Which social media tool is the right one for PR professionals?

This past week, an email from a media relations rep got me thinking again about the ways that social media is changing how journalists and PR people work together.

The email announced plans for a new ride at a theme park (which is one of the beats I cover on my personal websites). Now that’s all good, except that the park had posted the same announcement on its Facebook site three hours earlier.

Perhaps the park had sent the email at the same time as the Facebook announcement – email delivery is not instantaneous. But media professionals ought to know that by now. Getting the email hours after I’d posted my own blog story about the announcement made me feel like the PR rep had wasted his time, and a little bit of mine, as well.

Maybe the company was trying to reach reporters who don’t follow the park’s Facebook feed. But anyone who covers a beat ought to be following the Facebook and Twitter pages of the major players on that beat. The email blast would be for reporters with a more casual relationship with the park – people who might be convinced to write about it from time to time, but who don’t actively cover it. That email wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – be for me.

All this points out how the presence of social media on the scene can change the way that media professionals operate.

Facebook, Twitter and websites allow news sources to communicate directly to the public. But working with news reporters allows sources to connect to a broader audiences – ones beyond those individuals so dedicated to hearing the business’s message that they ‘Like’ a Facebook page or bookmark a website. After all, businesses need to grow the customer base, and ignoring news publications would limit their ability to do that.

So we, journalists, still matter. Which is nice.

But when a business decides to break news via social media, that ought to change the way that the business communicates with professional media, too. PR pros ought to consider the strengths of various media of communication, and tailor their messages within each of those media.

The email blast to everyone on your contact list really isn’t the best use of that medium anymore (if it ever was). Use email for non-instant communication – never for breaking news. A smarter use of email in this case would have been to give beat reporters a heads-up that the Facebook announcement was coming, telling us the specific time of the announcement and an idea what to expect. Then, the park could follow up with another email to the other reporters, the ones who might write about the announcement, but who wouldn’t blog it right away like I and others on the theme park beat did.

Based on this and many other experiences interacting with media relations personnel, here is one reporter’s thoughts on the value of various communications media to PR pros.

Twitter – With short nuggets of information delivered instantly, Twitter’s the best medium for breaking news. Train your followers and reporters to expect to see public announcements here first.

Facebook – It’s a better medium for conversation and reaction than Twitter, given the lack of a 140-character limit. The percentage of followers who react to a given Facebook wall posts also affects how many of your fans will see subsequent posts on their “Top News” and “Most Recent” feeds, so you want to choose posts for Facebook that will elicit reactions to maximize your long-term exposure on Facebook. This might be the best place to engage in casual conversations with your community.

Email – Email’s best for private or individual communication, especially notes that are not time-sensitive, given the medium’s inherent delivery delays. Never use Twitter DMs for private communication. It’s too easy to mess us and send a public message, and Twitter DM spam has become so common that I, and many other Twitter users, simply never look at DMs anymore. Use email also for planning, especially for alerting reporters to upcoming Twitter announcements, as well as for scheduling interviews and sending documents. If you use email blasts, tailor them to sharply defined audiences.

Websites (including blogs) – They’re great for communicating longer, more in-depth information to an audience of dedicated followers. The problem with websites is that they require readers to come to you – so they’re poor places to reach large audiences instantly (unless you’ve referred them from another medium, such as Twitter.) Anything published on your website exists under your brand, so some organizations might not be as comfortable hosting potentially negative conversations here as they might be on a more visibly “neutral” forum, such as Facebook.

However PR pros use these media, they shouldn’t overlook the value of continuing to communicate with the public via news publications. Again, social media allows you to communicate with people who already are your fans and followers. If you wish to reach new customers, you’ll need to reach beyond your current base and into other communities.

So use your social media wisely, not just to communicate directly with the public, but for better communication with news reporters, whether they be full-time staffers at a paper or website or fans publishing part-time on a niche blog. Each new medium of communication provides you a unique tool – so don’t just use them all the same way.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.