Joining the dots…Social media: why bother?

Image created by Matt Hamm – visit his page.

This post was originally written for in February 2009

So last week, I used social media du jour – twitter – to re-spark a relationship with a key trade journalist to work on a new story; harnessed the power of Facebook to enlist a handful of willing mentors (and mentees) for CharityComms’ mentoring scheme; and made four new PR contacts (twitter again) – one of whom is based in Toronto where I would ultimately like to emigrate. We’ve now connected via And of course I am penning this for an online sector blog.

But I also picked up the phone – knowing both my subject and demographic – and sold-in a story more traditionally to a national newspaper; and used a personal relationship with a journalist offline to get a comment from my charity in his employer’s trade title.

So what has this week told me? It has essentially been an exercise in utilising most of the tools in the box, and understanding what each individual wants – and providing it.

It’s fair to say I am a huge advocate of social media – right now there is an explosion in the myriad of ways to connect, influence – and indeed spam (which is where you do not want to go) your audiences. But as communicators, we must never forget the basics. The growing number of journalists on twitter, for example, does dangle the lazy-carrot in front of charities and PROs…”I could just drop them a pitch in 140 characters I suppose….that would be friendly”. Well, it could make you a pest – and turn them off – if you did this in the wrong way. But – by paying attention to what they say on twitter, reading their links and their blogs, and replying to them in an engaging and relevant way could help you take your new online infatuation, offline. It’s the same as developing relationships in the real world. You wouldn’t (I hope) barge into a journalist’s office, stand at their desk and start preaching at them without respect for their current workload and deadlines.

Engaging constructively online involves being generous too – you need to help (and be seen to help) others; answer the questions and problems they post, and offer opinion. As the old adage goes, ‘you reap what you sow’ (or ‘what goes around comes around’; select your cliché of choice).

“How can this all be done in my working day?” you may ask. Well the honest answer is it probably can’t. The best thing to remember is that all of these online spaces are ‘communities’ – that have their own etiquettes – and they can spot a salesman / vacuous PR pitch at one mouse-click. In order to build up a reputation for being useful – and credible, you have to spend a good deal of time being, well, useful and credible – which will get in the way of the day-job somewhat, especially if you are the only PRO in your organisation.

But if you have a life…ahem…and don’t much fancy putting in the afterhours online, then a tip would be just to ’stay in the loop’ initially. Use a twitter tool like twhirl to receive small alerts in the corner of the screen (much like Outlook’s email notices). These discreet alerts save you constantly refreshing a webpage for hours to get the latest messages, and a glance now and then will allow you to distinguish the interesting chatter from the noise.

You could do worse than set up keyword google alerts that include blog-searches, so that you are aware of what supporters are saying about your charity and sector in their personal blogs, and not just how the media is reporting your press releases (after all everyone’s a potential influencer / communicator now). Try and join online forums that again offer email alerts – because as much as possible you want to aggregate all the information you receive into one source like a designated email inbox (and an RSS reader for blogs is essential – try google reader). This will save you loads of time when you get round to catching up on what’s out there in a quiet half-hour.

Communicating has become complicated. Audiences are savvy and selective. Traditional media, newsletters and an up-to-date website are fine, but to stay in the game – particularly if everyone else seems to be playing (at least until the next big thing comes along) – you have to allow audiences and supporters to reach you by the methods they feel comfortable with and enjoy using – and in some instances favour over traditional media. Because if you aren’t in their sphere of influence, someone else will be.

But all this said, don’t forget to pick up the dog and bone and call someone now and again, will you?


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