PR expert Sarah Evans on social media marketing: “emerging media is about two-way communication”

Sarah Evans Last week, contributor Chris Hall, who blogs on CowBell and is one of the administrators of the Social Marketing Forum and its Facebook page, interviewed Sarah Evans.

Sarah is a public relations and new media consultant, working with many non profit, social good and technology companies.

A self-described “social media freak,” Sarah initiated and moderates #journchat, the weekly live chat between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers on Twitter.

She is also a guest writer for Mashable and runs her own blog at Finally, she shares a daily resource for PR professionals called Commentz.

A busy bee, if you ask me. Below you can read the full interview.

1. At what point did you decide the career path you’ve chosen and what drew you to it?

I was drawn to public relations ultimately because I liked connecting people. I can trace my draw to the profession back to when I was a two-year-old planning tea parties.

There’s something fulfilling to me about connecting people through a meaningful experience and even better when they talk to others about a positive experience.

Working in public relations has allowed me to create meaningful and memorable experiences, connect with people and get great results.

2. What excites you most about the growth of social media?

Social media allows us to break boundaries.

There aren’t any spatial constraints where you find yourself talking with the same five people every day.

You can diversify your base to include different nationalities or even famous celebrities.

3. Why do you think that so many businesses are fearful or are struggling to come to terms with the social media world?

Many businesses fear social media simply because they can’t control it and the fear of the unknown is overwhelming.

Emerging media is about two-way communication
; it’s not just another advertising alternative or push marketing tactic. Businesses can’t just sign up for a Facebook or Twitter account, post items/status updates and talk “at” their audiences.

They have to listen, learn how to engage their audience and become part of their conversations…that is if they think that’s a valuable and viable communications tactic.

4. You’ve commented on social media a lot and are seen as an authority on this ‘revolution’. What one piece of advice would you give a start-up (individual and company/organization)?

Don’t over think it. This is another tool and another way to engage.

It’s new and exciting but shouldn’t dominate or diminish your entire marketing and communications plan. Social media tools jump out of the woodwork every day, and for a start-up, it can be overwhelming.

Focus your efforts on one or two tools, learn from your experience/mistakes and expand from there.

P.S. CREATIVITY matters.

5. How much time do you feel a company (or outsourced help) should devote towards social media (per day/week)?

You can’t really put a time limit on social media.

I’ve read several recommendations on time management and do have a favorite share developed by Museum 2.0:

1-5 Hours per Week = Participant; 5-10 Hours per Week = Content Provider (blog, podcast); 10-20 Hours per Week = Community Director.

(NOTE: take this with a grain of salt)

There are also tools to help you manage online time and syndicate content (like across multiple platforms.

A company needs to at least monitor the web to see where their name/product/brand is used and what kind of reception it’s receiving.

So why monitor? Just look at the lesson Domino’s learned. Monitoring the Internet keeps you in the know, helps you gauge customer sentiment and gives you a leg up on preparing/responding to online crisis before it blows up.

You can also check out my blog post titled “What’s your social network routine?” for more tips on coordinating your social media routine.

6. Why do you feel Marketing departments are slow to adopt new online techniques, particularly traditional PR companies who seem to be slow-adopters to change?

It all comes down to strategy. Many marketing and PR companies, even those who are adept at navigating social media, have said that social media is not always appropriate for every client.

It takes a different skill set to navigate social media. With traditional public relations, you’re connecting with target audiences through an established third-party (the media), whereas in social media, you have the opportunity to communicate directly with your customers.

7. If a colleague (or client) was going to sum you up in 5 words what do you think they would say?

PR and social media freak!

8. What’s your vision for marketing/communications, on and offline for 2010 and onwards?

Continuing to build and maintain meaningful relationships.

9. How should we be measuring success in this ’social’ world?

Measure your success by QUALITY of your relationships, not the quantity.

10. What’s your definition of social media?

“Social media”: the place for risk and new ideas.

11. Do you feel social media is just another bow in the armoury of ‘marketing and communications’ just like PR, advertising etc?

Arguably, some of the strongest campaigns integrate public relations, marketing, social media and advertising efforts to support a set objective.

However, social media is not always about strategy, it’s about building mutually beneficial relationships where both parties can learn from each other. #Journchat, for example, allows journalists, bloggers and public relations practitioners to interact on a microblogging platform by sharing best practices, discussing current issues and building industry connections.

12. Can social media work for business to business?

Absolutely. I’ve worked with many B2B clients and have seen the most success with those who created their own, private social network for the audience.

B2B works but takes a different, more targeted approach.

13. Do you think the standard of content is high across the social networks (with your PR head and generally speaking)?

In my experience, quality content is key to creating credibility and loyalty among your followers.

Those who produce quality content are more influential and are able to create change. Those who don’t are usually called out by their peers or ignored all together.

Even more important than content? Backing up what you say. It’s easy (relative) to produce content and anyone can spout expert tips and social media revelations.

I want to see people who have real examples, who are doing the work and can share success stories.

14. What’s your typical working day?

My typical day is anything but typical…which is why I love it. Since starting my company, each day is an adventure where cool opportunities evolve.

From reviewing not-yet-released movies and books to getting booked for a web show to talking about the Oscar Red Carpet to travelling nationally —I’m having a lot of fun doing work I love. Not to mention I get to work with great clients and grow Sevans Strategy.

You can follow Sarah on twitter at @PRSarahEvans.

And of course you can also follow Chris on Twitter and on his blog.

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