Public relations was once a fairly straightforward discipline when it came to establishing appropriate media targets. However, a variety of events over the last two years have upended old rules and have many searching for the new world order.
Establishing targets is still very much dependent on where your potential customers spend most of their time. For a business-to-business company, that might very well be trade magazines; however, for a consumer-oriented company, especially one targeting a younger demographic, the answer could be entirely different. In the case of the latter, it could just as easily be MySpaceas any type of printed publication, or even an online component of a major media company.
These online venues are becoming increasingly important because consumer-driven companies are realizing that their customers now prefer having an ongoing dialog with their brands. Rather than putting marketing messages in one-way ads designed to drive home a message to the point that a buying behavior is triggered, social media marketing seeks to involve the customer in the process of defining and refining the end product or service.
However, as mentioned above, not all social-media venues are alike. One that has from the beginning perplexed me and continues to do so is. Twitter Oh, I get the attractiveness of being able to send out short, witty messages to all of those who choose to follow you and to have instantaneous conversations with them. But at the heart of it, Twitter just took traditional short-message service functionality that works on every cell phone today, and put a much more attractive interface around it. In fact, Twitter itself was a service that mostly controlled using your mobile phone and not the Web.
Twitter's been in the news a lot of late for not having a business model. Despite promises that a path to ongoing revenues was forthcoming and hints that it would most likely involve a variation of the service that targeted corporate customers, nothing has emerged thus far – not even any reliable hints of what's to come. One of the things that has amused me during Twitter's emergence and the subsequent trials and tribulations of print media is that while everyone's predicting the demise of print media because of troubles with its business model, very few are questioning Twitter's future despite its complete lack of a business model. We've seen what happens when companies that lack a solid business model enter with a stratospheric launch but never get the business side of things nailed down, and it's never pretty.
For professional-service practitioners and many smaller companies that don't have a large marketing budget, LinkedIn can also provide an effective way to spread awareness of your company and its offerings. However, it's especially important that participants on LinkedIn avoid the temptation to engage in overt sales and promotion. LinkedIn users take pride in having a community that's more of a “peer-sharing venue” where users can exchange information on problems and solutions. That's not to say that business can't be won on LinkedIn – in fact, I'm proud to say that I've done it on more than one occasion – but it's important to note that winning business can't be the main reason you participate in forums and other interactive elements.
Finally, it's important to point out that in many cases, the appropriate social media venue could be as simple as the traditional blog. A blog allows you to have an ongoing dialog with current and potential customers and get valuable feedback regarding your current product or service and any proposed changes. Better still, a blog is an environment that the company itself can completely control. Blogs are attractive because you can integrate them completely into your Web site to offer one seamless online presence. When paired together with a statistics program like Google Analytics, a company can take a look at its overall Web presence and determine where visitors are spending most of their time and let those statistics guide their efforts.
In closing, I want to mention that I remain a big fan of conventional media outlets. For starters, the news and information featured on them is still top notch and isn't something that can be easily duplicated by an entrepreneurial venue. Secondly, the demographics of major print media readers remains very high, making them a good place for companies with a high-margin product or service or something aimed primarily at corporate buyers.
It's hard to say how any of the media shakeout will finally resolve itself, but one thing's for sure: a diversified media strategy is the best way to ensure success.