I think it’s brilliant that PR has become a lot more prominent in the digital industry in the last few years, and it’s great that, in line with that, our approach to links has shifted – from an approach of building them to one of earning them, through creating truly remarkable content, and conducting effective, and targeted outreach to the right influencers and publications.
But the issue that I do have is this is really the only context in which we hear about digital PR. And that’s a real shame because PR spans so much more than that, and an understanding of the fundamental principles of PR can really help boost your entire digital strategy, especially when it comes to online communication and reputation online. So we’re going beyond links today.
I’m the digital PR specialist at White.net, a full-service digital marketing agency in Oxford and London. Before joining White I worked for a travel PR agency, with a focus on media outreach and relations. And way before that I worked in house for BrightonSEO and the 5 other conferences we were running at the time – working on the community management and all online communications – focusing on the events reputations and relationships with delegates, speakers and sponsors through our online platforms.
This presentation shares principles and processes that I’ve learnt through these three roles, that I think is relevant and applicable regardless of what industry or sector you’re in.
Okay – so to get started I thought I’d go back to basics, to what PR actually is.
And the best person to define this is a chap called Edward Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew. Bernays was responsible for using Freud’s psycho-analysis theory in propaganda campaigns of the first and second world wars. Following the second world war, Bernays built upon propaganda theory to develop the practice of PR.
In 1950 he actually published a book called “Public Relations” which, despite being published over 60 years ago, is still THE most pertinent book on PR that I’ve ever read. In it, he defines PR as “Information given to the public to persuade and modify attitudes and actions”, but he doesn’t stop there. He adds that PR is also “The efforts to INTEGRATE the attitudes and actions of an institution, with its publics, and of publics with that institution.” And it’s the second part of the definition that I care about, and unfortunately, it’s the second part of the definition that usually gets overlooked. When you look at just the first part of the definition, it’s very reminiscent of propaganda – it’s a one-way communication system – it’s broadcasting and publicity.
In a digital context, it’s where we find media outreach and relations. but when you bring the second part of the definition into it, you see that PR is about two-way communication, about relationships – and beyond that, about reputation – because reputation is not what you say about yourself, it’s what people say about you when you’re not there. When you bring this into a digital context, you see that PR is involved in anything that influences your relationships and reputation, online, through communication. So yes, outreach and influencer relations are important. But so is all other aspects of your online communication with your different target groups.
And the word I really want you to focus on here, and what PR really boils down to, is reputation. And this is important because your reputation PREcedes you. It comes before a user really enters the marketing or sales funnel. And if you successfully build your reputation, you’ll find that the hard part of your sales and marketing is done for you. And that is due, in part, to something called the confirmation bias.
The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that explains the human tendency to interpret new information as evidence that supports existing theories and beliefs. Essentially, we look for information that supports what we believe and ignore information that goes against what we believe.
I want you to think back to any teenage celebrity crushes. Mine was Johnny Depp. I didn’t know Johnny Depp, I never met him, but I fell in love with the idea of him. And this meant that anything good said about him was gospel, and anyone who said anything negative obviously had no idea what they were on about.
Now think about how this would play out if you got people to fall in love with the idea of your brand, this is before they bought from you, and before they’ve even entered the sales funnel. They’re not going to be trying to catch you out. They’re going to be doing the opposite, and will be actively looking for ways to continue along the user journey – and you then have every successive touch point with that user to reinforce that positive reputation, and lead them towards a conversion.
And for the rest of the presentation, I’m going to give you a five-step process that will help you do that.
#1 – Understand your business.
This seems like common sense, and it is – but how many of you could tell me, on the spot, what the vision for your company was. What is the 3, 5 and ten-year plan? Now, would I get the same answer from you as I would from a colleague?What about the company mission? I’m not talking about what you do. I’m talking about what it is in your industry, or society, that you’re trying to fix, change, create, or perhaps eradicate. It’s what is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you on track.And lastly, what are your company’s values. These are what help you make your decisions, from the content you create, to the people you hire. Does everyone know them, and use them to make their decisions in the business?If you’re agency side, how many of you know the answers to these questions for every single one of the clients you work on?
Knowing the answers to these questions sets a really strong foundation. It helps you stay on track, and means that everything you do, and create, if in line with those values, will be a step – even if a tiny one – to getting closer to that vision, and achieving that mission.
#2 – Understand every single one of your target publics.
In PR – there is no such thing as the general public, it doesn’t exist. I still meet companies where they think that their product or service is for “everyone” and that everyone is going to respond to the same message or call to action.The term Public Relations is also a bit deceptive, as it actually refers to “publics” – the individual groups that are important to communicate with, and build relationships with, to benefit the business. These will, of course, include customers, but it could also include potential employees, stakeholders, partner businesses or organisations, or community groups.
