Analyzing and Grading Websites
Examine the websites of two different organizations that represent and advocate for farmers: http://gulfcitrus.org/ and http://www.californiaavocado.com
Analyze and grade each website on:
The design and layout of the home page
Site navigation and ease of access to information of interest to you
Readability of text items
The prominence of links to their social media platforms
Accessibility to the organization’s contact information, including email feature
Your paper should be three pages long and conform to APA 7 guidelines. Include at least three scholarly references in addition.
An organization’s website can help publicists create controlled messages for a mass audience, without the filter of journalists. Organizations can use their websites to:
market products and services
post news releases, media kit information, and position papers
post photos and biographies of key executives
post photos of their offices, stories, and various location
However, these websites must be written and designed effectively to attract visitors and keep them coming back.
Define your objectives for the site.
Design your website with the audience in mind.
Limit each page to a single concept.
Make sure each page provides the context readers need. (Any page may be the first page they see on your site.)
Update your site frequently.
Make the site interactive.
Make it easy for customers to give you feedback.
Website writing:Write the way you speak.
Use bullet points.
If you’re using existing material, redesign and rewrite it for the web; don’t just place current material on the site.
Limit the use of italics and boldface.
Make sure your hyperlinks are relevant.
Don’t overuse hyperlinks in narrative text. (Keep readers focused.)
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR STRATEGIC PR
Learning Goals for This Chapter
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
Create a social media strategy for your organization.
Define which social media outlets or platforms will meet the strategic PR goals of your organization, project or campaign.
Analyze target audiences to determine which social media platforms, if any, are most appropriate for reaching them.
Master social media writing.
Understand how to use social media for media relations and crisis communications.
Social media has become an integral part of our lives. The Associated Press Stylebook, 2020–22 edition, defines “social media” as an “umbrella term for online services that people use to share posts, photos and videos with small or large groups of people.”
People use it to get their news, to learn about new products, to educate themselves about candidates for public office and to announce everything from the adoption of a new pet to a death in the family.
It has also become an essential tactic in strategic public relations.
For nonprofit organizations, elected officials and NGOs, as well as businesses large and small, social media has become a central part of how they communicate both internally and externally to key audiences.
It is safe to say that if your business or organization does not have a website and an active social media presence, it will seem as if it does not exist. In fact, it would be virtually impossible to name an organization or important individual that does not have some sort of social media presence.
For the PR writer, it is important to not confuse familiarity with social media as expertise. It is one thing to post vacation pictures on Facebook and another to understand how to use social media to advance business and organizational objectives. Like all communications tactics, social media should be executed in a planned, strategic manner.
The bedrock of an organization’s social media presence is its website – the public face of the organization. It must reflect the image, identity and overall “personality” of the organization. Creating and maintaining an effective website is a central tactic for virtually all organizations. To be effective, websites must evolve in tandem with digital technology and must be updated with fresh, engaging content. Website design and maintenance is not the focus of this book; however, creating content and the strategic use of social media will be discussed in detail.
This chapter focuses on strategically harnessing the tremendous power of social media and how to integrate it into the overall communications strategy of the organization as well as individual campaigns and initiatives. Social media is constantly changing. New platforms are launched routinely. And some just gather digital dust. Existing platforms introduce new features and retire others. It is important to monitor these changes. An important strategic role for the PR professional is evaluating if a specific social media platform is right for your client or company, as well as how you plan to use it.
Smart businesses are constantly reevaluating their social media presences and what social media platforms are best for them. For example, LinkedIn may be a great choice for a law firm but TikTok may not make sense. Unless, of course, the law firm finds an innovative use for the site that helps it stand out from its competition. It all comes down to strategy.
Social Media and the PESO Model
In terms of the PESO model, social media can be used in all four types of communications. If your organization pays for advertisements on social media, then it is certainly paid media. In terms of earned media, social media can be used to identify new media outlets, distribute news releases, and pitch individual reporters and build relationships with them. Social media is also an important way of sharing content. Lastly, an organization’s or individual’s social media account is owned by it because the organization has control of what is posted and when. This makes it owned media.
Social Media Use in 2021
According to the 2021 Pew Research Center Survey on Social Media Use, seven in ten Americans say they use social media, with YouTube and Facebook continuing to be the most popular sites. In fact, 81% of survey respondents use YouTube and 69% are on Facebook. The full report can be accessed at www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/.
The survey also revealed that the popularity of YouTube, which is owned by Google, is likely to grow. On the other hand, Facebook’s growth has leveled off.
When it comes to the other platforms in the survey, 40% of adults say they use Instagram and about three in ten report using Pinterest or LinkedIn. One-quarter say they use Snapchat, with Twitter and WhatsApp close in popularity.
TikTok, an app for sharing short videos, is used by 21% of Americans, while 13% say they use the neighborhood-focused platform Nextdoor. In terms of young adults, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have an especially strong following. In fact, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), and half use TikTok. It is worth noting that Reddit was the only platform polled (other than YouTube) that experienced statistically significant growth, increasing from 11% in 2019 to 18% today.
