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Reflections on Social Media and the Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

February 16, 2013

As I previously blogged, the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken hold of the new wave of marketing and PR: social media outlets. The interview I listened to with President David Morehouse was one of my favorite pieces of media (in small part, I’m sure, because it’s about the Pittsburgh Penguins), and explains how the organization jumped onto social media use as part of their marketing strategy. President Morehouse stated that he doesn’t really understand what it is about social networking that gets younger generations excited and engaged, but he doesn’t discriminate, and uses it to it’s fullest advantage to connect with his fans. In the article The impact of social media on public relations from TheDrum.com, Nigel Ferrier, director, Optimise PR and executive chairman, stated ,“social media cuts across channels and is all about engaging with individuals, holding conversations not relying on press releases and launches.” Tom Malcolm, head of consumer, Diffusion, said that, “ The rise of social media has also had an effect on media organisations [sic] which are now in search of unique and engaging content which will drive traffic to their websites. This in turn has transformed the role of PR. To feed the media’s growing appetite for engaging content, successful PR campaigns are now increasingly reliant on their ability to create engaging content that people want to share and talk about online.” Both Ferrier and Malcolm highlight the importance of not only connecting with the public, but also how an organization connects with the public. PR focuses so much on strategies, however, this new realm of social networking strategies focuses a lot on engaging with the public, but in a personal way. This is essential because it allows a more personal connection with your audience; when an organization is humanized, it’s much more likely to receive unwavering support (in my opinion, at least). Ferrier addresses this, “companies live and die by their reputation, and since the advent of social networking, they live and die a lot quicker. Consumers look online for information and reviews; last year the Social Media Statistics Compendium found 75% say purchasing decisions are influenced by what they read online…So social media is integral to most PR campaigns in some shape or form.”

As an example, I’ll discuss the most recent NHL lockout. Many hockey fans were understandably irate and angry that there was yet again another lockout. When it was announced that there were serious labor talks presiding, fans were hooked on Twitter; not nhl.com, but TWITTER, because that was where the breaking news was. Sports journalists were live tweeting press conferences, and it was exciting… until it wasn’t- when the labor talks would end with no progress, or worse, regression. And then, a few short days later, labor talks would resume, and the emotional roller coaster would begin again. Ferrier’s advice is definitely applicable in this situation. He says, “There are huge opportunities [in social media PR], but the 24/7 scrutiny brings new threats, too. The key is to have a strategy: think carefully about the resources you have and how you can keep control of any conversations you begin. Anyone can set up a Twitter account, but you need a strategy to make it a success. If you treat social media as a key part of your PR and wider business strategy you can achieve real business results.”

The NHL and NHLPA would have been wise to heed this advice, but how could they do so? Disallowing media to cover critical labor negotiations would only seem as if they were covering something up, but allowing media pundits to break the news minute by minute wouldn’t provide the “spin” that they desired. As Ferrier advised that “anyone can setup a Twitter” account, the consumer has to be careful about what they accept as real and trustworthy sources. Take “novelty” accounts on Twitter that take hold when something viral happens. One such account I’m sure many people remember was during the presidential debates… Mitt Romney bad-mouthed Big Bird. Within five minutes, there were at least a dozen novelty accounts, and they were gaining massive amounts of followers by the second.

Relative to hockey- during the end of the labor negotiations, there was one specific meeting between the NHL and the NHLPA that stirred up a lot of interest. Talks were happening per the norm when all of a sudden, a reputable sports journalist tweeted that the NHL podium was present in the press conference room. But, there wasn’t an NHL press conference scheduled until the next day. This of course, led to a frenzy of panic, interest, and obsession by many NHL fans. And then, it happened. The @NHLPodium novelty account. The account amassed followers by the nanosecond, as we all needed something to distract us until the real press conference occurred. And after the non-existent press conference occurred (they were, in fact, preparing for the next day), the novelty account lost its well, novelty. I vividly recall joking around with my nhl fan friends on Twitter about the absurdity of the account, and how we all felt a little “duped”, though amusingly so.

Vocus, a PR Software company, discusses the impact of social media in their article, Analyzing the Impact of Social Media: From Twitter to Facebook. They point out that although having a lot of followers and “likes” on Twitter and Facebook is important, the bottom line is still how successful your company is in meeting its goals and bottom line. They state, “with a new world of communications channels opening, determining where to focus your efforts is a challenge in itself. Social media provides the opportunity for PR to impact the entire organization”.

In the wake of the NHL lockout, I’m not entirely certain what could have been done by the NHL/NHLPA to have better marketed their labor talks and progress. Fans were disgruntled simply because of the constant meetings and failed negotiations, and were prepared to relive another non-season, as the last lockout manifested. The thing about social networking, is that it’s a double-edged sword. It clearly allows a wider audience and potential fanbase (in this example), but at the same time, allows for a distraction from the importance of the issue at hand. I mean, look at how successful the @NHLPodium account was when fans were on pins and needles, and quite frankly, ready for any decision to happen. Even if it meant the end of the season.

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