What is Public Relations?

What is Public Relations?

What is Public Relations?

This year I’m hoping to help more small business owners and startup entrepreneurs understand what public relations is all about. The purpose; the value and how it can be used to grow a business.

The definition of Public Relations according to the largest industry association, supposedly crowdsourced from its members, is “…a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” It is not pitching journalists or an audience en mass. It’s not hyping a product or service in order to convince people it’s something it’s not.

Public Relations is everything an organization or entrepreneur does to build a relationship between it and an audience. It’s about building trust, credibility and demonstrating that you have a shared interest. It’s about communicating what you stand for; your values and demonstrating that you value the role your audience plans in a relationship.

Public Relations is the platform on which effective marketing communications – the part where you leverage the relationships you’ve established – is built on.

The Problem With Social Hucksters

The problem with social hucksters
The problem with social hucksters
Social Hucksters are everywhere

Chances are you’ve got social hucksters in your networks. They’re often hiding under the guise of being social media experts, ninjas, gurus or influencers without every really being specific about their credentials. They’re often the people you see the most frequently in your social streams and if they’re not posting about what they are doing they’re making motivational statements that are designed to make you think their lives are better than yours.

The problem is that most of their posts are the result of some kind of ulterior motive. They’re at restaurants, bars, parties and appear to have access to things that you don’t and use these things socially to feed the need to use social media to tell everybody about them. But the truth is that the brands or companies that are providing a product or service, or extending the invitation are using them to get at you. They want you to aspire to be part of the ‘in’ crowd or to tell you how great a product or service is, without ever having subjected it to serious consideration or critique.

These people are seen in some circles – both brands and consumers – as social media influencers, when in reality they are social hucksters, being use to hawk a product or service because they have a large audience, rather than a critical eye or considered opinion. They move from brand to brand without consideration of conflict or confusion and will sell on behalf of a third-party simply because it strokes their egos.

So, next time you see something in one of your social feeds that covertly promotes a random company or product and service consider whether it’s a legitimate fan comment or whether it’s a social huckster hard at work hawking in the hope that they inflate their own perception of their social importance. Most importantly, consider whether engaging them will deliver any noticeable value to your organization – or whether you’re just stroking their ego.

What Is A Social Media Influencer Anyway?

PR Espresso : What is Inluence from COMMS BAR on Vimeo.

Attracting the attention of Influencers is, we’re led to believe, the Holy Grail of modern communications programs. While influencers have always been important to traditional public relations and marketing communications campaigns of old, it’s reached almost fever-pitch for any social media marketing activity.

But what is an influencer? It’s a question that I’m not sure anybody really understands these days. In the traditional communications world it was anybody that influenced the decision maker. It could be the CFO – because they were the person holding the purse stings. It could be a systems analyst who was going to use a piece of software that helped a procurement ‘guy’ make the final decision from a shortlist. It could be a personal assistant that had the ear of the CEO or Managing Director. If you knew who your audience was it was always relatively easy to identify the influencers responsible for helping the decision maker pick you over a competitor.

In social media it’s not so clear. Actually, it’s not clear at all. Most social media campaigns are digital megaphones, used by companies to shout loudly about a new product, a piece of content or a brand message in the hope that the right people hear. I say hope, because the social influencer appears to be measured by their ability to share a company’s message with a larger audience than the company itself. The only influence that most social ‘influencers’ appear to have over their fans, friends, connections and followers to share a message with their friends, fans, connections and followers.  These people are rarely the people that matter to your business.

And that’s the problem. Social media influence don’t appear to have… well, any influence. They’re social megaphones that are often incentivized to share a company’s social content, but often that’s where it stops. Their ability to get others to do anything substantial is limited. Sometimes the influencers are incentivized by companies to talk about them, whether in return for free stuff or another form of payment. A few companies offer financial rewards, in the form of speaking opportunities or in return for guest blogs; sometimes simply fanning their egos is sufficient.

Most of the time it’s hard to tell what the arrangement is and most ‘influencers’ have never heard of disclosure. And yes, I know – there are tools that measure social media influence.  Influence can now be quantified by a secret algorithm – so if your score is high enough you can use your social networks to proclaim that you’re an influencer. The only problem is that I’m not convinced that the accounts of Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and other supposed influencers are entirely their own handiwork… so are they really the influencers or is it the social media managers that help them?

Then there’s the social media influencers who claim to be influential about social media and spend most of their lives sending out, what I can only assume are, scheduled tweets telling me that a high profile magazine or website thinks they are an influencer.  Either that or they’re recycling blog posts that compare cell phones or offering generic advice on how to be a social media influencer.

Sorry, I thought they were supposed to be influencers!