Social Media Done Right: Public Relations for Small Business
Lee Weinstein owns and operates Weinstein PR, a boutique public relations and marketing agency for companies, public institutions and nonprofits in Oregon. The 57-year-old is involved in every aspect of his firm’s work — from business development to working with clients. “I lead our team of people working with us, and love being involved on the development of creative strategies for our clients,” said Weinstein.
Prior to his work in public relations, Weinstein majored in political science in college and thought he’d run for public office. “My first job out of college was for then-U.S. Congressman Ron Wyden. During that time, I really came to appreciate how much communications was involved in being an elected official,” said Weinstein. “One thing led to another and I ended up…working for a gubernatorial candidate and getting involved in his press operations, which evolved into my working in PR for the past 30 years. It’s been a fascinating profession and truly a mix between what work and life is in politics and what one does as a PR practitioner, which is about establishing favorable relationships with the public.”
Weinstein’s firm just won the “Outstanding Oregon PR Initiative Award” at Travel Oregon’s 2016 Travel & Tourism Industry Achievement Awards. They were recognized for their work on the Historic Columbia River Highway Centennial Celebration in 2016. The firm was involved in every step of the historic event, from providing strategic counsel and coordination, a communications plan, and key messages and speeches, to social media support and stakeholder outreach.
An aspect of client relationships that Weinstein works on that doesn’t get a lot of awards and media attention is “crisis management.” The importance of crisis management as a business factor has increased with the rise of the Internet and social media. Weinstein’s firm helps out a client in a crisis, “just about every week.”
One of the benefits of social media is being able to share your thoughts and opinions on a platform that will be seen by others. But you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t posted something on their Facebook or Twitter accounts that one of their “friends” or “followers” does not agree with.
Nevertheless, Weinstein believes every business should have some sort of social media presence. Social media is an important aspect of public relations for small businesses.
“Social media should be a part of every organization’s communications strategy,” says Weinstein. “Every small business should have a LinkedIn Profile. Most should have a Facebook and Instagram account. You need to determine what your goals are, who your audience is, and what your strategy is going to be.”
Another key factor are employees, something that small businesses don’t always account for when considering how social media can be leveraged as a part of public relations for small businesses. “How your employees engage in and support your social media should be considered as well,” said Weinstein. “They can be excellent ambassadors.”
When advising his clients on best practices for social media, Weinstein begins with a few basics that separate the personal from the professional.
“You, the individual, are not the company. Your behavior as an individual — and that of your employees — can positively or negatively affect your company’s reputation. Everything you do today is potentially on the record and could reflect back.”
This is where the need for crisis management arises.
Your personal opinion is not necessarily the company’s. People will be judging your company based on your comments in social media, both your own personal social media and your company. Be thoughtful and careful.
Weinstein suggests having a protocol for what your company will post about on social media. Determine what your tone and voice will be, and how it will feed your brand. You can properly evaluate your social media posts based on this protocol.
What about those business owners—and employees—that are passionate about politics and pop culture, and everything in between? Should they be required to stay silent in order to satisfy the needs of their customers?
Weinstein advises the exact opposite: “We always want people to share their thoughts, and get a diversity of minds in the room for that discussion.”
This changes a bit when it comes to the Internet. “On social media, there is a separation between you, the owner, and the company as a business.” Business owners should think of their company as a completely separate entity from where they work. “What your company says, and how it says it, is the corporate entity’s voice. Your voice is different and your opinions may be different.”
Weinstein cites those CEOs who make political donations to a particular candidate or cause, and then watch as it gets reported (and shared on the Internet), which can negatively or positively impact their company. Every business person should be thoughtful and consider the upsides and downsides of their actions.
For those who believe they have been misrepresented, or their words have been taken out of their intended context, Weinstein says: “Oftentimes at that point it’s too late,” said Weinstein. “If the story is already online, it’s too late to change that first impression — it can take years to undo a misstep.”
Weinstein says businesses can prepare for this scenario. Businesses should think through every scenario. Your words and actions matter. His firm likes to think through every negative question that might be asked, including the really scary ones. The best companies today have a PR person in the room when high-level decisions are being made.
This applies to small businesses too, because they can also find themselves on the wrong end of an argument.
“It can be hard for the individual small business owner to assess issues and figure out how not get personally involved,” said Weinstein. He advises stepping back and assessing what’s happened. Figure out who your critics and adversaries are. What’s driving them? Sometimes an issue may play out in a day. Sometimes it can drag on for weeks or longer. The right people need to come together with a communications professional in the room to develop a strategy, and then monitor it as it is implemented.
As tricky as it is to navigate, there is great potential for the ways that social media can act as a form of public relations for small businesses, and it should be considered by any small business as part of their communications strategy.
“There is a new model of communications today that involves paid media (advertising), earned media (media relations), social media and owned media (your website, blog eNewsletter, etc.). Using all of these levers can help you engage with your consumers, and ultimately drive your business goals,” said Weinstein.