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Ultimate Guide to PR Strategy and Social Media

Hélène Heath
October 6, 2023
Last Updated On
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Developing a strong PR strategy today is different from what it was before the world went digital. Brands and publicists must strategize for traditional channels like news media and stay on top of emerging social media trends. Figuring out how social media fits into your public relations strategy can be challenging.

The way brands market themselves and score press nowadays is far from the game it used to be. Promotional lines and methods of reaching people can be blurred from both communicational and distribution standpoints. The landscape has gone through a makeover, led primarily by changed consumers who are not only keeping up with the times but are spearheading these vital shifts.

While brands today fully embrace PR and social media as a joint strategy, the territory is still dubious for many. Whether they're established and trying to adapt to new methods or are new, innovative, and figuring it out, the same mantra should apply: utilize social channels to the best of your promotional abilities. It's where people live and, therefore, where you must live.

This blog explores:

  • What is a PR strategy?
  • Why a PR strategy is important.
  • The difference between public relations vs. marketing.
  • The difference between paid, owned and earned media.
  • The best public relations tools.
  • Essential PR metrics.
  • Digital PR strategy tips.

What Is a PR Strategy?

A public relations or PR strategy is a plan that includes a set of strategies and tactics your team plans to implement to reach a set of goals and objectives. PR strategies can be developed for a specific campaign or goal, but there is often a strategy that covers the entire year. Public relations strategies often support the marketing team’s overarching plans and goals for the year. 

Public relations is all about building relationships — having a strategy in place ensures your team has a detailed, specific plan of who they want to reach, why it’s important and how they plan to do it. Social media has become a major factor in building a successful public relations strategy because it can reach users, foster community and build connections. 

Why Is a PR Strategy Important?

A PR strategy is important because it helps increase and maintain brand awareness, keep your team organized and inform your activities for the coming year. A PR plan includes a many details, like key dates to spotlight, which channels you want to target, a timeline outlining your actions and more. Not having a strategy is a considerable risk, as your relationship-building efforts will naturally become reactive instead of proactive. While a certain level of agility is needed to work in PR (think spur-of-the-moment press opportunities that arise), your daily efforts become scattered and unmanageable without a strategy or PR plan.

What's the Difference Between Public Relations vs. Marketing?

While there’s overlap between marketing and public relations, they ultimately serve two different purposes. Marketing is all about transactions — think lead generation, conversions, paid advertising and more. Most marketing efforts are based on driving sales and any other activity that encourages sales, even prospectively. As mentioned earlier, PR (and even PR marketing) is all about building relationships. While public relations teams are often involved in things like the social media strategy, most effort is spent on press and where their brand appears in various forms of media from online publications, blogs, magazines and more. 

Since media helps shape perception among audiences, PR professionals are heavily invested in how their brand is discussed and represented and how that impacts relationships with their target demographics. This is why you often see public relations in marketing teams, as these activities go hand-in-hand with lead and revenue generation.  

While creating strong relationships with stakeholders does contribute to revenue, public relations is concerned with the quality of relationships, brand recognition, share of voice and other metrics that are not necessarily focused on sales figures.

Understanding Paid, Owned and Earned Media

Public relations is heavily concerned with media coverage, including how users discuss them on social media. However, media coverage isn’t one-size-fits-all, and both public relations and marketing teams understand the significance and differences of each type. 

There are three types of media: 

  1. Paid: Paid media is just that — media spots you’ve paid and budgeted for. This includes boosted posts, PPC ads, and sponsored social media posts that boost your reach and help develop and nurture relationships. 
  2. Owned: Owned media is any form of media or messaging your brand or team has complete control over. This includes press releases, news posted on their website, social channels and any other medium a brand owns and uses to share communication. 
  3. Earned: Earned media is anywhere your brand is organically mentioned or discussed. This includes mentions or quotes from your brand in articles, shoutouts on social media, user-generated content, reposted content, news coverage and any other place your brand is mentioned that you haven’t paid or controlled. 

5 Best Public Relations Tools

There are many social media management tools and other essential software for public relations functions — having the right mix of tools gives your team more time, makes reporting easier and streamlines operations overall. Here are the five best public relations tools:

HARO 

Help a Reporter Out, commonly referred to as HARO, is a tool that benefits both brands and reporters. When journalists seek expertise or information for a particular niche, HARO connects them to sources that can help. Brands can register as a source and receive a notification if a reporter seeks a quote or other information relevant to your brand. HARO is a function of Cision but is so unique it deserves its own shoutout. 

