Sunday, February 20, 2011

5 Public Relations Tools for Small Businesses

At any size, public relations is essential for a company's success. As a small company, PR can seem daunting and a luxury for larger companies who can afford it, are already experiencing some WOM (word-of-mouth) or buzz, and who are already making profits. While it may be easier to perform PR tasks with larger budgets to play with, public relations is something small businesses should definitely partake in.

PR may seem like an expensive, unreliable source of advertising, but it very different; PR is not advertising at all, nor should it be seen as an alternative to advertising tactics. Public relations is what its name entails: relations with the public. It is a more honest and sincere interaction with buyers and the media. It can be a place for you to share another side of your company outside of the self-promoting advertisements you may use, which can cost much more than PR efforts.

The key to PR is to really convey yourself and your brand to someone else who will in turn talk about you to another person. It may seem like you are trying to convince them to like you (which may be the case), but it comes from their own interpretations and understandings of who you are that they begin to talk about you. Similar to high school gossip, which can be good and bad, real life companies, the media, and buyers will talk about you in both a good and bad light. Your task is to ensure you respond to what is said, encourage the good to be shared over the bad, and to be mature about it. Like the high school gossip that got a rumor started, your reaction can greatly influence its lifespan, believability, and overall 'success' as a rumor. (By success, I mean the impact it has on your reputation, its reach, and success in terms of expected results.)

As a small business, it is your responsibility to encourage the generation of publicity around your company. Media and potential buyers can't really know much about you unless you help encourage the spread of your company's buzz. This can be done by including a few things that are cost effective:
  1. Press releases. Though press releases are cost effective and often times free to distribute, the main thing to remember is that there is much more to PR than just the press release. A press release can help your SEO (search engine optimization) efforts on your website and on other online press distribution sites, but that's about as far as it will go. To get media attention and further coverage of your story, you need to connect with the media, referencing the press release that you sent them.
  2. Your blog and website. Websites and blogs can be a great place to share information with buyers. This can also be the place where you can list your press releases that have been optimized for the Internet, further increasing your keyword traffic. Moreover, a blog can be a place where you can begin the relationship building process with your buyers by offering them something of value (which is key), encouraging them to participate in the blog, and also helping them to better understand your position. Unlike bigger companies who may not take advantage of this free resource, you can further advance your brand and image by being a personified company with something to offer to buyers and other bloggers. This is a great tool to get connected with others in the industry who blog as well, and can help you build your network as a company or business professional.
  3. Social media tools. Along with blogs, these are great tools to use to grow your network. Use these free resources to get connected with others in your industry and with buyers alike. This can be another place for you to offer things of value to your followers, such as tips, resources, and relevant offers from your company. There is a fine line here that defines advertising and PR; many followers of companies online are not looking to be advertised to, but to offer something of value to someone who follows you, such as an offer or sale, can be beneficial if implemented correctly. Use these tools to give your company and brand a face and personality.
  4. Customer service. This means paying attention to your buyers online who are responding to your content, sharing your content, or ignoring your content. There are lessons to be learned from each of those situations. Did someone share your content because they were mentioned in it, or did they share it because there was something great and of value there that they wanted others to experience? Take note of that and further improve your efforts in the future. Customer service also means taking responsibility and being a responsive company.

    As publicity grows around your company, it becomes ever more important to monitor what your buyers or potential buyers are saying about your company. This allows you to respond and potentially diffuse a bad situation and potential crisis. Moreover, offering great customer service for buyers who purchase your goods or services (or even return your goods and services) can help to encourage positive WOM that can further enhance your company brand and image. A little bit of attention can go a long way, and customers will share their experiences with others.
  5. Media alerts and other invitations to cover. These, like press releases, are only as successful as you want them to be. If you send a media alert out, be sure to follow up with them to remind media about your event and to ensure that you get some sort of a response. The important thing here is to get a reply, even if it is a declination. This can help you plan for your event and to incorporate the media that will be present. Use these alerts to, well, alert the media of your event. This can be an invitation to the media to attend and cover your event with the hopes of further generating some publicity.
Overall, remember to listen to your customers, monitor your online brand, and utilize some of the free resources available to you as a small company. The above tasks are first steps in helping your company's PR efforts to begin. There is much more you can do, and much more to the aforementioned steps than simply creating a blog or writing a press release; it takes persistent efforts and time to ensure your strategies work and to help ensure success.

As an employee of a small business, this blog has greatly helped to encourage people in my industry to get in touch with me, reach out, and to share my content with others. I made it easy for the content to be shared with the social media buttons, and I also made sure that my content is valuable and of a high quality by sharing what I know and what I've learned.