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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Marketing and PR: Create Winning Social Media Campaigns

Marketing is a vital activity for businesses to engage in, as finding ways to stand out and differentiate a company is more important than ever. Our bestselling book, The Business Etiquette Bible, explores how to more effectively advertise to and engage audiences going forward, as well as what companies need to know to better communicate with and inspire audiences to take action going forward. Here, we take a closer look at what it takes to succeed with regard to outreach efforts.

Important to keep in mind: The role of marketing and public relations within professional organizations has shifted drastically with the advent of social media, and move to greater emphasis on storytelling. Traditionally, organizations would simply broadcast news, or channel it through one specific type of influencer – members of the media – and observe the reaction, then respond on a somewhat more flexible timetable. Today, it’s not simply about beaming out a message: It’s about building trust with end-users, telling a compelling story and creating social streams of dialogue that work two ways.

In a connected, online and multitasking world, companies must first find ways to connect with increasingly fragmented audiences, then work to build empathy and awareness, and create channels through which customers and influencers of every sort can engage with brands and products in exciting new ways. Moreover, customer impression carries increasing weight, with brand impression able to travel greater distances in less time than ever before, and users growingly looking to their personal networks for expertise and validation as opposed to traditional media channels. However, while the media matrix and consumption patterns have irrevocably shifted, the value of powerful communication strategies has only become more vital. In fact, traditional marketing and public relations principles play more of a role than ever, and practitioners can excel in the modern world – provided, that is, they adapt to changing markets and best practices. Following are several key areas to keep in mind as you work to create and nurture positive conversation.

