A PR professional’s guide to using Facebook

The interactive, multimedia-friendly nature of Facebook makes it the perfect place to build a positive brand profile. It allows you to communicate easily with customers, and can be a natural extension of any business’s website. However, as Paul Sutton, head of social communications at agency Bottle PR, points out: “There is a default reaction among many PROs at present of ‘let’s set up a Facebook page’ without any real understanding of a) content strategy, b) the amount of thought and effort a serious Facebook presence takes, and c) how the benefits of that page should be measured.“

That’s why PROs must develop an understanding of how Facebook works to avoid the pitfalls. Sutton suggests that this means using it personally; following brands, watching how people interact and noting what generates interest and engagement.

But Sutton gives an important warning: “One area to watch for if you are managing a Facebook page in addition to your own profile, is the fact that you can now log in as yourself or the brand page you are managing. This is a recent change, and it’s hugely beneficial to be able to log in as the page/brand to comment on other Facebook pages. But it’s easy to forget to switch back and post in the wrong guise.”

Another problem that using Facebook presents PROs, is whether to allow clients and associates to become friends. As Kevin Read, managing director of PR firm Bell Pottinger Business & Brand puts it: “To befriend or not befriend – that is the tricky question for many PROs when deciding whether to allow their working and private lives to cross over. Allowing a client, a colleague or prospect to hook-up with you as a friend is a difficult question. Do you really want them to track how you spend your weekends, see those embarrassing photos from last week’s birthday or discover your interest in newts? Probably not. However, declining a request to be a friend can be equally fraught with difficulty. Are you appearing rude? If you decline or ignore do you risk damaging a commercial relationship?”

When it comes to managing a client’s profile, rather than your own, Read says that the best PR practitioners recognise that brands are still very much guests within the world of Facebook and must behave accordingly. He says: “Don’t think of joining the party if you intend to butt regularly into conversations or shout loudly in the hope of making an impact.”

Read offers these ten tips for building brands:

1. Plan your Facebook page in detail. Ensure you schedule regular updates.

2. Work out how you intend to respond to positive and negative comments.

3. Customise your page in a brand sensitive manner. Consider a vanity URL.

4. Interact and engage with people meaningfully. Be prepared to listen before broadcasting.

5. Activate your network. Think product, promotion, call to action.

6. Integrate your Facebook page with social media tools and relevant websites.

7. Blog using a Facebook blog app.

8. Reward your followers with exclusive content and incentivise engagement.

9. Name check active users.

10. Like or respond to the user comments you attract.

Further advice for using Facebook:

Rebecca Honeyman, director at PR agency Hotwire:
“Recent changes to Facebook news feeds mean content will only appear in their personal news feed from those people and pages that they interact with regularly. Meaning that it’s no longer about how many followers you have, but turning these passive followers into active group members.”

Claire Thompson, freelance PR consultant:
"Unless you are a news content provider, integration with Twitter is unnecessary, and probably also harmful. Facebook is a different medium to Twitter, and behaviours there are different. Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

Abhi Punj, social media community manager at PR agency Kindred:
“It’s essential that we listen to the conversations on our pages from a reputation management perspective, but also take on board what consumers like and dislike to inform future on and offline PR strategy. Facebook can be our own TV channel or publication, connecting clients and audiences directly – but always ask yourself, if you wouldn’t share it, why would anybody else?”

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