By Betsy McCloskey | Guest Column

The field of public relations has seen dramatic shifts over the past 10 years with the rise of digital – and specifically, social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have changed the way people get news, hear about products and interact with companies, and they’ve transformed the industry for PR professionals.

We now have access to a much wider audience without the barriers of the past. It has also given us a great listening tool that provides a robust way to do research, follow trends, and observe and join in on conversations.

There are a few key ways PR professionals should be utilizing social media, beyond just distributing press releases. It is critical that they adapt to the idea of “social PR.” Here are three social strategies to consider:

Gain influence

With the rise of social media, the everyday mom or teenager now has access to platforms with millions of people. With the right content and strategy, these “average folks” can now become “influencers,” based on the number of followers they have.

From a 15-year old gamer with millions of subscribers on YouTube to a health food enthusiast with 500K followers on Instagram, influencers are one of the best ways to get brand exposure with a targeted audience. Instagram and YouTube, specifically, have become massive platforms for these self-made PR professionals.

The best influencers create their own original content and aren’t looking to do blatant advertisements – but they also know how to incorporate brands and products that align with their niche in a way that is authentic and resonates with followers. Influencers not only reach a very specific audience, but can help create trust and drive engagement with that audience.

Connect with journalists

When comes to connecting with journalists, Twitter has become a critical tool for the public relations industry, offering an easy opportunity to research and learn about the journalists covering their clients.

By looking at their tweets, retweets, hashtags and likes, it makes it easy to find out the topics they focus on and the people they engage with. That information offers an opportunity to start connecting them with helpful content and break into relevant online conversations.

Social media is also a place where journalists are proactively seeking for sources for their stories. There are Twitter accounts specifically created for journalists looking for help supporting their content, including @helpareporter, @muckrack and @journorequests.

In addition, many journalists will use specific hashtags on Twitter when they are looking for experts such as #Journorequest, #PRrequest and #HelpAReporter. Being on top of these hashtags can help companies land media opportunities and build relationships with reporters.

To secure national press, it is critical to be active on the top social media platforms including Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. The media is looking for sources that have a significant social media following to help amplify their content.

Monitor your reputation

Social media shortens the reaction time to relevant stories, both good and bad. One negative post can spiral among thousands in just minutes. This means someone needs to be monitoring the mentions of brands, as well as employees – especially executives. It is critical for businesses to use social media to manage their reputation and have a plan in place when a potential incident occurs.

When it comes to maximizing social media for public relations, it boils down to three things: listening to the conversations that are happening online, building relationships and being quick to react. •

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc., with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.