Category Archives: Public Relations

A Lesson in Delivery Vehicles from the Affordable Care Act

1888610_645790608803511_469519588_nAt this point, at least 6 million people are aware of the Affordable Care Act. From a storytelling standpoint, healthcare reform has been covered from many points of view – From the initial website technical difficulties, to the ongoing enrollment numbers, to partisan disagreements and bureaucratic inefficiencies (redundant, I know), to the administration’s three-week PR blitz to encourage the public to enroll, to reports on how healthcare works in other nations, to interviews with individuals and demographic group leaders discussing how they would benefit or not from the new insurance plans… to the final website glitches that made for an ironic way to end open enrollment.

But as I tuned in for updates and new information leading up to the end of open enrollment, one thing in particular stood out in my one-track mind – the places people could find information about enrollment were countless. Promotional vehicles ranged from old-school telephone campaigns; to direct mail; brick-and-mortar locations offering assistance; pop-up retail shops in various states; the now infamously glitchy healthcare.gov website that featured a blog, infographics and personal stories; states’ individual online marketplaces;  TV commercials and other forms of advertisements; social media channels including Twitter (see #getcovered), YouTube and Facebook; news programs and talk shows; official presidential addresses… all the way to the President’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis, which on March 11, 2014 became the biggest traffic driver to healthcare.gov.

It was expected that a reform of this nature would call for a public relations campaign of massive proportions. However, something I have enjoyed about this administration – where PR is concerned – is that from the moment of Barack Obama’s election, his team has never been afraid to let their message travel via uncharted delivery vehicles. Or it could be that the administration was under significant pressure to deliver on enrollment numbers that they were willing to try new things. They say necessity is the mother of invention.

Saturday Night Life captured just this in their latest opening sketch.

I’m almost stubborn when it comes to trying new things. I firmly believe that having never done something is never a reason not to do it – in fact, I may even believe that having never done something is the perfect reason to go for it. This is not a battle between tradition and emerging approaches to PR, but rather the realization that audiences need information delivered to them in a variety of new ways in order to pay attention. The added challenge today is to deliver information at exactly the right time and place, and that is where digital content, social media, mobile and analytics/insights have come in to play.

Freescale Great InventorsMy plea to you, readers, is to dare to do something completely different to reach your audiences and achieve your business communications goals. Perhaps even more importantly – trust that, with careful planning, established objectives, strategic targeting and a strong storytelling framework, your PR and communications teams can execute on something that has never been done before. For example, check out the “Great Inventors” campaign my agency Lois Paul and Partners collaborated on with client Freescale Semiconductor, to get people thinking about technology innovation leading up to the 2014 Global Freescale Technology Forum (FTF).

The Content Marketing Institute, one of my favorite resources, has created an excellent playbook with ideas for content and accompanying delivery vehicles that is great for inspiration. Feel free to bring up any of these ideas during your next brainstorm session and see what ideas spark.

How B2B Companies Can Use Twitter to Make an Impact in 140 Characters

Over the last few months, I have conducted a qualitative assessment of 18 B2B Twitter accounts. This involved the evaluation of activity over a 3-6 months period of time (depending on the number of tweets sent each month). Research was my favorite while I was in graduate school, so I’m ashamed to admit that this was fun for me.

B2BTwitterAs of June 2013, Twitter has 232 million active users, so I know my research was not at all exhaustive. In fact, those 18 Twitter accounts are not a big enough sample of B2B accounts on Twitter. However, in light of the fact that 85% of B2B marketers use Twitter, I felt compelled to share some of my observations with you because several things continued to repeat themselves even across this tiny pool of B2B accounts.

The big takeaway is that B2B companies are using Twitter to a limited extent – at best, they are acting mainly as content curators; at worst, they are simply broadcasting content and failing to add any value. These corporate accounts seemed overly cautious and they demonstrate a limited understanding of Twitter’s potential as a platform to relate to and connect with key B2B publics. Still, several of these accounts have anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 followers on Twitter. But my graduate professors always encouraged me to ask… So what? If most of those followers are not strategic for the company (or worse, bots!) then every tweet is a wasted effort and will not bring results that are aligned with the company’s business communications objectives.

Here is a short list of the biggest no-nos I observed throughout these assessments, as well as best practices B2B companies can implement in order to move their social media programs forward, in the direction of their business communications goals.

B2B Twitter No-Nos

  • Publishing way too much content, especially at bad times
  • Sharing content that is mostly by or about the company
  • Sharing content about topics that are all over the place and not timely aligned with the company’s message or strategy
  • Not sharing third-party industry content with added-value commentary
  • Sharing content that doesn’t address customer pain points
  • Using a broadcast approach that doesn’t drive engagement
  • Not sharing compelling visuals or other rich media that tell a story
  • Using hashtags that don’t add context to tweets around industry trends
  • No calls to action, but lots of rhetorical questions instead (Isn’t it annoying when someone asks a question they already know the answer to? Are they really asking for your opinion or just using the question as click-bait?)
  • Using a one-way corporate vs. a unique brand voice
  • Making few mentions of publications or influencers to drive engagement
  • No RTs of other’s content or replies to mentions

Best Practices for B2B Companies on Twitter

Content Inventory. Invest some time to assess what “evergreen” content is currently available on your company blog or website that can be repurposed in light of new context and shared with key groups so as to amplify reach.

