Why PR Is Best Suited to Lead Social Media Initiatives

Marketing, advertising, new business, customer service, human resources and others have important business reasons for using social media. But when it comes to mapping agency or corporate strategy, I believe that public relations is the discipline best equipped for leading the social media charge.

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Here’s why PR is naturally suited for this role:

  • PR people are storytellers who create content that is targeted, relevant and valuable
  • They are trained to converse with a variety of audiences
  • They are responsible for managing an organization’s image
  • They help an organization speak with one voice through clear and consistent communication
  • They know how to engage audiences and talk with (not at) them

The hallmark of good public relations has always been two-way communication, which is vital for social media success.

Social media allows us to start or participate in conversations with individuals we might otherwise not reach. We can communicate directly with our marketplace and answer questions, solve problems, have constructive debates and gain a better understanding of issues and concerns from the other person’s perspective.

  • But beware: a post from any department in an organization is seen as representing the entire organization.

Unfortunately, some entities operate in aimless social media silos instead of having a synergistic plan for search engine optimization, reputation management and business impact.

As a result, there is no unified message or purpose, and “Likes” and “Shares” are considered barometers of success rather than attracting and cultivating targeted leads and converting them into sales.

The real strength of social media is its interactive nature, which enables us to build relationships and enhance trust in ways that other mediums can’t match. Social media gives agencies, businesses and nonprofits unparalleled ways of communicating one-on-one with customers, donors, prospects, influencers and other interested parties.

It’s what PR professionals do every day.

photo credit: MySign AG Social Media via photopin (license)

10 Ways to Create Engaging Agency Content

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Creating content for your agency that stands out from the pack isn’t easy to do, and sometimes even trying to define what constitutes excellent content can be a challenge.

Google is the dominant Internet player when it comes to deciding whose content is noteworthy, and it looks to social signals—in the form of shares, likes and traffic to the site—to identify stellar material.

What sort of content do people like and tend to share?

I believe its content that is well written, enjoyable to read, relevant, timely and to the point, without a lot of extraneous fluff and stuff. Compelling visuals are very helpful as well.

Here’s what it’s not: a disguised sales pitch, a headline that promises one thing but delivers another, boring copy or a recycled version of conventional wisdom that really doesn’t offer anything new.

The following are 10 suggestions for creating engaging agency content that clients and prospects will find useful and want to share:

  1. Write with a specific audience in mind
  2. Offer new insights or information
  3. Share guidance for solving a problem
  4. Be practical and relevant
  5. Offer thoughtful analysis
  6. Discuss a trend and its implications
  7. Make a prediction
  8. Take a counter viewpoint—or at least a different slant—to conventional wisdom
  9. Offer tips and advice that are actionable
  10. Develop an emotional connection by telling a story

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Win-Win Guest Posting for Blogs

Pitching a blogger for a guest post isn’t much different than pitching a print or broadcast reporter. Guest posting has to be win-win for everyone, so be sure to make it clear in your pitch why what you are proposing makes sense for that blog’s audience and how it will benefit them.

Just as you can build on local or trade-specific news media coverage to reach larger media outlets, doing guest posts on some lesser-known blogs may help you get coverage on an A-list blog down the road.

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Here are seven tips for presenting guest-post ideas to bloggers:

Do your homework. Research sites to find ones that are viewed by your target audience and develop a short list of places you’d like to approach. Blogger Link Up provides helpful resources, including a page that lists guest posts wanted by categories. In addition, Effectivebusinessideas.com has what it calls “The Ultimate List of Blogs that Accept Guest Posts.” These are good places to get started.

Become familiar with the blog’s style, personality and content. Just as you should read a publication or watch/listen to a program before pitching it, read several posts on the blog you are targeting and make sure what you have in mind fits into one of its categories. See if you can bring a fresh perspective to a topic or address a something that hasn’t been covered recently or at all.

Establish your credibility. When contacting a blogger, include information about yourself and your credentials to write about the topic you’re proposing. Even if you are acquainted with the blogger, it doesn’t hurt to remind him or her about why you (or your client or boss) would be an ideal person to address this topic.

Get to the point. A good media pitch letter is brief, engaging and quickly gets to the point. Use that same approach with bloggers, and don’t waste their time. The more targeted and creative your pitch, the better your chances of success.

Make the blogger’s job easy. Rather than asking the blogger about topics he or she would like you to write about, suggest a couple of good ideas that would be of interest to the blog’s audience.

