Time to get schooled on smartphones

Just when you were getting your head wrapped around social media, along comes the mobile web.

What’s a hard-working and under-resourced PR pro to do?

Well, as the creative director of an agency immersed in creating mobile web marketing strategies for clients like Telus and the Vancouver Canucks (let’s not even discuss the playoffs), my advice is to embrace mobile because it will soon be integrated into everything you do, be a vital channel to communicate your client’s or company’s message and reach a large audience.

Public relations firms and professionals that stay ahead of the curve recognize mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are quickly chewing into the online time that used to be spent on desktop and laptop computers.

Smartphones already outsell desktop computers on a unit-by-unit basis and research shows mobile will be our preferred way of accessing the web by 2014. Each one of Canada’s estimated 11 million smartphones users represents a potential customer, constituent or future employee for your client or company.

Yet, despite the increasing importance of mobile, there are questions regarding how PR practitioners can use it. On one hand, mobile is an inherently personal experience that allows you to create connections and relationships. But on the other, messages typically require brevity and intensity and lack narrative that engages users.

Suffice it to say that mobile remains largely untapped by PR and the two are a developing story.

Despite questions about public relations strategies using mobile, I know very few folks in the industry who don’t have a smartphone and/or tablet as a constant companion. However, few use their mobile device to its potential.

One PR guy I know is a typical example. This fellow, let’s call him Mike, uses his iPhone for voice and text communications. He also sends emails, tweets, updates Facebook pages, snaps the odd photo, plays Angry Birds, checks the weather and uses some other convenience apps.

He doesn’t realize how his smartphone and the mobile web can help him do his job at a much deeper level, how it can replace almost all other devices and become his one communications platform. As I explained to Mike: Let’s say your company is faced with a crisis, like a spill, fatality or other calamity. As your firm’s communications manager, your crisis communications plan and smartphone are now your two best friends.

In today’s digital era, news of your crisis becomes public within minutes as bystanders tweet and post photos of the incident on social media platforms. And, as we know, social media users react and rarely research. So your job is to be the first to post about the incident on Twitter, Facebook and any other social media you consider relevant. Links to your company website will provide more details than can be explained in 140 characters.

Your crisis communication plan also requires that a member of senior management, ideally the CEO, be the spokesperson for the incident. Of course you can include the boss’s quotes in a press release, but you can also use your smartphone to shoot video of the CEO providing facts about the incident and communicating your company’s key messages.

If your phone is loaded with video editing software, you can apply the finishing touches to the video and then post it directly to your YouTube channel, website and the press, all while you’re on the go.

Don’t forget to shoot still photos and record audio interviews, also collected and edited with your phone. All that content will be well received by short-staffed traditional news media outlets and bloggers.

In addition, 24-hour news channels are desperate for the video, so feed them with content using your handheld mobile film studio.

Reaction time to a crisis has narrowed from days to minutes, so there’s no opportunity to scoot back to the office or your company’s command centre to make edits on your desktop computer. In today’s hyper-communicative society, once a video clip, photo or text gets out there; social media and traditional media will run your content over and over until the story develops further or until the reporters and cameras finally arrive.

Simply put, mobile works with public relations because it allows you to seize an opportunity anytime and anywhere.

J.P. Holecka is the creative director of POWERSHiFTER (www.powershifter.com), a Vancouver digital marketing agency that serves a diverse list of clients, including the Vancouver Canucks and Telus.