Demographics of Different Social Networks
When deciding which social media platforms to use, it is important to have a detailed understanding of not only the number of participants, but who is using the site. That way, you can select the site that will reach your target audience. The Pew Research Center’s survey reveals the following information:
About half of Hispanic (52%) and Black Americans (49%) say they use the platform, compared with smaller shares of white Americans (35%).
Hispanic Americans (46%) are far more likely to say they use WhatsApp than Black (23%) or white Americans (16%).
Those with higher levels of education are more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to report being LinkedIn users.
Half of adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree (51%) say they use LinkedIn, compared with smaller shares of those with some college experience (28%) and those with a high school diploma or less (10%).
Women continue to be far more likely than men to say they use Pinterest when compared with male counterparts, by a difference of 30 points (46% versus 16%).
Adults living in urban (17%) or suburban (14%) areas are more likely to say they use Nextdoor. Only 2% of rural Americans report using the site.
Relationship Between PR and Social Media Engagement
When social media was in its infancy, it was generally viewed as its own form of communications. It was separate and apart from the advertising, marketing and public relations functions. Today, these functions are integrated to maximize their potential. That is one reason the PESO model is so important.
PR and social media work best when they are in sync with each other. PR and social media are based on communication, but social media, with its real-time messaging, amplifies your message, allowing PR tactics to be stronger and more impactful. Social media has also made PR more “friendly” to all stakeholders, resulting in a new area of marketing called “relationship marketing.” This helps companies to be warmer, more inviting and more approachable.
Creating a Social Media Strategy
When using social media as part of your communications plan, it is crucial that you develop a social media strategy. This is a document that outlines:
Your social media goals
The tactics you will use to achieve them
Hootesuite.com, a social media service provider, offers tips to create a social media strategy. Here is a summary of their suggestions:
Choose social media goals that align to your business objectives.
Use the SMART approach to choosing goals. “SMART” stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
You may want to track different goals for different platforms, or even different uses. For example, if you use LinkedIn to drive traffic to your website, measure click-throughs. A click-through is the action or facility of following a hypertext link to a particular website.
Learn everything you can about your audience. Knowing who your audience is and what they want to see on social media is key. That way, you can create content that they will like, comment on and share.
Know your competition. Your competitors are using social media, and you can learn from what they’re doing. Conduct a competitive analysis. This allows you to understand what they’re doing well (and not so well). It may also help spot opportunities. If one of your competitors is dominant on Facebook, for example, but has put little effort into Twitter or Instagram, this may provide an idea for an interesting opportunity for your client or company.
Do a social media audit. Take stock of your efforts so far. Determine what is meeting your goals and what is not. And plan to improve what you are currently doing.
Set up accounts and improve profiles.
After your audit, you may decide to include new social media sites or retire old ones. As you decide which social networks to use, you will also need to define your strategy for each platform. Remember to use consistent branding (logos, images, etc.).
While it’s important that your brand be unique, you can draw inspiration from other businesses that are great on social media. Case studies can offer valuable insights that you can apply to your own social media plan. You could also check out the winners of the Facebook Awards (www.facebook.com/business/news/facebook-awards-winners-announcement) or the Shorty Awards (https://shortyawards.com/).
Create a social media content calendar.
Sharing great content is essential. You need to schedule when you’ll share content. Your social media content calendar will contain dates and times when you will publish different types of content on each site. The social media service provider Meltwater offers this free template to build a social media calendar: www.meltwater.com/en/resources/content-calendar-template.
Evaluate and adjust your strategy.
As you implement your plan and track results, you may find that some strategies don’t work as well as you’d anticipated, while others are working even better than expected.
A template to create a social media strategy can be downloaded from Hootsuite. com at https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-create-a-social-media-marketing-. Another template is available from Ring Central, a cloud communications company, at www.ringcentral.com/us/en/blog/social-media-campaign-planning/.
Using the right hashtags can show that you’re in tune with current trends, allowing you to take part in the conversations that matter to your organization or client. Hashtags also work well for monitoring your brand. They’re a great way to increase the visibility of your content beyond your own followers. Many brands latch onto trending topics to contribute to the conversation or sell their products. You can also create your own hashtags to draw attention to your brand or events you are holding.
Only use hashtags that are relevant to your content. For example, if you tweet about starting a business, you might use the hashtag “#entrepreneurship.” You should also limit how many hashtags you use. The more you use, the less likely people are to interact with your content because they’ll find your posts spam-like. Every social media site uses hashtags slightly differently, so it’s important to know what the conventions are on each platform.
How to Use the Top Social Media Sites
Social media is constantly changing. As a communications professional, it is your job to stay on top of these changes. Your clients and senior management will rely on your judgment regarding using a new platform or not. For instance, the CEO of your organization may become interested in a social media platform because his or her grandchildren are obsessed with it. Or your client may have just returned from a social media conference and is now questioning the social media strategy that you and your team just spent the last month working on. Look at these suggestions as opportunities to evaluate what you are doing in social media. There may be the germ of a good idea. You just don’t want to start working with a new social media site simply because it is trendy or abandon what you are currently doing because you have been on the site for a while. It is all about working with the social media platforms that will advance your goals, will reach your target audience and can be maintained within allotted resources.
