Many social media options exist for strategic communicators to deliver messages, and for companies to brand itself. A few options available include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. Focusing on Facebook and Instagram specifically, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each platform.
With Facebook, there are many ways a company can benefit from using this site. Recent statistics indicate Facebook exceeds two-billion users. Instagram is at about 800-million. This provides companies with incredible reach potential. On Facebook, people use their real-names and have personal connections which lend to sharing and can help from a credibility perspective. Instagram has less personal “real-life” connections, aliases are common-place and profile information is often fabricated. On Facebook, business can target users based on profile information, engage and ask questions, provide links, schedule posts for optimal effectiveness and add eye-catching visuals. Facebook also has a solid website and mobile platform, whereas Instagram is primarily a mobile destination. On Instagram, there isn’t as much of an emphasis on sharing and re-posting the way you’d find on Facebook. However, there is an opportunity to use stunning visuals and short-videos. People “read” on Facebook, but they visit to Instagram to “see.”
From a business perspective, a downside is that people don’t use social media to view advertisements. Ad placement on Facebook is easy to ignore. On Instagram, ads are integrated on the feed in a way that makes it natural to view. Ideally, both sites can be used for engagement to build relationships with target audiences by posting relevant content. While many possible benefits exist, there are also many ways social media can stand to hurt a business. For instance, there is pressure to actively use the platform. Having infrequent posts can be considered even worse than not having a page at all from a branding perspective. Also, you are giving content to each site your business is active on. For some businesses, this takes away from the time and dedication spent on developing its own company site. A business shouldn’t drive traffic to another platform for its products and services. More content on social media can translate to less e-newsletter sign-ups, less reporters utilizing its newsroom, less target audience web traffic and ultimately, less backend data it has access to. Social media should be used as a tool to drive people to the company website and events.
Another disadvantage is lost control of the message. People start to share and change the message, leave comments, create memes and so forth. Social media also forces public customer service because you have direct communication with reporters and your audiences. There is pressure to respond to items expeditiously, and during times of crisis – there is an incredibly fast pace. Analytics is an area that served as an advantage primarily for Facebook, but now the playing field is almost even. Facebook has distinctive business profiles that allowed advertisers and businesses access to promotional tools and additional information on traffic (number of visitors, time spent, links clicked, gender) etc. This information is now available on business profiles in Instagram.
Public relations and advertising copywriting are closely related. Strategic communicators often decide between the two, but successful campaigns generally include both. The difference between the two is a matter of control, credibility and media use. If a company desires ultimate control of the message, wording, graphics and channels, advertising is the preferred technique. With advertising, emphasis is on control since this method allows you to select the audience, message and channel. With public relations, emphasis is placed on the credibility provided by having stories picked up by a third-party source. Public relations translate to forfeiting control of the MAC triad (message, audience and channel). There is risk associated with this method since you lose control of the message. You have no idea if the message will change, remain in-tact or if it’ll be covered at all.
In the PR Writer’s Toolbox (2013), we are provided with a quote from John Elsasser, Editor of PR Tactics, “Advertising is what you pay for, PR is what you pray for” (Basso, Hines and Fitzgerald, p. 140). Public Relations is usually thought of as unpaid and “earned” while advertising is “paid-for” publicity (139). PR writers use paid messages to advocate for a position. The common types of public relations advertising include advocacy / issue, cooperative, house, cause-related marketing (CRM), public service announcements (PSA) and institutional. With advocacy / issue, messages are used to take a position on an issue. Cooperatives feature collaborative messages that mutually benefit two or more companies. House messages are in-house. A common example is a television station playing commercials for network programming. CRM includes sponsorship and cases where a company aligns itself with a cause or issue impacting its demographic. PSA is publicity for public service / public good. Institutional refers to image ads for the company. These messages don’t promote a specific product or service, but rather the business as a whole.
