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Public Relations for a Franchise Group-Sylvan Learning Center
Sylvan Learning Center opened its doors in 1979. Since then, the corporation has expanded with over 900 centers throughout the world. All Sylvan Centers follow a similar communication plan, to ensure that every Sylvan franchise is operated with the same mission statement, teaching methods, and promotions.
Sylvan Centers are placed into franchise groups if they are in close proximity. This helps the centers maintain a consistent PR plan.
“ We are part of a franchise group with two centers,” Says Michelle Tack, Center Director at the Sylvan Center in Elgin, Ill. “There are two PR directors at each center, and we work together with the Sylvan directors in Algonquin, Illinois when creating and implementing a PR plan.”
Every month the PR directors at the two Sylvan centers come together to discuss future campaigns and to go over information they have received from corporate.
“The benefit of being in a corporate structure is there is a team that researches different communication tactics and then we get the benefit of that without having to do it all ourselves,” says Callie Masten Director of Education at the Sylvan Center in Elgin, Ill.
The Sylvan Franchise group in Elgin has started to put more emphasis on its social media presence in order to stay up-to-date with the younger generation of parents.
“We are currently putting most of our efforts on our Facebook page, but we also have a Twitter and YouTube account and a local website,” says Tack. “Given the nature of our services, we are marketing toward parents. We try to use our Facebook as a way to appeal to younger parents and explain the benefits of our services for their children.”
Though social media platforms such as Facebook have been successful for the Sylvan franchise group, the group relies on other platforms that are sometimes not seen as social media. One of which is e-mail.
“E-mail is one of the most important forms of social media used at Sylvan,” said Masten. “I think that has increased our business, because when they go visit the website, even the national one, we are immediately contacted through e-mail. It allows us to get constant feedback from our customers.”
The franchise group has also incorporated Groupon and LivingSocial as another facet of its social media presence.
“Groupon was a very big hit,” says Tack. “We were one of the top 20 Groupons of the year.”
The Sylvan franchise group of Elgin, like many businesses, is constantly trying to find ways to measure the return of investments of its social media presence. The group measures non-financial ROI on its social media platforms.
“When parents come to sign up we ask them through a survey how they heard about us,” says Masten. “This way we can keep track of how many people come from Facebook, e-mail or our website. It helps us determine if our social media efforts are working.”
Though social media platforms have increased business for Sylvan, social media is not the only PR tool used.
“I think to be successful you have to utilize every tool you have, and the biggest one is getting in front of people,” says Tack. “We do local school fundraisers and donate for anything local that has to do with K through college.”
“We also do a lot of mailing too,” added Masten. “People still want to be sent things by mail.”
The Sylvan franchise group of Elgin sends customers monthly newsletters, places ads in local magazines and sends out corporate press releases to local newspapers.
As for Sylvan using social media as a tool for PR in the future, Tack believes social media will remain relevant but the platforms will change.
“I’m sure it will keep changing as to what the hot thing is,” says Tack. “From year to year things change, but we are a technology driven society and can no longer ignore the impact social media has on our lives.”
The Future of Public Relations
The central issue that has surfaced because of the digital revolution is the ever changing definition of public relations. Kirk Hallahan, a professor at Colorado State University and member of PRSA Colorado, believes that more people will be engaging in PR like activities even though they are not considered PR professionals. The accessibility of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs has made it easier than ever to communicate with an audience.
“That means there is probably going to be a lot of very badly done communications,” says Hallahan. “I think there is going to be a lot more players and a melding of the distinction of what is public relations.”
Hallahan recognizes that social media has and will continue to change the way public relations is conducted. He feels, however, that true PR organizations need to expand their definition of social media in order to succeed in the future.
“I think digital communication and online communications are here to stay, there is no doubt about it,” says Hallahan. “Organizations must use a range of tools not just social media in order to promote themselves. They need to think about things like search engines, online advertising, online publicity, email, text messaging, outbound messages, and even Twitter. I think of social media more narrowly as those tools where people come together to talk with friends and build relationships. Those tools are going to continue as well, but it’s really a mix of more general digital tools plus social media.”
People like Nicole Plesec, PR director for hospitality and sales for the business-to-business company Lodgenet, does not believe social media will be important in the future for her company.
“It is an effective way to reach a large consumer audience. If you are a brand and you aren’t using a form of social media like Twitter or LinkedIn you’re definitely missing a huge audience,” says Plesec. “We currently don’t have a social media plan. I think with the audience that I market toward they aren’t going to find their news on Twitter like they would reading a magazine.”
Though many business-to-business companies are not using social media, Hallahan believes that there are social mediums these types of companies can use. As of now, these social mediums are being over shadowed by the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, but they will soon be on the rise.
“Wikis, web chats, and webinars sort of have some social elements and are certainly interactive, but they are not in the traditional, narrow sense what people think about a social networking site,” says Hallahan. “There may be instances where those would be very effective. The two areas I would think of would be internal communications and trade or business-to-business communication.”
The digital age will continue to change how public relations is conducted. One thing technology will not change are the fundamental skills needed to succeed as a PR professionals.
“The core skills of PR are unchanged,” says Hallahan. “People still need to think critically, they need to organize stories, organize campaigns, write and edit, and deliver information in a form that is appropriate to their audience. Those skills are not going to be different. “
Plesec, on the other hand, believes PR professionals should constantly look for new skills in order to remain relevant in the digital age.
“I would say an understanding of social networking is a required skill and how to use it to engage, inform, and bring value to the position that you do have,” says Plesec. “It’s also vital to understand how to use LinkedIn and some of those other social sites to present yourself online.”
One thing that will remain the same for public relations during the digital revolution is that everything will continue to change. The only way to succeed is to embrace the unknown.
“I would say that in my short career it has changed so much, and I think it’s going to continue to change,” says Plesec. “Personally, I am excited to see where it goes. With the iPad and all these new iPhones coming out, I think there is a lot to see and I think it will be exciting.”
Redefining ROI for Social Media
As more businesses begin to see that social media is not a fad that will pass in the near future, businesses are no longer questioning the use of social media. Instead, businesses are questioning how to utilize social media correctly.
“It was all built on the premise that brands had to be there because this is where everybody else is,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at online ad metrics firm Emarketer Inc. “But now those companies are asking themselves, ‘Well, what do I do next?'”
A recent survey by Wildfire, stated that over 97 percent of the marketers who were interviewed believed social media is beneficial to their business’ success. However, a debate has erupted over how to measure social media success and return of investment (ROI). The Wildfire survey went on to state that 38 percent of marketers measure social media ROI in terms of likes, comments and interactions,15 percent measure social media ROI through increased brand awareness, and 24 percent measure social media ROI based on increased revenue.
Many businesses are no longer following the original definition of ROI when it comes to social media. The mathematical equation to measure how effectively a business uses capital to generate profit does not fit into the digital world. Instead, businesses are moving toward the use of analytical tools such as Google Analytics and HootSuite Pro in order to measure non-financial ROI.
“In my business, it’s crucial to use analytical tools to measure what your client defines as being successful,” said Amanda Pensack, Founder of Roxy Digital Group. “This includes web hits, re-tweets, comments, likes, follows, and ultimately how many people are engaging with you via social media.”
In order for businesses to get the most out of social media, Jason Falls, founder and CEO of Social Media explorer, says businesses must understand that social media offers businesses the ability to communicate with their audiences.
“If your goal is to participate in the conversation, to enhance your relationship with your audiences and become a trusted member of the community that surrounds your brand, then your measures should prove you’ve done those things. Your ROI is what you got out of the conversation, not what you got out of their checkbook,” said Falls.
Other social media specialists and PR professionals believe that social media itself is not measureable. However, interactions on social media platforms can be measured. Oliver Blanchard, author of “Social Media ROI,” believes that engagement and conversations cannot be measured and do not show if the business is succeeding. He feels that businesses need be asking the right questions. Blanchard says most businesses are concerned about the ROI of social media, but instead they should be concerned about the ROI of a certain activity through social media.
“[Social media’s] value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value,” said Blanchard. “Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y.”
Though social media ROI can be hard to measure, Krista Neher, author of Social Media Field Guide and CEO of Boot Camp Digital, has discovered four ways to measure social media ROI. The following is her approach to measuring social media ROI:
- Measure the value of a customer’s lifetime commitment to the brand.
