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How Social Media Can Replace Your PR Team

October 11, 2013

Published here on August 20, 2013

Quick quiz: Butter is to bread as social media is to … any guesses?

Yes, PR. Good job for reading the title. Public relations, or the more euphemistic business communication, and social media are a match made on eHarmony. PRoper communication is a business PRerogative, and social media is PRimed for exPRession.

But wordplay aside, is it possible to replace all your PR tools (meaning pitch letters, media lists, press conferences, etc.) with Twitter and company? If you’re a small business, I argue that yes, you can. You’ll still have to hammer out the occasional press release, and your media lists will become blogger lists, but social media harnesses the power to do everything else. And because of its low—read free—price, it’s very economical as well.

Build those relationships:

One thing social media and PR have in common is the need for endless justification of their existence. I come from a PR background, so I know what it’s like to meet with a client and point frantically to a spreadsheet of media impressions and follower counts. Look! Numbers!

However, it’s not hard to figure out that PR matters because relationships matter–if you think that’s not true, just take a second to recollect upon the billion or so times you’ve been told to network. Similarly, social media matters because relationships with your customers matter. And with 98 percent of 18–24 year-olds on at least one social network, social media is home to almost all of those customers. One giant eLocation.

Media Relations:

Whether you view the relationship as two sides of the same coin or as one of mortal combat, there’s no denying media bred the need for PR. Back in the early 1900s, when companies either suffered terrible press or no press at all, it became clear that some guy would have to step up and start talking to the journalists. Back then, ethics was just a nice sentiment (similar to child labor laws and class equality), and PR tarnished its own reputation. This textbook case of irony necessitated the rebranding to business communication.

Slide forward 100 years, and you’ll notice PR added a few more tools to its utility belt (including investor relations, government relations, community relations), but the goal for the journalistic world is still the same—establish a solid reputation in the press.

What does that mean for today?

The ultimate secret to successful media relations today—the kind of success that will contribute to bottom line dollars—is this: write for your customers. The reason journalists do so well in PR is not because they know what other journalists want, it’s because they know what journalists’ audience’s want. (Which I guess you could argue is still what journalists want, but still, work with me here.)

The only benefit the media coverage offers your business is third-party access to your audience. The people with large Twitter and Instagram followings, blogs with large readerships, or traditional media outlets are all the same; they’ve got eyeballs that can be redirected at your business. It’s Marketing 101. Don’t make the mistake of trying to woo people to your owned channels. You have to first go to where people are hanging out (Google Plus pun intended).

Make absolutely sure you understand that media coverage is not the end goal. If your expert media relations work landed a spot in a publication, then you should have gained some type of business leads from it. If not, you wasted your time. (See the need for PR people to endlessly seek validation?)

The only media you should care about is the media your customer base is reading.

So how do I get in contact with them?

Once you have customers’ sources of information, it’s time to select targets. This used to mean Cision research (or worse, manually picking through newspaper archives!), but now it’s simply a Twitter search. Any serious member of the media has a Twitter, as does any serious blogger. After running searches for key industry words, it won’t take more than a few hours to find a list of people to contact.

Another great thing about Twitter is that people often tweet about more than just their work. They express opinions; they recount their barbeque experience at the Fourth of July neighborhood picnic. There’s no need to be creepy with this information, but what blogger isn’t going to enjoy opening an email that starts with “glad to see you enjoyed your Fourth.” The cracking ice will be practically audible.

Don’t limit yourself to Twitter either. YouTube, LinkedIn and Google Plus will also yield lists of influencers in your area. As will, of course, a simple Google search for industry blogs.

Once you have your influencers, it’s only a matter of how creative and determined you want to get with your pitches. Keep in mind there are two goals to accomplish with the media, both old and new:

Get a product endorsement: The standard practice is to have bloggers or YouTube personalities try out a free sample of your product or service in hopes that you get a positive review. It’s as if you’re getting a micro-celebrity endorsement … fitting for micro-messaging platforms.
Establish industry expertise: This is where quality business social media accounts pay off. By sharing and writing great stuff about your industry, someone will likely notice and ask for your comments on a certain theme or development. The surest way to get noticed is to submerge yourself in the online conversation via comments, shares, and tweets. (This naturally makes sense, given the foundation of relationships is communication.) Make sure your comments link back to your own company blog.

The second goal is harder to quantify (aside from counting the number of times you’ve been interviewed as an “expert”), but quantification isn’t even the goal. The virality and view count numbers are the same type of numbers that illustrate a misguided focus in general PR. If your company name is showing up in the same media your target customer base is reading, I promise it will be good for busine$$.


If there’s one thing I can emphasize here, it’s that you don’t start with the tactics and hope a strategy forms itself; you start with a strategy and then form tactics. The goal is to increase business leads or sales. The strategy is to improve your reputation with the media. The tactics are to use social media to find and contact customer-read media and key influencers.

The tactics are not that different than traditional PR. Was my headline a little misleading then? Perhaps, but my point is that social media has only made things easier, providing free access to determine the influence each user has. There’s no Cision membership; there’s no hunting and pecking through online archives to guess a reporter’s beats. It’s faster, it’s easier, and did I mention free?

Are you looking for more information on how to maximize your business and sales potential through social media? Check out our 3-day Social Media Boot Camp or click here to receive more information on all of our marketing training and services.

About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a start-up company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons.


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