One of the most exciting but unnerving things about doing PR now, as opposed to 20 years ago, is the incredible variety of new channels that emerge. First, we got comfortable with blogs, and then Twitter showed up. After that, Facebook opened up to everyone after having only been for those with .edu email addresses. Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope…there are now so many different social platforms most companies don’t even try to market or do PR through all of them (and for most, this is a wise decision).
That said, if you don’t pay attention to emerging platforms, you might miss one that is more suited for your target audience—even if they aren’t there yet. So is it worth your time to investigate new technology and platforms? You bet it is.
How to find the (maybe) next big thing
For the most part, you’ll come across a new social platform one of two ways: you’ll read about it, or a friend or relative (or more likely, a friend’s or relative’s offspring) will be using it. As far as what to read, pay attention to the large publications that tend to break tech stories to the mainstream—I recommend TechCrunch, Business Insider, and the Wall Street Journal, for starters. Advertising and marketing publications like AdWeek are also good. While it’s likely that niche industry publications (especially tech) will carry stories earlier, these are the publications that will let you know when an app or a platform is about to go mainstream. Follow tech bloggers on Twitter, and read as much as you have time for–you’ll get a strong sense of where the new ideas are emerging.
Once you find a new platform that might be a good match for your clients, do a little research to see who is using it and how. It’s hard to predict where a social platform will grow, and to whom it will seem most useful. When Twitter first debuted, there were a fair number of blog posts written about its lack of practical utility. Now, we have Wolf Blitzer asking people to follow him on Twitter, and it’s (for better or worse) a major factor in this year’s presidential race. While you cannot predict the path of a social channel, you can usually observe how people are using it. As a communicator, try and be creative in thinking about how a platform might expand.
This research will go a long way, even if you decide a new platform isn’t right for your clients. You’ll be able to explain why it might not be the right channel for them if they ask about the “something new” they just heard or read about.
When you don’t know how a platform will end up being used by your target audience, trying to determine how to measure it might be even more of a challenge. But, if you’ve done the research homework, you’ll be ahead of the game in thinking about how the platform is being used—and how it might be measured.
By examining what business objectives are being addressed when proposing to use a new platform, you’ll know what to measure. And because many are depending on advertising to generate revenue on channels that are free to users, they are building in metrics and reporting features. Between understanding the business goal and looking at what built-in metrics are provided, you’ll be better able to target your measurement. This is good news for PR practitioners who want to experiment with the ever-changing suite of social channels in their communications programs.