  • Email and Online Marketing: Best Practices
    • Ask permission from recipients first before adding them to mailing lists. Permission-based marketing is the law, not just proper etiquette.
    • Resist the temptation to spam your list by mailing at well spaced out intervals: There’s a fine line between being consistent with sending email messages and overdoing it. Test to determine your optimal email frequency.
    • Balance automated messages with non-automated messages to make exchanges feel more personal.
    • Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe with a single click – they should not be required to enter their email address again, specifying reasons for doing so, or otherwise take further action. Do not mail them a confirmation email that they have been unsubscribed – state that requests to be removed from lists are successful in the same browser window where requests are processed right after the click.
    • If someone asks to be unsubscribed from your list, honor their request, no questions asked.
    • Scrub your list of subscribers regularly to ensure that you’re delivering email to the right address, and minimizing possible email bouncebacks.
    • Touch base – gently, professionally and kindly – with subscribers who’ve lapsed or not interacted with you lately. If they’re no longer engaged, a gentle probe can show that you care. Ask if they’d like to unsubscribe or would prefer to receive different forms of contact or emails at a differing frequency.
    • Personalize mailings and address them as you would when conversing with real people – not just a faceless horde.
    • Be certain that any automated fields – e.g. those that insert first names (“Hi Mary!”) – do not show these names in different colors, fonts or trappings from the rest of the email, otherwise you risk running the gaffe of revealing that it’s a mass mailing.
    • Segment your emails. Divide your database into different groups, interest types and audience members to more accurately target your marketing efforts and better resonate with recipients.
    • Make sure any ‘reply to’ fields go to a real person, not your own spam filter!
    • Make sure your emails are mobile device friendly. Many recipients read these missives on smartphones, tablets and other portable gadgets.
    • Remove spam triggers to the best of your ability, and be clear about where any and all links contained in an email lead.
    • Do not misrepresent the content of emails or links either, or be misleading with titles and queries.
  • Proper Press and Media Outreach
    • Make sure you’re sending your press releases, emails and marketing materials to journalists and members of the media who actually cover the topic that you are promoting.
    • Be sure to target the specific editor of the section or area of the publication you’re looking to reach.
    • If you’re not sure if someone is interested in receiving your information, don’t be afraid to try the old-fashioned route: Place a phone call and ask them, or drop a note, before adding them to mass mailing lists.
    • Be polite, be professional and know when to back off. If a reporter isn’t interested, don’t take it personally, and don’t spam his or her inbox.
    • Be timely: If a member of the media makes an inquiry while he or she is working on deadline, jump on it and be as helpful as you can. Oftentimes, the PR professional who gets back to a reporter on deadline the fastest gets the best placement in a story, and enjoys a better measure of trust from the journalist going forward as a reliable source.
    • Likewise, do not promise access to contacts, information or material that you cannot deliver, or cannot be delivered by the necessary deadline: All it takes is one blown promise to undermine one’s trust and credibility.
    • Do not ask to see the story or video before it goes public – this is highly inappropriate, and a severe breach of trust.
    • Do make sure your press releases are polished. You never know if a writer or editor will publish what you’ve wrote verbatim.
    • When following up, be respectful of a journalist’s time and interest, and attempt to contact them in total no more than two to three times.
    • Be aware of publications’ various lead times. Know that most printed works have long lead times that may extend 90 to 120 days into the future. Ex: A press release about an event happening next month that is sent to a publication that files its content four months in advance is an exercise in futility.
    • Know that writers and reporters aren’t the ultimate gatekeepers. If their editor doesn’t clear a story, or decides for whatever reason it cannot make print (even for unexpected lack of space in the section due to lowered ad count), it won’t run.
    • If a journalist makes a mistake, be polite in requesting a retraction or a correction.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask a reporter what he or she is working on next: You might be able to help with another story or feature.
  • Corporate News and Announcements
    • When you send a press release to groups of contacts, make sure to BCC them, so you are not exposing all other journalists’ email addresses to random strangers.
    • If it is an important announcement, be clear about any specifics, including embargoes.
    • If you negotiate an exclusive deal with a journalist, be certain to specify all specifics up-front to avoid later issues or concerns – e.g. is it a print exclusive, online, based upon a certain time window, etc? Do not promise an exclusive if you cannot deliver.
    • Respect publications’ editorial calendars and lead times when pitching – many are publicly available for reference, which can help you optimize pitch timing and angles.
    • Once you issue a press release, be responsive to interested journalists and members of the media. Be available to answer all questions, conduct interviews and provide access to necessary information, parties or assets.
  • Content Marketing and Bylined Articles
    • Do your homework: When pitching bylined or sponsored content, target only those publications and websites that accept these forms of material.
    • Similarly, only pitch op-eds or pieces from corporate or market insiders to those outlets which accept guests posts, and respect their guidelines for submissions, which are often posted publicly for review.
    • Make sure that any guest bloggers or writers submitted fit the subject matter, tone and writing style of the publication, and that any submissions are professionally written and edited before being turned in to these outlets.
    • Study any targeted publications and websites before pitching to make an appropriately tailored and individualized pitch.
    • Rather than spam random editors, find out who the best contact person is and specific target pitch efforts at this individual.
    • Conduct research up-front to determine if your company will need to pay for having content placed or articles run in the specific outlet – it can save a lot of wasted time and energy, and save you from garnering spurned recipients’ ill-will.
    • Always approach publications respectfully and with an eye towards providing content that readers will appreciate, enjoy and find value in.
    • Be subtle with sales efforts – make sure your biography includes appropriate links and pertinent information about you and your business, but do not make overt promotional pitches throughout the piece, or seek to belittle competitors.
  • Crystallizing and Communicating a Clear Corporate Social Media Policy
    • Make it clear to employees what is okay to share online and what isn’t, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. With every employee a brand ambassador, training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce and instill the importance of these corporate values – establishing formal rules of engagement, clearly communicating them to workers, and explaining what’s expected from hires is crucial.
    • Guidelines are only the beginning, however: Establish an internal program designed to teach social media literacy and aptitude, provide continued education efforts, and reward employees for successfully practicing these skills – you may wish to consider regular skills refreshes, training sessions, certification courses, and gamification-based programs to reinforce these maxims.
    • Social media training should include real-world, hands-on examples in practice (e.g. by allowing employees to participate in sample exchanges over internal corporate networks), and built to promote education and empowerment. Employees won’t just be sharing updates from the front lines or breaking announcements, but also insights, information and opinions as part of social efforts, and must possess the wherewithal to do so smartly and professionally.
    • Establish and promote key values amongst employees who’ll engage in social media efforts to help guide their decision-making process – understanding the importance of integrity, moderation, gratitude, self-control and other virtues can help guide their efforts going forward.
    • Be straightforward and specific about what’s expected in terms of tone, attitude, end-results and output from your social media pros, and regularly monitor and assess how we’ll they’re aligning with and meeting these goals. Providing running feedback and commentary to help them grow and improve is a vital way to bolster performance in these areas. To this extent, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts or updates to provide a sense of how to better shape these communications efforts.
    • For sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, also post formal guidelines for communication within your own blogs, communities and online venues, public-facing or otherwise. Having established guidelines in place helps set expectations up-front, provide level playing field, and help you address any issues that may arise, such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.
  • Disclaimers and Warranties
    • As many employees mention their job title and employer in their social media profiles, you may wish to encourage them to place a disclaimer such as “opinions are my own” on their profile description – e.g. on Twitter, having it read “Social Media Marketer and PR Maven for Acme Corp. Dog lover. Passionate About Dancing and Yoga. Opinions are My Own.”
    • When employees make official corporate posts, or to help promote initiatives, you may wish to have them preface thoughts by saying “Donating my status to [company name goes here].”
    • Put formal communications, privacy and legal policies in place including appropriate disclaimers and warranties on all public- and internal-facing channels, and make it obvious and clear at the time of signup or registration what specific policies are in place for users of corporate channels, communities and websites should they choose to utilize these solutions.
  • Setting Clear Guidelines for Consumer Interaction
    • The immediacy of social media allows you to interact with your business’ customers directly and often without filters – however, policy and protocols must be set in place beforehand to ensure professional and productive interactions. Understanding the some room must be given to operate between formal guidelines, make it clear to employees what appropriate rules of conduct are when speaking directly to end-users or customers, whether exchanges are B2B or B2C in nature.
    • Provide ongoing development and training regarding these policies, and make sure employees who manage social media efforts, outreach and campaigns receive regular, ongoing instruction – and are passing learning and knowledge gained from direct frontline interactions with customers on throughout the organization to promote positive transfer and enhance best practices. Creating internal sharing systems, online platforms and programs where employees can share insights, ask questions and contribute individual findings can greatly assist in this regard – sharing findings, knowledge and commentary on the back of ongoing efforts helps boost program growth, engagement and participation.
    • Marketing campaigns and branding efforts should also adhere to consistent guidelines, helping you ensure the right messages are being sent and that your company is being portrayed with the image and professionalism you desire.
    • Outside of formal guidelines, basic rules of politeness, professionalism and business etiquette should be practiced online, just as you would when engaging with a customer face-to-face.
    • Through social media, you will likely also interact not just with individual customers, but entire communities of customers who follow certain blogs, trends, etc. Identify which influencers to reach out to, the best methods for doing so, and optimum means of engaging them, and ensure employees are briefed on these topics – as in real-life, virtual group dynamics can differ greatly from one-on-one interactions.
    • Casual is fine in social media exchanges, disrespectful is not. While it’s OK to keep things fun and light (when discussing appropriate topics) online, organizations must still treat customers with the utmost care, concern and professionalism – let real-life interactions be your guideline.
    • Across customers and fans, you will discover superfans and influencers: Among the most highly-desired and –courted of all social media audiences – be certain to afford all heightened levels of respect and attention, and prioritize these exchanges. Influencers and experts in your field who tout your business or corporation may command greater levels of dedicated time and attention from staff – providing it is a sign of mutual respect for the time and attention they pay you. However, good rule of thumb when it comes to social media and customer service is always “spoil everybody” – practice it, and you’ll be in good shape no matter whom you’re interacting with.
    • When making outreach to influencers – professionals, experts, media, community leaders, thought leaders or otherwise – understand that optimum methods for contacting each differ between individuals.

