Maintaining Authenticity while Paying for Social Content

Maintaining Authenticity while Paying for Social Content

If I had one PR superpower, I would choose the power of foresight. Being able to know what big trends were coming down the line in five or even just two years would be immeasurably valuable. With our all-too-common power of hindsight, we now know the value of infographics, video content, social media and photo networks – but, imagine being able to know how big these trends would be for PR before they burst onto the scene.

If you take a snapshot of what the PR industry looks like today, that may literally just last for today. Who knows, tomorrow we may be trying to think of ways to get our clients’ content on Google Glass lenses! The world we live in is constantly evolving and one of the keys to staying on top of this near-constant change is asking questions and engaging in industry discussions.

Yesterday evening, I had the chance to do just that while attending an event put on by the Publicity Club of New England entitled “PR and the Battle for Your Attention: First Earned Media, Then Owned, Now Paid?

PCNE EventAt the event, panelists, including Michael Bourne of Mullen, Melanie Collins of Hubspot, Nathanial Eberle of Weber Shandwick, Tom O’Keefe a.k.a. @BostonTweet, Francis Skipper of 451 Marketing, Jennifer Spencer of Perkstreet, and Peter Stringer of the Boston Celtics, discussed the value of paying for social media content and exposure – another key and ongoing trend in the PR industry. One of the more interesting dialogues that evolved around this topic was the question of maintaining authenticity.

Can you still be authentic if you pay for exposure?

As panelist Nathanial Eberle noted, PR has always been where companies have gotten their most trusted content. Usually by pitching credible media and enticing them to write an unendorsed, third-party article, PR has been able to avoid ‘paid for’ content. But, with the advent of social media and new paid methods like sponsored tweets or Facebook ads, this is becoming a more viable method, which also shows the increasing cross-over between industries like advertising, marketing and PR.

Depending on the industry and brand, paid social media content could very likely extend a company’s reach and, some argued, that it gives your content more of a chance to be seen – even if only by 10 percent of your target audience (hey, that’s 10 percent more than you had before!). But, many agreed that, if this is a route you decide to advocate for in your PR campaigns, it will surely take some educational efforts to show clients why they may need to shift their spend to paid social media content.

How can you be authentic in times of crisis?

Whether paid for or not, having an authentic social media presence was a big topic of discussion – which recently came to light after the horrific Boston Marathon bombings. To have automated tweets or paid, promotional content being sent out on a schedule, instead of intelligently designed, can be a huge PR goof rather than a boon (although even personally managed social presences can goof up – with Epicurious’ insensitive Boston tweets being the latest example). No company wants their paid social ads going up next to breaking bombing news.

All panelists seemed to agree, however, that paid content needs to become more agile since it can often be more difficult to put a halt on paid content than one might think. Although, paid content could be turned into a helpful mechanism if companies wanted to pay for ads to spread vital news. For instance, Peter Stringer mentioned that the Celtics put a halt on all social media activity and simply retweeted the Boston Police during the marathon bombing crisis – while not a case of paid social media, this is still a great example of ensuring an authentic presence.

Are certain industries better suited for paid social media opportunities?

To round out the event, there was some disagreement around this topic. While certain industries like finance or pharmaceutical may have too many regulations or strict guidelines to capitalize on the fast-paced nature of social media, others greatly benefit from promotional social content. For instance, while the Celtics refuse to pay for any social exposure, one of Francis Skipper’s clients saw huge returns on a paid Facebook ad promoting a new variety of its consumer product. Many agreed that email marketing is still king, but there’s no question this is evolving too.

At the end of the day, sometimes a friend telling you about a great article or product is worth more than the most credible journalist writing about it. It comes down to who you trust, how you consume media and who maintains authenticity. There are whole agencies being formed just for social media management and strategy. Clearly this is a huge element of PR and marketing as a whole and Skipper argued that PR pros should be thinking about paid media when they start a campaign; no longer as an afterthought.

Have you effectively integrated paid social media into your PR campaigns? How do you see this trend evolving? Interested to hear other thoughts! Just leave a comment below.

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