Public relations is becoming a lot more social


The emergence of social media has changed the face of public relations. Messages can now be sent in real time and conversations with customers can happen one-on-one. Audience sizes have changed too, since a brand can now talk to their customers, or followers, and their followers too, should the existing customers share or retweet a message.

This new relationship between brands and customers have, in a way, shifted the power to the consumer. Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, said to Mashable, “In the past, PR was very much about controlling the message. You can’t do that [on social]; you have to embrace the dialogue and your customers as they are, then influence and guide the conversation.”

Some brands have learned this the hard way. Back in 2012, McDonalds launched a campaign using the hashtag #McDStories, hoping that customers would share their happy McDonalds memories. Unfortunately their attempt failed, as people used the hashtag to share grievances instead

The New York Police Department had a similar experience when they launched their #myNYPD hashtag. Instead of New Yorkers sharing photos with a local police officer, as the campaign suggested, the hashtag was used to shine the spotlight on police brutality.

More examples of social media disasters are very easy to find.

There is LG who leveraged Apple’s infamous ‘BendGate’, when some Apple customers discovered that their iPhone 6 bends in their pocket, to promote their curved G Flex handset. They did it in good spirits, but unfortunately the French LG account sent their tweet from an iPhone. Of course you can’t take a swipe at a brand, using the very product you’re targeting.

Pinterest had a fail too, when they sent content suggestions to users based on their preferred pins. One such suggestion was wedding content, with the message starting with the words “You’re getting married”. It seems harmful enough, but unfortunately many of the recipients were very single.

With many brands still wrapping their heads around social media and its power, these sort of gaffes happens very easily. This is why it’s so important for all public relations officers, or anyone manning a social media account, to understand the impact a hashtag or social media campaign can have.

Four golden rules

William Comcowich, founder of CyberAlert, has been covering social media, marketing and public relations for years. He’s seen what should and should not be done, and has this advice for anyone who sends out tweets on behalf of a brand on a daily basis:

  1. Be extremely cautious when developing a hashtag, and consider how audiences might take it in the wrong direction.
  2. Only newsjack events for which your brand is relevant and can add value.
  3. Always fact-check statements, facts and images.
  4. Be cautious with tragedy and sensitive topics.

Those currently enrolled in public relation courses should take note too, as this is superb advice that’ll prepare them well for their future.

No-one wants to be the person who follows in food website Epicurious’s steps, who managed to get numbers 3 and 4 on Comcowich’s list spectacularly wrong, following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. The website thought it fitting to use this tragedy to push their cranberry scones and a breakfast recipe on Twitter.

Think before you post

It cannot be stressed enough – a message on social media will potentially reach thousands, if not millions, of people. Apart from apologising, there’s not much that can be done afterwards to fix the mistake.

Even if a post or tweet is deleted, there is always screen grabs, which Twitter or Facebook users are very quick to make. This means an offensive, hurtful or just plain stupid tweet or post will be available for anyone to see for all eternity. 

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