Sunday, August 9, 2009

PR Rules of Engagement 101: Be a Resource, Not a Vandal

A great way to get your name out there among potential customers is to become an active contributor on well-read news sites or blogs that address your niche, and in popular social media “gathering places” (i.e., Twitter or Facebook pages) for your target audience.

This P.R./social media marketing tactic has a clear goal: to build your credibility, generate interest in your business, and establish yourself or your brand as an expert in a specific field. It can be an enormously successful way to promote yourself. It also requires some rules of engagement… the emphasis on engage. Success lies in being credible and engaging, not a promotional hijacker.

An acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Henry, recently complained to me that a comment he’d posted online, in response to an article written about a competitor, had been deleted by the author. Curious, I asked for details… and soon realized that Henry, a lovely person and bright businessman, was also a social media vandal.

The story: Henry had a similar product and perhaps even greater knowledge of the subject than the business profiled in this article, so he jumped in with a “comment,” which is exactly (he complained) what I advise, and what I practice as the spokesperson for Miamore Communications. When he went back to check the post again, he was unpleasantly surprised to see it gone. Me? I wasn’t surprised at all. Henry, you see, had (anonymously) posted something to the effect of “Henry has even more/better stuff. Check it out!” Which I can only describe as, roughly, the equivalent of taking spray paint in the dark of night and writing his company’s name on the wall of his competitor’s store.

Still miffed and perplexed, Henry asked me how his action differed from Miamore's comments on various news sites and blog in my field. My answer: I comment when I can add value to a story or a post by sharing, for example, an experience or research on the topic being discussed. Because the same rules apply online as in a face-to-face setting. That's a pretty basic principle but (I've realized from various conversations with social media newbies), one oft-overlooked by those unaccustomed to this promotional strategy, and emboldened by the anonymity of sitting alone in front of a computer.

My advice to any businessperson in that category: the next time you read something online and think to yourself: “well, I know that subject better than they do,” seize the opportunity and comment! But, before you type, imagine you are in an auditorium filled with your peers, and the person who wrote (or is written about) in the story is standing at the podium taking questions. You wouldn’t crouch down and yell “Do business with me! My company is better than his! I know more than he does!” Instead, you would state your name and share your expertise via a well-crafted question or comment. Essentially, you would be polite, think before your speak, and take advantage of a golden opportunity to enhance your credibility before your community.

In a nutshell, please remember: the online or social media community may be a “new” world, but it runs by the same old rules of etiquette as the real world.

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