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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brand Lessons Learned from PR Sarah Evans

One year ago, PR Sarah Evans worked as Communications Director for a Chicago-based community college. During that time, she was abuzz on Twitter with the handle “@prsarahevans” building relationships with thought leaders and celebrities most people would only dream of having in their Twitter stream. Within the same year, Evans became a guest writer for top social media blog Mashable and founded #journchat, a Twitter-based chat for public relations professionals and journalists that is now the buzz of CNN and Fox. In 2010, Evans made two big announcements – she was featured in Vanity Fair as one of “America’s Tweethearts”, and had started her own new media consultancy Sevans Strategy that apparently boasts a six-figure client roster, according to Entrepreneur’s “10 Hot Startups.”

This now 29-year old PR/Social Media/Twitter rock star is quite frankly the most remarkable brand case study to come out of social media. Can it be that social media has afforded us limitless opportunities comparable to Evans’ if we only work hard at engagement? PR Sarah Evans has done what we all aspire to do using social networks: branding ourselves as a reliable resource. Implicit in this aim is a focus on trust as well as availability. So much trust that you’re exchanging tweets and e-mails with social/PR celebs Gary Vaynerchuk and Peter Shankman. So much availability that when an earthquake hits Chicago at 4 a.m., you take to Twitter and your tweet catches the eye of New York Times reporter Jen Preston – resulting in opportunity after opportunity.

Intrigued by her many successes, I decided to reach out to PR Sarah Evans with some questions on how we, as PR and social media practitioners, can build our brands more effectively. And in PR Sarah Evans fashion, she came through. Here’s what she had to say:

What advice do you have for building a brand online?

With more than 43,773 tweets per minute, developing your brand so that it stands out online is a challenge. Envision a goal, and know what you want to accomplish – whether it’s building a business, establishing yourself as an expert, connecting with peers or meeting bloggers or journalists. Map out your execution and make sure you have the time to dedicate to this project, along with an exit plan. You’ll need to take the time to (1) monitor your brand on a regular basis, (2) manage updates and establish routine/habits to your social media accounts by reading, responding and sharing, (3) find ways to publicize your brand and (4) monitor your results.

What are the biggest misconceptions of social networking or as critics would like to say “social not-working”?

Creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account is not a business strategy. Social media tools can support an overall plan and objective, but they shouldn’t stand on their own.

Moreover, don’t start a Facebook page or a Twitter account and panic when people start posting on your wall or tweeting with you. Social media is SOCIAL, it’s about sharing information and creating meaningful relationships. Social media is not about advertising your brand by pumping out “key messaging.” Instead, have fun and interact with those around you -- treating your peers like human beings, not dollar signs.

Tell me more about the earthquake that resulted in some earth shattering new business opportunities.

I’ve met many milestone achievements using social media. One milestone made earlier this year started with a 4 a.m. earthquake that hit Chicago. A strange occurrence, rather than go back to sleep, I picked up my phone and tweeted about it. Others in the area began responding and sharing information. CNN iReport picked up on the chatter, followed by a phone call from Jen Preston at the New York Times at 5:04 a.m. Ten minutes later, the article went live on the front page of the NY Times website. An hour after that, my cell phone rang AGAIN, and this time it was CNN iReport associate producer Katie Hawkins-Gear, directing people to my iReport article, which was later mentioned on the front page of, resulting in 6,240+ views. This led to five new (and viable) business inquiries in four hours.

What are your biggest pet peeves when people share content online?

My biggest pet peeve? People who aren’t genuine online. This can range from failure to provide full disclosure when tweeting about a client or writing a paid blog post to people claiming to be something they aren’t – a social media “pro” or “guru.”

What social networks, besides Twitter, are great channels for branding oneself?

With every day that passes, social media evolves and new tools emerge. Besides Twitter, other useful branding tools include Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups, tribes, blogs – the possibilities really are endless.

Indeed, the possibilities do seem endless for PR Sarah Evans. And who knows—if we follow suit, we may garner our own successes in social media.

Tim Otis is Supervisor of Social Media/PR for Gabriel deGrood Bendt (GdB). Apart from his work at GdB, he enjoys reading @prsarahevans' tweets and bringing his own ideas and content to the Twitter table.