Social media as an accepted stand-alone public relations practice remains just a few years old, but for some reason I still find it easy to think that there is little new under the sun.
After all, if we break apart social media into their functional pieces the actual act of sharing information today is not much different from it was when the young PR industry was ruled by guys who walked newspaper newsrooms drumming up interest in their clients’ news.
Ultimately, we have a story to share and we’re trying to deliver it to our target audiences as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The tool might as well be a crescent wrench it if it fits the overall strategy and does the job of telling the story.
As for the specific tools, I have been hard on Linkedin, considering it a business-to-business channel with little to offer transportation agencies mostly interested in on-the-spot operational messages or long-form public involvement conversations. Yet, a new report published this month made me stop and ask myself whether I was really as smart as I think I am.
The 22-page Investis IQ Audience Insight Report starts off routinely enough. By tracking web site analytics for roughly 60 corporate web sites, Investis reports that mobile devices are driving up traffic to corporate web sites. Seems reasonable. Visits to corporate web sites from mobile devices is up 400 percent in just two years. Yup, that makes sense, too.
Fast forward a few pages and this gem jumps out, completely unexpected. Linkedin is the biggest source of traffic from social media sites to corporate web sites. Really? More than Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest? What about Vine or Instagram, or even YouTube and Flickr?
Linkedin? It seems so. And, that to me is something new. Perhaps I just lumped Linkedin into the “social media my parents understand” category and forgot about it? Perhaps I assumed that special topical “groups” that form in Linkedin were like most good ideas — great on paper, but not really active or helpful. But whatever the reason, I wrote off Linkedin years ago as a viable social media tool for transportation outreach.
And, I’m not alone. According to the 2013 AASHTO State DOT Social Media Survey, just 16 percent of state departments of transportation use Linkedin for social media outreach. In 2009, the AASHTO survey found that 45 percent of state departments of transportation used Linkedin.
So what gives? I can think of a couple of reasons why Linkedin might be driving traffic to corporate sites. First, Linkedin has dramatically changed its design and features since it rolled out in 2003. It is more than just a resume-sharing and job-seeking service. Linkedin members can share updates like those found on Twitter and Facebook, as well as interesting articles or reports or other business-related information. And, those special interest groups I mentioned? They are much more active than I previously thought.
For the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (my employer), Linkedin is a growing and dynamic outreach channel. There are more than 9,300 participants in the AASHTO Linkedin group and regular, rich conversations about industry news and topics. Meanwhile, AASHTO has about 7,300 Twitter followers, and just 600 followers on Google Plus.
Even more, AASHTO did not originally establish the Linkedin group. It was started by a group of interested engineers who wanted to share information and industry news. As a public relations professional, I know that an organically grown engagement of the kind we’ve seen on Linkedin is worth giving more attention.
Linkedin is not the perfect tool for every situation. It might not even be the right tool for your project or program. But based on the simple logic that Linkedin boasts 259 million registered users worldwide and more than 84 million in the United states, it just might be worth taking a fresh look at your own Linkedin strategy, or consider developing one for the first time.