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Three Ways Social Media Works For Public Relations

Public relations professionals are constantly being asked two questions about how social media has impacted public relations.

“Is social media more effective than traditional media?” and “Does the election of Donald Trump prove the superiority of social media?”

And according to public relations expert Robert Wynne, the answers, perhaps surprisingly, are “No” and “No.”

“Public relations is the Persuasion Business,” writes Wynne in a column for Forbes titled “Three Ways Social Media Works For Public Relations.” “I focus on how PR can be used to influence the media, clients, employees and various audiences. In most cases, traditional media — along with third-party validation from experts — beats social media by a wide margin.”

According to Wynne, social media works great if you are already famous, noting that The Top 10 Twitter Users this month on FanPage are: Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, YouTube, Cristiano Rinaldo and Justin Timberlake.

He adds that The Most Influential Users from FanPage and Klout Are: YouTube, CNN, New York Times, National Football League, Associated Press, ESPN, The Guardian, TIME, Major League Baseball and USA Today. Barack Obama is #15, the highest ranking of anyone in the Top 10 Users list.

“Claiming you can post something and watch it go viral because Taylor Swift or CNN can attract hundreds of thousands of likes is like trying to walk down the red carpet at the Academy Awards, get a great seat up front, and take home two gift bags packed with free watches and bags of jewelry,” he says. “That party is closed for us regular folks.”

Like P.T. Barnum or Muhammad Ali, Trump is “a true original, an amazing promoter who obtains massive amounts of attention. Trump’s tactics on social media, ranging from insulting enemies to boasting to announcing major policies, are not usually successful for others, they only work for him.”

So, why isn’t social media just as powerful as traditional media?

Wynne says the main arguments in favor of social media from millennials concern usage and preference. Many young people believe some or most of these statements: “I like Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter. I’m on it all the time. I get my news from social media. I shop on social media. Social media gives me recommendations for restaurants and travel. Therefore, social media MUST be more influential than traditional media.”

“All very valid arguments. Yes, it’s very prevalent. The platforms are popular. But overall popularity does not always equate to influence,” writes Wynne, author of the Amazon bestselling book, “Straight Talk About Public Relations.” “Social media is very common.  There are more than five billion pieces of content posted on Facebook every day, along with more than 500 million Tweets. In addition to competing with influencers and celebrities, you face off against other posters and citizens.”

Here are three examples in public relations and the persuasion business Wynne outlines where social media influences mass audiences.

> Accelerating Traditional Media

> Responding to Crisis in Real Time

> Promoting Fake News and Conspiracies

Accelerating. The goal of any social media superstar is to create and grow their own brand, which means regular posts, finding and attracting audiences, and keeping them engaged. Hard work and without compelling content, not easy to do. Testing this theory showing social media is a great medium to accelerate, rather than originate content, is quite easy. Anyone can test it. For someone in the PR industry, here’s how. Post your own opinion on something. Now, post something on the same subject where your client is quoted or profiled in Forbes, the New York Times, or your local TV station. Wild guess which one will attract more attention. The third-party validation of major brands are much stronger, in most cases, than individual opinions.

Responding. During a crisis, new product announcements, breaking news, and other real-time events, publicists, companies and individuals can react in real time to explain their position, offer advice, lead people to safety and many other situations. Social media can be a boon to direct client-to-company conversations provided firms and PR pros are well educated and provide enough staff to respond quickly and professionally.

Fake News. Conspiracies and fake news are the sewer of the Internet. Everyone knows the quote by Mark Twain that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Unfortunately digital media has accelerated this process so lies travel around the world several times before the truth can find their shoes in the closet.

Clearly, in this day and age, persuasion and propaganda are produced faster than ever.

“Social media isn’t going anywhere, it’s a permanent and expanding part of our culture and daily habits,” says Wynne. “By understanding where social media succeeds and fails, where it informs and deceives us, honest entrepreneurs, publicists, companies and individuals can ensure social media provides a platform for truth instead of lies.”

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