The media kit is a package of information that allows a company to present itself as it would like to be seen. The public relations professional uses the media kit to make it easy for the media to use supplied stories about their clients. Press kits can be found online in a company’s media room, however, for live events, the media kit can be supplied as a printed package. There are several components included in the media kit. In this discussion post, I will highlight six items commonly found in a media kit – the press release, backgrounder, fact sheet, key contacts, social media links and audio / video. Some other items that can be included are Q&A, biography and position paper.
The press release / news release is communication directed at members of the news media to announce newsworthy items. In the media kit, the releases should be placed in reverse chronological order. The backgrounder is a lengthy report that uses subheads. It supplies historical perspective about a company or event for staff writers’ use in publications. The fact sheet is a one-page document, bulleted for easy access, that lists items of interest about the company, event, product or service. It provides reporters with details that can easily be inserted into their articles. Key contacts must be included in media kit. This provides the media with the contact information for a company representative if they need to clarify a point or obtain an answer to a question. Social media links allow reporters to easily find RSS feeds, company blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts and YouTube videos. Audio / Video can include high resolution photographs, streaming video, podcasts, audio recordings, logos and PowerPoint presentations, among others. Providing a Q&A section saves time by eliminating the need for company employees to repeatedly answer the same questions. It is a section to provide answers to commonly asked questions. A position paper is a persuasive editorial that provides the official company stance on an issue.
There are many challenges associated with writing for the media. Several pitfalls related to media writing coincide with the reasoning for disdain aimed at PR people. Historically, public relations professionals held careers beginning in journalism; practitioners would come directly from the newspaper industry. This enabled strategic communicators to think and write like journalists. Both journalists and PR professionals are skilled communicators. On one end, you have media gatekeepers and on the other, you have professionals seeking to gain access to media outlets on behalf of a client or cause. PR is rooted in persuasion and conviction, however, people don’t like being “sold” on things. PR people are hired to research, plan and develop a strategy to deliver a message and mold perception. Understanding the scope of the profession inherently makes people skeptical.
PR people are responsible for disseminating factually accurate, grammatically-correct, timely and localized information of interest to the publication’s audience. In many cases, PR writers craft releases to pitch to media gatekeepers. The approach used should differ from tactics used when writing directly for the reading public. With the increased use of internet-based media outlets, many publications are eliminating editors. Poor writing becomes a matter of contention between the media and PR writers. Reporters and editors resent PR people dumping news on them that isn’t truly newsworthy. Other negative attributes include formula writing, bad verbs and quotes, excessive titles, subjective adjectives, overhyped statements and fluff.
PR professionals are often placed in a difficult position when the clients they represent are adamant about the inclusion of certain information. An example of poor insertion at client request include direct quotes from the CEO in the lead. Other reasons for media professionals disliking PR people include not adhering to the AP Stylebook, and not including all information in the release such as social media links, audio/visual links and key contacts.
Writing is the most important and sought-after skill for public relations professionals. Other types of writing are different than PR or strategic writing because of tone, audience and objective. PR writing strikes a balance between art and science. Creative writing has more artistic freedom and is written to entertain. Public Relations has creative license, but it’s aimed at persuading the reader. Literature and other forms of creative writing can leave room for interpretation. Strategic communicators must be clear and concise in their writing. Messages are planned and carefully executed.
Authors in academic writing, technical writing and scientific writing pride themselves in crafting complex messages. At times, these styles of writing are long, wordy and difficult to read. The use of jargon in these types of writing can present the author as a subject matter exert. This is different than public relations writing where complex information is crystalized into easily understandable terms.
Of the various types of writing presented, public relations writing shares the most similarities with journalistic writing. News media is the preferred mode of promoting products and services. Strategic communicators take journalistic approaches since they pitch information to reporters to disseminate. Journalistic writing is objective in tone and presents information to educate an audience. This is different than public relations where information is presented on a client’s behalf to persuade publics and manage reputation. PR writing anticipates objections and messages are crafted with persuasion and conviction. Another key distinction between journalistic writing and PR writing is that reporters write for the readers of their respective media outlet. Strategic communicators address various audiences including both internal and external publics.