Jan 05, 2011

The Exponential Effect of Enthusiasm

A Mention Map illustrating how messages I've tweeted have spread.

We spend a lot of time here at PR Newswire talking to journalists and bloggers: creating linkages between content and individual writers, editors, journalists and bloggers is a core element of our business.

To a person, they all say that they want exclusive stories. However, unless they’re writing for a top-tier paper like the Wall St. Journal or New York Times, many of these folks will admit that exclusives are rarely pitched to them.

Reserving exclusives for the 900 lb gorillas certainly made more sense fifteen years ago, when landing a story on those news pages truly did offer an organization the broadest exposure available. However, I would argue (and am, in fact, about to argue) that this approach is hideously outmoded, and only makes sense for a fraction of stories and pitches today. Here’s why.

Many people still use circulation numbers (or a blog’s rating on Techorati) as a primary means of deciding whether or not to target an outlet, or pitch it an exclusive. And there’s no question that big, shiny numbers play well when you’re summarizing a strategy for an exec who isn’t interested in the finer points. But let’s think for a moment about effectiveness and what’s going to deliver the end results against which you’ll be measured. And heck, let’s think about what key performance indicators (“KPIs”) you’ll select to measure success.

We are suddenly right at the center of PR’s age old measurement problem. Years ago, we measured clips, staggering into our bosses’ offices groaning under mountains of clips, stuffed into binders. These made an impressive thud when dropped on the exec’s desk. Who could argue with the weight of such success?

But we always had trouble describing what those results actually meant.

Today’s media environment offers PR real opportunities to deliver measurable – and meaningful – results. However, in order to get there, we need to re-think how we reach our audiences, and how we select those influencers, media and bloggers on which to focus our efforts.

Where the audience really is.

First and foremost, we need to think about where the audience really is – and specifically, identifying where conversations are happening. A small, niche blog may very well have a lot more pull within a specific niche than a large media outlet. Social media monitoring services can generally help you identify spheres of influence around specific topics. Tracking hashtags on Twitter for a while is also a good way to identify influential people who are actively discussing issues within your focused niche.

soical media metrics, social media monitoring

A screenshot from PR Newswire's Social Media Metrics, identifying influencers in specific subjects on Twitter

Enthusiasm has an exponential effect, especially when it’s socially connected.

Bloggers – and their readers – are self-selected groups. They often have highly specific areas of interest. They’re also active in social networks. This creates a connected audience with a built-in broadcast beacon who are inclined to share (and amplify) your message.  When you’re evaluating which bloggers and media to target in a campaign, be sure to read recent article and posts – and consider how connected those folks are in social networks.  Someone with a considerable following on relevant social networks has a unique ability to amplify your message.

[Case in point: in my downtime, I blog about re-training racehorses in the sport of dressage.  That’s a pretty narrow focus, and you’d think I’d be alone in this pursuit. But (happily for me) there are a whole fleet of people out there with the same passion who are also blogging about their experiences, actively sharing information about about equipment, shows, equine healthcare, feed, trainers, etc.  And many more are active on the variety of online communities devoted variously to dressage, Thoroughbreds and horses in general.  Together, we have created a loose but well defined network of people across the US who relay news and information to each other, raise funds to rescue horses (which often entails shipping them across the country to each other) and find new homes for them, provide resources and help to new owners, and support each other by sharing information and celebrating each others’ successes.  My personal experiences have convinced me of the power of the niche – no matter how niche.]

Goals – and measurement – have evolved. PR is generating business results, not stacks of clips.

The web is precisely measurable, and many PR departments are now charged with generating leads, delivering web site traffic and moving the needle in online conversation metrics. Focusing PR efforts on connected online niches is a good way to build lasting traction with audiences who are more likely engage with your organization on a continual basis, and to act on the calls to action within specific campaigns.

So next time you’re planning a campaign or targeting a press release, think a little differently about your audience. Find a blogger who is focused on your niche, and offer him or her an exclusive.  Change up your tactics, and capitalize on the power of the connected niche.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, vice president, social media, PR Newswire.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr user Jurvetson.

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