The news distribution cycle isn’t what it once was. While the relational foundation remains the same for communications professionals, the arrival of social media as the primary platform for cultural engagement has drastically impacted how we engage our audiences. With an always-on global audience, stories can break and firestorms can accelerate in an instant. It’s the PR pros who can navigate these platforms with surgical precision who have thrived in this modern era. But, with dozens of platforms, hundreds of reporters, and millions of casual viewers, leveraging social media to improve our reach can feel like an overwhelming task.
Organizations want forward-thinking contributors and a hesitancy to leverage social can set back even the most experienced professionals. It’s the adaptive, fast-thinking PR pros who are thriving in the social environment. So, what can we learn from those who are leveraging social media effectively? We have to rethink our assumptions and understand how our audiences engage with these platforms.
Breaking Old Rules
For years, PR pros held to a familiar truth: don’t overwhelm your audience. Don’t overpitch and don’t repeatedly send the same person the same story. We give reporters time to check emails and room to process voicemails. It’s a delicate balance — there are few things more bothersome than being bombarded by e-blasts — and we’ve held tight to that rule. However, as the public relations landscape continues to shift in favor of a digital-first audience, the methods and tenets we adhere to require a bit of adaptation.
The hesitancy to bombard creates a false reality on social. We’ve bought into the idea of using social media as a traditional conversation platform; we post, wait for it to get noticed, and then pick up the conversation like we would an email or voicemail message. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth because our social feeds don’t feature every message from every user we follow. Each platform’s algorithm feeds those posts based on its own curation of our usage habits and, as a result, we experience those engagements in flashes. Our social media messages have a 15-minute shelf life, max.
Understanding that cadence is the first step to thriving on social. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, or whatever next big platform, social posts shouldn’t be considered with the same approach as an individual news release. It is virtually impossible to overcommunicate on social media — the algorithms are specifically set up to keep that from happening — so if we post a dozen times in a day, a single one of those messages is likely to make it into our audience’s feed. Amplifying our distribution efforts across social starts with ignoring the impulse to hold back. Social media is an excellent counterpart to support news releases. However, maximizing the reach of your news release (and other content efforts) requires a series of social updates distributed throughout the lifecycle of your news.
Another key element of a successful social media promotional program is the reconsideration of how PR pros tailor their message to fit their audiences. Traditionally, we’ve broken audiences down by demographics — gender, age groups, industries, regions, etc. — but social introduces a new element worth considering — aspiration.
Intentional or not, everyone who uses a social media platform is doing so with a specific aspiration in mind. Every platform empowers different goals and customizing our narratives to speak to those goals pushes our messages to the top of the feed. Think about it like a news release: if we were to pitch a release to five different trade publications, every publication would get a different introduction because each publication has a different angle, audience, and goal. Social media works the same way.
On LinkedIn, users want to be respected and seen as the right person for the job. Twitter users tend to want to be the first, the smartest, or the most clever. On Instagram, people want to be famous. Pinterest users create aspirational representations of themselves one image at a time, while Snapchat and TikTok users focus on showcasing their real selves. By adapting our messaging to Instagram’s fame seekers, the smart tweeters, and LinkedIn’s aspiring influencers, we are speaking directly to users’ aspirations, ultimately generating a larger response to our messages.
Combining Reach and Aspirational Messaging for the Win
Today, social media has realized its potential as a 24/7 communication platform. The PR pros who understand each platform’s reach and audiences’ desires can create amplification programs that drive true results for their PR programming.
While it’s no easy task, adapting our ideas and tactics to the social media world isn’t just a developing engagement strategy, it’s an ongoing necessity if we’re to amplify our messaging.
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