Daniel Stein, from San Francisco digital creative agency EVB, authored a post today with the provocative headline “PR Agencies Are Ruining Facebook.”
Not surprisingly, this caught our eye.
But beyond that controversial headline (always the best kind), Mr. Stein makes excellent points about the quality of content that public relations has traditionally created and how we need to stretch our creative abilities for the new audiences that we are reaching through social media. It’s true that PR has traditionally created content for the media to consume, interpret and adapt, and that kind of content doesn’t resonate on social media and certainly doesn’t usually invite engagement.
Of course, PR has a deep history of fostering engagement, in tandem with content, when dealing with the media. And PR has historically been close to the leaders at the core of brands and organizations, which gives us an edge in developing the most authentic and credible messaging, as compared to other communications disciplines.
It’s true that the advertising discipline has been able to flex its creative muscles around content for a longer time. But we are closing the gap, as evidenced by the beautiful and engaging site WE Studio D designed for the Sasquatch! Music Festival.
And when we are talking about compelling content that fosters engagement, infographics are increasingly powerful, and PR has an edge on advertising because it’s accustomed to taking complicated news and information and making them digestible.
Finally, while content is key, the other half of success in social media is having a long-term, relationship-building strategy, again something PR has deeper skills in than the other communications disciplines.
So, Mr. Stein is right that PR needs to up its game in creating content that entertains, answers questions, intrigues audiences on social media and, ultimately, fosters engagement. We are adding more of the “pixie dust” of creativity he references, along with our deep understanding of how to make that compelling content drive influence and engagement.
Did you know that for a professor to get credit for being “published,” an actual copy of a book — as in ink squirted on dead trees and bound up — often has to be printed? This seems absurd, especially because the cost of printing a book is so high. Many academic works are printed in tiny batches and end up costing hundreds of dollars a book.
In a world that is quickly going digital — more ebooks were sold in February than paperbacks — worrying about print seems increasingly antiquated.
That’s why it is encouraging to see that a 2011 Pulitzer was awarded to a group of stories that were never published in print.
Additionally, ProPublica, a nonprofit that isn’t creating content to sell ads and doesn’t have its own media outlet, won that award for reporting on how some Wall Street bankers, seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients and sometimes even their own firms, at first delayed but then worsened the financial crisis.
Do you care about the printed word?
Image courtesy jm3 via Flickr.
Build a digital newsroom
In recent days, I’ve had a burst of posts on how organizations can become media outlets, creating a well-rounded body of content to make an organization more appealing and maximizing owned digital properties.
We are particularly passionate about the strategy of creating a digital newsroom to help organizations address all of these ideas. The digital newsroom becomes the hub of content that flows out to social media and draws in the best curated content about your brand or organization.
Now, we’ve created a list of seven tips that you can follow to create a real-time content creation and publishing engine.
Let us know if you find these useful or if you have some additional ideas that can help organizations adapt and adjust to the new communications landscape.
Whether it’s Facebook updates, blogs, reality television or some other medium, audiences are using digital means to connect with other people or brands. For the most part, we have moved beyond vapid ads filled with falsely happy people and dry fact sheets that offer information, but no story. Audiences want engaging content.
Creating the kind of credible and authentic content that audiences will engage with is something that I covered in recent posts about what a body of content says about your brand and moving from being a publisher to a media outlet.
Your website should be a hub of content.
But once all this engaging content gets created, where should it live? And how will audiences find it?
The place to start is your organization’s website.
For the first years of the Web, sites were mostly static. Mostly that was because updating content on the Web was a laborious and technical process. The birth of blogging software and sites changed that paradigm. No longer did you need to know Dreamweaver or pay for an expensive content management system. The explosion of blogging, and now social media, has been led by simple content management systems and publishing platforms. But the innovation in site updating hasn’t spread to the corporate and organizational side.
Now is the time to leverage the power of your organization’s website to create a storytelling platform that hosts content and serves as the hub and engine for social media content.
With an engaging design and a state-of-the-art content management and publishing system, and by using social media to distribute content and leverage search, your website can deliver deeper engagement than traditional advertising. And you don’t have to pay to have someone else post the content.
Ford’s digital properties are a good example to follow. The automaker created The Ford Story to engage with audiences in a new way during the depths of the industry crisis. Now Ford connects its storytelling platform to its corporate home page (which aims to drive sales) with its media site that provides building-block content for influentials.
Microsoft’s News Center is another good example of leveraging an owned platform.
I’m presenting this week at the AdAge Digital conference with our Microsoft News Center partners on using a digital newsroom to tell a story about a brand. I hope to see you there.
A few weeks back Brian Solis wrote a great piece about the value of a digital persona in today’s social economy, which pointed out how people (and brands) will be judged by their Klout and PeerIndex scores because it will be the true measure of their influence. I completely agree, and I’m paying close attention to my scores and those of people and organizations that I align myself with.
What kind of shape is your brand's content in?
