A Little PR & Social Media 101

If you relate to the public “on behalf” of anyone or anything, in any way, it helps to know some basics about public relations (PR … doesn’t mean personal record in this case). Whether you own your own business, help manage a small business (say … a local race), are heavily involved as a volunteer or ambassador, or even if you’re a blogger (if your blog is more than just “my place to vent”), there are some things you should keep in mind.

And I have been known to think with my “PR hat” when dealing with my own personal relationships. I’ll be honest, it helps. You get more bees with honey …

For the record, I have a bachelors degree in communication, and I have worked in public relations & marketing for the past eight years, six of those years in healthcare (hospitals and nursing homes) which is no cakewalk when it comes to relating to the public. 

Workin’ it

My advice to you:

Manage the message. How do you want your business/organization/blog to be seen? If you want to be seen as professional, you have to act professionally. The number one job of someone in public relations is managing the message. You need to think about not just what you want to say (and what you don’t want to say), but how you say it. What tone of voice and language you use. You are representing something, and you need to manage the message in a way that mirrors what you aspire to be.

Don’t take it personally. If you are a good PR person, you care deeply about the organization you are representing. (If you don’t, you should, otherwise, why are you representing it?) And when someone criticizes something you care about, it is easy to take it personally. Believe me, every time I see a negative post about any of the organizations with which I am involved, I can’t help but take it personally. But it’s not about me, so I can’t respond as if I have taken it personally. I am speaking as the organization, and I want the organization to be seen as professional, trustworthy, compassionate, a good neighbor, etc.

Don’t hide. There will be negative comments, posts, tweets, emails, letters, phone calls, etc. Social media didn’t bring about our ability to complain, it just gave us a very public and very easy way to do so. You (the organization) will never be able to please everyone. You will make mistakes. But you can control how you respond. Deleting/ignoring comments, and asking others to delete comments or posts makes it look like you have something to hide. But if you show that you are responsive, open to feedback, and willing to right any wrongs, that is a huge PR win. And will usually turn the negative comments into positive ones. Even after you resolve an issue, don’t delete the original feedback (unless there is a legal/ethical reason to do so, and “I don’t like it” is not good enough). Leave it out there, along with your responses, so everyone can see that you don’t hide from any feedback, in fact, you welcome it. You will be seen as much more trustworthy.

Be transparent and open. Sometimes silence means you are hard at work on something, or you’re waiting on more information. But to your audience, it might come across as ignoring their feedback, avoiding the issue, or just not caring. Much like your personal relationships, communication is important. Let people know what’s up, even if it’s just “we are working on this and will get back to you.” It can go a long way.

Obviously, there is so much more I can say on this topic, but I’ll end it there.

I will give kudos to the Naperville Marathon for listening to the extensive feedback regarding their prices, and responding within 24 hours by lowering the fees to something a bit more reasonable – $105 for the full, $75 for the half. They posted to say they were listening to our feedback and going back to the drawing board, and came back with revisions that seem to be much more acceptable by their audience – and now they are receiving many positive comments. That is how you handle negative feedback. PR win. 

What do you think? Is this advice helpful, or does it just further the stereotype that public relations is just the art of trying to hide the truth and BS you? If you work in PR, are there any other basics you would add? And thinking as someone in the audience, what do you appreciate from PR people/social media community managers?

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15 Comments on “A Little PR & Social Media 101”

  1. I think it was fascinating how quickly the people involved in running the Naperville Marathon responded to your blog entry about race prices. They got out in front of the story, right as it was gaining steam. Anyway, it also goes to show that your blog has real world impact and the movers and shakers are listening/reading. Very cool.

    1. I was wondering if they would comment on my post, and I am glad they did. You shouldn’t hide from your critics. If you engage them, it came turn into a very positive thing. And it gets to my point of managing the message – if they hadn’t publicly responded, then who would be managing the message? All of their critics. You have to take control, even if it means putting yourself out there even more.

  2. Maggie, Thanks for the kudos but the kudos go out to the runners who spoke up. I personally appreciate those who chose to be mature in their comments and offered meaningful feedback as that really helps. As you see we spent significant time and made the needed changes to drive cost out, and keep what we could as far as amenities in. We feel we came out with a great solution. Will everyone be happy? Of course not… but thanks to you and others for honest and mature comments we made the changes.There were those who took to social media as a vendetta against us personally which I found sad. But none the less…here is to a great day of racing on November 10th in Naperville!!!


    1. Definitely a lemons-into-lemonade situation. I might even use this “case study” at work among my peers as a crisis communication best practice. “Manage the message” might be my new mantra (along with “social media is SOCIAL.”)

      Again thanks for listening. RAM Racing could learn a thing or two from the Naperville Marathon race directors!

  3. What I like most is when a company or organization is honest a d genuine. I don’t want to hear vague promises or be schmoozed with words. I’d like actual honest thoughts and information. I guess this kind of relates to transparency too…

    Either way, I think this is great info. I know there was an article in Runners World discussing the social media bonk from the NYC Marathon. There was silence and the comments/arguments/opinions just kept coming. It appeared different ways to different people but I think there were a lot of takeaways from those events…

    Being a blogger with no background in PR and a minimal background in marketing, I enjoy hearing your perspective on these things…

  4. Great advice and insight. Now news, is well, no news and just frustrates people on the other end. I guess that translates into social media is SOCIAL. Being heard is appreciated, even if you don’t get the outcome you desire. You can learn something new from every situation, kudos to Naperville for taking control and adjusting their plan.

  5. Ah, PR! Where journalists go to dry out. Kidding! (No I’m not.)

    I do digital marketing, PR and social media for a non-profit and for a small business, and well, anyone can put out a slick press release, but it’s how you respond to criticism that makes you a pro. People can tell the difference between an organization that’s just trying to cover its ass, do damage control, etc., as opposed to an organization that’s really listening and interacting and being authentic…and like you said, you CAN still be authentic without taking it personally.

    1. Yeah, I just went straight into PR, never tried to earn my cred as a journalist. Show me the money! (Haha joke’s on me … ) I think this is a really good point; it’s one thing to just set up a FB page and push our your messages. To really be effective you need to realize it should be a two-way street. Listen as much as you talk. Similarly, I hate bloggers who never respond to comments. They come across as very self-centered and “me me me” (more so than other bloggers who DO respond to comments).

  6. I have taken on some of a role in communicating out to the health centers that I work with (more from a support management standpoint than a specific “PR” job role) and it’s been interesting to see how people respond to the various messaging that we’ve done. Similar key points:
    *Proactive communication earlier about an issue
    *Manage the message – and be authentic! Recognize the reader & the audience.

  7. Very interesting post. I did not take any communication or PR classes in college, so I really don’t know anything about it. I like your tip about managing the message. Thanks for the 101 😉

  8. I am kinda sad that i missed this entire thing because i just don’t go on facebook very often lately. Its hard for me to believe there are PR people out there who aren’t aware of this! (this is coming from someone with no knowledge of PR/social media of course…)

  9. You are so right in so many ways. I work in Advertising so it’s a similar field but a lot different. The main thing I’ve learned in the past five years is that YOU are YOUR brand. The way you act shows, whether it’s an online presence or real life. So take the time to proofread. Take the time to be nice. And yes, don’t take it personally because you can’t please everyone. You just have to be you and not except everyone to understand. 🙂

  10. This is very helpful. I personally think that all customers just want to feel like their voices are being heard, that people will take them seriously and be reasonable with their responses, and that their feedback is not going into a black hole!

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