Month: November 2017

Digital Public Relations: What It Is, and Isn’t

In this blog post and companion video tutorial, I’m going to talk about Public Relations. Now, if that introduction makes you want to leave this page, please hold off and continue reading. This is not your traditional PR pitch blog post – in more ways than one.

Still here? Great!

Specifically, I’m going to talk about Digital Public Relations – what it is, what it isn’t, and how Digital Public Relations differs from traditional public relations. I want to make the distinction between the two because many PR consultants and agencies still approach public relations from a traditional (aka “old-school”) perspective, an approach that is not only not ineffective, it’s one that can result in higher costs and diminished results for clients.

Public Relations by definition is non-paid third-party endorsement. This means that when you get coverage, whether it be print or online, it is considered PR if the mention or coverage was a result of pitching or proactive outreach from an outside source (ie a PR consultant) rather than paid. For example: you send information to an editor about your new product or service (ie a press release) and the editor runs that copy – press release or otherwise – as part of the outlet’s core editorial.

Public Relations is a core part of an integrated marketing communication program, and perhaps the most powerful component for creating awareness and incentivizing action since the content reflects nonpaid third-party endorsement as opposed to first-party paid influence, which is what advertising is. Both have their place in the marketing mix but public relations has the most impact when it comes to building awareness

Let’s segue back to the beginning and quickly define what Digital Public Relations is.

Simply put, Digital PR is the process of leveraging digital tools and methods to help influence coverage. It includes acknowledging and adapting to the intricacies of the digitally-driven web publishing infrastructure – where content consumption and influence relies heavily on data-driven algorithms and processes such as search engine optimization and digital tools that lead to a fast and efficient response.

This is not to say that relationships don’t matter in the Digital Public Relations age. It just means that they matter less in the initial stages of a pitch where the influence component starts. This is where one of the key differences between Digital PR and traditional PR becomes evident.

In the past, the traditional PR approach relied heavily on a stabilized infrastructure of reporters, editors, and journalists. In that era, journalists tended to stay at a publication for years (some as a badge of honor…) and built trusted long-standing relationships with PR professionals.

Oftentimes, getting editorial coverage in this era started with reaching out to those close journalist colleagues, who would readily take the call and pitch because of the established relationship.

While these types of relationship still matter in the Digital PR world, they are typically less common, and as such, can’t be relied on as much as in the past. This is compounded by the reality that journalists and reporters move around from outlet to outlet much more today than they did 10 years ago. This transient nature makes it hard for a PR practitioner to maintain a consistent and healthy relationship with a specific journalist at a single outlet.

Ultimately this disintermediation has shifted the discipline of PR back to the primary reason it worked in the first place: The practice of finding a good, relevant creative angle to base a PR pitch on, in a way that fits in the editorial style and context of the outlet you are pitching.

With this digital influence now driving the process, there are three main components to realizing an effective Digital PR strategy. If you don’t have these three components in place, you’re less likely to get desired results.

These three components are Speed/Efficiency, SEO, and ROI/measurement.

Digital Public Relations – Speed/Efficiency

The increasing transition to a content marketing-centric media environment, combined with the explosive growth of blogs and web publishing platforms has intensified the need to be able to act quickly to opportunities, adapt quickly to changes, and respond quickly to requests.

In the digital PR environment, much more than the traditional PR environment, fast, efficient response and proactive outreach is a must. Because of the content clutter challenges mentioned earlier, a successful digital PR program today still must be centered around creative pitching, but equally important, digital tools that accelerate the ability to influence coverage must drive the process.

There are a few tools that I consider must-haves in order to address the need to be fast and efficient. The first is a media monitoring tool such as CustomScoop. A media monitoring tool scours the web for keyword mentions that you have identified as relevant. These keywords can include your brands or products, or your competitor’s brands or products. Since speed to market is essential, the media monitoring tool will help you discover those places where opportunities exist, and where coverage has already happened – whether that is your coverage or your competitor’s coverage. (The ability to monitor your competitor’s coverage, also known as “outputs,” can provide a wealth of insight on competitive market conditions, which I go into in the video tutorial.