You need to identify who these groups are that you’re targeting online. Then you have to understand them, what their goals are and how you can help them achieve them. Lastly, you need to craft messages to communicate this to them through your online channels.To better understand your audience, whether they’re just browsers or existing users, you can use intelligent user communication tools like Intercom, as well as personalised live chat platforms like Drift or Olark. These tools give you really valuable insights on your users, help you identify the different goals your users have, and enable you to have personalised, two-way communication with individual users directly through your site without them having to pull away from the user journey and potentially disengaging.The insights learnt in this part of the process help in stage three.
#3 – which is to audit your online communication.
This is something we do at White, before we undertake any creative PR and outreach efforts, and it’s something I think more companies should do.We take the information gathered in steps one and two, and make sure that key messages are communicated effectively across their online platforms.We then take insights from the user communication tools, analytics, and any other software like HotJar, and we also usually perform UserTesting, to ensure that we’ve properly understood our target groups, and can analyse how easy it is for the different groups of users to get the information they need to achieve their goals as efficiently as possible.
This process allows us to find content gaps and UX opportunities, with a focus on improving engagement and conversion metrics.After analysing the website, we’ll also audit social media platforms as well as branded listings in the SERPs. We’re not looking for the messaging doesn’t have to be the same, but it does need to be consistent in order to help build that brand image. And that brand image, doesn’t necessarily have to be a “positive” one – it just needs to be in line with those three things you identified about your business.
Take RyanAir as an example. Even if you haven’t flown with them, you’re probably not sitting there thinking “Yeah… Bloody brilliant airline!”. But you probably are sitting there thinking “Yeah… Bloody cheap airline!” – and that’s what they’re going for.They’ve understood what their mission is, and they target a customer base who are looking for what they have to offer – which is budget travel without any perks or luxuries that can come along with the travel experience.You can see this reinforced in their messaging across all of their online platforms. And it’s this consistency that we’re looking for in these audits.In these audits, I also look at social media content, and I’m constantly amazed that some companies still see social media as a one-way channel to flog their products or services, rather than an incredible opportunity to build a sense of community around their brand, or build their authority within their industry through thought leadership.
Your social strategy should also be founded on what you’ve identified in stage two. Which of your target groups use social media? Which platforms do they use and in what capacity? Add value to that experience, rather than try and distract them with marketing messages.I also like to take a look at supplementary blog content, as well as the social media posts, and look at the balance of quantity and quality. I’m often asked what the optimum number of posts is, and the answer is always the same. From a PR perspective, NEVER forego quality for the sake of quantity. By all means, publish 10 times a day, as long as each of those posts is of high quality, and adds value to your users.
#4 – Keep on top of what’s being said about you.
What someone else says about you holds a lot more weight than what you say about yourself. It’s something we’ve always leveraged in PR through gaining favourable publicity, but online, most of what’s said about us is out of our control.If you’re not already, you might want to consider setting up basic Google Alerts for your brand, a key product or even yourself. This won’t pick up everything, but it will alert you to anything significant published on the web. It can also be handy to set up alerts for topics you specialise in, to find opportunities where you can jump in and add value to the conversation.
This is free and easy, but it is limited. Beyond Google Alerts, you might want to look into media monitoring tools like Mention.com, and specialist social media monitoring services like Brandwatch that will do a much more thorough job.Lastly, on this topic, if you’re in retail, e-commerce, or you’re in the food, travel or leisure industries – review sites are your friend!
Positive ratings are not just great social proof and good for click through rates, but reviews give you incredible insights from real customers. If you’re getting great feedback, you have access to testimonials and a way to build relationships with potential brand advocates. If you’re getting some not-so-good feedback… it’s better that you know. You have an opportunity to turn that customer’s experience around, and if you can’t achieve that, you still have a platform to show potential customers a lot about the kind of company you are through the way you respond.
#5 – Actions speak louder than words.
It’s all well and good to have a great value proposition, a wonderful website, and brilliant messaging – but ultimately, it’s what you do, not what you say you do, that leads to your reputation.I’ve referred to this image of Madeline Vogel, which you might recognise as it circulated widely a few years ago. She didn’t stop to help a fallen competitor cross the finish line because she wanted the global publicity that followed – she did it because it was a no brainer. It was in line with her values. Then the publicity followed.Walking the walk is what’s going to get you the reputation you dream of. Because outreach alone won’t get you the headlines, but being truly remarkable will.And then all the tactics will be so much more fruitful, as you’ll have built your reputation.Any questions, leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter.