by Casey Weinfurtner 

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It’s no secret – social media has changed the way we’ve learned to engage with our audience. For PR Newswire, an authoritative source of news and information for leading global media organizations, their every day engagement in opportunities everywhere has widely expanded across social media platforms (PR Newswire). As a previous PR Newswire intern, I’ve been fascinated with their audience/industry engagement and loved my experience learning to understand their best practices up close. I’ve had the opportunity to correspond with Amanda Hicken, a media relations manager at PR Newswire, and gather her professional insights on the role social media plays for not just PR Newswire, but any company including social media into their marketing strategies.

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Casey Weinfurtner: Why do you think social media is important to building consumer engagement?

Amanda Hicken: Consumer engagement is all about gaining your audience’s trust and building a relationship with them. There are three aspects to social media that I feel make it an ideal engagement platform:

It’s convenient, immediate, and personal.

For many consumers, tweeting a concern or posting a question to a brand’s Facebook page is much more convenient than picking up the phone or tracking down their email address. The best brands are listening and promptly replying to their audience. There’s also more transparency to social media. When someone tweets you publicly with a concern, how you respond can show other members of your audience how well (or poorly) you treat consumers. That means no automated responses to feedback! You need a real person there, who can be a friendly, helpful voice for your brand.

CW: What do you think will be the biggest social media trend for businesses in 2015?

AH: The trend I’m most excited by is how brands respond to shrinking organic reach. Between Facebook’s continued emphasis on paid reach and the ever-growing amount of content competing for attention, it’s definitely a challenge to get your stuff seen by your audience. For some, paid amplification of content will be the answer. Social advertising is becoming a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Understanding how to target, optimize and test your advertising is becoming more and more important.

I feel that it’s also worth a brand’s time to explore newer niche networks. Search out interest-based social networks for your industry. If they seem active and welcoming to a brand’s presence, join and engage with their users. However, make sure you do your homework. Look around the network and see what sort of community guidelines they have. For instance, if they are against commercial messaging, don’t post about your latest product.

CW: What are some of the biggest social media mistakes a company can make for their brand?

AH: It’s important to keep an eye on social media trends and read up on the latest tools and best practices. However, the biggest mistake an organization can make is becoming obsessed with them. Social media is not one size fits all, and the “latest, greatest” social media tips aren’t always going to work for your audience. Keep an eye on new things and what may be working for other brands. Try them if you think they may work for you. But, move on if they don’t resonate with your audience. Your time is valuable and you want to spend it on strategies and tactics that do work

CW: What advice would you have for a company trying to build an audience on social media with little to none previous social media presence? How do they work towards sustaining that new audience?

AH: Treat your audience – no matter how small it is – like they are the most important people on social media. Engage with them, try out different things, and pay attention to how they engage with you. Focus less on trying to get them to buy your product and more on sharing content and posting things that are helpful and interesting. And don’t buy followers!

CW: How does the way you engage with your audience vary between the following platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

AH: While we may share the same piece of content on both Facebook and Twitter, how we do it differs.  On Twitter, you may see a piece of content shared multiple times because Twitter is more “in the moment” and you can catch a different audience for your content at different times of day.  In addition to PR Newswire’s company and department Twitter accounts, we are also engaging with audiences through a network of accounts focused on different types of interests and topics. This is in contrast to our Facebook presence, which currently focuses solely on communications and publishing.

Twitter and Facebook give us a platform to showcase content and engage with our audience around that. We’re looking at Instagram as a way to go behind the scenes at our offices. For instance, volunteerism and philanthropy are incredibly important to our employees so it’s something we’ve been sharing more of on Instagram.

CW: What is one piece of advice you would give to a budding social media specialist?

AH: Audience research and analytics are your best friend. It’s easy to get stuck on what you personally enjoy using, but remember that members of your target audience may gravitate towards different platforms. They may also digest information differently than you — some may prefer text, others images, video or even audio.

Stay up-to-date on new platforms and changes in established channels. Research what platforms are effective for B2C versus B2B, etc. Hone your writing skills, but also learn how to produce images, video, and audio. There are so many tools out there that can help you with this. I recently put together two lists on image creation tools and mobile apps for publishers – a lot of great stuff to try! And then pay attention to which social media posts resonate and don’t resonate with your audience. Always be prepared to modify your strategy to give your audience what they want and need.

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 Amanda Hicken’s valuable insights ultimately come down to one big idea: no matter how you choose to engage, using social media for your company or brand should work towards relationship building with your audience. For aspiring social media specialists, finding ways to sustain a trustworthy brand and maintaining consistent engagement are key elements to building that audience. If it takes doing a little research to capture your audience’s attention first, then do the research. Take it from Amanda – using the right strategies to share your content will lead to success.

Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager at PR Newswire, working with journalists, bloggers and other content creators on PR Newswire for Journalists.  You can find her blogging at Beyond Bylines and tweeting at @PRNewswire, @BeyondBylines, @ADHicken.