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How do you use social media to enhance your company’s public relations? If you think social media is an exotic, foreign thing then you need to wake up and smell the coffee. And if you know a bit about social media but think only about Facebook and Twitter, then you are missing out on a world of opportunity.
It is not the future. It is the present.
The connection of “new media” and public relations (PR) lies in the way one leverages the social web, including professional connections on Linkedin as well as publishing sites such as WordPress and Scribed.
The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore social media in your daily effort to engender awareness, business relationships and reputation.
PR and marketing Professors Andrew Kaplan and Michael Haenlein describe social media as a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of the web and allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content mainly for social interaction, as a superset beyond social communication.
It is not enough to simply ask clients to follow your company Facebook page or Twitter handle, which then go for several days or weeks without being updated. There is a lot more you can – and should – be doing.
There are different types of social media: collaborative projects like Wikipedia; blogs and micro-blogs like Twitter; content communities like YouTube; social networking sites like Facebook and virtual social worlds like Second Life. These use technologies that allow blogging, picture-sharing, wall-postings, email, instant messaging and music-sharing, among others.
Whilst today we speak about specific PR tools, the future is likely to see a merging of traditional and digital tools when the digital divide is bridged. In the meantime, the idea of digital PR continues to proliferate while we see traditional ways giving way increasingly to social media.
A recent Top Rank digital report states that 18% of marketing and PR decision makers have no interest whatsoever in traditional marketing. This shows good percentages are already embracing digital fully and is a potential forerunner of the future. Other data in that survey adds that a majority agrees that knowledge of social networks (80%) and blogging (87%), and micro-blogging (72%) is either important or very important when it comes to PR and marketing.
A PR pitch today that does not address the question of dealing with social media is dead in the water. Ugandan PR firms would know a bit about the power of social media; when last year’s Public Relations of Uganda nite (PRAU nite) was marketed through social media, 50 extra people turned up (the organisers were expecting only 200).
However, you need to engage social media with some clear guidelines, a plan of action, a sense of what people are seeking and how, and why they communicate, a definition of what they represent and how they will personify the brand online, and the goals, objectives, and metrics associated with participation.
Authentically PR managers who in Uganda are the custodians of managing the social sphere should brace themselves to transition from the broadcasting age to the intricacies of a new form of net casting architecture where both users and corporations interact by acquiring basic knowledge and practical notions that they can leverage to design a consistent strategy that will work wonders.
Applied strategically for public relations, social media can make a brand referential, allowing you to apply a “pull strategy” which will naturally attract attention from all other types of media.
Social Media PR is a dynamic; and not all practitioners and companies will be agile enough to embrace it. The few brands and professionals that get it right are memorable because there are so many who get it wrong. But those who do will see returns far greater than traditional PR can offer.

This article was first published in the Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU) Excellence Awards Magazine on 5th June 2011


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