Reach an Audience in a Digital Age

In this week’s class of advanced public relations writing for a digital world at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Maren Guse, assistant director of digital and social media at Syracuse University spoke to PR graduate students on social media and the role of PR practitioners in a digital age.

Social Media Belongs to Everyone

“Social media touches not just marketing communications and public relations. No matter where you go in an organization, most likely, you may have some interaction with social media. Its implementation is beyond just communications,” said Guse.

As a PR practitioner in an organization, social media integration changes your work responsibilities. Though the world generates overloaded information every day, social media will help you disseminate information to selected focus groups directly. For example, customer service departments receive more customer complaints from social media than call centers, product managers improve their products based on suggestions from tweets or blog posts, and HR departments recruit employees on company social media pages.

Content is king, make every word count

However, social media is simply a tool for communications. As Guse addressed during her introduction, content is still king when delivering messages. From my experience of managing the Twitter account for a non-profit organization, I’m always struggling with writing 140 characters including a link and hashtag to create an engaging tweet. While this can be hard, social media users should always remember what William Strunk advised writers in “The Elements of Style.” “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words” (Strunk, 1918).

Stylize personality of your organization

“An important thing to consider is how your online actions are a reflection of your personal branding”(Scott, 2013, p260). Once you write a tweet in a style, your audience will see you as what you wrote. When I was writing tweets for the non-profit organization’s Twitter, I kept reminding myself of the organization’s brand personality.

Choosing the right communication channel

In a constantly connected world, social media has been seen as an effective communication channel for companies handling crises.

I totally agree with what Scott discussed: “The right approach is, to be honest, and forthright. Communicate the facts quickly and don’t hide. Assign a visible spokesperson. Silence and ‘no comment’ are the enemy” (Scott, 2013, p273).

More and more brands are using social media to release official company statements and monitor customer opinions regarding a crisis. Despite all the advantages of social media, a warm, firm handshake, a sincere facial expression, and an engaging conversation face-to-face are important roles in building trust and empathy between an organization and the public. Undeniably, those are also crucial components in minimizing harm on a company’s reputation in a crisis. More importantly, face-to-face communication is more precise than non-verbal communication.

The different features of face-to-face and online communication led me to wonder the following: is face-to-face communication more accurate than social media when companies want to explain an intangible issue to their customers? Is social media a more effective way to articulate an appropriate response to a serious crisis even though it is the quickest and more engaging way? Is a 140-character tweet enough to handle an issue?

In short, choosing a right communication channel will depend on many internal and external factors. Sometimes, using mainstream methods are not the most efficient way to handle a crisis. Communicating your message effectively should always be a priority whether those mainstream methods are used or not.

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