Comment: Social Media and PR

A tragedy in three short acts

Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.
Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity.

Have you been to the (not so new) Dubai Opera yet? It’s marvellous and full of musicals, ballets, and other uplifting performances. I wonder how long it’ll take them to put on a tragedy. I like a good tragedy. I’m even considering volunteering my diverse skills and writing one for them. If I do, I’d call it “Social Media and PR — A tragedy in three short acts”.

I like PR. Almost as much as tragic operas, but I also think that PR and tragedies are best kept separate. Combining the two usually results in problems — especially if you add social media to the mix.

Consider this: A large local PR company recently invited 30+ influencers to a free event. The event was nicely done and even valued the number of influencers assigned to it. From a PR perspective, it all fitted nicely: A good event, a good group of influencers, and the right brands supporting the event. As is the case these days, the event was supposed to generate good social media coverage and, rightly, was given a hashtag for tracking purposes. Unlike the launch campaign a couple of years ago of a popular restaurant in Dubai, which featured the words “bin it” if you read the hashtag incorrectly, the hashtag chosen for the event in question was actually rather good and yet, here’s where the tragedy starts. The PR company asked the participants in the event to use the hashtag #FirstWord&SecondWord — that’s not what the actual hashtag was, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is the “&”, a.k.a ampersand.

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The problem, of course, is that a “&” breaks a hashtag, because hashtags don’t work with special characters. So instead of #Bread&Butter, you get only #Bread.

I find it surprising how little social media savvy many PR companies still are these days. They’re great at writing press releases, or thinking up engaging product launches and events, but many fall short when it comes to social and digital media. That’s awkward, because social media plays such a big role in our lives these days and, if used correctly, can take your PR to new heights.

In many ways, social media is the perfect PR channel. PR aims to show, not sell, which is what you should aim for on your social media platforms. Marketing experts joined the social media revolution much earlier than PR pros, but today content matters more than traditional marketing messages, so the two need to work together, whether they like it or not. And yet, how many PR companies here include social sharing with their press releases? How many of them encourage clients to publish on LinkedIn or do so on their behalf? How many of them react to events in real time, even if it’s at “out of the office” times? How many actually employ cutting-edge social media listening tools that work equally well on local as well as on global levels?

As it is, preciously few players offer truly integrated solutions. Those that do are often out of reach for smaller companies budget-wise. If you’re working with a PR company that seems to be socially challenged and can’t or don’t want to switch, you’ll have to actively manage their activities to make sure that your messages reach target audiences optimally. In my experience, the problematic areas are social media advertising, message management across multiple channels, and measuring and reacting to a campaign’s impact in real time.

Although not traditionally PR territory, many PR companies now offer social media advertising to clients as part of their overall offerings. Very few get it right, because buying a full-page ad in Gulf News is very different from running Facebook ads that engage a finely defined target audience. Equally, we now live in a multi-channel, multi-screen world. Just because you run a campaign or post a message to Facebook, doesn’t mean that it’ll stay on Facebook. Responses and reactions might happen on many other channels and platforms. I recently had a client moan that his PR efforts on Twitter didn’t really seem to produce any results. I then showed him a YouTube video that had already amassed a couple of thousand views  as a direct result of his tweets. Accurate cross-platform measurement of the impact of a campaign requires technical knowledge and the right tools, as does reacting to comments and contributions from your audiences. The future, nay the present even, of PR should be integrated and data driven, not tied to the fast disappearing strategies of mass communication and one-size-fits-all messaging.

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.

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