We recently had the opportunity to speak with Susan Young: journalist, media veteran, regular contributor to PR Daily, founder of media training firm Get in Front Communications and author of the new e-book The Badass Book of Social Media and Business Communication.
We discussed the rapid changes in the communications business and the steps PR professionals must take to stand out in this brave new social world.
Why did you write this book and how do you feel it can benefit PR professionals?
I worked as a radio news director and reporter for 10 years. I know what’s newsworthy, what makes a compelling story and how to present it. I also worked for New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman in the office of radio and television before starting my own PR/communications training company.
There have been so many questions flying around the industry and the market, especially from people who are relatively new to the field. I wrote the book to answer these questions.
How have companies’ relationships with social media changed over the past few years?
Initially, many people fought this transformation of our industry. But the fact is that the conversation will take place online whether you’re there or not, so the ability to monitor your message and be aware of it is very important.
For example, corporate folks think they should blog using business jargon, and it doesn’t involve much personality. My book discusses how to communicate in our new era, how to boost your brand and be a social media “magnet” while blending new and traditional media.
As a former radio news broadcaster, do you feel that social media has decreased the value of traditional journalism?
I do feel that the dynamic has shifted, and probably not for the better. Platforms are filling time to serve the 24/7 news cycle. Someone asked me on a Twitter chat: “Should I be the first one to break this story, or should it be accurate?” I almost jumped through the screen! The answer, of course, is both.
What are some guiding principles to keep in mind when managing social media from a PR perspective?
There’s a lot of education involved. Clients may not understand how PR folks can position the message and interact with prospects, customers and people who have complaints. We have the opportunity to teach clients and we need to have patience, because we’re all kind of learning together.
You want to be the one who’s quoted as a source, who’s leading the chat or the LinkedIn group, because that’s going to boost your client’s credibility and visibility. It’s not “either/or” in terms of traditional and social.
There needs to be an overall plan so that when a crisis strikes, nobody needs to scramble in terms of: who’s going to be the voice/face of the company; are we going to respond; and how quickly should we get on top of the issue.
How can you train yourself to respond to crises or queries quickly and effectively?
It can’t be hasty. But when someone says “no comment”, reporters think “guilty”. Somebody has to say something. Be assertive but don’t back yourself into a corner. Use “wiggle words” like “possibly” and give yourself room to say “I don’t know this now, but I will get back to you”. And then of course you have to follow up, because your ability to control the message is crucial. Governor Whitman always said “never say never”, because some reporter will poke around and find something that will make you eat your words. So no absolutes.
Will PR agencies control social media in the future?
Social media is a combination of PR and marketing; neither department will own it. But a lot of companies don’t want to outsource social media, so they’ll try to hire journalists, etc. to bring operations in-house. The people who can show C-level execs what impact social media and PR has on revenue in terms of hard numbers will be much more credible.
Who within the PR field should check your book out?
It’s designed for people who are relatively new to the field or need refreshers in terms of understanding how this all comes together. It’s 26 years of my experience tucked into 200 or so pages.
PR pros: do you feel like a member of Susan’s target audience? Do you plan on checking out her book?
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