Write to help the audience succeed. Once you have approval to submit a guest post, focus your writing to the specific audience you’ll be addressing. What challenges do readers face, and what advice can you give them to help them overcome these challenges? What opportunities may they be missing that haven’t been previously covered? Are there trends or new research results you can discuss?

Don’t be pushy. It’s fine to see if you can get a timeframe of when, if ever, your guest post will run, but don’t hound the blogger. If you don’t get a positive response or you don’t get a response at all after a couple of inquiries, move on—and keep in mind that you may have an even better pitch next time.

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Why a Niche Blog Is Essential for Ad Agency PR

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “public relations” is publicity in the form of radio, TV or print media coverage. That still is an important part of ad agency PR, but with so many media outlets either shrinking or going out of business—and the increasing influence of content marketing and social media—a niche blog that showcases your agency’s expertise is essential.

Here’s why. When you have an immediate need (i.e. a “problem to solve”), chances are your first step is to begin searching on the Internet for a solution. If you’re like me, you don’t appreciate the spam emails, junk mail and unsolicited sales calls that interrupt me on a daily basis for products or services that don’t interest me.

Outbound marketing—which involves cold calling, direct mail and other forms of chasing business—is becoming less and less effective, and agencies that rely on it for new business are more likely to be perceived as an annoyance than an expert. To put it bluntly, salespeople selling ad agency services smack of desperation. They also put the emphasis on your agency rather than providing value to a prospect.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, draws customers to your agency by providing them with valuable content.

You want to attract clients who need and can afford your services, and the best way for that to happen is for them to find you when they are looking for a solution.

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A niche blog positions your agency as a subject matter expert in a particular area, and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines.

The entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect, who may or may not be interested in what your agency has to offer at the time of the contact.

One of the most important reasons for having a blog is to establish or enhance your ad agency as an expert in a particular niche. Being seen as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable thought leader that provides useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road.

Once you reach expert status in a niche, the news media covering that niche will come to you for insight and commentary—and your target audience will see you that way as well.

A niche blog gives your agency continuous opportunities to demonstrate that it:

  • Communicates effectively
  • Has the ability to solve problems
  • Is well connected within your industry niche
  • Knows about important industry developments and trends

Just as publicity tends to beget publicity, as your blog becomes a repository of relevant content, it will rise in search engine rankings and draw targeted readers to your doorstep, making your agency increasingly “discoverable” by decision makers you could only dream of reaching through sales calls.

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Decline in Traditional and Social Media: What’s a PR Person to Do?

The news for traditional news media outlets continues to get worse. According to U.S. Labor Department data, jobs in the newspaper sector have declined nearly 60% since 1990. That is a staggering statistic, especially when one considers how the local paper used to be a routine part of everyday life.

Magazines lost 36 percent of their jobs during the same period, with radio employment down 27%.

Internet broadcasting and publishing employment, on the other hand, has grown from about 30,000 to nearly 198,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

None of this is terribly surprising, given that these trends have been going on for some time now. But what’s noteworthy is that a new study involving nine countries found that people are spending less time on social media apps.

Instagram and Twitter were both down nearly 24%; Snapchat use declined by about 16%; and Facebook by 8%. In the U.S., only Facebook fared better (though slightly)—it was down only 6.7% here.

News media outlets are declining, and so is the use of social media. What are the implications for public relations? Some perspective may be helpful.

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First, people are not communicating less, but rather in different ways.

Texting, for example, likely accounts for some of the drop in social media usage. Plus, new mobile apps are constantly being created, giving users additional options for making connections in new ways.

Second, while people aren’t reading newspapers and magazines like they used to, the exponential growth in Internet broadcasting and publishing jobs demonstrates that they are still interested in news and features, it’s just that many are getting them online.

As I noted in a July 2015 post, social media has become an essential part of journalistic practice, with 94% of journalists saying they use it daily, primarily to find sources and network. That percentage is probably even higher today. So, while use of social media apps may be down among general users, it’s still an important for organizations and individuals to be “discoverable” for journalists seeking sources.

Social media will remain an important way for companies and agencies to interact with customers and prospects, even if some of the apps used to reach them evolve.

Finding new ways to communication is the new norm for PR professionals. Knowing your audiences, and how they prefer to receive information and communicate with you, is vital to PR success, as is staying on top of trends.

