Digital PR: How to Build Relationships from Afar

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Digital public relations accounts for what a lot of industry pros practice these days. I know I’ve talked before about leveraging social media and the Internet to broadcast your messages, but what about building relationships using technology? Figuring out how to make people care through a computer screen or smartphone may be tricky, but it’s extremely rewarding when it works. Don’t let a computer screen be what stops you from reaching out and connecting.

First, get to know your audience by checking out their interests.

If you’re familiar with my other posts, you know that I stress the importance of the “profile” section on social networking sites. I promise, it really is useful. Twitter is a little more transparent than Facebook, but simply by clicking on your followers’ profiles, you can see what other accounts they’re following. This clues you into their interests, and gives you an edge when talking to them. Stuck with only the basics? Most users of social networks make their location visible to everyone, so you can use that to figure out where people are tuning in from. If you only see a profile picture, you can still record gender, age range, and even a few interests (depending on who and what appears in the picture, too).

Next, let your audience know a bit more about you.

Today’s digital media makes it extremely easy to go enhance your text-based posts. Try sharing photos (like these, of our Employees of the Month, “Hopey” & Bubs). Now that I’ve shared the two furry faces I see everyday, you know a little more about me. I become more than a PR pro who gives industry-related advice; I become a little more “real”.  People like that. Even if you don’t have cute animals at your feet, you can snap a quick pic of something cool to share. You can also add a video to your social networking pages, whether they depict the office environment, show off your work with clients, or are YouTube videos that just make you laugh.

Then, invite comments, questions, and stories – and add your own questions and comments, too!

Once the mutual introductions are checked off your list, start talking! You now have a better idea of what things your audience will respond to, so engage them. And don’t talk at them – talk to them. Post a link to a story and pose a question about it to your followers. Make a comment on an issue, and open up the floor for discussion. If you’re unsure of what to say, look back reapply the model from a successful update. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that you should ask questions, too. Seriously, let people know you’re listening. Having a conversation requires both talking and listening, so lend your ear as often as you speak. Show that you’re an active listener, and your audience will be more inclined to do so for you.

After that, showcase the best things from your audience’s discussion.

Way back when I thought I was going to be a psychology major, I learned about something called the “Principle of Reciprocity.” Remove a few fancy psych terms, and it states that people will respond to a positive action with another positive action. Did someone share a story on your page because they felt you’d take interest? If you clicked through, highlight that person’s effort and re-share the story. Or, if you have some really great contributors to your discussions, mention and thank them.

Finally, make yourself approachable.

The more personable you are, the better your audience will connect with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re marketing your personal brand, or representing your company – tell people what you can (and will) do for them. Provide a few ways for them to reach you, and always be willing to help. Even in a crisis situation, understand your audience’s point of view. Surely you’ve interacted with an apathetic customer service representatives of some kind, and their poor attitude created some negative feelings. Though PR pros and customer service reps are certainly different, it is your job as a PR pro to assist with any communication that impacts you or your brand’s image.

In 2011, us PR people are working with clients in a variety of industries, from a number of different locations. Though I’m still quite fond of the “in person” approach, it isn’t always practical anymore. Much of what we do now is online, and it won’t serve us any good to ignore the true power of the Internet. Digital media is everywhere, and knowing how to truly make connections through it makes you a stronger PR pro.

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