Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Media vs. Traditional Media

In an effort to completely butcher a well known quote, let me say this, "Reports of the demise of traditional media have been exaggerated."  In other words, as much as the landscape of public relations has shifted towards social media, traditional media outlets still provide value for small businesses and non-profits looking to snag some free publicity.

The biggest difference is this; ten, even five years ago, when organizations needed to raise the profile of a new service or product, the first place they looked was the local newsroom, followed by national media, magazines, radio shows and networks.  I'll admit, I'm a bit of a dinosaur, having worked in traditional media outlets for most of my adult life and only getting on board with true social media marketing within the past few years.  I'm still learning, as we all are, how to use every social media tool at my disposal, and, perhaps more importantly, how to use them well.

The difficulty is twofold.  First, new social media tools emerge every day as others fade away.  At one point, MySpace was the king of social media.  It has been replaced by Facebook, Twitter, Digg, technorati, etc. (YouTube has been, and continues to be a powerhouse in social media circles).  The second problem is that not everyone is really certain exactly HOW to put all of these pieces together to run a world-class PR and marketing plan.  Everyone uses them diffrently for different reasons.  Depending on what your organizations' goals and needs are, you will use these tools in your own unique way.

Here's a look at a list of top ten social media outlets currently being used by small businesses and non-profits:


There is no debating that social media has changed the way organizations get the message out to their audience.  Lessons from the original internet bubble burst have been digested and passed on to a new generation creating and evolving "Net 2.0".  Social media is a monster that is really just waking up and those not on board now, had better buy a ticket and take a seat, because it's only going to get more pervasive and influential.  But does that mean that traditional media is dead?  In an answer, no.

Once again, the website, "Personalize Media" has an in-depth look at why traditional media is still relevant.  Here's a short clip:

Traditional providers – it’s very simple. You no longer control distribution or dictate what gets consumed. Apart from a few mass produced, live, appointment to view episodics, reality shows & hyped box office the rest is in competition with people-produced, personally relevant media & conversation.


The Plan:

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen, whether it was during my time in a newsroom, or since I've moved into public relations, is that too often small businesses and non-profits choose a single path or outlet and rush blindly forward like the "Light Brigade" in the battle of Balaclava.  There's nothing but menacing cannons waiting in the valley of that strategy. 

Perhaps it's a lack of funds, or maybe a lack of time, both perfectly legitimate reasons, but for some reason, small businesses and non-profits don't use all the tools available to them near enough.  In order for you to be successful in getting your message out to the masses, you have to be all-inclusive.  Don't think of a strategy as having only one, two or even three prongs. 

During a discussion with a non-profit director last week, we were discussing their use of social media to raise awareness, promote specific events, and generate interest in their cause.  When asked what tools they were using, it became clear that, for the moment at least, their primary social media vehicle is Facebook.  Don't get me wrong, Facebook is fine, good even.  But it has to be only one tool in an arsenal of social media weapons .  And when it's used, it can't be just one post and gone.  They were posting regularly on their Facebook page, but then there was very little follow up to that post. 

And follow up is a key word here, folks.  I always tell clients that you can get a great segment on the local news covering your organization, but that bump goes away very quickly.  A single news hit, might be a big deal for a day, but think about it...even the most watched local news program only reaches a small percentage of the overall available audience.  The same goes for a great mention in a popular magazine or national network program.  Add in the headaches of not being able to control exactly when or where your mention airs or is printed or the content itself, and a traditional media report means little when left to stand alone in a jungle of messages, media and distractions.  That great news report suddenly seems small as it gets overwhelmed and, eventualy, forgotten.  The same holds true when using social media. 

It can be done:

Small businesses and non-profits battling time and money constraints can still put together a comprehensive PR and marketing plan consisting of both social and traditional media to successfully spread their message to their audience, it just takes a little smart planning.  Spend a meeting, take a long lunch, do it at the beginning of the day when you've asked your staff to think about the issue a little.  Here are some tips to putting together and executing your plan using BOTH social and traditional media.

1.  Assemble your tools, solidify your message, make sure your audience is identified.

2.  Start comparing your tools to your audience.  If, like most organizations, your audience is varied, take a look at what social media tools different segments of your audiences uses most.  Some may prefer Facebook, others may use Twitter, while others might use something completely different.  Match the tools with the target.
3.  Don't forget the traditional media outlets.  Even today, reports on established, respected traditional media outlets lends weight to your product or service.  This includes smaller neighborhood papers, industry magazines and websites, larger daily papers, television stations and any national broadcasts you may target.  You can get a listing of local media outlets as well as contact information from the internet for free.  Neighborhood papers are often overlooked, but they are read regularly by folks who live in those neighborhoods, plus you can usually get a mention by simply sending a press release or email with little follow up necessary.

4.  Set a timeline and follow it.  You don't want to send out a release to a traditional media outlet, get some coverage and then blow it by not doing any social media follow up to enhance the coverage.  At the same time, you don't want to have a massive social media push and not get any traditional media coverage to lend credibility to it or reach those that aren't online. 

5.  Delegate.  This is not a one person job, really.  It takes the efforts of the owner, director, staff, volunteers, interns, everybody.  Even if it's just having interns post follow up notices on your Facebook page, every little bit helps.  In a multi-stage social media effort (or what is being called "Transmedia") you can assign one person to focus on a different element of the SM campaign.  One person focuses on Facebook, the other on Twitter, a third on Feedback.com, etc.

6.  Monitor and update.  This can be done by a couple of individuals in your organization.  You'll know fairly quickly which elements of your campaign are working.  You might be getting some great response online, but nothing from the traditional media.  Or maybe the local newsrooms show interest, but a few elements of your social media campaign may be fizzling.  You can start to be flexible here and begin focusing your efforts on the areas of need.  Be careful here, though because once one area begins to lose some daily care, it too will begin to falter.

Think of your multi-platform campaign in terms of the traditional "rule of three" strategy.  Like advertisers who understand that seeing or hearing a commercial once does little to impact the audience, you have to know that just a single posting or news report doesn't change your bottom line either.  However, if someone in your audience sees a news report (either live or in a follow up email or posting), combined with a Twitter, and a Facebook post and a Google Alert and Yelp listing and a...well, you get the idea.  When someone suddenly find themselves inundated with your message on various platforms, it begins to stick with them.  They beging to take notice.  You immediately begin to look big, you start to create buzz. 

It is true that traditional media no longer holds the keys to kingdom, so to speak, but they're still gaurding the gate, it's just that they now have a lot more company.  To completely ignore traditional media is to write off an entity that still reaches millions of viewers, listeners and readers every day.  Social media is essential to the success of any PR or marketing campaign today, but traditional media is still a player, and if used correctly, can add weight and reach to your social media efforts.

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