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Social Media -- the new Free PR - Why Question it?

More than 100 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day (Facebook.com) and Twitter has an average 3,000,000 Tweets per day (TechCrunch). With growing stats such as these, it amazes me how the press and analysts continue to grab consumer attention with the “question” of social media. What question? Finding ourselves in an economically strapped environment, we have a free outlet at our fingertips to spread PR globally, in an instant. Not simply PR, but active customer engagement with your brand. At this point, I believe I’ve heard just about every counter argument that seems to miss the concept and functionality of social media. “There’s no business value in FaceBook”. “You can’t quantify the value of social media”, or “Time is money”.

Although we can’t yet quantify the value of social media into direct sales, it is impossible to argue the popularity of social media. In an ever-increasing connected world, the distinction between work and home life is disintegrating. I may be taking my cat to the vet when I get a Tweet on the latest news in Unified Communications, but it doesn’t stop me from clicking on Microsoft’s site from my Smartphone. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

Few of the major social media sites have valid arguments against them, especially since not a single one takes more than even thirty minutes to create an account or a site. In fact, it’s impossible – Facebook has a limit on characters for the company description and it probably takes more time to squeeze into a parking space than to type a Tweet. An enterprise announces a new marketing campaign and the press release, linked to details on the company’s site or blog, is tweeted to the world, all while you wait in line at Starbucks.

Facebook added the ability for corporations to create their own “page” – personalizing features specifically for businesses. LinkedIn (while often criticized for this fact) offers automatic incentives to build personal accounts and spin positive company profiles for networking (perhaps to build references but it serves dual purposes). Twitter – once thought to be one of the least valuable social media tools – is now catching on faster than we predicted the Swine Flu would and is apparently more popular than CNN.

Of course, there is a generation gap, and some will grasp for their inhaler at the mention of social media. No matter the age, more and more people are catching onto the trend, and the culture of ubiquitous connectivity is undeniable. According to Facebook’s Press Room, more than two-thirds of Facebook users are outside of college and their fast growing demographic are those 35 years of age and older. Even my grandmother is on Facebook. I urge you not to limit your outreach to specific sites based on personal conceptions of audience or reach -- besides social media is free and the outsource of time required is minimal.

Some companies go so far as to create social media policies and/or employ “tactics” to attempt to destroy any negative PR. Hopefully, employees would have enough common sense to know what is appropriate to post on a social media site. Otherwise, there should be other questions the company needs to explore. Plus, you can always delete any comments or content created on your own site.

Personally, I believe one of the purposes and draws of social media is the conversation and buzz that is drawn from authentic conversation. Today’s audience understands this comes hand in hand with criticism and personal opinion. They are also smart enough to recognize the openness of the Web and draw opinions of their own free will. Of course it’s up to the culture of each company, however, in my own personal opinion, any attempt to curtail conversation, especially on personal accounts, would only reflect negatively on the company and followers would seriously doubt the integrity of anything published in the future.

Jessica’s Social Media Tips

• The most important tip I can give to anyone, to say it in Nike’s words, just do it! Provide consistent and long-term updates (to anything and everything: press releases, events, webinars, etc.) If you stop updating, followers will lose interest and you will become irrelevant. The more you update, the more you show up on Tweets/news feeds, etc., the more people will want to know more about you.

Give value. Be a source of information. Sure make it relevant to your company or product but link this to the current environment. This can be quick and easy -- link to information, blogs, articles to provide research/insight/commentary.

• Ask for comments and start chats. Remember, don’t always be afraid of criticism/ feedback. Sometimes you need to risk bad PR to create a buzz… unless you want static…Engagement is key.

Don’t SPAM. More than one maybe two Tweets/status updates a day are just as annoying as they are in your inbox. Plus, no one is really that interesting… sorry.

• Keep it to a few sites/accounts – simplify. Two tweeter accounts, three groups, one profile, etc.? Followers will be confused and again- find irrelevance (I highly doubt you’re dedicating a large amount of time to each account)

Steal from others. Look to see what your competition is doing on their social media sites.

• If you really feel like getting fancy – add video (try utube) and add your presentations with a SlideShare app – shock them with media :)

Go to http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/advertising/?pages for a step-by-step guide on creating your corporate Facebook page.



Other useful links:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/

Questions? Feel free to e-mail me at jessica.b.steele@gmail.com.

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