Google Alerts 

While this might seem basic, don’t underestimate the power of Google Alerts. You can arrange Google Alerts for nearly anything — from mentions of your brand to competitors, product names or anything else you want to specify. From there, you’ll receive an email whenever an article with a selected phrase appears online. 

Cision

Cision is one of the most popular platforms for PR professionals. Their platform offers (and owns) a range of tools, like PR Newswire (which disseminates press releases), a journalist and blogger database, monitoring capabilities and more so brands can share information and keep track of how they’re discussed in the media. 

Flaunter

Flaunter is similar to Cision, although not as well known. It includes tracking capabilities, connects brands to journalists, and offers metrics and reporting capabilities so brands can keep tabs on how their owned, earned and paid media contributes to their goals. 

Social Listening 

Social listening tools are some of the most helpful tools for a public relations professional. Social listening tools help you monitor mentions of your brand and any other term you want to keep track of. Typically, brands will monitor competitors, products and phrases related to industry news. Dash Hudson’s Social Listening Trends and Topics feature monitors these terms. It offers visual insights to help you get a broader picture of how your brand is represented on social media — words, text and all. It also monitors trends based on social listening activities to help your social team create more content users engage with.  

Essential PR Metrics

We’ve discussed how vital traditional and social media is to a PR strategy — but which additional metrics should teams outline when creating a public relations strategy? The following are five essential PR metrics that every brand should track and measure in their strategy. 

Share of Voice 

Share of voice measures the percentage of territory your brand or a particular word (think a relevant product) takes up in a given space — brands can measure share of voice for social media, news media or online search. 

Website Traffic 

Website traffic is a great social media-related metric for brands to determine how much traffic press releases generate, links from other websites (aka earned media) and more. Your team should get even more granular and track new, returning and mobile users with UTMs (urchin tracking modules), which attribute the traffic source so your team accurately measures which channels are most effective.   

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis provides significant qualitative data for public relations teams to monitor. This type of analysis attributes meaning to different mentions of your brand — typically, sentiment is sorted by positive, neutral and negative emotion, so you can see how your brand, products and any other term you want to monitor resonates with your audience. 

Media Coverage 

While this is a broad category, brands likely have specific outlets or publications in mind that they’d like coverage in. Your team might want to measure how much coverage you receive overall or how many target publications you feature in. 

Reach and Potential Reach

Reach (and potential reach) are relevant metrics for traditional media coverage — i.e., how many readers a magazine or newspaper typically receives — and for social media promotion. 

5 Digitial PR Strategy Tips 

We asked PR boss extraordinaire Erin Allweiss, co-founder of New York City-based firm No. 29, to explain why and how businesses should include social media in their press efforts.

Erin is an accomplished pro who co-founded No. 29 after identifying a void in the industry that she grew ambitious to fill: the need for more socially proactive, mission-focused and ethically conscious businesses to be represented. Having spent her early career as a publicist in Washington, D.C., being involved in mobilizing issues has always been instinctive.

The No. 29 media and marketing agency takes on "brands that are committed to impact," Erin tells us. The firm represents businesses in various sectors, but that sense of responsibility is their common thread, as she explains that "every client we represent — whether in fashion, design, activism, food, tech or art — is future-oriented."

Here are Erin’s five tips for a healthy digital PR strategy. 

1. You Can't Have PR Without Social

Social media is necessary to leverage your press endeavors, as it "complements media coverage," muses Erin, implying a perfect match when used strategically. "In order to actively grow a community and sell products, PR and social media must go hand-in-hand," she continues.

Erin explains that "when a brand (or individual) gets press attention, any person reading about that brand will then check their social channels to get a feel for the aesthetic, product and mission." Grabbing our smartphones to discover more about a brand has become second nature to us, meaning that "to neglect social media is closing off an entire channel of communication," she confirms.

Erin adds, "While brands can’t get press coverage every day, they can use social media to communicate key messages and reach new audiences." Using social channels like Instagram to nail your media buzzworthiness is not just the thing to do; it's the thing to do to be successful.

2. Use Social To Get Your Point Across

People who hear about your brand will inevitably land on your social profiles. So, you must ensure your content is up to snuff and reflects your image. Your account should speak to your ethos while showcasing quality content you are proud of with a compelling narrative.

