Social media is not just about having a bunch of Facebook friends or Twitter followers, according to Benson Hendrix, public relations specialist, University Communication and Marketing and adjunct instructor in Communication & Journalism. Effective use of social media requires developing a plan and defining an online identity for an individual or an organization.
Although he didn’t consider himself “tech savvy” in college, he saw early on the ways in which technology could help people communicate better. “I’ve been blogging for a long time. I’ve explored it like an artist uses a palette. I create content, tear it down, look at the white canvas and reinvent it,” he said.
Early on, he blogged about politics and rugby and maintains a rugby blog today. “Now, though, I look more at the business behind social media – how it impacts organizations. I explore ways to use social media to build a following,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix offers a cautionary tale. “It’s important for people to think before posting about their professional life in a public forum. Making negative statements can have both immediate and long-term consequences. The ‘permanent record’ they threatened us with as school kids maybe didn’t exist, but it’s hard to scrub an online comment.”
In his online course, Topics in Social Media (C&J 393), he teaches his students to become social media strategists. “Today, brands need to be humanized. People want to know who is on the other side of the computer screen. I want students to become comfortable in the use of social media beyond hanging out on Facebook or Tumblr. A lot more goes into social media than posting a cute meme. It’s a matter of using social media tools to further an organization’s goals,” Hendrix said.
That goal could be awareness of an issue, to garner votes in an election or sell a product. “Then, one has to identify the target audience. What is your demographic? What else would they be interested in?” he said.
Deciding how to approach the audience depends upon the organization and its audience. “If you’re raising awareness of abandoned animals, you might post videos and pictures of animals and write about responsible pet ownership,” he said.
“People are bombarded by messages, so to be effective, one must cut through the noise and tell the story in a compelling way,” Hendrix said. “Good storytelling is the foundation. I tell students to be originally creative. Look at the way photojournalist Pete Souza shares behind the scenes photos of President Obama. Those images tell a compelling story.”
And, he said, “An organization’s image needs to be holistic across platforms.” Independent online journalists are becoming aligned with media outlets. Matthew Reichbach, who operates the website “New Mexico Telegram: New Mexico politics from a local perspective,” also works with the Santa Fe Reporter, he said. “He fundraises to cover the state legislature.”
Twitter, Hendrix said, used to be more conversational. “Now, many people use it to share content. It is a good forum for defining an online presence and establishing a strong digital footprint,” he said.
Tumblr is a good platform to share artistic work. “Featuring someone’s drawing, painting or video is a good way to engage a fan base,” he said. Hendrix notes that the UNM Student Union Building has a good Tumblr presence evident through its daily posting of campus images.
Pinterest is rife with potential copyright issues since people share proprietary images. “In a rush to adopt new platforms, the intellectual property conversations haven’t been fully addressed yet,” he said. Hendrix added that shared memes are also someone’s original work and some copyright lawyers are coming to the conclusion that use of them is a copyright violation.
He adds, “Be mindful of how you portray yourself online. Without that perspective, you’re just amplifying your personality – good or bad.” Hendrix notes the misstep of Justine Sacco, the public relations employee who made an inappropriate comment on Twitter. “She was then on a long flight and unable to respond to the comments that were trending on the topic. She lost her job over it,” he said. “The social media mob gets upset at screw ups, but if you can get through that initial rage by responding properly, the mob will move on.”
Hendrix is looking around the corner to what’s coming next. “Companies will likely outsource social media, as they do with advertising and public relations. They will need someone who understands the climate of the organization and who is willing to take risks. They will need to be creative with visuals, engage in real-time marketing and incorporate communication to engage audiences creatively.”