One social media trend that has had a huge impact on the practice of media relations is the increasing use of social media as a way to make official statements to the media. In a few short years, many companies have gone from social media ignorance to having a very active presence on social media, using Twitter and Facebook, among other Internet channels to deliver important information to the media and the public.
For some companies, usually well-known consumer brands or those large enough to have a strong identity among investors, their social media presence is a destination for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers. For others, social media is a place to get noticed.
Both types of companies have begun to take to social media to spread the news to the media. While in many cases, this has proven an effective means to simply and easily keep the channels open with the media, there is a downside.
In an ideal world, the practice of using social media to reach out to traditional media would be an effective supplement to the long-standing practice of producing official press releases or statements and then posting them on official corporate Web sites. The possible downside, however, is when companies decide to forego these longstanding practices and start to use social media as a primary or only means of delivering some information to the media.
This forces reporters and editors to use only the information from the company that was provided via social media, which can be scant at best. As a result, journalists may then try to reach the company directly, or independently speculate on the company’s meaning or intent, or possibly round out their stories through the use of other sources that could include a company’s critics or competitors.
If the company chooses Twitter, it limits itself to 140 characters to try to adequately make its case.
When a company gives itself so little space to deliver an important message to the media, when it does not supplement social media with its own more detailed communications on a company Web site, it is asking the social media world and the traditional media to define the story for it.
Sometimes, companies simply underestimate a development, presuming it’s not important enough to merit a full-blown press release. Sometimes certain decisions are made at the front-line level – social media managers – who may not fully appreciate the possible PR consequences of certain social media activity.
The one common thread in social media crisis situations is that in the early stages, a company tries to restrict its exposure on a particular issue only to social media by only using social media as a forum for communication. As the crisis gains momentum and attracts the attention of traditional media, the story takes on a life of its own and the company loses control of the message.
The best approach when using social media as part of the media relations mix is to recognize it’s only a part of the mix. To date, nothing has taken the place of a thorough, accurate and journalistically written news release, distributed through the proper channels and accessible on the company’s primary Web site. Social media postings then become an extension of this more comprehensive approach.