Dec 05, 2013

Driving Discovery of Your Organization’s Story

Late last month, PR Newswire hosted a free webinar: Driving Discovery of Your Organization’s Story. The webinar was led by Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik), vice president of content marketing at PR Newswire.

Skerik discussion centered around these four topics: 1) evolution of media; 2) subsequent changes in audience behavior; 3) conversational search and the social media connection; and 4) tactics for earning attention and media.

Evolution of Media

It is well known that traditional media channels have lost ground to digital properties. Brands and individuals are publishing more content than ever, and this is creating an issue, because when people go online to get information they are getting swamped. An IDG study shows that 82 percent of IT decision makers are challenged to find trusted content during the IT purchase process.

Subsequent Changes in Audience Behavior

People are looking for really granular information. Each day, 20 percent of Google searches are unique and have never been seen by Google. People are also more acceptant of branded content. Native advertising (aka sponsored content) is commanding more views than original editorial content. Also, readers spend around the same amount of time on native advertising and original editorial content.

Why is Content Discovery Important?

In addition to the above IDG statistic, another statistic released by Sirius Decisions 2012 shows that B2B customers contact a sales rep only after 70 percent of the purchase decision has been made. The takeaway for organizations is that if you don’t have published supporting content for whatever you’re promoting then you’re eliminated from a consumer’s consideration right out of the gates.

Content discovery is also important because influence isn’t linear, but it is a continuous loop. Five or 10 years ago marketers and PR people would shoot out a message to their audience and get results. However, what is happening now is your audience is able operate on their own time frame. They are researching and buying according to their own needs. The key for communicators is keep their content up there, visible and credible as your audience begins its research and search process. Yet, the communications reality is that their competing for finite audience attention against an infinite ocean of content.

Conversational Search and the Social Media Connection

It is important to know that Google put in a whole new search algorithm called Hummingbird, and they are taking aim at all those new searches they get every day. Google is building more human behavior into their search algorithm by doing a conversational search. They are trying to build search results based on the true meaning of the phrase that a person enters. Seven of the top 10 Google search ranking factors are derived from social networks. Google is using social behavior as an indicator about what sort of content is relevant and important to the person searching. This is why when developing a marketing strategy or PR campaign, it is crucial that communicators drive relevant and committed social interaction with the content they distribute.

Media Outlets Are Retooling

New stories start out from a traditional outlet, such as a radio station, newspaper, magazine, etc., and are very often the catalyst for social conversations. Here are some examples of what media outlets are doing to drive social conversations.

1) Chicago Sun-Times eliminated their entire photography department and wanted to start sourcing photos from their reporters who were armed with iPhones. The reason for the change was because they need is lots of visual content and fast.

2) John Keefe, a radio guy at WNYC radio, has the title of senior editor of data news and journalism technology. He does not only present information but he also thinks about how to use information and how to make it interactive, writing apps and crunching data. This should make communicators think about whether the content they are pitching will resonate with him.

Tactics for Earning Attention and Media

Here are the tactics Skerik suggests:

1) Go look at the websites of news outlets that are important to your industry segment and then look at the stories that are most commented on, emailed and shared socially. It is important to not only look at the popular stories for the industry you are working on, but it is also important to see the ones which received the most comments. The most popular stories usually have a well-known brand name in the title, but when you look at the most commented stories they are usually ones that delve deeper into the industry. This will help you learn about what you audience is interested in and you can then fashion your brand’s content around those lines, as well as get some great story ideas.

2) Use the attention current events generate to grab some attention for your brand. FM Global, an insurance company, on the heels of a report issued by the government about Hurricane Sandy pulled together a press release with information they already had. This information wasn’t just for the general public but also for reporters and analysts covering this topic. And each link in the release was linked to a piece of content and was trackable.

3) Tie thought leadership to timely events. KCSA’s CEO published a new book and they also launched a new section on their blog called Diary of an IPO. To gain attention for the new section of the blog they wrote about the then impending Facebook IPO. They promoted the posts by sending them out as press releases. This resulted in significant increases in visitors, visits and views to their blog.

4) Use editorial calendars to guide your marketing team’s content calendar in terms of both topics and timing. You can do this by going to the websites that are important to your organization and looking for their media kit. In the media kit, you will find their editorial calendar which will show you the topics they will publish over the next year. You can then synch your content calendar with the topics that are being published in the industry.

5) There is a rise in the reporting of data, surveys and studies by news organizations. Media outlets are willing to use this type of information within their reporting. Even though organizations are aware of the importance of this information, there is still sometimes a lack of communication between PR and marketing after this material goes out. This is why it is essential for PR and marketing to align. Last year, Vibes did a study about mobile shopping behavior and issued an infographic, but then they did something different by pulling a news hook out of the study, hiring a PR company, and issuing a press release. They received a lot of media attention from the story and are still getting calls about it.

6) Market your marketing. You need to distribute the content that you publish. PR Newswire distributed a video they created explaining what MultiVu does, and prior to the content distribution they were six Facebook likes to the video. After distributing the video it received 196 Facebook likes the following day.

7) Remember to keep an eye on the results of your campaign well after it is over. If you do a good job of surfacing content in relevant ways, the tails will grow longer and longer.

Formatting Message Tips

1) Whether you’re sending out a press release, blog post, etc., keep your headline around the 100-character mark. This also works very well for tweets. Put all the important terminology within the first 65 characters. You can pick up more detail in the subhead.

2) Use some type of visual in your message. Instagram and Pinterest are leading visual-only networks, so if you don’t have a visual then you can’t play. Also, people are visual people who like looking at pictures.

3) Don’t lead with the boiler plate if you writing any type of written content or setting up a video. Save the “about company” information for the end of the document or video. Remember to build your reader’s interest with every element of the content you are producing.

4) Embed a call-to-action near the top of the page. When you are linking, think of it as a reader service and not just for SEO. You can link to profiles of key people quoted in the message.

Q&A

Q: How do links to existing content work regarding the new nofollow rule?

A: A few months ago Google said that certain types of content including press releases should have nofollow attributes in the link. Google wanted PR Newswire to change the link structure so content wouldn’t be counted toward search engine results. This meant you could no longer issue links in content you’re publishing online as a link building SEO tactic. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with the signals generated by social media. The takeaway is that if you’re publishing content that is valuable and people like and share it, then it will still be seen and will rank high in search engine.

Q: Where is the best place to post press release visuals? Also are there any fears visuals in press releases will trigger email spam filters?

A: You can post images on any social network with a link to the related press release or message you want to promote. You should also post visuals in blog posts and/or in the press releases on your website. It is less about where to post images, but more about posting them. If you are sending content out via email then you should include links to visuals and not include the actual video file or photo, because that will definitely trigger spam filters. You can also send out the email in HTML.

Q: What is an effective use of video in press releases?

A: You can embed a video in a press release that will play when people are viewing it on a website. The video stops the reader from reading and will take them to another place where they engage more fully with the brand and message. In addition, it makes the message more memorable for the reader.

Q: Is it OK to include a short phrase in the lead paragraph of a press release?

A: You need to think of your press release as a news story, because in so many cases your press releases will be seen by members of your audience in addition to bloggers and members of the media. You should really save the boilerplate for the boilerplate and write a real news lede in the press release that tells readers why it is an important announcement.

Q: What kind of PR news should a nonprofit foundation present?

A: Any organization needs to speak to their audience. What’s important to your audience? What can your organization offer that will make their lives better or spark their interest? It should be less about the organization and what they want to convey and more about what the audience wants to hear.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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