Last week was terrible. I first learned of the bombings at the Boston Marathon from a tweet. The same is true for the explosion in Texas and the pursuit of the Boston Bombers. In typical Gen-Y form, I consume news in nontraditional ways – regularly scanning my Twitter newsfeed and going there first for news. For example, the ground shakes and I check Twitter to confirm if I just experienced an earthquake.
However, after scanning my regular Twitter and Facebook sources for updates on the Boston attack, I craved more information and did something I almost never do anymore; I turned on the TV to watch the news.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that TV isn’t already a big part of my life. From the day I learned my ABCs watching Sesame Street, I knew the illuminating tube was something special. In the past few years, however, the way I watch TV has evolved. I no longer live and die by the primetime lineup the way I did when Friends aired new episodes (Thursdays at 8 p.m. were for Ross and Rachel only). Nowadays, I record programs for later viewing or will exclusively engage with one series at a time, watching episode after episode (commercial-free and streamed from the internet to my iPad). Some claim cable is dead, but TV is still king (as ad rates prove). It’s just the format for television consumption that is changing.
In a crisis, I appreciate TV’s dedication to straight-forward, real-time journalism, minus the editorial. In contrast, my Twitter feed at the time of the Boston bombing was a mash-up of personal vents, speculation and poorly timed auto-scheduled tweets from companies I follow. So when blindsided with breaking news, I (like many of my Gen-Y peers) still turn to TV, my old friend and trusty companion, where I find comfort in the personal interviews, facts, investigative tone and expert dialogue that only live news can bring.
It’s not just me that has evolved. TV has grown up quite a bit too. Programs and networks are fully integrating Twitter for real-time conversation and offering exclusive content on other platforms. TV executives and advertisers understand an increasing number of people are no longer passively watching TV, but are also monitoring a “second-screen” to enhance content as it airs.
The evolution of media consumption can also be applied to communications for brands:
- Cover your bases – Your consumers turn to multiple sources for information, favoring different platforms at different times. Make sure you have a presence on all platforms that make sense for your business.
- Strategize for the “second-screen” – Television viewers often turn to Twitter to share their takeaways on the latest episode, ad or issue, and they will use popular search engines like Google or Bing to find additional information, such as an actor’s previous work. Consider how your messages are used on social media to bring added value. You don’t need to repeat the same message verbatim on each platform. Share a picture on Instagram that details your status on Facebook. Be ready to engage in a conversation on Twitter during an event. Act as a resource in real time.
- Humanize the message – If you are tweeting or posting status updates on a branded social media site, don’t underestimate the importance of a personal connection. Every now and then it’s okay to share a quote from the CEO, founder or star employee (as long as they are appropriately sourced).
- Timing is everything – In a crisis such as the Boston attack, auto timed tweets and Facebook posts can appear insensitive, calloused or just plain out of touch. In the case of a crisis, or national event (e.g., State of the Union Address, Super Bowl halftime show) communications should be evaluated for relevance and tone, or put on hold until the event has passed.
- Create a community – Your fans generally support your brand and are your most powerful allies. Treat them with respect and give them they attention they deserve. They will appreciate a thoughtful approach.
- State the facts – Consider the spread of speculation/rumors/misinformation. Use your social media platforms as a resource to provide the truth and correct false claims.
With these takeaways in mind, your brand can become the social media destination for Gen-Y friends and followers.
The American people unite over information every day, across multiple platforms. Kudos to those in the media industry – either on the front lines or behind the scenes – who work tirelessly during a crisis to bring us the most up to date news. Hang in there everyone. Things are bound to get better. Just stay tuned.
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“Nice to meet you. So, what do you do?”
“I work in PR,” I say … silence. “Public relations?” I continue. Still, blank stares.
“Oh, you make commercials!” “You must be good with people!” “Do you do a lot of public speaking?” “Are you like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City?” “How are the parties?”
Sigh. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had this conversation and come away exasperated. How is it that my chosen profession is so hard to explain? It’s clear to me, but not to the friends, family, acquaintances and cocktail party guests I’ve met over the years who just don’t get what I do. Why is that? Probably because there is no singular explanation that defines public relations.