3 Social Media Takeaways from PRSA’s Digital Impact Conference

I’ll admit it — sometimes I’m overwhelmed by social media. No, I’m not just talking about maintaining friend lists on Facebook, checking in to favorite restaurants on Foursquare or shortening pesky URLs on Twitter. But in addition to keeping my nose in public relations textbooks and trying to stay up to date on my Google Reader feeds, using social media just takes time out of an already busy life.

What’s craziest about it is that our generation — the Millennials — helped invent this phenomenon.

As a publications intern for PRSA’s Tactics and Strategist, I helped cover the third-annual Digital Impact Conference, held in New York City May 6–7. Keynoters included Google director of global communications Gabriel Stricker, New York Times’ social media editor Jennifer Preston and Toyota’s social media supervisor Scott DeYager. Each had their own take on the future of social media and how they fit into the public relations function.

“It’s not about using new media; it’s about using media in new ways,” read one PowerPoint slide by PR Newswire, which quoted Dr. Craig Lefebvre, a social media expert from George Washington University.

Here are some key takeaways that will help you overcome, rather than succumb, to the great PR shift that is social media that I gleaned as a reporter for the conference.

  1. Humanize your brand through social media. Toyota’s Scott DeYager revealed, “We’ve learned a lot from the recalls, but like you, we have a long way to go.” He said admitting flaws, being social and even using a little humor can help humanize your brand because it builds relationships. Whether it’s with the customer or the classmate, focusing on relationships — not friend counts, tiny URLs or Foursquare badges — will help humanize your personal or corporate brand.
  2. Stay on top of change. Last year’s PRSSA National Conference theme was “Surfing the Waves of Change.” That theme was farsighted. Social media are here to stay in public relations, and if you’re not learning how to use them, you’re going to be washed out to sea. Now is the time to create a Twitter account as a public relations student. Now is the time to start socializing on the Web. Now is the time to subscribe to those social media blogs. Here’s the news from the conference: Social media are here to stay in public relations, and they’re fundamentally changing the way we practice. Traditional news releases reach the influencers. Social media reach our publics directly.
  3. Manage personal and professional social media use. A thread was a question many professionals asked the presenters one way or another throughout the conference: How do I separate my personal social media brand from my company’s?

The most concise answer I heard came from Michael Pranikoff, director of emerging media at PR Newswire, who outlined four Twitter branding strategies:

  • Pure corporate brand. This is a typical account made from the company’s logo and name, such as @BarrickGold.
  • Corporate with persona. The company name is used as the account, but one or more employees openly manage it, such as @PRNewsWire or @SouthwestAir.
  • Employee with corporate association. This is how Pranikoff operates his account (@mpranikoff).
  • Pure personal account. An individual Twitter account — the ones most public relations students probably use.

“Which one is your company using?” Pranikoff asked. “There is no wrong way. That’s the beauty of it.”

As a public relations student, adopting social media and using them strategically will help sharpen your skills and keep you competitive as the next generation’s communications professional. Just make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by them.

Philip Volmar is a senior majoring in public relations at Brigham Young University. After serving as his Chapter’s delegate to the PRSSA 2010 National Assembly in Austin, Texas, he works as a publications intern for PRSA’s PR Tactics and The Strategist at PRSA headquarters in New York. You can follow him on Twitter: @pvolmar or e-mail him. Note: the above views do not necessarily represent PRSA or its partners.

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