- Measure the amount of traffic social media brings to the brand’s website and compare it to the price of an advertisement.
- Measure the number of upset customers that were not lost because of communication through social media.
- Measure the number of people exposed to the brand through social media who then share information about the brand to others.
Universal Measurement for Social Media ROI
At the AMEC’s 4th European Summit that took place in June, the discussion was based around creating universal measurements for social media that will be used globally.
“I believe we have started to lay out a clear roadmap on a path towards global standards,” said Richard Bagnall, Insights & Analytics Director, and Chair of AMEC Social Media Measurement Group.
However, many PR professionals do not believe a universal measurement system will be successful.
“If I had the solution to measuring social media, I don’t think I would automatically share my insights,” said Taylor Smith, owner of Distinct Media Solutions LLC. “It is definitely something a PR professional could make a ton of money on, resulting in huge ROI for themselves.”
The Digital Revolution Brings New Careers for the Next Generation
At age 22, Amanda Pensack is the founder of Roxy Digital Group and works as an independent social media consultant in Boston, Mass.
After graduating from Elon University in 2011, Pensack found herself contemplating whether to pursue a career in advertising or public relations. She soon found herself working as an intern for a PR agency but came to discover that she disliked the traditional aspect the agency had to offer.
“I was really more into the digital roles of social media,” said Amanda Pensack, “I ended up leaving the agency to pursue my own freelancing business, where I would do side projects for companies that needed social media work or graphic design work.”
Pensack now plans to take on a new job at WSOC-TV news station in Charlotte, N.C. Her goal is to continue expanding her own business, while taking on the new duties as social media and digital producer at WSOC-TV.
Pensack would not have found success if she had remained in a traditional PR job. She feels that in order to succeed as a PR professional one must be very ambitious.
“A PR person must be really driven and put in tons of effort into everything they do, even if it is a small task. They need to have that passion and dedication to keep going even when things are not looking so good. It is really important, especially in PR, to be optimistic because it is a very fast paced environment and you need to be able to keep up with it,” said Pensack.
Through the use of her internships and working at her own company, Pensack has witnessed firsthand how PR has changed during the Digital Revolution. Pensack says that the ever evolving aspect of the digital revolution is what makes her job exciting.
“There are so many different outlets out there that people really haven’t explored, but that are up and coming such as Pinterest and Instagram. There are so many different ways of expressing your company’s interests and branding them through social media,” said Pensack.
Pensack feels that it is very important that companies have a social media strategist working on their team in order to get the most out of social media. As more social media strategists are hired by companies it is important that they view their clients as separate entities when creating a social media presence.
“You need to discuss with your client what the client’s goals are and how you can meet those goals digitally and through social media. The goals for each client are going to be different, so the platforms you use for each client are going to be different. The platform I find is the most effective for small to midsize businesses is Twitter. Facebook is best used for big Fortune 500 businesses,” said Pensack.
As Pensack begins her new career as a social media and digital producer at WSOC-TV, she is very optimistic about the future use of social media as a tool for PR.
“I think social media will continue to develop. If it is used correctly it can help a company bring in more business and help brand the company. If you don’t have a presence digitally and you’re not following what is going on I think you are at a huge disadvantage,” said Pensack.
Red Cross Diverts Social Media Crisis
As the number of users on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media networks increase, companies are starting to incorporate social media into their businesses as a way to remain popular among certain audiences and consumers.
Many companies are relishing in the fact that social media has made it easier than ever to communicate with consumers. However, some companies such as BP, Nestle, and Dole have fallen victim to social media crises because of the fact that a social media crisis plan had not been created.
According to Krik Hallahan, a professor of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University, “The one thing people must remember is that the fundamental steps are the same when you are dealing with any crisis. You have to monitor the situation closely, provide accurate information quickly, don’t speculate, and always be cautious.” Hallahan went on to say, “The only thing social media changes are the number of fronts you have to monitor.”
A prime example of a company that evolved a crisis management plan to manage the nuances of social media was the Red Cross.
On February 15 2011, Gloria Huang, a Red Cross employee, accidently tweeted a post onto the Red Cross’ Twitter page. Huang meant to tweet the following message on her personal account:
“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”
The above tweet was viewed by over 700,000 America Red Cross followers. Because of the possibility that the tweet was seen by a majority of the Red Cross’ Twitter followers, the Red Cross went into crisis management mode.
