With a number of municipal elections wrapping up this week, there have been some very animated conversations between my colleagues, voters, and in media, about the use of social networking as a campaign tool. For some politicians, social media was an extremely successful component of their outreach strategies, with others we saw token participation, and, of course, some chose not to meaningfully participate at all.
Putting politics aside, no matter the size of your business or the amount of capital you have to invest in social media, there are definite lessons to be learned when looking back at the past few weeks:
1. Be there: Social media may seem risky, but the greater risk is not engaging at all. By ignoring the online chatter, you’re opening up opportunities for your competitors and allowing dialogue about your brand to happen without you.
2. Strategy before tactics: Invest time and resources into putting together a solid strategy, and be sure every Facebook post, tweet, blog and YouTube video directly contributes to that strategy.
3. Integrate digital and traditional communications: Adding a digital marketing piece to creative traditional outreach tactics can bring enormous success. Though quite a lot of people are online, your entire audience isn’t. Combining tried-and-true tactics with innovative online activity is the best way to reach the most people.
4. Pay attention: When executing your strategy, listen to your audience. Social media is a great barometer of attitudes and opinions, and a strong source of ideas and inspiration. Read the responses. Track the messages. Measure the traffic to your site and where it is coming from. Ask people what they think about your online presence.
5. Target your efforts: You can’t be everywhere all the time, especially if this is your first time using social media, or if you have a small budget and not a lot of staff to drive your strategy. Pick only a few social media channels to start, and use them well. Don’t spread yourself too thin, it will negatively impact the value you add to the online community.
6. Put the social in social media: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The value of public relations is not, and has never been, in the monologue. Have a dialogue with your audience. Share valuable insight. Ask questions. Don’t just broadcast, interact.
7. Spend wisely: There are a lot of options out there that promise to enhance your reach: software, website subscriptions and smart-phone apps are just a few. Though they may seem cool, they aren’t always guaranteed to improve your reach. Do your research before buying any add-ons for your campaign.
8. Don’t abandon your networks: When your marketing campaign wraps up, if you were successful in your social media efforts, you have probably built a loyal online following. Use this as an opportunity to create sustained engagement – don’t just close up shop and move on to the next project.
Over the past few years, social media has had a transformative effect on politics, journalism, marketing and advertising, and public relations. No matter what your industry is, or the size of your business, you should be eager to harness the power of social networking to broaden your reach and thoughtfully engage with your audience.
Chatter is happening online about your company and clients whether you participate or not, but by following these eight rules, you can become a valuable part of that conversation.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.