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Social Listening: Hearing Your New PR Ideas
How small businesses can boost online buzz.
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 by Matthew Stites

Matthew StitesPublic relations is a fluid process defined by constant changes in consumer trends. Finding your audience alone can be a headache.

Luckily, technological trends are funneling the majority of American consumers into a glorious hotbed of free, instantly rewarding PR— social media. Social networking can be intimidating to those with little Internet experience, but if approached correctly, it can be a powerful tool in your PR toolkit.

Get your business social networking with a couple important starting points:

Listen for opportunities to contribute.

Be mindful of current events and the trends news readers are following. Reach outside your normal sphere of awareness, too. Be creative and thorough about following the news, and you may realize that more news topics can be related back to your business than you might expect.

“In the field of public relations, chance favors only the prepared mind.” This is a (slightly altered) quote by Louis Pasteur, who discovered germs. Because we are aware of germs, we are acutely afraid of them, and the hand sanitizer industry rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Recognizing connections like that is critical to practicing successful PR, and made possible with a cursory familiarity of different, seemingly unrelated concepts.

When you are plugged into current trends, you can more easily communicate your brand to target audiences. Press releases with real-world relevance and a unique spin are much more likely to be picked up by a journalist. In addition, if people view your company as a conscientious participant in current events, they are more likely to seek you out and listen to what you have to say. With all that in mind, you can make your online content relevant and useful to your target market.

Start Interacting.

The walls between business and consumer are being quickly eroded by new communication media, and irreversibly so. By 2011, your company should have a profile on all the major social networks out there. The most exciting aspect of technology-facilitated marketing is the ability for a consumer to enter into a discourse with the business itself and get a response in real-time.

Put a face to your company— possibly your CEO, someone whom people will trust to provide expert advice. Even if your PR department secretly ghostwrites all the content, your company will communicate a sense of authority and accountability. However you choose to interact with your virtual community, do it constantly and consistently.

Be sincere and passionate. As you and your consumers are pushed together by technology, those consumers are getting smarter and less willing to buy into traditional PR methods. Does this mean you are now marketing to a willfully difficult customer base? Actually, what this trend in “hip” consumerism means is simply that the average person is more sensitive to disingenuity than they used to be. Conversely, those people are more responsive to a business that genuinely appears to have their best interests at heart.

Once you have a handle on how to utilize your social profiles to communicate with your customer base, PR can easily become one of the most active departments in your company. Stay creative, stay involved and stay current,
and the social network will lend credibility to your business and flexibility to your PR efforts.

Matthew Stites is freelance blogger.

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