Jeremy Pepper manages social media and PR for companies such as Palisade Systems, Boingo Wireless, Cisco Systems, Vivitek Corporation and Kodak, among others.
What is social media’s biggest impact on PR?
Social media is another extension of public relations, just a new name. If you look back at what PR has done for years, we always reach out to communities and users no matter where they are. So, back in the day for Kodak, I would reach out to professional photojournalist groups on Usenet, as well as reach out to enthusiast sites such as Steves-Digicam, dpreview.com and Imaging-Resource, to let them know about new products. It was (and still is) about building relationships and reaching audiences that are going to care most about your services and products.
What HAS changed because of social media – and where it’s even more important to have PR now – is that the traditional media has contracted, shrunken. So there are less traditional outlets for you to pitch to, and at the same time, more social media outlets. It has made PR more difficult, having to do what we did in the past: actually pick up the phone.
So, if anything, social media is making PR even more important to companies. There’s the falsehood that social media has made it so any company can speak directly to customers … but PR still is best to help with the right way to message, and make sure you’re presenting the company in the best possible light.
What are some common mistakes you see PR making while engaging in social media?
The biggest mistake is the lack of understanding that it’s a one-to-one conversation, and at the same time, one-to-many. When you reply to someone on Twitter or Facebook, the whole world gets to see how the company is engaging its customers or potential customers. Everything is public, and the way you work with and handle issues will be judged. For many, many examples, you can look at Motrin Moms or Nestle / Greenpeace or Nestle Mom “war” or, well there are a ton of examples out there.
Another is through blogger outreach. Too many PR firms treat it just as traditional PR outreach, when it’s a lot more than that. It’s tailored outreach, it’s learning about each blogger, and it’s knowing how to send a pitch off to a blogger. Yes, PR people should be doing that with traditional media also, but it’s hyper-accelerated and highlighted in social media, as those bloggers have a bigger megaphone.
One more thought – and I can put myself into this camp, as it’s hard to separate – is that PR people tend to overreact instead of sitting back for a minute and evaluating the situation. While many things get out of control online and in social media, there is also a natural correction in social media; what I mean by that is if the statement or claim is off the wall, or flat-out wrong, the community (both your fans and just plain customers) will defend the company. But, in PR, it’s hard to wait those 30 minutes sometimes.
What is the best way a company or individual can deal with negative comments on their webpage? Can you give us an example of a company handling this issue improperly?
I try not to comment on other people’s work – mainly because we have no idea what’s going on internally during a situation. There are many times that you just shake your head, though, and think community A or community B is overreacting, and want to wait it out. Sometimes, it’s just a great car crash to watch.
As I noted above, there’s the wait and approach for negative comments. If the community comes to defend and correct, you are fine. It is something, though, that you have to judge in a case-by-case.
One of the examples I used above, though, is worth looking into further. When the Nestle Moms started being attacked, Nestle did not have anything in place to step-in and defend them, or explain the situation (here’s background on the ‘war’:
That was a bad failure on the brand / PR side. If you are going to go out of the way to create a hashtag and event, and are not even using the tools, you have to wonder if there was any planning or strategy, or if the company was just chasing the shiny object of social media.
What question has been on your mind lately concerning the future of PR?
My mind is if the industry is going to survive the personal branding phenomenon we’re seeing in junior people. I follow a lot of college students on Twitter, as well as new graduates, and there are a few that make my stomach churn and worry about the future of public relations. Can PR survive the social media egos and the personal branding that puts the individual above the company, firm, clients? Can PR survive the self-appointed (and, sadly, community appointed) social media gurus that are empty suits? I’m not really sure if PR can survive what we’ve brought upon ourselves.