PR professionals use social media every single day to get the word out about clients, to communicate with customers and to respond to questions or problems. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social sites have quickly become important tools in a PR professional’s overall toolkit.

As one PR professional, Jeremy Pepper, told,

“There are so many uses — conversational marketing, reaching influencers — that PR is able to participate in conversations and answer questions, be a support system for clients and companies, as well as empowering customers and power users to be a de facto resource for your company, a champion for your products.”

We’re going to take a look at how PR professionals are using social media to achieve real results when dealing with business-to-business relationships, when representing companies that already have a well-known brand, and in politics. We’ll also look into some of the tools of the trade that PR pros are using to measure the success of their endeavors.

The Role of Social Media in Business-to-Business PR

Pepper considers social media an important part of the public relations toolkit. When I asked him what social media has to offer PR professionals, he said, “Social media is a great tool for public relations people, especially if you align it to both PR goals and figure out what the ROI is for the client or the company.”

As we’ve pointed out when discussing measuring social media ROI, having a goal in mind or a main focus can be very important when using social media for any reason.

Pepper offered some insight into how he uses social media with Palisade Systems, a business-to-business data loss prevention company. For Palisade, the main goal is to increase the company’s name recognition. Because data loss prevention deals with sensitive data and often regulatory compliance (for things like HIPPA/HITECH, FERPA and others), having strong name recognition is important, as a known name can often be equated with trust.

Pepper explained how he goes about reaching his client’s core audience, in this case small and medium-sized enterprises.

“At Palisade, we’ve done a three-pronged approach: traditional PR, traditional analyst relations and social media. We have a Palisade Blog where we write and talk about Data Loss Prevention and various issues for corporations, we are on Twitter, shooting out information, retweeting interesting articles in the space, and participating in conversations [@PalisadeDLP], and, we reach out to security bloggers.”

While I expected Twitter to have limited use in a B2B PR strategy, it turns out it can actually be pretty powerful. By following security experts and industry analysts, Palisade can take part in the conversations happening in the space. Pepper can also track keywords on Twitter and then communicate with CIOs and IT people who are asking questions about DLP and he can then send them case studies or reach out to start a new kind of relationship.

As Pepper said, “It lets the people know that there is another solution besides the large corporations, and lets us have conversations with the analysts beyond the calls.”

Blogging, for instance, is one way the company can share stories beyond just what goes into a press release.

“One recent example is that EPISD (El Paso Independent School District) is a legacy customer of Palisade Systems, and recently signed up for the DLP solution. I interviewed the IT staff for the press release, and got great anecdotes that weren’t really appropriate for the press release. But I was able to tell them in the blog post, and expand on why they continue to use Palisade — because of our support, and our product.”

Social Media Drives Authenticity

Political figures have really embraced social media — the White House has an official presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, plus its own blog-powered website, for example — and more and more local and national representatives from all over the world are taking to the web to connect with their constituents.

Claire McCaskill, the junior U.S. Senator from Missouri, is one politician that has embraced social media in a big way. On Twitter, @clairecmc has nearly 37,000 followers — making her the second-most popular person in Congress, according to The Senator also has a YouTube channel and a Tumblr blog that she uses to share information with her constituents and to respond to questions.

Anamarie Rebori, a spokesperson for Senator McCaskill, told us that the senator actively uses social media. “While it definitely has changed the way she gets the word out, McCaskill has said that if anything, she is glad she has the opportunity to bring a more personal touch to her communications and get outside the Washington bubble,” Rebori said.

Especially for politicians, authenticity is an important part of PR. According to Rebori, McCaskill has been able to utilize social media to communicate authentically. “People seem to respond best to an authentic touch over Twitter, and that’s something that Senator McCaskill has been able to convey in her use of social media,” Rebori said. “It’s really her typing each of those tweets, and people can tell.”

Senator McCaskill makes a point of reading every tweet that is addressed her way — and she also makes a point to respond to others on Twitter, either via @replies or direct messages. However, as the Senator explained in her Tumblr( ) blog, she doesn’t follow anyone.

That’s not because of lack of engagement, it’s because it’s the best way the senator can allocate her resources. Furthermore, the senator has developed a hashtag for Missourians to use so that she can connect with as many of them as possible. If you’re a Missouri resident and you use #MO in a tweet, chances are it will get the senator’s attention.

There are huge possibilities from a PR perspective for politicians who use social media, as Senator McCaskill’s success shows.

Building Brand Loyalty

Pepper also works with computer bag and accessory provider Targus. Because the company is already well-known in its space, the goals for public relations are different than with other brands. “Working with a very well-liked brand, it’s both hard and easy to get conversations going,” Pepper said, who explained that responding to negative feedback is rarely an issue because Targus gets very little.

Instead, the approach for Pepper has been figuring out ways to develop brand loyalty and turn customers into fans. One method that has yielded results for Targus is utilizing its Twitter account for giveaways and promotions and monitoring Twitter conversations to target bag-buying consumers.

In one situation, Pepper followed a conversation between a user who had a bag from a rival company. Pepper tweeted the user a coupon code for 25% off, which ended up being more than what the company that made his old bag had offered him and resulted in the user writing about his experience. That’s the type of thing that can create long-time customers and also get users observing or reading about the situation to consider Targus for their next product.

Using social media has provided Pepper with a simple way to build brand loyalty without having to invest significant time and resources.

Tools of the Trade

Josh Jones-Dilworth, the founder and CEO of the PR and marketing consulting firm Jones-Dilworth, Inc. (and a Mashable guest author) has a lot of expertise in blogging and social media. As such, Jones-Dilworth has developed his own system for measuring the effectiveness of different social media approaches as they relate to PR.

Jones-Dilworth explained that while it’s fairly easy to measure conversations and engagement on an empirical level, putting that analytical data into context so that it can be evaluated as cause and effect is considerably more difficult.

“Right now we are doing a lot of work to mash up social data with business data to get cause and effect. Some products are starting to support this action — but only a few. I think this is the next big wave. You’ve got to be able to tie causes to effects, and that is the big challenge right now, what all our clients want, and what is frankly the hardest to accomplish.”

We absolutely agree that this is both a big challenge when evaluating the successfulness of social media in any context — PR or otherwise — and that it is going to be a large area of growth in the future.

For the future, Jones-Dilworth sees visualizations and modeling as two key components to watch for.

“Visualization [is important] because we really need to be able to make these streams come alive and make them navigable, otherwise you’ve got death by data, pure and simple. More is more is more until it isn’t.

Modeling is all about predicting out futures: Who will be the Farecast of social media? Who will help with intelligent decision support?”

However, just because he doesn’t have all the tools at his disposal now doesn’t mean that Jones-Dilworth is operating in the dark. Here is Jones-Dilworth’s list of the tools that he uses for tracking social media results in his work as a PR pro:

He also points to these tools that he enjoys playing with:

Until we reach the stage where drawing contextual correlations between social media actions and results can be more easily measured (or at least, more easily distilled), it is vital to have concrete goals before starting a social media strategy in PR and to also have some sort of baseline.

Common Threads

PR professionals are using social media in a lot of ways to either supplement or add on to existing PR strategies. The most successful PR pros focus on creating active relationships and truly engaging with their customers (or constituents) to have a real conversation.

It isn’t about just putting a PR pitch on Twitter or Facebook, it’s about using the platforms in ways that help clients to connect.

Are you a PR professional? How do you use social media to get real results in your job? Let us know in the comments!