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August 06, 2014

Working Smart

Stepping Out with Social Public Relations

by Joyce Elven

Click here to order the August 2014 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

The Way It (Almost) Wasn’t

Back in 2009, when PartyLite first stepped out with social media, Facebook for business was only a little past “new.” Our Facebook page was opened despite some normal, internal executive skepticism: “We don’t have the people or internal resources for that!” and “That’s just for college kids, isn’t it?”

But we believed that somewhere in the midst of pet photos and personal opinions, we could utilize the user power of sharing what Facebook and other social media inherently possessed. We didn’t want to wait for the internal skepticism to die down before attempting to harness some of that power. As Director of Communication I became the needed internal resource, and with the help of a social media strategist the PartyLite social media program took off. We developed our Facebook page first. Then our YouTube channel. Twitter feed. A blog we named PartyLite Magazine. Pinterest. Instagram. LinkedIn. We wanted to utilize social sharing through every vehicle we could find.

“Perhaps in the same way that someone, one day, somewhere, decided to put chocolate and peanut butter together, we thought, “Oh, social media + public relations.”

In the early days, we measured success with fan counts and click-throughs. We were quite thrilled that, within the first year, the PartyLite Facebook page became the top referring source to We were stoked over our early social media success! But we also knew that our public relations outreach wasn’t as robust as we wanted. It wasn’t exactly on life support because we popped an occasional nitro tablet—in the form of press releases and outreach to editors—to keep the ticker going. However, we decided to merge social media and public relations.

And Then, a Flash of Light

Perhaps in the same way that someone, one day, somewhere, decided to put chocolate and peanut butter together, we thought, “Oh, social media + public relations.” Immediately we created our social public relations program with a fresh way of looking at both disciplines—together! For the last couple of years, our social media strategist, public relations consultant and I have become the closest of colleagues.

To beef up our PR efforts within this new context, we knew that we needed effective web release services in both the United States and in Canada, where we operate a significant business. At first, we hoped to find just one affordable, bilingual service for both countries. Ultimately, we came to understand that finding just one service for both countries was not going to happen.

My strategist persistently pursued conversations with services and helped us zero in on exactly what we needed: separate services for the United States and Canada. Today, we engage all of North America, not just the United States, with our combined efforts.

When we send a web release, we share it across social channels, too. The result is what I call “exponential resonance.” Our efforts have increased traffic to our U.S. and Canadian websites, but one of the best benefits of the combined social media and PR efforts—along with the expanded e-commerce team’s SEO and banner ad efforts—has been that we’ve pushed down some very old negative and/or untrue “stuff” that used to come up in a search. I’m talking “way old” negative stuff. Now, a basic Google search brings up newer, fresher, positive results about PartyLite, like web releases, social channels and other positive information. That is a huge win.

Last fall, we wanted to focus our social public relations on holiday entertaining and how to spruce up a home with candles. Big message, small budget. The solution was a satellite media tour—a dynamic public relations tool with a follow-up social strategy. For less than $20,000, live interview placements on 369 news programs and 275 radio stations garnered an audience of a whopping 10.3 million people—and that’s not even counting the follow-up social reach on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, our PartyLite blog and more! This campaign truly created the exponential resonance we’ve come to expect with our social public relations strategy.

SEO Expands the Reach

With the help of an SEO manager at PartyLite, we’re integrating even more digital expertise into our strategy and are excited to see even greater results ahead. Although we were convinced internally that combining all of these efforts was the right course of action, it was validating to come across a blog post by Jessica Maccio, head of PR for a digital marketing agency.

“PR is moving away from operating in isolation from the digital team to becoming an integrated function that aligns closely with brand, content, social media, and SEO efforts,” Maccio says. “The simple truth is that each and every piece of content that you share and communicate is going to play a greater role in affecting how people in your online audience find and engage with your brand.”

Maccio’s post was one more confirmation that, by integrating PartyLite social public relations with all supporting marketing plans, we are moving in the right direction.

In essence, the medium is not the message. The message is the message.

After All, It’s Still About Relationships

In essence, the medium is not the message. The message is the message. Smart public relations messages travel to their intended audiences faster, sooner, more affordably, more personally and more effectively when we utilize social media. Ultimately, whether it’s a formal press release or a captioned Facebook photo, or a 140-character Tweet, or a new product on Instagram, content remains king.

At the same time that we were redefining the channels for our messaging, PartyLite was redefining its party. What exactly is a party in 2014? Many things! It’s still often a traditional gathering at a host’s home. But it’s also a few people in a restaurant for lunch, or meeting for a drink after work or just a simple online relationship between a customer and a consultant who becomes her or his own personal shopper—even if they’ve never met. It’s not “where” that matters, it’s “what.” And the “what” is, of course, the relationship—which begins when communication about PartyLite makes an impression and grows through ongoing messaging in social media.

The combined efforts of PR and social media work best when we want to reach a large number of key people with a targeted message that also functions as growing public awareness of our brand. For example, we’ve pushed out the following communication through our social media channels and had great response:

  • New fragrances are like fashion items—what’s hot now?
  • Decorating advice—how to create groupings and centerpieces, great ideas for outdoor entertaining, expressing your own personal style, making a big design statement without redecorating.
  • Seasonal gift ideas for holidays, weddings, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, Valentine’s Day.
  • Working for a direct selling company—questions to ask, sources for good information, assessing your earning potential.

Still it is perhaps the personal stories—those times when individuals share their experiences through their own channels and we pick them up and share them—that create the most compelling of all social public relations messaging. Given that we are the ultimate relationship business, this is not surprising.

We are very excited about continuing our combined efforts in social public relations. As new channels and ways to share our brand and products continue to expand, we plan to be in the middle of it all!

Joyce ElvenJoyce Elven is Director of Communication and Social Media at PartyLite North America.