and manage customer information. The social Web allows you to act publicly on that information to benefit your customers as well and you by reflection.
This is a bit of a shift in thinking.
If you want to connect with end users, begin by not seeing them as something you can use at will. Broaden that definition to include how they can use your content to become smarter, do their job better, look good with their peers and boss alike, and connect with each other.
3. Educate your company on new media
Don't take for granted that just because everyone's on Facebook they know how to put these tools to good use for business. Set up training classes for your authors and content owners to help them see the possibilities.
Do that in my organization as part of the media training program you offer. Share information on how you talk about what you do, your stories, what you've published in traditional media, what resonates with your audience (their readers).
That kind of intelligence allows subject matter experts to build on existing conversations.
Teach people how to write for the Web and you'll be able to publish more content that is of value to your customer community. It's the old adage of teaching people how to fish. All those who are in customer-facing jobs should be empowered to assist customers wherever they choose to communicate with you.
I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on experience to help with this. Someone who has not done it won't really be able to show you or to truly know what to listen for in live interactions with customers.
4. Listen, test, adjust frequently
Don't wait until you have the perfect answer.
Start testing small initiatives by integrating them to existing programs and keeping them modest. What you want to do is set up realistic objectives, communicate them to your team, and measure against them.
Keep listening for changes in behavior and adjust your tactics or strategies accordingly. This may feel a bit squeamish for those who are classically trained in marketing. They tend to have very specific ideas of what needs to be done. Yet, gone are the days of perfect mass marketing campaigns.
Today it's more about micro interactions - personal, relevant, and meaningful exchanges of value. You capture someone's attention when you stop thinking of them as eyeballs and start thinking in terms of exchange - and connection.
5. Know where your customers are and why they're there
You may think that having an ad on Facebook is a good idea, after all many of your customers are there. Before you go ahead and find a new way for them to ignore you or piss them off, do take the time to find out why they're there, what they do.
In one instance, many of the customers I talked with say they signed up to share photos with their grandchildren and find old college room mates.
That is a very personal reason and although personal and professional are bleeding into each other more and more, your customers are in the driver seat here, they decide.
Digital and online media by its very nature feels more personal. People have come to expect interaction and exchange. Instead of ignoring you, like they did off line when you interrupted them last, they may tell you what they think about your ad and they may tell all their friends, too - on Twitter.
One example of what not to do
You've probably heard of the term hashmob.
Right now, the Twitter community is grappling with the #fixreplies issue. Here's what they posted yesterday to their blog (emphasis mine):
We've updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we've learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it's a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don't follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today's update removes this undesirable and confusing option.
I'm confused. For a company supposedly born in Web 2.0, they are acting pretty 1.0-ish. Check out this "we learned a lot" post. Clearly they do not know why their customers/users are there. The whole point of social media is to help people make connections. Take that away and you go back to broadcasting.
True, it's not that easy and it's not five neat steps. These are ideas you can take and try your own way. They scale, too. Thanks to technology and the social Web, a business any size can be what it wants to be. It kind of puts a whole new meaning to "be all you can be", doesn't it?