social media marketingI'm probably not going to make friends in the public relations or journalism communities with this article, but here goes. I recently attended an event titled "Meet The Press" in which 5 local business journalists shared their thoughts on how businesses should approach them in order to get press coverage. I was struck by the journalists' imperious attitude.  They covered things like how to email them, how often you need to follow up with them and generally how you can kiss their rings to potentially get press coverage. At a certain point, I heard Charlie Brown's mother's voice, but instead of "whah, whah, whah" I was hearing "me, me, me, me." What these journalists don't seem to realize is that they are being disrupted. Let me explain.

Americans don't trust journalists.

A September 2011 poll conducted by Gallup found that 55% of Americans have little or no trust in journalists. I posed a question at the event to the journalists about how this fact would change the way they do their jobs. All five journalists had basically the same response: that lack of trust is towards the mainstream media, not them. The second part of my question had to do with how social media and the ability for thought leaders to self-publish would change their jobs. As an example, I said that I would rather read Rand Fishkin talk about SEO than a journalist. None of the 5 journalists knew who Rand Fishkin was. With all due respect, if you're a business journalist in 2013, you should know who Rand Fishkin is.

Business journalists rarely write about SMB companies.

When the journalists gave example of stories and work that they have done, they invariably pointed to Fortune 100 companies. I run a small business and the only way any of these journalists would ever write about me would be if I commited a heinous crime or was involved in a salacious scandal. If you're a small or mid-sized business trying to position yourself as a thought leader, why waste time trying to get traditional media coverage? You're far better off writing relevant, provocative articles targeted to your ideal customer and promoting them through social media. Even better, work on getting an industry thought leader or a satisfied customer to share your content through their social media channels.

It's difficult/impossible to measure the results of traditional media coverage.

One of the best things about inbound marketing and social media marketing is that you can measure everything. I use HubSpot's all-in-one internet marketing software and I know how many leads and customers I get from LinkedIn, how many from organic search results, etc. Can any PR people share with me how they connect real business results to media coverage? By promoting your own content through social media and inbound marketing, you can narrowcast your content to your ideal customer - those that are most likely to buy what you sell and become profitable customers.

You can control your message with social media marketing.

Earning a reputation as a thought leader in your industry isn't easy. Even if you have a wealth of experience and knowledge about your industry, you have to be able to communicate your thoughts in a way that resonates with your target audience. You also need to regularly produce content, most likely in the form of blog articles. Have you ever gone to a company blog to find that the last blog article was written 3 years ago? Would you think of that company as a thought leader? If you want to be perceived as a thought leader, you need to regularly produce blog articles that interest your target audience. We recommend that you blog no less frequently than weekly.

Social media can provide social proof.

Social proof is the concept that people are more likely to take action when they see others taking the same action. The classic example of social proof: There are 2 ice cream parlors on the same block. One has a line coming out the front door, the other is totally empty. Most people would choose the crowded ice cream parlor. The long line is social proof that they have better ice cream.

With respect to social media and traditional media, which of the following scenarios do you think carries more weight?:

  1. A journalist (in whom 55% of Americans have little or no trust) writes about your company.
  2. A satisfied customer shares his success story with your company on social media.

I would choose the second any day of the week.

Summary

Social media and the technology that drives it is disrupting traditional media. Yet traditional media haven't really changed the way they do business. For SMB companies, you're far better off investing time and resources in social media marketing than in traditional PR. So get started today - start writing about your experiences and how you help your ideal customers solve problems. Promote your content through social media. Seek out thought leaders, customers, partners and vendors to share your content. Most importantly, make sure to reciprocate the favors they do for you. The game is changing and the power is in our hands.