Social media makes it easy to reach and connect with your audience, but are you engaging them effectively?
Cheryl Byrne, a communications consultant in Marblehead, MA, says listening to your audience is one the most important things for a brand to do. Cheryl also works with Rick Miller Communications in Cincinnati.
In this interview, Cheryl discusses the keys to maintaining your brand reputation, the challenges social media presents and how to keep your audience engaged.
How did you get your start in PR?
I was between jobs and taking an advertising and public relations certificate course at Northeastern University in the evenings, when I found a job listing with the City of Boston.
They called it program marketing; essentially it was public relations and communications. It was a perfect fit for me, combining my love of politics with writing, which I found to be one of my strongest skills.
Have you ever had to deal with a major brand crisis? How did you handle it?
After the birth of my first child, I wanted to get back to work, having moved from Washington, DC to Massachusetts. I contacted an agency and had a few productive conversations, but did not hear from them for months.
Then, out of the blue, the agency principal called and said he had a friend on the board of directors of a company whose CEO had been “caught cooking the books.” He asked if I would talk to the board and help them. I started working for them the day the news became a front page local story and a national business story.
On that first day, my goal was simple: to reassure the investing world that the investigation was underway, and that despite the allegations of inflated sales leading to inflated stock price, there was still a real company, with real people working there, making a real product.
On my first day, I did an intensive media training with the company’s treasurer and legal counsel, and put him on CNBC live that evening. The company survived, and I worked with them for more than a year, and then managed media relations for the company during the trials of the former CEO and CFO.
What are the keys to maintaining a positive brand reputation?
First, you have to have a good product. Second, you have to listen. Third, you have to be engaged, and engaged appropriately.
I work a lot in the food and beverage industry, and there was a recent recall crisis where consumers were desperate for information and the company responded by offering coupons for a free product. They appeared tone deaf. To their credit, they figured it out pretty quickly and managed to salvage both their reputation and customer loyalty.
What do you think is the biggest communication challenge facing brands today?
I think that the fragmentation of platforms and social media and search algorithms that work against brands are the biggest challenges.
People get their information from such compartmentalized, niche arenas now. And it is so hard to maintain a strong and consistent social media presence without dedicating a lot of budget dollars because of the constantly changing algorithms. I understand why they are necessary and still wish they were more forgiving to brands and businesses.
How has social media transformed PR?
Social media has both made PR easier and significantly more difficult. I advise clients all the time that it is possible to have a social media presence that is authentic and engaged without devoting too much time and money, and that listening is probably the most important activity in which to engage. Determining where to focus, how to focus and keeping your customers interested with fresh and informative content is always a challenge.
What is one thing most brands aren’t doing but should?
I do not have much criticism for brands today. I follow a lot on social media and think that most are doing just what they should be to engage with their consumers.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
The most important thing I have learned in my career is to trust my instincts. And I would urge anyone entering the field to do the same. If it feels wrong, it is. Don’t work on issues or brands that you do not feel strongly about.
You cannot do a good job for yourself or for anyone else unless you love what you are doing and who you are doing it for.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My hobbies outside of work include…I love to read, knit and sail. I live in a beautiful town on the ocean where sailing is sort of a prerequisite. I have grown to love it.
2. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…Mr. Smith. He was my 90-year-old next-door neighbor and I loved him as if he were my own grandfather. I wish I had another opportunity to just sit and visit with him.
3. My favorite social media platform is…I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Twitter is so valuable for learning about breaking news and for following journalists. I personally enjoy Facebook to stay in touch and reconnect with old friends. Professionally, I find it frustrating that they have made it so difficult for brands to connect with consumers unless they pay for it.
4. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I was a competitive figure skater for most of my young life. I love to skate and dream about jumping and spinning like I did 40 years (and almost as many pounds) ago.
5. My biggest pet peeve is…I have very little tolerance for bad grammar. Your, you’re, their, they’re, there. It’s just not that hard, people!
6. I laugh most at…my husband, much to the chagrin of my children. I find him to be the funniest human being on earth, and my children find it embarrassing that I laugh at really everything he says, even his “Dad Jokes.”