Do I want “high” scores? Yes, but not because I’m an ego maniac. I’m a student of the power of content, so it follows that any metrics that can track that power would be interesting.
Solis didn’t delve into what creates the digital influence that Klout and PeerIndex are measuring. Content is what creates influence in the digital space and what is most often getting measured in the EGOsystem, as Solis called it, with some more established digital metrics like search result rankings.
Not happy with your organization’s digital influence? What does your body … of content look like? Is it well rounded? Does it reflect your expertise or passions? Is it credible and authentic? Is it appealing to a wide audience?
That’s what it takes. If a brand or organization wants to build influence in the social economy, they need to fire up the content engine and start contributing some appealing, credible and authentic content. They then need to follow it up with engagement with existing content that aligns with the attributes they seek to develop influence around.
Additionally, there is increasing evidence that performance in the social economy has a direct correlation to the business performance of an organization. A recent study found that companies with blogs generate 67% more leads.
Why is content the key to making your brand or organization more appealing, especially on digital and social media? Because each image, tweet, blog post, YouTube video, Facebook update, Quora question is an opportunity for your audience (employees, partners, customers, consumers, etc.) to find out about you and learn something new. That engagement can come through a Web search or a link from a Twitter handle.
Once that connection is made, the content must be credible and authentic to your brand to make it valuable in the social economy.
The next step is to connect each individual piece of content, wherever it gets published or discovered, to your broader story. News sites are great at this Most Popular, Most Emailed and similar tools to drive the audience deeper into their content. As I wrote earlier, organizations should be cribbing from media organizations to maximize their social media efforts, and this is another example.
So if you want to sculpt your organization’s body of content into the most appealing shape it can be, fire up that content engine and start pumping out some great sets of content. And just like at the gym, try exercising with different types of content beyond text — video, audio, images, infographics — to create a well-rounded digital influence footprint.
Your Twitter handle needs to be fed. Your Facebook page needs to be fed. Your YouTube channel needs to be fed. Your blog needs to be fed.
Organizations using social media quickly realize that these digital properties are hungry beasts that demand to be fed often with content, or else they get stale and uninteresting. Without fresh, real-time content, social media properties lose their purpose as communications and engagement tools for customers, partners, employees, consumers, etc.
Social media is hungry for content.
Creating content for social media is often done by passionate, early adopters within an organization, usually working outside of the traditional communications departments. In many cases this has been a recipe for initial success (example: Ford’s Scott Monty) because traditional marketing, advertising and public relations haven’t been accustomed to, or adapted for, the real-time needs of social media.
Now that the benefits of leveraging social media are becoming clearer, as evidenced by this recent McKinsey Quarterly research illustrating the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies on the bottom line, more organizations are getting serious about their social media content.
But moving it from the responsibility of a few passionate, tech-savvy individuals to become part of an organization’s communications can be challenging.
Here are three tips for creating a real-time content engine that can feed the social media beasts:
Harness what you have. Whether your organization is a large, multinational, a small nonprofit or the dry cleaner on the corner, it has plenty of content that has been — and is being – published. That can include advertising, white papers, marketing and sales materials, press releases, emails and newsletters, internal communications, photos and videos, coupons; and the list goes on. While some of that content isn’t appropriate for external audiences or social media, most if it can be excerpted for a blog or Facebook post or turned into a tweet.
Employees or members should also be tapped for content. They have expertise and opinions that are relevant. They are also members of your community. A meeting or even a hallway conversation can be turned into something that your audience will find valuable.
To get started on harnessing what you have, do an audit of your existing content, people and content creation processes. Then jump to tip number 3.
Curate and engage with what you like. The content needed to power your social media doesn’t all have to come from you. If you are engaged in your community, the act of “liking” or retweeting can be enough to feed your social media outlets. This shows that you are paying attention and adding value to the topics and discussions relevant to your audience.
To get started on this, make sure you are following and listening to the content being created by your customers, partners, employees, etc. Then develop a process for amplifying the content that is most relevant to your organization.
Copy what the media is doing. I am biased because of my years as a journalist, but I think it’s fair to argue that traditional news media outlets have been leading in social media. Why? Because they develop a great deal of relevant, real-time content. They are harnessing social media by adding another outlet to their sophisticated publishing and curating processes. That might be as simple as hooking up a Twitter account to an existing RSS feed, or it might mean redeploying reporters and editors to listen to social media as a way to find out what news is happening. Social media presents an opportunity to publish your content on an existing platform that has an audience for free. But even if the publishing is free, someone needs to be making decisions about what gets published. Often, that is a trouble spot for organizations because there are either too many or too few people empowered to decide what gets published where. This is another place where media organizations can offer a template for success in social media. They have clear structures and responsibilities about who gets to publish content on their properties.
To get started, develop a newsroom structure in your organization, either by adding new roles or redeploying existing resources, to handle your social media publishing. This kind of structure can take much of the pain out of content creation and publishing, allowing content to come out of your organization that is credible, authentic and true to your brand.
Is your organization ready to take these steps to advance its business and communications goals?