Twitter lists. Create Twitter lists for key groups or current and desired followers and spend 30 minutes to one hour at least three days per week to skim through to retweet and reply, even if influencers are not mentioning your company directly.

Industry hashtags. Monitor and leverage key industry hashtags when appropriate in order to remain part of searchable industry conversations and to leverage as social SEO.

Adding value. It is OK to share content by and about your company, as long as it is balanced by industry articles. When doing so, share rich media, photos (directly uploaded in order to display better on the channels), videos and blog content with the aim to add value to industry conversations, rather than solely promote your brand.

Engage Influencers. Share industry articles, mentioning influencers and publication when possible, and adding thoughtful/provocative commentary or follow-up questions to cultivate thought leadership and drive engagement.

Social voice. Share interesting data points, accolades, use cases, customer stories, etc. using a tone that is upbeat, refreshing and doesn’t feel like corporate speak or headlines. This voice should always remain aligned with strategic brand messaging.

Drive conversations. Vary your approaches for sharing content using calls to action, questions, data points, trivia, true/false, quizzes, etc. while still leveraging industry hashtags and sharing original and third-party content that is in line with the corporate communications strategy, themes and messages.

Practice balance. Find a balance between creating new content and sharing with the audiences that will help amplify its reach. Moreover, consider sharing individual content assets multiple times, using different approaches, based on follower personas.

Paid content. As you expand your owned content repository (blogs, infographics, eBooks, white papers, etc.) consider leveraging paid social ads (promoted tweets, sponsored Facebook posts, paid LinkedIn posts, etc.) in order to amplify the reach of your digital assets to highly targeted audiences.

Social monitoring. Consider adding the top 100 influencers participating in relevant industry conversations and those talking about your company to separate Twitter lists in order to monitor those groups more closely to interact with them on a more regular basis.

Empower Ambassadors. Transform corporate executives into Twitter ambassadors by establishing a corporate social media program that enables them to share thoughts around industry trends, breaking news and technology innovation in a refreshing way. RT from the corporate account to showcase your company’s leadership and industry thought leadership.

B2b-content-marketing-benchmarks

(Source: MarketingProfsB2B image via Shutterstock.)

A Recipe for Owned-Earned-Paid-Shared Content Strategy

This post was part of a holiday-themed campaign I developed for Lois Paul and Partners, which culminated in the publication of this free eBook containing 13 PR recipes with best ingredients and practices required to achieve great PR results. See it here >> http://bit.ly/LPPcookbook

Just as “foodies” have made us care more about what we eat, the increasing number of socially-savvy consumers – from bloggers to C-level decision-markets – have made us care more about what we say and do online. While the foodie culture has resulted in more sophisticated dining experiences, companies are implementing more sophisticated business communications programs via an owned-earned-paid-shared approach that focuses on delivering unique experiences through digital content that tells a consistent story,  inspires engagement, drives conversations, and reaches key audiences throughout the communications lifecycle and the customer journey.

dinner-party

The analogy for implementing an owned-earned-paid-shared strategy is not a recipe, but rather a hectic dinner party – Some items will be ready to serve while others are still in the oven. Some people may already be sitting down while others are still walking in and spending time greeting other guests. Or there may be more than one chef in the kitchen. But if your agency can be trusted to lead the orchestration of all the moving parts of your strategy, you are in good hands.

Ingredients:

  1. Channels
  2. Content
  3. Conversation
  4. Conversion

First, get your house in order. Refresh you social channels by scrubbing the “about” section, links and other information. Organize existing content into albums, playlists, etc. to make it accessible and searchable. Work with your design team to give your channels a makeover.

Owned Content

I consider Betty Crocker one of my best friends because she keeps me from starting from scratch. Likewise, you should assess and create an inventory of your existing content and determine what is “evergreen” and can be repurposed and leveraged via social channels around industry trends, future announcements and specific phases of the customer lifecycle. You should also meet with your PR and marketing teams to determine what original content can be created on a quarterly basis or around major news, events or milestones. Plan ahead to ensure the message behind the content truly tells a story.

Earned Content

You wouldn’t just invite anyone to your dinner party. The key to succeeding in an owned-earned-paid-shared ecosystem is to find the balance between producing new content and putting that content in the hands of the right people who will help amplify it to your key customers to drive conversations. Develop a list of top influencers to track regularly and target with your content to secure coverage. You should also explore other ways to earn content – empowering customers to become brand evangelists, turning your executives into contributors, speaking opps at industry events, etc.

Paid Content

There is a misconception that putting things online is free. But the reality is that it takes time and definitely money. More brands are using promoted tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts to target audiences who use social media to discuss topics associated with their brand’s products/services. Imagine that you are selling a new men’s razor and you pay to place a billboard on a highway where ONLY bearded men drive their cars. Social advertising works just like that. The challenge today is the number of options have broadened – from YouTube ads to entire sections within publications (WIRED Innovation Insights is sponsored by IBM, among others) – your choice of paid content vehicle, of course, should be determined by the goals of your program.

