Ten years ago, I was the President of a boutique marketing agency located in the New York Metro area. Although I’m no longer with the company, the lessons learned during my tenure live on. We were an integrated communications firm with clear roles assigned. The PR professionals developed the business stories, the marketing folks creating the sizzle and pushed the creative envelope and the multimedia people developed the powerful interactive applications. We had our share of internal struggles, but none of us argued over the technology that fueled our clients’ programs. Companywide, we knew it was the responsibility of the in-house Web development team.
One day, sitting around the boardroom table, I remember saying to my executive team, “Why can’t the PR people update the online newsrooms themselves? Why do we have to wait on a lengthy production schedule to post a news release? Our job is timely disclosure. We have to move quickly with our news and information.” I’ll never forget the look on their faces. They were surprised (borderline confused) that I wanted the PR people to be much more hands on with technology. Shortly thereafter, my communications department became more actively involved in technology.
Moving forward, our clients’ websites were built with backend content management systems and the PR team was trained to upload images and news releases. They also learned how to update copy on website pages and to maintain the newsroom. This new, hands-on process bypassed the long wait on the Web production schedule, when a client’s news was pressing. Clients were thrilled and PR people rolled up their sleeves and got involved in technology.
Technology has become a Natural Part of the Connection Process
Today, no one would bat an eye to hear that a PR professional or any other professional (sales, marketing, customer service, etc.) were savvier with technology. Social media has created a culture of citizen journalists who create their own media. We see companies taking the time to train different departments, giving employees the right tools and also the policies to guide “proper” participation. The baffled looks I received at the boardroom table 10 years ago would be looks of approval today. This isn’t exclusive to PR, but to those outside of communications as well.
A natural part of adopting social media includes Tech Testing, no matter what your area of responsibility. It’s important to continually research and test technology to make better connections and build relationships. In my book, Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional, Practice #3 is the role of the Tech Tester. However, Tech Testing has extended into additional areas of the company, especially as social media is used companywide. From sales and marketing to HR and product development, chances are most people in your company are using social media personally or professionally and experimenting with the resources and applications that go along with it.
How does Tech Testing Work? In some cases it becomes a natural part of the workday and for others, it might be taking the time and interest after hours to experiment. Companies that support the role of the Tech Tester provide social media training classes and toolkits with informational articles or guides. However, you may also be Tech Testing on your own time.
Regardless of when you Tech Test, here are 5 important areas of tech evaluation, which deserve attention. Experimenting in these areas will help you to create better engagement opportunities through social media, with the people who matter to you and/or to your company.
1. Social Media Monitoring & Measurement Tools
By now, you’re probably not a stranger to the term “Listening,” with respect to social media conversations. There are excellent monitoring tools and platforms that aggregate the conversations and offer data regarding daily volume (buzz), share of voice, blogger influence, real-time news and sentiment. Understanding how to listen to conversations and track keywords is a lesson in understanding how your audience wants you to interact with you. If you’re a Tech Tester, then there is no shortage of helpful free resources including Google Alerts, Social Mention, SocialPointer, HootSuite, and Addictomatic, to name a few. When you select the keywords related to your company, brand, industry and competitors (or your personal passion), you will uncover an enormous amount data that you can analyze to gain insights on how to participate more effectively and to build better relationships for the long term.
2. Social Media Influence Tools
When it comes to influence tools, one question is always asked, “Is it influence or is it popularity?” It’s a little bit of both. We all know that popularity will get us large numbers of friends and followers, but influence will have your community members sparking into action, based on what you say or share. Various tools have different algorithms, which are used to calculate influence from Klout, which evaluates about 400 different online and offline measures to gauge influence to other popular tools including Traackr, PeerIndex and Twitalyzer. Building relationships with the right influencers will certainly help to amplify your voice to an audience of audiences.
3. Website Analytics and Measurement
It’s not only the Web and digital interactive professionals who should be paying attention to Website analytics. Where social media analytics end, the website analytics begin. From click to conversion, you’re able to see what content resonates with stakeholders, what drives them to your website and how they behave when they arrive. Analytics including page views, referring keywords, recent visitor locations and user profile data will guide you on better ways to share content and how to contribute as a valuable resource to your social media communities.
4. Design and Visualization Tools
Did you ever imagine taking design into your own hands? Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll never hire another designer for a project or campaign. However, when budgets are tight, the Tech Tester knows how to find the tools and to gather the scarce resources to build attractive and well-designed content, including infographics with Easel.ly. As a Tech Tester, you also learn to identify and leverage key community relationships through visualization tools including MentionMapp and Facebook TouchGraph. Visualization helps in your research because you can identify the stronger relationships and capitalize on them. At the same time you can also see where other connections in your network are weak and require further relationship-building strategies.
5. Blog and CMS Platforms
Understanding and building a blog or CMS platform doesn’t mean you have to study web development. Whether you choose WordPress or Blogger, knowing the blogging basics is a must for anyone who wants to share content and have a voice “in an instance” rather than a voice that misses the real-time dialog. Social media conversations don’t wait and it’s imperative to know how to initiate and join the conversation at the right time. Of course, there will be times that you will need to rely on the programmers for coding, but the opportunity to drive the conversation in a timely manner makes you a more valuable resource to your community.
Researching and testing different platforms, tools and applications definitely help to facilitate deeper connections. Although it’s the strategies and the people who make the communication “go,” it’s the technology that makes it possible to have more creative and often deeper interactions. Using technology the right way will definitely enhance a connection. Being a Tech Tester doesn’t mean you should run out and join Codecademy (whether you’re in communications or not). However, there is a feeling of liberation by being able to create and drive communications the right way through social media, because you understand both the people and the technology.