By Jennifer Goddard Combs

It once seemed that social media and its influencers would be the answer to every company’s prayers. No longer dependent on traditional forms of advertising, or held hostage to media gatekeepers, it seemed the playing field was at last leveled, especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Think Santa Barbara, Ventura County, Los Angeles, the United States and overseas.

Anyone could play.

The problem is, everyone did begin to play and the result was it became harder – not easier – to get noticed. Today, it can feel frantic trying to be everywhere – TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, and yes, still, Facebook – and exhausting, especially when what you really want to be doing is perfecting your product or making sure you’re delivering that excellent service.

That’s why a well thought out, carefully crafted public relations strategy is essential. It’s about telling your story in ways that capture the attention of journalists, podcasters, trade magazines, tourism officials and others. It’s about getting that person to stop scrolling and want to learn more.

Here are some other reasons why investing in a strategic communications plan – especially now, when inflation is causing consumers to think harder about what they spend their money on – should be a priority, and how it can help any small business or start-up thrive.

Brand cultivation. Whether you’re a law office, estate planning firm, bank or app developer, people want to feel connected. They want to know how you’re different; what you are doing that the place across the street isn’t; and, perhaps most importantly, why they should trust you. Show them. Be generous in celebrating competitors, establish yourself as an expert in the field, be transparent about the small but important things you do daily to deliver the highest excellence.

It lets you tell your own origin story. Today’s consumers spend time looking at the history, mission and vision of a company. They want to know: What does your organization stand for? What role are you seeking to fill in the world and how does what you do accomplish that? Figuring out the best ways to tell that story is a must for any comprehensive publicity plan.

Use it to lift people up. No matter how good your product or service, it is your people who are driving success. Notice them. Tout their accomplishments. Tell their stories. Celebrate their talents. People connect with other people. They want to know they are supporting a company that treats its workers well.

You’ve got to have a cheerleader. Early in our career, many of us were taught the critical
importance of networking. The problem is, for many of us, talking to strangers is uncomfortable. Publicizing your company can feel that way, and the more personal a business is to you, the harder it may be to be out there bragging about it. That’s where professionals can help. While they’re out touting your achievements, you can turn your attention to what you love most.

You create community. Think back to the early days of the internet, especially social media. At its best, it felt like a vast new world had opened up, full of friends to meet and shared interests to bond over. It still has that power. So harness it! Find people who are in your work spaces and get to know them virtually. Consistent organic social media posts that reinforce the careful brand you’ve developed goes a long way – especially if the posts are authentic. Influencers still occupy a powerful space in social media, it’s true, but even if video isn’t your thing, and you don’t plan on hiring an influencer, you’ve got to be present in social spaces.

It used to be that when budgets got squeezed, communications/marketing/public relations were the first to go. Today, no company would dare roll the dice on a gamble like that – there are too many competitors waiting in the wings. In an increasingly segmented world, a well-designed publicity plan will let you micro-target consumers while you continue to grow or get established or re-introduce yourself to people you haven’t seen in a while.

Public relations isn’t about the hard sell or the prominent ad placement. It’s about giving your brand a voice, telling the stories of the people behind it and not being afraid to put your business (and yourself!) out there. It also forces you to think about the stories you want to tell, who you want to be when you grow up, and what concrete steps it will take to get you there.