Image courtesy possumgirl2 via Flickr.
I don’t agree with Jonathan Sanchez’s smart post on the ghost of PR’s future that our industry is killing its value by productizing its processes. I think that greater transparency in what agencies do for their clients is always a good thing unless you are doing shady things.
I also read an underlying fear that the way public relations and communications has been done over the last few decades remains unquantifiable. And now that digital communications brings a new set of data points, it will create a greater pressure for quantifiable results. Likely both of these realities are true.
But we are in a time of change in communications. Digital and social media are adding new demands to communicators, and both agencies and clients are working to figure out how to change the way they have done things.
That’s uncomfortable, and often we hear that because new communication methods are unproven or the measure of success remains murky, new tactics are shunned for more trusted and comfortable efforts.
Isn’t that the same as doing nothing and ignoring the changes that have and will happen? Just because we aren’t sure what the measure of success is doesn’t mean new things shouldn’t be attempted. And anything new we do now just speeds adaptation for the future, especially when it comes to digital communications.
The future is going to come whether we’re comfortable with it or not, shouldn’t we be prepared?
Fall Foliage in Seattle
It’s fall and after a cool and somewhat dreary summer here in the Pacific Northwest we are being treated so some good weather and an explosion of color.
As compared to the near-universal greenery seen during most of the year in and around the Emerald City, the yellows, reds and oranges add a wealth of new data for me to process on my drive to work. Fortunately, I noted the new color input appreciatively rather than drive off the road or crash into the car in front of me.
The same is true for all of the new information now available to me via social media, smartphones and the Web. Like most of us, I am adding these new inputs to my sensory input and processing them accordingly. While Louis Gray calls out a growing attention crisis, I think this is a very short-term problem.
Millions of years ago, humans didn’t have to deal with language, but we learned to incorporate that and use it effectively to improve our lot. Even in the past 100 years, humans have had to deal with a huge number of new inputs, speeding cars, flying jets, television and radio, even the sound of a humming refrigerator. In the same way that people who live next to a freeway or a train line get accustomed to the noise and eventually don’t even notice it, we have all gotten used to these new inputs.
I do think we are being forced to adapt even more quickly than ever before in our history. But as with language, the data with become second nature soon.
Personally, I can’t wait. I’ve been fiddling with an app called Plane Finder AR that lets you hold up an iPhone and identify planes in the sky and where they are going. Similarly, Google Goggles and Microsoft Tag let you get information about things either through a photo or through a simple barcode. These are all more opportunities to learn about the world I live in, which will likely help me lead a better life, even if I feel a bit overwhelmed by the potential.
Image by David Patton
I had a mini-revelation today in talking with @hesnow about a project where we are trying to develop a News Stream for a client.
“But we shouldn’t call it a newsroom because that is too much like PR,” said Heather.
My response: “The word ‘news’ doesn’t have the same loaded meaning for me.”
Screech. Put on the brakes. What did I just say? Aha. I just figured something out.
In many cases, to a public relations professional (and traditional media) the word news means information that has not been previously released to the media. Often in meetings I hear the phrase: “We will be at the event but we won’t have any news.”
So the story of how a product was developed wouldn’t be considered news. Even if that story was the most compelling thing about the product.
To me, news is information that is interesting and I didn’t previously know. So that opens the door for lots of stories to be news.
Happily, the growth of new media allows many more stories to reach audiences even if they aren’t news as defined by traditional media and PR.
What’s your take? Is there a difference between news and news?
Image by Zarko Drincic
Ford is getting kudos today for “launching” its redesigned Explorer SUV via Facebook rather than using the traditional route of holding a press conference at an auto show. Of course, this launch has been happening for months, with Ford trickling out sneak peak images through Facebook.
But this, and a conversation with Jen Houston about social media behavior at companies and news embargoes, got me thinking about how organizations need to adapt to the Communications Cataclysm.
The traditional way of dealing with news was to hold it until you were ready for it to be released. That’s how PR agencies managed the information flow and one way that news organizations got scoops and increased their value to audiences.
But now that everyone is a publisher, controlling the flow of news and information has become problematic for organizations. Product planners, engineers, marketers, secretaries … everyone is publishing what is going on in their lives and often that crosses over into work and might involve something that someone in the communications department would like to embargo.
So, what is a communications person to do to “control” the story if the news is already out? Get your context ready. As the media industry has learned over the last couple of years, “news” can be turned into a commodity. But as Fox News, The Daily Show and MSNBC have figured out, adding context is valuable.
That means rather than releasing news, communications pros need to be more focused on releasing context. Answer some of these questions for your audience: Why is this important to me? Why is it important to you? Who drove the idea and is passionate about it?
It’s particularly important to have the context ready as early as possible so that any news that get released — or leaked — can be followed up quickly with context.
The recent kerfuffle surrounding the forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows the value of ensuring context is attached to any news or information.
So, rather than planning to release news, it’s more important to get the context ready because the news is out.
Image by stevegarfield.