Last Tuesday – more commonly known as Valentine’s Day – Firefly conducted what we believe to have been a first for the industry: social media matchmaking. Teaming up with our friends at PR Moment, we invited fellow PR and comms professionals to participate by tweeting us with “why they love working in PR”, using the hashtag #PRlovematch. Then, as promised, we used the tweets to create ‘PR love matches’ – matchmaking like-minded PR professionals.

This was unchartered territory for Firefly  and for the industry as a whole. While we were confident that long-standing members of our network would support our latest campaign, questions remained as to how many industry people would want to engage. What’s more – how would other agencies feel about engaging with a rival firm?

We were thrilled, therefore, when – slowly but surely – the hashtag began to populate our newsfeeds, gaining momentum as the day progressed. PR professionals of all levels and across a variety of sectors were getting in touch to tell us what they love about their jobs; from networking, to ideas, to “loads of free food”! In the process, we gained lots of new followers including future, potential recruits.

What struck us in particular, was the level of self-disclosure by the participants. One PR from a rival agency wrote that she loved her job for, “the total elation when your target picks up your story crafted with love, blood, sweat and tears and runs with it in a BIG way”; heartfelt words and a touching tribute to our profession. But would this individual have shared her personal motivations so openly had she met with a rival agency employee in person, at an industry networking event, for instance? The likelihood is that she wouldn’t – at least not during the initial encounter.

It’s prompted us to reflect on why people – and not just PRs – are happy to be so forthcoming over social media. In this case, the tweeter in question totally got the ‘just for fun’ spirit of our campaign and, happily, was one of many who did so.  It seems to speak for the online community: increasingly, social media offers a platform through which to communicate with like-minded individuals with few boundaries – competitive or otherwise.

The same can be said for the ways in which people interact with brands on social media channels such as Twitter. If the online interaction between Firefly and its peers from rival agencies was less inhibited than its offline equivalent, the same can be said for the online conversation between a brand and its audience.  In social media, the consumer is more likely to interact with – and therefore develop an experiential versus purely transactional relationship with – a brand.

Knowing how to channel this is important, and it is here that PR comes in. A good digital PR strategy will understand – and make use of – the relationship, encouraging the brand to listen to its audience. Just last week we saw a great example of a brand putting this into practise: on Wednesday, Grazia gave its readers a choice of two covers for its Big Fashion Issue, allowing the magazine to select which cover went to press via a web survey and an online Twitter poll with the hashtag #GraziaGoesLive.

It was a simple concept, but an effective one. By understanding the nuances of on-and-offline conversations, Grazia empowered its audience, encouraged opinion and – just like our Valentine’s campaign – didn’t take itself too seriously.

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