After a quick search on Google for a definition of public relations, I came to an answer from, well, Answers.com. The first definition listed on the site says PR is “The art or science of establishing and promoting a favourable relationship with the public.”

From this definition alone, to me it’s obvious that people in PR should be engaging with publics through social media. Using blogs, twitter, facebook and many others, is the best way for companies to connect with their publics (other than actual one-on-one conversations – what are those again?).

In my time engaging with people on blogs and twitter, I’ve seen many good and bad examples of interaction. On twitter, whenever I see a person that has far more people on the “following” side than the “followers” side, I tend to not follow them back. The reason for this is because from experience I know they won’t be engaging with me very much.

Build relationships, don’t push products

StarbucksThis same rule applies to companies, but in different ways. I don’t expect a company to be following a bunch of people. I can see how the noise could be tough to sift through if you’re trying to manage an online brand. However, a company like Starbucks will actively follow and converse with others regularly, which is appreciated.

A specialist in relationship building and communication strategy using social media, Staci Shelton says companies using these sites should be using them to build relationships (like @Starbucks is), not to push a product.

“Social Media sites are full of people with likes, dislikes and opinions, who like to talk, connect want to be heard,” Staci says on her blog. “They are looking not just for products and services; they are looking to be inspired, wooed and have value added to their lives.  Whether we realize it or not, every person we interact with is a new relationship. Each interaction is an opportunity to influence, and engage, but more importantly to make an impact.”

This sentiment was echoed by people who tweet for brands on the blog of Mashable writer, Jennifer Van Grove. Here are some of their responses as to why their brand/company tweets:
Ford“It’s part of a larger social media strategy to humanize the Ford brand and put consumers in touch with Ford employees.”

– Scott Monty, who tweets as @ScottMonty for Ford.

Travel Channel“There’s a balance in what is valuable information to our audience. We strive for connection & engagement – without overloading anyone.”

-PeteDorogoff, who tweets as @travelchannel for the Travel Channel.

Comcast“As we strive to improve the Customer experience, feedback in social media is the story in the Customer’s words. This is powerful.”

– Frank Eliason, tweets as @comcastcares, one of the many tweeters for Comcast.

Of course there are many brands out there that don’t see reasons why they should be on the 2.0 bandwagon, and out there interacting with their customers. Mashable blogger Tom Smith goes through 6 reasons why big brands are struggling with social media. From what I could gather from his list, the main reason why big brands don’t adapt to this new and obviously here-to-stay trend is simply because it’s new and foreign.

Social media humanizes the brand

Unless companies have a champion for the social media cause on staff, they likely won’t take the plunge. They’re used to pushing their message out with ads because it can get them their return on investment in a more concrete and proven way. Engaging people through relationship building on social media isn’t as tested and true.

Social media allows conversation to happen on a level that makes the brand more human. That relationship building could pay off one day when a crisis hits and brand loyalty comes in to play. Companies with solid footing in the social media world may just be able to hold out longer than those without.

Do you feel more loyal to a brand on twitter or any other form of social media? If so, why?

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