Depending on your business and social media strategy, consider the platforms and topics all are most active around, and optimum solutions for making targeted outreach based on this learning.

  • Putting Crisis Plans in Place and Promoting Rapid Response Times
    • As soon as a crisis hits, the key is to get ahead of it. Ground the conversation. Don’t be unreachable or leaving audiences hanging, the virtual equivalent of allowing uncomfortable pauses to appear in dialogue – be present, even if the only answer you have temporarily is “we’re working on finding out the answer now.”
    • Be present, be transparent and be human.
    • If you’ve made a mistake, take responsibility and fix it.
    • If you don’t know, say you don’t know immediately, and that you’re looking into it.
    • A successful social media manager takes time every day to monitor chatter surrounding a brand and update a business’s presence on all of the social media platforms in which it participates. He or she should know about a crisis as or immediately after it happens and respond quickly and appropriately. Take time to monitor and review channels, including conversation as it coalesces around your business and related topics.
  • Promoting Messages Across Different Mediums
    • When you’ve got a good story to tell, it often makes sense to tell it across multiple mediums to maximize your reach – but tailor content and promotions by platform. The way individuals consume content on Twitter is very different from that of Facebook or Pinterest. A one-size-fits-all approached is not advised: However, if you’ve got a YouTube video containing several fun or juicy nuggets of information, the incremental effort to write a blog post, schedule some tweets featuring highlights, or otherwise adapt it for use in other formats can easily be justified.
    • As alluded, tailor your message according to the medium to best resonate with and serve your audience: Content can take myriad short- or long-form shapes – all of which should be adapted for the platform, and easy user consumption. Remember, each medium has its strengths and weaknesses. Visual promotions such as infographics might best be served on Pinterest, Facebook and Google+, while key points from them might be better called out in short spurts on Twitter.
    • Bring value to online conversations by looking for ways to add unique information and insights, and acknowledge and respond to others’ reactions.
    • Always be respectful when interacting with others online, and keep a cool head, even when you encounter rude or inappropriate behavior by other parties.
    • Be helpful to others, and find ways through your comments, content and actions to create value and benefit for recipients. Doing a good turn for colleagues, customers and others we interact with across different forms of media helps promote goodwill and empathy – valuable business assets.
  • Expressing Your Brand’s Personality
    • When people go to social media sites, they expect exchanges to be more personal, more immediate and more engaging: Be less formal, but make sure you adhere to the rules and guidelines your company sets forth about your brand, message and tone of voice while also creating value for your audience.
    • Casual and fun doesn’t equate to flippant, glib or self-centered – think about how you or your brand may be perceived, and take care to present yourself as affably and respectfully as possible. Be cognizant of post quality as well, including taking care to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors. Note that kindness, courtesy, positivity and empathy should be reflected in every post.
    • Humor is appropriate to use depending on context – however, only the same sort of humor that is appropriate for use in an office or business casual setting. Avoid risqué or controversial statements.

For more, be sure to grab your copy of The Business Etiquette Bible today!

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