Shared Content

This is the fun part, but only if you have successfully managed to implement and orchestrate the other moving parts – created original owned content, leveraged that content to secure earned opportunities, and paid to amplify the reach of that content to key audiences. This last part is your guests sitting down and enjoying the dinner party so much that they ask you for the recipe, they stick around for drinks later, they call to invite you to their house, they friend you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter and – all along the way – meaningful relationships develop.

Tips and a Word of Caution on Creating or Editing Your Company’s Wikipedia Article

wikipediaGiven that Wikipedia is the first place many of us go to learn quick facts about companies, celebrities or obscure engineering terminology, it makes sense that many of our clients want to know how they can ensure that information about them is updated, complete and accurate.

But not everyone has good intentions.

Companies or agencies acting on their behalf are discouraged from creating or editing articles about themselves or clients. This constitutes a conflict of interest. In the experience of Wikpedia editors, if the page is about your company, you will try to manipulate facts, embellish or spin them.

So what is one to do?

Here are some tips and a very strong word of caution:

To create/edit an article on Wikipedia, you must create a username/account on the site; however, the challenge is that Wikipedia has a very strict username policy. Usernames that are doubtful, offensive, any that imply that more than one person is using that account, or that are promotional (associated with a company email address) are watched closely by the site editors. If you try to make edits to the company page using what would be deemed a “suspicious” username, those edits will be flagged by a Wikipedia editor and reported as inappropriate. More on Wikipedia’s username policies can be found here.

Another challenge is that in order for Wikipedia to be more likely to approve your edits, your username must be active for at least four days and you must have at least 10 approved edits in your Wikipedia account history.

Strictly technically speaking, you could create a Wikipedia account with a username associated with a personal email address and become a contributor by creating and editing articles around the encyclopedia.

THE WORD OF CAUTION: Should you choose to create or edit an article associated with your agency or client, and your entries are not 100 percent factual or objective, you run the risk of the edits becoming the story and getting caught up in Wikipedia drama. 

My advice?

It’s OK not to control every outpost and even every part of the message. Try not to focus on Wikipedia entries. Focus on issuing informative press releases, blog posts and on updating your online newsroom on a regular basis. Focus on maintaining a solid influencer relations program so that reporters, bloggers and analysts may become your partners in keeping key audiences informed about the latest and greatest from your company. Focus on sharing news and other updates with your employees and  empower them to become evangelizers and extend the reach of your message. Share relevant content and engage social media audiences to inspire them to become storytellers as well.

Do all of these things and the Wikipedia articles will edit themselves.

PR Implications of Publications Embracing All-Digital Futures

6a00d83452b15969e20191040c070a970cFollowing an announcement byNetwork World a couple of weeks ago that they would be killing their print publication, Information Weekannounced last week that they too are leaving print for an all-digital future.

We already know that newsrooms are short on staff, with individual reporters covering several beats. Staff cuts and tight budgets have also led to decreased media attendance at industry and vendor events. And as more publications move to an all-digital format, fewer reporters are now responsible for publishing more stories on an even more regular basis.

And, as publications compete for money from advertisers and sponsors, many reporters are now tasked to help increase readership.

What impact does this have on PR programs and on how we can best continue to cultivate relationships with reporters and publications undergoing significant changes in format and business models?

  • Expect more dynamic annual editorial calendars. Some publications have already abandoned their annual editorial calendar and have announced other coverage opportunities throughout the year, as well as requests for more dynamic content such as slideshows, etc. This means PR pros have to keep in better touch with reporters year-round and be more proactive in our approach to identify media opportunities.  The next best opportunity may be a brand new one just announced.
  • On a related note, there are increasing numbers of more nontraditional opportunities for coverage in these digital publications, including slideshows, video, audio podcasts, Q&As, etc. PR pros need to develop materials such as bylines, product images, videos, blog posts and other digital-friendly content that we can share with media on behalf of our clients. One of our contacts said they appreciate receiving “interesting factoids” about the industry or uses of technology.  This content also can be leveraged via social media channels, which is a great way to close the coverage loop and maximize reach.
  • As noted above, the pressure for smaller editorial staffs to publish more stories in an all-digital format creates more opportunities for bylines and contributed content. This is a great way for PR pros to extend their clients’ messages and storytelling.  But just because the content is contributed, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to meet editorial standards of relevance and objectivity.  The PR teams who produce on-target materials for key outlets will open doors for their clients and build strong relationships with the editors and reporters.
  • Finally, as more reporters are being judged on the amount of traffic they are driving to the publication’s website, we will see more of them leveraging social media as a way to promote their work and build closer relationships with their audiences. PR pros should continue to share coverage via our social media channels and mention reporters to help increase their reach. We should also look at opportunities to create content with reporters and influencers.  Invite them to host Twitter chats or to serve as panelists in online discussions.  Maybe even switch things up a bit and interview them for a video or blog post focused on industry trends, etc. They are industry experts after all.

How are you approaching PR given the ongoing changes in media and journalism? What other implications should PR pros be aware of?