Over time, the list of the top social media sites will likely change, and, as it does, you will need to reevaluate your social media strategy. Following are the top social media outlets in 2021 with descriiptions of what they are and how to use them.
Social Media and Crisis Communications
Social media can be a useful tool during a crisis because it allows you to respond quickly in real time. For instance, if a business needs to be evacuated because of a wildfire, sending messages out on social media regarding how to reach the media team, as well as providing real-time updates on people who may be at the business is very important. For other types of crises, using social media to tell your story and get out your key messages can help control the narrative of your company or client. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will and you may not like their version.
But sometimes, a crisis itself starts in social media. It could be as simple as a reporter who posts a message looking for negative stories. For instance, a journalist posts that they are hearing that flood claims are not being paid after a storm and want to know if this is happening to others. Or they want to know if people are experiencing rude salespeople at a particular store or chain. The journalist is looking for victims who can make for compelling news. If you ignore such situations, they can turn into a crisis of negative reporting.
You may want to reach out to a journalist directly. If you can’t stop such postings, you will need to develop a plan. If the accusations are true, the problem needs to be fixed. You can follow up with positive messages about how your client or organization has positively responded. If the accusations are false, you need to quickly set the record straight, and social media is an effective tool for doing this.
There are also other types of crises that can occur in social media. The social media monitoring company Mediatoolkit states that there are four types of social media crises:
Multichannel crisis. This is extremely dangerous because it has the potential to go viral and generate a great deal of negative publicity very quickly.
Emerging crisis. If it is not anticipated and dealt with as soon as possible, it can quickly escalate into a bigger scandal.
Industry crisis. This occurs when a vendor or competitor is experiencing a social media crisis – for example, when many fashion brands are suddenly all attacked for nontransparent actions.
Fake news. In the age of social media, a post can go viral in just one click. The ability to detect rumors about your brand quickly is essential.
All of these crises demand immediate responses. For instance, if a customer is unhappy, your social media team needs to reach out directly to the customer and help them offline. This needs to be done immediately. Generally, if this is handled properly, there will be no social media crisis. If there is no response – or worse, there is a computer-generated response that is not helpful – this could snowball into a much larger crisis. For complicated social media crises, your organization or client’s crisis communications department will need to step in and handle the strategic response. You as the PR writer may be tasked with developing content for various parts of the crisis response.
Mediatoolkit, on its website, offers this well-known case study of a social media crisis that could have been avoided. Here is a link to Mediatoolkit with the full case study: Mediatoolkitwww.mediatoolkit.com/blog/social-media-crisis-examples.
This is an example of how to turn a PR social media crisis into a total disaster. One day in 2017, United Airlines Flight 3411 was overbooked. The airline decided to draw four random passengers who would not be able to fly and asked them to vacate their seats to make room for four airline employees. When the crew requested a pulmonologist to surrender his seat, he refused, saying that he needed to see a patient the following day (which was understandable, as he had paid for that seat).
After that, security appeared on the plane and forcibly dragged the man off the plane with a bleeding face. The whole situation was recorded by fellow passengers on the flight and immediately posted online.
A video of the incident went viral on social media, stoking anger over the violent action. One such video was shared 87,000 times and viewed 6.8 million times in less than a day.
Many politicians expressed concern and called for an official investigation. President Donald Trump criticized United Airlines, saying the airline’s treatment of the passenger was “horrible.”
Where this brand went wrong:
The following day, the then-CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, issued a statement that appeared to justify the removal of the passenger. And it gets worse.
After that, Munoz sent an email to United Airlines staff that was obtained by the media. Munoz said the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent” and that employees “followed established procedures.”
The email contained utterly different information from the official statement. This caused more online fury. United shares plummeted in value dramatically.
How this problem could have been prevented:
A coherent, sincere message at first. The airline should have responded to each and every comment with complete respect. There was no reason for them to blame a passenger whose safety they should have been prioritizing. The whole situation should have been explained.
Retaining Outside Assistance
While the writing of social media posts is generally best handled by the organization or its retained PR consultant, there may be times when a social media specialist may provide strategic insight and assistance. For instance, you may want to hire someone to help draft or update your social media strategy, or you may want to work with a social media monitoring and measurement organization to measure your effectiveness. This can provide information data points to update or improve what you are doing as well as provide important metrics to demonstrate that you are reaching organizational objectives.
In summary, social media is an important strategic tool for the strategic public relations writer. It is an effective tool for communicating directly to your key audiences, as well as working with journalists and influencers. That is why strategic organizations create a social media strategy and update it as social media itself changes, as well as to reflect changes in goals and objectives.
An effective social media strategy can also boost your earned media efforts. It can support your media relations efforts and relationships with journalists and news organizations. Used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool before, during and after a crisis. However, if social media is not monitored and handled correctly, it can also be the source of a crisis it. In short, social media is a powerful tool.