“When it comes to taking on a social media crisis, one main difference is that the company needs to enlarge its PR team quickly to cope with the crisis and still maintain adequate coverage for regular mass media,” state Hallahan.
The first step the Red Cross took in managing the crisis was to respond to the crisis immediately. If the Red Cross had not had enough people monitoring its websites the tweet may not have been found in a timely manner. However, within a day of the post appearing on the Red Cross Twitter page, the Red Cross deleted the tweet made by Huang and tweeted the following message:
“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”
The second step the Red Cross took in managing the crisis was to remain open and honest with its Twitter followers. Though the Red Cross deleted the tweet made by Huang, the Red Cross created a blog post that showed the tweet. The post also acknowledged the fact that even though the tweet was deleted it was still seen by many followers and the Red Cross apologized for its tweeting mistake. The blog post went on to thank its followers for being understanding of its mistake and for making donations after reading the humorous tweet.
The final step the Red Cross took to manage the crisis was to remain personable and humorous. The Red Cross did this by having Huang tweet the following messages from her personal account:
“Rogue tweet frm @RedCross due to my inability to use hootsuite…I wasn’t actually #gettingslizzard but just excited! #nowembarassing”
“Back to the safety of desktop tweetdeck instead of iphone hootsuite. No more #gettingslizzard posts, but how about #givingblood?”
These tweets helped to make light of the situation, while at the same time created awareness of the importance of giving blood.
The Red Cross crisis shows that with the right crisis management plan in place almost all crises, whether they involve social media or not, can be overcome. Companies need to remember to always have a thorough crisis plan for all possible crises.
“Steps should be taken before a crisis, during a crisis, and after a crisis to ensure a company survives a crisis and comes out of the situation better than they went in,” stated Cindy Christen, professor of public relations at Colorado State University.Map of social media crises from article
Public Relations Friends Social Media – An introduction to the digital aspect of public relations
Since the creation of the World Wide Web in the early 1980’s, digital technology has changed the way people communicate.
Social media, a staple in the digital revolution, has made it easier than ever to communicate. Since communication is a key aspect of public relations, this blog is meant to bring clarity to the use of social media as a public relations tool.
Due to the digital revolution’s continued growth, many PR professionals were concerned that the definition of public relations was not appropriate for the 21st century. For many years, public relations had been used as a one way communication tool. However, the internet and its many facets now gives public relations the ability to become a two-way conversation tool with mass audiences
Stuart Elliot, a reporter for the New York Times, stated that the Public Relations Society of America took on the job of redefining the definition of public relations last November. PRSA created the website, prdefinition.prsa.org, which allowed the public to submit suggestions for the new definition. On March 2, 2012, the winning definition was released after tallying 1,447 votes. The following is the new definition of PR:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The digital revolution and social media has not only forced public relations to change its definition. According to author Dave Folkens, social media has changed public relations in three other ways. Folkens states that social media has made it easier for public relations professionals to interact and gain feedback from consumers. The ability to communicate instantaneously with a company makes consumers feel a deeper bond with a company.
Folkens also believes that social media has made it easier for PR professionals to connect with journalist through the use of blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Finally, Folkens feels the most challenging change is the fact that consumers expect one-on-one interactions. If consumers are not attended to, they can cause a crisis to arise by writing a complaint on the company’s Facebook page or Blog.
Though social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkdIn should be viewed as an important and powerful tool for PR professionals, many PR experts believe niche networks will take the lead in the future.
“The most important platforms for PR pros in the future will be the ones most targeted for their clients,” said Cara Stewart, founder and principal at Remarx Media, in an article on mashable.com. “Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are ‘fun;’ getting nitty-gritty into community sites that are industry-specific is less ‘fun,’ because PR pros have to really understand clients’ technologies, business models, services and more. Social media is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Social media does have the ability to create stronger relationships and save companies money and time when pitching and creating new campaigns. However, PR professionals must remember social media will only work if it is used correctly. To help PR professionals properly use social media, PRSA offers resources on its website to help clarify how the digital revolution affects public relations. For example, Writer Elizabeth Sosnow explains how to prevent social media mishaps in the June issue of Public Relations Tactics.