Public Relations and Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts

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Social media and public relations are tightly interconnected. As far back as 2014, more than 80% of PR professionals felt that they could not do their jobs properly without leveraging their social media accounts. Social media’s importance has only grown since then. According to Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of Americans use social networks like YouTube and Facebook.

Social media platforms.

Why is social media so integral to PR professionals? Some of the main reasons include:

  • It’s where many people learn about breaking news, which PR pros may need to respond to.
  • Communication happens in real time (e.g., automatic Twitter timeline updates), making it uniquely well-suited to crisis communications.
  • The vast reach possible through an official, verified social media account allow items such as press releases to find larger audiences.
  • Social media is helpful for building brand awareness and shaping how an organization is perceived by the public.
  • It’s also ideal for connecting with influencers who can help on certain PR or digital marketing campaigns.

PR is a practice, whereas social media is more of a platform. There is danger when social media and public relations are combined in certain ways. The vast reach of social media (comparable to that of TV) means that the effects of bad PR practices on social media are greatly amplified to huge audiences.

That’s why we put together this list of do’s and don’ts to help navigate some common risks and ensure that your social and PR strategies are aligned.

Do: Balance the Personal and the Professional

Some companies, brands and high-profile individual social media accounts opt to take a personal approach to their public-facing interactions online. For instance, they may sign posts with someone’s initials (this is common for politicians’ accounts in particular) or strike up a conversational tone in replies.

These actions can make followers more comfortable and receptive to the account’s message. But there’s a fine line between being personal and professional. Be careful not to stray from brand guidelines or post links or assets meant for a personal account ― a mistake many PR teams and brands have experienced.

Don’t: Spread Misinformation or Error-Filled Communications

PR managers have to deal with crisis situations all the time, including ones arising from product recalls, unfavorable media coverage, natural disasters and many other causes. Social media is a go-to platform for crisis response due to the size of the audience and speed of distribution.

However, it can be difficult to get everything right in the moment, resulting in mistakes that mislead followers and do lasting reputational damage. Possible errors in this regard range from sharing an update without checking all of the underlying facts first to not looking for typos and other copy-related mistakes that might confuse the reader. For this reason, some social media accounts have a multi-step process for reviewing all posts before they go live. This is prudent when combining social media and public relations.

Do: Integrate Your Social, PR and Content Marketing Strategies

Social media and public relations, along with content marketing, are siloed in many organizations, with their own respective calendars, stakeholders and processes. This setup makes sense in a way, as these are all different disciplines requiring distinctive skills. Integrating them into one coherent approach has major advantages, though.

For example, a content marketing team might produce a white paper or presentation to support a PR campaign. That asset could then be shared with a wider audience via social media. By having all of these teams work more closely together, it’s easier to create the appearance of consistency across all communications and social media channels in the eyes of the public, which improves trust.

Don’t: Create Conflict or Invite Backlash

Company social media accounts can court disaster when they wade into hot-button issues or weigh in on breaking news controversies without thinking through how their response fits into their broader PR strategies. Accordingly, it’s prudent to avoid stirring up controversy when possible.

A social media manager.

Moreover, communications about potentially difficult issues shouldn’t be rushed. PR and social media teams should take their time to ensure that updates are relevant to the brand or company’s concerns and audience (i.e., it would probably be OK for a firm that uses only vegan ingredients to talk about its opposition to animal testing) and produced in accordance with its guidelines.

These do’s and don’ts are just a starting point for more effective social media and public relations management. To learn more about strategic thinking related to these issues, visit the program overview page for the online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University.

Recommended Readings:
How Social Media Changed PR
Social Media Director Job Description

Five Ways Social Media is Changing PR