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There are many public relations benefits that come along with the various social media platforms, but business owners need to be careful when it comes to managing them. — Getty Images/Chainarong Prasertthai

Before Facebook, when a company had an announcement, it would hold a press conference, write an announcement to a local newspaper or hire a spokesperson to go on the local news. The advent of Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat makes it easy to share news at the touch of a button, which begs the question: Has social media replaced traditional public relations?

In reality, social media is a tool for PR professionals, replacing the press release and press briefing as a way to spread information to a wider audience. The practice of public relations has evolved to embrace social media strategy, influencer marketing and crisis management. Here’s how social media has changed public relations.

Where social media and public relations align

Public relations (PR) is a business practice aimed at building and maintaining a company’s positive reputation. It involves proactively managing communication with investors, the media, customers and a wider audience to establish trust and build brand loyalty. Most PR activity at small businesses revolves around announcing new offerings; crisis management or mitigating reputation damage; and/or reacting to industry changes or local policies that may impact the business.

[Read more: A Complete Business Guide to Public Relations]

Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, are marketing tools that can be utilized to achieve the same goals as a PR campaign. Small business owners can use social media to achieve specific PR outcomes, including:

  • Finding influencers. When an influencer promotes your venture, your business benefits from the type of trusted recommendation a press release simply can’t achieve.
  • Influencing the media. “When a trending topic arises, journalists often put their ear to social media to see what people are saying,” writes one expert. Keep your angle front and center by speaking to journalists informally on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Managing a crisis. If something goes wrong, react swiftly by reaching your social media audience — your platforms give you a fast, reliable way to speak directly to your followers and avoid the spread of misinformation.
  • Making an announcement. Social media offers immediate access to a large, attentive audience who is already interested in your brand.

Social media can be a PR liability if you’re not careful.

Managing public relations on social media

Social media can be a PR liability if you’re not careful. “Failure of PR pros to monitor social media for brand mentions and have a plan in place for responding to customer feedback (both good and bad) could mean a missed opportunity at best ... or a full-scale crisis at worst,” writes Muck Rack.

United Airlines, for instance, found itself in the center of a PR nightmare when a video surfaced on social media of passengers being forcibly removed from a flight. The video went viral and turned into a full-blown crisis due to a series of PR missteps from the company.

[Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Use Social Media to Promote Your Business]

How each social media platform can further your PR efforts

There is a time and a place for each social media channel to be leveraged in your PR strategy. Here’s how to best use each individual platform:

  • Facebook: Use groups, mentions, CTA buttons for donations, instant messaging and other Facebook tools integrated into your page to keep an open conversation with your followers.
  • Twitter: Best for quick messaging, updates, promotions and providing customer service via direct messaging.
  • LinkedIn: Best to promote your industry expertise, connect with individuals and announce company news relevant to others in your industry.
  • Instagram: Ideal for promoting events, finding influencers and sharing worthy causes or raising awareness about what’s happening in your store and the community.

The bottom line is this: Social media and PR are nearly inseparable. In a world where 70% of wealthy investors have changed their relationship with financial partners over something on social media, it’s important for your PR and social media efforts to support one another.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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