Socially awkward

August 21, 2019

Social media has transformed how businesses communicate. Julie Baxter asks PR expert, Piers Zangana, why our industry has been so slow to get involved

The most successful companies around the world are masters at social media. Why does our sector appear so reluctant to embrace the technology?
Some companies may have been slow to engage with social media, but things are changing. The main challenges for our sector are resource and an awareness of how it can impact the bottom line. Often, people think social media is just about talking to passengers, so would only see its value in a B2C context. In fact, social media can be very powerful in the B2B space if it is used correctly.

Is it fear that puts off suppliers?
It is more about the unknown. Shooting blind without a strategy can sometimes be daunting for suppliers but, once that is developed, companies will quickly see the value. There are confidentiality challenges to overcome and, as a PR consultant, I am acutely aware of these clauses in contracts. However, this can be addressed and shouldn’t slow the process down. That would be counter-intuitive. Suppliers should talk to their customers about how publicity can work for them both, and then plan the process.

What do companies new to social media need to do first?
I’m often approached by businesses looking for social media help. We always ask clients to pause and consider what their true intentions are. Is it boosting sales? Raising brand awareness? Shifting perceptions of what they do? Or maybe even getting the company ready for sale? Understanding your narrative is crucial. You have to work on the basis that social media is only a part of a wider comms mix so crafting of your message is important.

That sounds complicated, is it?
Social media is not going to achieve your objectives alone. Businesses need a holistic approach. We live in an age where we are bombarded with data and consume information in different ways. This is why businesses need to hit appropriate ‘buyer’ touch points across different channels. Clients are using different types of media; whether that is traditional ‘print’, social, or other mediums.

Do companies need dedicated social media experts?
Third parties like me can help refine what to say and how to reach your target market, but day-to-day, social media is often best managed by staff who live and breathe the operation. All PR is about stories and they are much easier to find if you are an insider. While you can schedule certain types of content, the day-to-day activity of a brand and business is how you add value to your story. These are the things that make you stand out and are worth spreading on social media. It is important to look at your suite of content and determine what will work best for what you are trying to achieve. You can write blogs, take pictures or shoot video relatively easily. However, what is needed is the messaging strategy that sits behind the activity. In an ideal world, your social person should be empowered to talk for your brand because having real conversations is what it is all about. Too many layers of approval before saying something stops you being authentic. This is why training is important.

Which social channels work best?
Again, this depends on who you want to reach. Every person can be influenced by social media and all channels can help you influence buying decisions. In our sector, LinkedIn and Twitter are largely the ‘go to’ platforms, but we are seeing an increase in uptake on Instagram. Align your social with your sales strategy. The targets are (mostly) the same! Be clear on your tone of voice – quirky challenger brands can afford to be cheeky or irreverent but it isn’t right for everyone. The most vital thing is fitting the brand narrative. Decide your story and then stick to it.