There will always be an audience for people with expertise in a particular niche who are willing to share helpful information and tips, regardless of the medium used. And in spite of all the changes taking place in media, getting the right message to the right person at the right time is still the best path to PR success.

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2015 Fuel Lines New Business Conference Was Loaded with Helpful Ideas and Insights

Michael Gass speaking at the conference

Michael Gass organized the inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference in Nashville

I’m still unpacking all I heard at last week’s inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies. The conference, which drew people from more than 60 cities—including a few from outside the U.S.—was held at Nashville’s snazzy new Music City Center. It was organized by my friend and colleague Michael Gass.

Because there were concurrent breakout sessions, it wasn’t possible to attend everything over the two-day period. But, I learned plenty from the sessions I was able to make. Here are 10 observations that struck me as particularly noteworthy from some of the thought leaders who spoke (though they only scratch the surface):

  • Nothing is more powerful than a human insight (Peter Levitan)
  • Chemistry is the key factor in new business presentations (Peter Levitan)
  • Create personas of prospective clients to prepare customized new business presentations (Bob Sanders)
  • We have grossly exaggerated the importance of brands to consumers; most of what we call brand loyalty comes from habit and convenience (Bob Hoffman)
  • The key factors for international agency business are trust, proximity, special skills/expertise, process and global reach (Julian Boulding)
  • Don’t be afraid to specialize in what you do best (Stephanie Holland)
  • Write RFPs with simple words and phrases, and eliminate unnecessary words; a confused mind always say no (Jody Sutter)
  • Give RFP prospects something extra of value (Jody Sutter)
  • Pick a niche and own it; don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities outside your niche (John Sonnhalter)
  • Positioning is foundational for new business; an agency should have a specific target and strong point of differentiation (Michael Gass)

In my breakout session, “How to Craft an Agency PR plan that Drives New Business,” I discussed the building blocks of creating a performance-based public relations plan for one’s agency. I also explained how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish an agency from competitors; and make it easier for agencies to be found by decision makers.

Don Beehler speaking at the conference

Speaking about ad agency PR at the Fuel Lines New Biz Conference

My three most important points:

  • Consistency is vital for successful agency PR
  • Becoming a trusted source is the quickest way to increase awareness and gain credibility
  • A successful PR plan is strategic with a clear focus, target and purpose

I sure hope Michael will have a second annual conference next year. This not only was a great learning and networking experience, but also a lot of fun.

Study Finds Bloggers More Trusted Than Journalists

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As I have noted in previous posts, agency blogs can be a very effective way to build one’s reputation as a subject matter expert in a particular niche. However, lack of focus, purpose and/or providing content that does not resonate with the target audience more often than not is a waste of everyone’s time.

If done well and strategically, blogs be can incredible tools for ad agencies and other entities to generate awareness, credibility, influence and a loyal following—all of which enhance new business endeavors.

Now there’s a new study that provides further evidence of the power of blogging.

An independent UK survey of consumers by affilinet found that bloggers have more influence than journalists, celebrities, politicians or brands, coming in third place behind family and friends.

Bloggers who cover a specialized area fared particularly well among those surveyed.

“What is encouraging…is the role that bloggers and social media play within consumer trust,” said Helen Southgate, UK managing director of affilinet. “Working with niche specialist bloggers using adverts or content tailored to their audience, will become an important part of the acquisition strategy for advertisers, [as] they strive to improve the level of trust in their brand from consumers.”

According to a press release about the study issued by affilinet, “Consumers were asked whether they trusted the opinions of mainstream media outlets (magazines, newspapers, and online titles tied to a publisher), or independent bloggers/vloggers more, when it came to purchasing decisions, and the bloggers came out on top; 57% vs 43%.”

While the study is UK-specific, it’s clear that consumers there are increasing turning to niche bloggers for what they consider to be credible, trustworthy and reliable information.

That is consistent with Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, which found that blogs rank high when it comes to trust and influence: “When making overall purchase decisions, for consumers, blogs trail only behind retail and brand sites. With regard to overall sources for information on the internet, blogs rank among the top five ‘most trustworthy’ sources.” 

(If you don’t have time to read the full report, Social Media Examiner’s Patricia Redsicker has a good overview of its findings.)

Whether your blog is designed to reach consumers, businesses or other audiences, having a niche with fresh insights, useful tips and compelling content will bring value to your readers and success to your organization.

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