The accidental publicist

First we had cavemen sitting around the fire telling stories. Then gossips and reporters. Then came chat and blogs and we cycled back to citizen journalists.

With the rise of social media we now have citizen publicists. Like volunteer journalist, they want to speak their mind. When they listen, they want to hear what their peers are saying, not just the company line. And through the really big amplifier called the Web they can have an outsized influence on our work.

As creatives, we want to reach them.

FireOur agency regularly counsels clients who want to join the social media wave but are afraid of getting swamped. There are too many networks and monitoring them is a time-sink. So for those clients who want to dip a toe into online communications, we’ve developed an approach called the Social Media Platform that allows organizations to engage their audiences as well as publish their ideas.

It’s a perfect fit for artists, photographers, writers and other creatives who can’t afford a publicist.

Here’s the strategy: Organizations need to monitor and influence what people are saying about their brands. So do creatives, with the added task of promoting their work far and wide. We social media because that’s where our future editors, clients and benefactors hang out. With a social media platform we can harness the power of peers, asking influentials who like our work to spread the word. The social media platform is no substitute for a full-blown marketing campaign that uses advertising, direct mail, media relations and microsites. But it offers creatives a turnkey operation that allows them to join, monitor and influence the online conversation.

quest-for-fire_lHere’s how it works: The platform is an integrated collection of social media networks and tools. It includes the major social and business networks—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare and YouTube—but has room for numerous sites, forums and communities. At the heart is a white-label blog without branding for an independent look and feel. With the blog creatives can manage reputations, disseminate key messages and establish expertise in the market—this might apply more to non-fiction than fiction writers. Creatives who’ve already built a reputation can use the platform to solve issues before they become wide-spread problems.

There are six parts in the process of establishing a social media platform:

  1. Create. We start with a blog hosted on an independent site. Posts and comments radiate from the blog to the major social and business networks. The system notifies the blog administrator each time someone from the outside posts a comment. For your peace of mind, comments can be approved, edited or deleted before anyone on the ‘Net sees them. Tools: WordPress software, web host.
  2. Listen. Tapping into the online conversation about our brand is essential. Specialized search engines allow us to listen to what people are saying about our work. PR people call it reputation management. Tools: Social Mention, Google Alerts, Gmail to verify social network accounts.
  3. Contribute. Based on your expertise, you can contribute original text, slides, photos and video. Crowdsourcing allows you to obtain feedback on work. You can even use your network to float ideas for future projects. Tools: those listed above.
  4. Publicize. Blogs are like parties. You have to invite the right people to achieve critical mass. We start with the internal audience, your friends and business associates, and add editors, writers and bloggers in traditional and digital media. Tools: LinkedIn, Twitter.
  5. Monitor. The conversation is ongoing. The monitoring needs to be, too. But checking multiple sites dozens of times a day can get crazy. A dashboard can simplify the process: Tools: HootSuite, TweetDeck.
  6. Evaluate. You’re not a major corporation. The goal isn’t to fill spreadsheets and generate charts that dazzle but yield no useful information. We measure the volume and tone of comments but take everything with two grains salt. Tools: Twitrratr (Twitter rater), Twendz (Twitter trends), Tweet Level.

Does the system work? Yes. Our agency is seeing a good adoption rate from editors and bloggers as well as retweets of original material. Why does it work? Because it leverages three potent forces in our society: the shift toward digital media, people’s desire to hear recommendations from peers rather than companies and journalists’ need to discover leads rather than waiting for pitches.

That’s almost as good as telling stories around the campfire.