Knowledge Is Power: Don’t Fall Victim to the Latest Bright, Shiny Social Object

July 5, 2016


“The aging media giant got the faded social network as scraps in an ad tech deal.”

This headline was published earlier this year in an article from The Verge about Time Inc. acquiring the parent company of Myspace.

Sounds pretty dismal for a social media site that still sees 50 million visitors every month.

What about this one, taken from a recent article on Readwrite: “Second Life experienced a surge of media attention between 2006 and 2007… But despite the early hype, [it] wasn’t necessarily ready for prime time just yet.”

Remember when these social media channels burst on the scene? Clients and company management wanted to get on board, while as PR strategists, we worked to not only understand these new digital platforms, but determine the strategy that made the most sense for the company. We dropped other initiatives to focus on it, wrote documents, met to discuss it and then acted.

In the time since, the social media landscape has continued its exponential growth and mobile marketing has shown its increasing impact on business. The American Marketing Association estimates that by 2018, the global population of social media users is projected to grow to 2.44 billion, or 33 percent of the world’s population. There are new social sites coming about every day with hopes of being the next Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Keeping track of it all is daunting, much less knowing enough to make an informed and strategic recommendation.

How do communications professionals determine which bright, shiny social object to recommend to our companies and clients? When do we add something new to the mix with a launch on a new social channel or mobile application? This is where finding the balance between observation and a “let’s wait and see” approach and keeping clients current can really differentiate a PR team.

An approach to understanding

When considering a new digital platform, it needs to be evaluated not on the popularity of the program itself, but on its use among your target demographics. Analyze this through the lens of reaching and engaging with audiences on topics that matter to them. Strategic communicators learn what’s trending and why and who the key demographics are on these social and mobile channels, which requires a dedicated approach. Here are three ways:

1. Determining the point at which a company should jump to a new platform requires experience with and knowledge of that platform. Plan to spend an hour or so a day during this learning period to become a trusted resource. Set up a temporary account for testing the waters, learning processes and best practices. Follow the people who are emerging as experts on a particular platform (a few of them always rise to the top) on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and ask questions in the appropriate forum. Attend conferences and webinars on the subject to gain a strategic perspective.

2. Research shouldn’t be relegated to interns and entry-level staff. Smart people read a variety of content from different outlets. Communications professionals are inherently curious, so use that to your advantage. Look at different online resources to see how the platform is being applied to businesses and what is being said. Flip through a magazine in the grocery aisle that isn’t typical, or visit a different website to gain new perspectives on the technology and its uses. As PR people, we naturally look for ways to connect, so use that as part of the discovery process.

3. If a company is considering a new social or mobile platform, then go ahead and secure the domain name and key related names. This will give you a little breathing room in your decision process, and even if it doesn’t become an active strategy, the company avoids someone or some other entity hijacking its brand name in this realm.

Macro and micro considerations

There is a big-picture understanding as well as granular factors to take into account when making the decision to go with a new social or mobile initiative.

In terms of macro discussions, it is important to take in the larger business, economic and social trends and determine how that affects business. Consider how the industry is communicating with stakeholders today and how the platform can be a means to streamline that process.

Everything is cyclical. Is there anything coming back around that has potential as a business application? For example, Second Life may reappear through new virtual reality trends. It is our role to help prepare companies to stay ahead of their industry and business cycles using new technologies.

Implementation versus re-evaluation

Sweating the small stuff is also part of the process. When considering a new application, communications teams should plan a thorough needs assessment by exploring these questions:

  • Does this new offering reach the right audience?
  • Is the target audience engaged on this new social media channel?
  • Do its mission, purpose and value proposition align with the company’s?
  • What are the costs associated with setup and implementation? Is there an ongoing cost for maximizing the use of the program?
  • Is activity with this application sustainable with the team’s time and resources?
  • Who are the early adopters? Are the company’s competitors using the app and in what capacity?
  • What do the company’s industry experts and influencers say about this new offering?
  • What are some past examples of the company using similar platforms, and what were the outcomes?

This discussion then leads to and answers these questions: Should we implement now or re-evaluate in x-number of months? And what does success look like?

Like anything in business, knowledge is power. As counselors to our organizations and client companies, our insights in the area of new social and mobile applications can be invaluable as an asset and strategic tool for engaging audiences. But keep a level head. Jumping into something because everyone else seems to be doing it can backfire. Practice a process of due diligence before spending time and resources on something that likely won’t have a positive return.

Tips for Staying Strategic in Social

Staying on top of social media and mobile trends requires a curious mind and consistent exploration. Here are some tips and resources for maximizing this important part of the marketing mix:

  • Don’t succumb to FOMO (fear of missing out) with these online realms. It can lead to hasty decision-making and loss of strategic focus.
  • Read at least an hour a day in the morning. These industry outlets have proven to be robust resources in keeping up with new and emerging marketing technology: Business Insider, Mashable, Motley Fool, SmartBrief, Springwise, TechCrunch, Tech Insider, TED Talks and The Verge
  • Draw parallels between business news and social and mobile trends by reading the online versions of these publications: Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, NPR, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
  • Follow leaders and influencers within key target industries on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. — A.I.
Alison Ilg
Alison Ilg, president, Ilg Communications, helps businesses create and implement results-oriented national, local and trade media relations, internal communications and social media programs. She is 2016 president of PRSA Georgia. You can follow her on Twitter: @AlisonIlg.


Ana Toro, MA, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Great article Alison. As you say, the industry has evolved a lot and the social media landscape is the place to discover and understand while managing it for our clients day by day. Times certainly have changed!

July 20, 2016

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