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Choosing how to raise your organisation’s profile need not be a black and white decision.  The variety of ways in which you can boost people’s awareness of you appears to be ever growing – good news!  Some methods can be done at the click of a button, others require months of meticulous planning.  So, how can you work out what to do next?

Two of the most effective and increasingly popular ways to establishing your ‘presence’ amidst the constant jostling for position are PR and social media.

But what are they, how are they different and which should you choose?  Should it be one or the other?


What can you expect from PR?

In the olden days PR meant ruddy-faced men in blazers having eight-hour lunches with editors.  It was referred almost entirely to printed press coverage and stemmed from the theory that the public is much happier reading neutral press coverage of a business than a paid-for advertisement.  The former holds more credibility and reliability… the latter that you are one of the few to still have a marketing budget.  Nowadays, however, it goes further and includes online coverage, viral marketing, blogging and much more… in short, PR has become a lovely warm grey area, blanketing communications and covering ‘everything that is relevant to creating a buzz about your brand through the written or spoken word’… many people call it reputation management.

The good news is that PR typically sticks around.  If a magazine or newspaper decides to write about you, often it will appear online as well.  This guarantees you a spot on Google, somewhere, for years to come.  Even the local papers are online now and a quick search of your organisation’s name will draw up headlines both in the ‘Everything’ search and ‘News’ search.  And we all know that online mentions = SEO points.  The more you have, the more points.

So, how do you get a mention?  In many cases PR starts with a press release – a short document that gets sent out to the press.  Good copy goes a long way.  To increase your chances of being featured in the right places saying the right thing, your press release or approach needs some fantastic copy.  It needs to hit them between the eye in a sea of spam… it needs to get to the point quickly and clearly state the things that they want and need to know.

Many people make the mistake of thinking a last minute half-hearted attempt at a press release will do.  More often than not this leads to misquoting or no mention at all.  Investing in a copywriter to deliver something concise, informative and interesting is the best way to improve the likelihood of your news being featured.

Good bits: If you handle it yourself, it’s free!  You could be featured in a variety of different magazines and papers, online and offline.  PR often stays put on Google for years and these links all help with your search engine ranking.

Bad bits: No guarantee your press releases will be featured.  A good press release needs time and sometimes money spent on it.  Even if you have a great press release, you have no control over what slant the reporter will put on it.  Difficult to ensure it is being seen by the right audience and even harder to get more than just a mention.


How does social media differ?

In the sense that it’s about getting people talking, social media doesn’t differ.  In fact, for this very reason, it’s often included as part of a PR strategy.

However, unlike traditional PR, social media is a much more instant and constant way of building your organisation’s profile.  Large social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook allow you to make sure the right people see your business.

Social media allows you to connect with your target audience directly and interact with customers and clients both one-to-one and as a whole.  You don’t have to wait for the right people to happen upon your press coverage, cut it out and send it on… with social media, users that decide to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ you have already expressed an interest in your brand, allowing you to use those contact details to trial different marketing strategies until you find the best ones for your audience.

Elements of social media give businesses the opportunity to connect with other companies directly too.  ‘Retweets’ on Twitter and ‘Shares’ on Facebook can help spread your organisational message across a much wider audience.  If you get the tone right, social media can be used as a rather slick sales pitch and gives you control over what online presence and personality your brand has.

But there must be a downside… You only have to take one look at the ‘Trending Topics’ on Twitter to see how quickly things come and go on social media.  Messages you send are often lost in a white noise of mindless chatter on newsfeeds.  A single status update does not have the impact that a dedicated article in a magazine does and there’s no guarantee larger companies or businesses will share your messages.

Creating a good social media presence takes time and patience.  Many businesses fall into the cliché of allowing interns to run their social media accounts because they are young and ‘with it’.  This can often, but not always, backfire.  Good social media strategy and managing requires someone who knows their stuff and often this will come with a price tag.

Good bits: Again, it can be free!  It’s instant and allows you to keep a targeted audience of customers and clients updated with exactly what you want to say. You can alter strategies depending on how your target audience reacts.  You can give your organisational profile some personality and, most importantly, you can change things as you go along, adapting to feedback.

Bad bits: It can be disposable, within seconds your update has moved down your audience’s newsfeeds and can go unnoticed.  Fantastic social media takes time and patience and sometimes a professional.  It lacks some of the weight and consumer influence that traditional PR carries.


So, which is best?

In short the answer is neither and both… so don’t reach for that coin to flip just yet.  A good combination of PR and social media, working together, can help you build your profile over multiple channels.  Rather than focusing completely on one method, spend some time to see how both could work for you. Don’t jump on the bandwagons and sign up for everything.  Do your research and see what other similar organisations are using.

The most important thing is to ensure whatever your message and medium, it is pitched as one person talking to another.  Always keep it relevant to your target audience – both in terms of the language you use and the places you ‘say’ it.

Written by Helen Hammond & Rebecca Hunt.