Nailing a cohesive visual narrative and tone of voice is a challenge for many brands, and Erin shares that she often sees "a lack of consistency or images that don’t really reflect what the brand is about." It's important to get it right, especially for small businesses with fewer resources and less equity in the market.

She cites her client VEJA as a prime example of what an on-point Instagram account should look like. The brand excels at telling its story with high-quality visuals, describing that "they not only share images of their incredible sneakers, but they also reveal information about the materials and practices (sustainable, fair trade) that go into making the shoes." It's important to remember that it's about the story, too.

When pitching one of her clients to a source, Erin always provides "Instagram handles along with the URL so a journalist can easily get an understanding of the brand." Brands should use that to their advantage. A well-crafted social narrative earns you the respect of the industry, the admiration of your audience, the attention of the media, and, subsequently, the dollars of your consumers.

3. Always Be Prepared

Things move at lightning speed in this digital age. Not only do you have to be agile and ready to change tactics at any given time, but you also need to constantly feed the beast — for lack of a better term. We live in the era of social entertainment, and generating it is both expected and required by brands.

To ensure that you're consistent with your efforts and never fail to impress someone who stumbles upon your account, Erin advises you to "build out a calendar and keep a folder of images and captions at the ready." Think of this smart time-saving tactic as a safety net. "This way, you’re not scrambling every day to find an image or something to say," she quips.

Because the algorithm has complicated things for brands that like to promote time-sensitive content like flash sales, Erin encourages them to "build out campaigns and images that last a few days" since they might not be seen until it's come and gone.

4. Strategy Is Everything

While PR might sound like a fun networking job, it's multi-dimensional and often underestimated. People aren't aware of "how much work and strategy is involved," mentions Erin, and she's right. When you read an article about a brand, you don't necessarily think about all the legwork that made that mention happen.

"Behind the scenes, we really work to figure out what makes a story timely, relevant and compelling." Calculating these moves is a huge challenge, especially in this day and age. Erin elaborates that "breaking through the (mostly terrible) noise [of the news cycle] is incredibly challenging, so one article might take weeks, if not months, of work."

It's not all smoke and mirrors, so brands must ensure their Instagram game is tight. Their social channels must be adequate if they want journalists to pick up their stories.

5. Think Global

If your brand wants to reach more audiences, have a global mindset. Because channels like Instagram enable visual storytelling, it's an opportunity to capture all kinds of people worldwide with a robust, engaging and captivating content-driven narrative.

"Brands can’t physically be everywhere all the time — particularly small brands," notes Erin. Think about it: social media has no borders, and you can generate enthusiasm for your brand from just about anyone with an Instagram account if you're strategic (see point #4).

Retaining the services of a PR agency is a vital part of growing a consumer business in any sector. But it's how you approach those press efforts and what you do to ensure the results are successful.

Social platforms have become such a big part of our lives that they must be woven into any PR plan. "Social media needs to be part of any brand’s engagement strategy in order to build community," Erin says, reflecting on the state of her industry.

Mindfully broaching the topic of influencers, she mentions the importance of brand fit: "Publicists are looking to share brands with people on Instagram who have strong and relevant followings," assuring that enough research is done into who the right collaborators are for their brands.

Finally, she proclaims, "10k of the right followers can do far more than 100k who might not care about the brand or topic at hand." 

FAQ

What is public relations in marketing?

Public relations in marketing involves building and managing brand perception, which often means overseeing communications within larger marketing strategies. Since public relations activities help drive things like leads by generating awareness and favourability among their audience, public relations is often a function of marketing and their teams. 

What does a public relations manager do?

A public relations manager typically oversees any activity involving how the public perceives their organization — both internal and external. This can involve public relations activities like creating press releases, planning and managing events, media outreach, social media and anything else involved with external (and sometimes internal) outreach. 

The public relations manager typically plans and manages the workflow of everyone on the team. Depending on the size and organization, they might also do more hands-on work, like drafting press releases or creating social media posts.

How to develop a PR strategy?

The first step to developing a PR strategy is to identify your goals and objectives, as this will shape your strategy and tactics. From there, it’s wise to make a calendar that details your tactics and when you’ll implement them throughout the year. Another critical part of creating your strategy is determining how — and what — you’ll measure throughout the year. For example, if increasing your share of voice on social media is a goal, you’ll want to monitor and measure your share of voice periodically and during social campaigns. 

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