Everybody wants to contribute to a company’s social media calendar: recruiting, marketing, communications and PR. The problem is that many of these teams still often sit in silos, and that can make a coherent plan for social difficult to achieve. A potentially bigger problem is that control of social media channels often sits far away from the PR silo. Yet there’s no denying the evidence that PR can and should be a major contributor to social media strategy – and a results driver for the business.
In this dedicated #FuturePRoof post, content marketing evangelist Jaime Pham looks at how social media has democratized influence and how media owners are no longer the keeper of the conversations. Instantaneous, viral public sentiment means those conversations are created and dissipated in a matter of hours. A rumour becomes a headline and the headline becomes the story. It looks like the wild west of digital communications with all bets – and all previously valued skill sets – off the table. But is this really the case?
- Social media is just an enabler of conversations and digital relationships
- Relationships require trust and PR has a role to play in earning it
- Employees now play a bigger and more influential role in earning that trust
Social media’s role in conversations and relationships
Social media is really just a relatively new tool for executing the core competency of great PR teams: building and maintaining relationships with key audiences.
What is the one thing that all healthy and sustainable relationships require? Trust. This is why Edelman has been reporting on levels of trust in institutions since 2001.
Trust requires consistency over time. Content marketing requires consistency over time. Hence why PR firms were among the prime movers in the rise of content marketing. Today, that continuing rise is being driven on social media: a natural platform for regular communication through content.
LinkedIn is at the heart of this, because of its rich profile data, and the opportunity it therefore provides to communicate with multiple constituencies. Journalists, bloggers, investors, government think tanks, employees, alumni, clients and prospects are all using LinkedIn to stay up to date with news and industry trends. All of these groups can be targeted with sponsored content or encouraged to follow a company page.
Beyond consistency, trust also requires transparency. Effective participation in social media demands that companies communicate regularly and honestly. However, there is a flipside: honesty and transparency require vulnerability, and this is where traditional communications organisations often fall short. Communications and PR teams have historically been trained to control the flow of information, where now they must monitor and harness it in order to guide it.
Social media and the opportunity for PR
Encouraging greater transparency is where the real opportunity lies for the PR industry. Tapping that opportunity involves overcoming three barriers to change:
- Social media channels have been taken over by marketing teams and “influencer agencies” that have little-to-no connection to what corporate communications and PR are working on. Closer collaboration is needed in almost every organisation I have worked with.
- Social media marketing teams tend to focus on the “media” part of the title, treating it like another megaphone. PR has an opportunity to focus on the “social” part of the channel, unlocking its true value: the ability to make and maintain connections.
- PR as an industry has not been quick enough to empower employees and other advocates to participate in the storytelling process. When was the last time your executive team took a look at the company’s social media policy? When was the last time the policy was updated, or circulated within the company?
Building greater collaboration with social media marketing teams is an essential starting point for PR to make the contribution to social that it should. However, the biggest gains can be unlocked when the industry addresses the third of these barriers – and starts building momentum for employee advocacy.
People trust people more than logos. Let’s repeat that again for emphasis. People trust people more than logos. The Edelman Trust Barometer report1 illustrates this beautifully, through the fact that people trust employees at their own level more than they trust CEOs.
LinkedIn’s own audience research also confirms that content coming from peers and colleagues is more influential than content coming from brands.
Content that comes from peers and colleagues is most influential in encouraging engagement.
This reflects LinkedIn’s evolution to a content and learning platform, where shared content is an essential currency in conversations and interactions, and over 150,000 articles are published every week. This is the democratization of influence at scale. It should inform how PR engages in the space – and there’s great opportunity when it does.
In January 2017 , nearly 25% of the top posts on LinkedIn were about companies and the policies and issues they stand behind. However, less than 10% of the top posts actually came from leaders or employees themselves. These companies were happy to allow others to craft their reputations. They weren’t participating and they weren’t being seen to participate by their audiences.
When leaders are participating, the best of them do so in their own voice. They write their own messages, passing them through communications teams only for a speedy review, and for as little editing as possible. When business leaders communicate directly, it feels forthright and relatable – and earned media often follows.
PR practitioners, this is your opportunity space on LinkedIn: help your organisations empower employees to create their own content and share their own stories. Make sure that your brand narrative or CSR story aligns with the actual operating priorities of the business and then gather stories of employees making those priorities a reality. Train leaders and employees in the power of social media to build individual and corporate brands. Hire writers. Teach the socially active members in your community to be better writers themselves. Recognize top contributors and help them be more successful just as they are helping your organization to be more successful. Your core competency of building and maintaining relationships is as important as ever. However, you have a whole lot more partners to work with on making it happen.
 LinkedIn content research, June 2016
 LinkedIn engagement data
Jaime Pham is a content marketing evangelist. Jaime has spent eight years at the forefront of social media development, and the last four years specializing in the intersection of content marketing and social. She currently spends her professional time helping companies with their social content strategy, and her personal time with her husband and daughter in London