Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes, They're Following... But are You Leading?

The rise of online communications and social media in PR has only increased the tension between quantity and quality. When one can send a pitch e-mail to reporters and know almost instantly how many people have opened it (and how many haven’t), the temptation is to view every PR task – every pitch, press release, blog post or tweet – as a number instead of a mutually helpful interaction.

Those numbers don’t always support the real goal of any public relations effort – inspiring an action of some kind, be it an article, vote or donation.

A recent catalogue of the “Top” 100 PR pros on Twitter, based entirely on each entrant’s number of followers, illustrates the misperception that more is always better and serves as a sharp reminder of two things:

Follower numbers are an imperfect measure at best of who the “Top” PR pros are on Twitter. Client service and creative problem solving define the very best in PR. Maybe the people and organizations included in this “Top” 100 list provide excellent service to their clients. But there’s no way to tell that based on how many Twitter followers someone collects.

• As a media relations tool, Twitter may look and feel different than that old mainstay, the press list, but using either properly requires the same skill set – respect for journalists, persistence when it comes to telling a story and a commitment to routinely refreshing the list as needed (sometimes sacrificing quantity to improve quality).

List management is a skill our political campaign-managing cousins seem to have perfected beyond the current standards in PR. In the political world, success is defined by what a campaign can ask its list to do, not just how many e-mail addresses sit in an Excel spreadsheet.

A successful PR approach to Twitter, social media and client relations generally borrows from that campaign mindset to build smarter lists and engage the people on them with respect and a clear sense of what the “ask” is – an interview with a client, letter to the local paper, or video from an event posted to YouTube.

Even in a new social media environment, success starts with the best – not the biggest – list.

(Join Matt's well-served followers on Twitter: @mps2003)

- Potomac Communications Group

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