The second tool that is a must-have in the digital PR toolbox today is a dynamic media contact database such as Cision. As mentioned earlier, journalists and reporters move around much more today than ever before. The ability to stay in touch, no matter where a journalist moves to, is essential in terms of speed and efficiency.

There are a few professional media databases available to PR professionals. These subscription-based tools get constantly updated so that PR professionals can have access to the most recent and relevant contact information for journalists. Considering the transient nature of the journalist community today, it’s almost impossible to quickly and efficiently have access to relevant influencers and journalists without a tool that provides a quick and accurate reference to key influencers.

Cision provides a comprehensive wealth of relevant information with regards to the editor/journalist opportunities you have available and any given time. When used in conjunction with a tool like CustomScoop, the ability to proactively pitch, as opposed to reactively pitch, can mean the difference been a significant PR placement and a missed opportunity.

Watch the video tutorial to see how these two tools complement one another.

Digital Public Relations – SEO

Most traditional PR practitioners frown when the mention of SEO is brought up. There are a lot of reasons for this response, but it’s primarily due to a lack of understanding about how digital media works and a refusal to admit the shifting tide of influence from hand-shaking to word-making. In the not-too-distant past, PR exposure was often built around tapping into personal connections and relying on an established network to garner coverage.

The rapid convergence of the disintermediation of the web as a publishing platform, combined with the powerful search capabilities of Google and others, has shifted the sphere of influence in PR to the relevance of content as opposed to the relevance of connections.

Today, PR content that is optimized for search – primarily meaning that Google’s algorithm looks favorably on it – can rank higher, and higher longer, than content that was generated by a handshake with a close journalist connection.

But hold on a minute! If PR is non-paid third-party endorsement, meaning It was generated by a third-party journalist or reporter based on a pitch from a PR professional, what does SEO have to do with content influence and ranking if the content is being produced by someone else?

This is a great question and one that gets beyond the scope of the topic of this particular topic, but suffice to say that in the world of online content, there are basically three categories –  Earned, Owned and Paid.

Editorial placements fall into the Earned category because they are just that – placements that have been earned through some type of influence.

Paid content is exactly what it sounds like – Advertising. Pay to play.

It’s the Owned category that muddies the water a little bit with regards to PR. Simply put, Owned content is brand-specific content, often referenced in today’s world as branded-content. There are many forms, but examples include blogs, podcasts, video, and even social media posts. Owned media is considered a form of PR because it classifies as editorial and can have influence in brand positioning and perceptions. 

Threlkeld Communications Content Distribution Ecosystem Graphic
Click Image to Download Guide

When Owned and Earned content tactics are set up to work together, such as with a Content Distribution Ecosystem, the impact on brand awareness can be significant.

 How do you take advantage of the search capabilities that a good SEO strategy offers? Again, we’ll turn to the “digital” component of digital PR. Tools such as SEM Rush and Moz allow you to plan content keyword strategies around existing and relevant content.

So, for example, if your competitor is gaining the lion’s share of coverage in your category because of a greater amount of content, you have the ability to disrupt that by analyzing your competitor’s content and looking for valuable keywords that will rank higher in search for your content.

I go into more detail on how to do this in my video tutorial, but the key principle is that you want to look for what are called high-value keywords. These are keywords that have a high degree of relevance to your product or category, and ones that your SEO tool identifies as low to medium volume, which, in the SEO World, equates to higher value.

Because search engine ranking is based on a number of factors, including keyword relevance, the more a word appears in search, the harder it will be to rank against it. For example, if you are a computer company and sell laptops and your own content relies on the word “computer” for ranking, you’re going to be disappointed. This is because the keyword computer is extremely over-used – a search on the term in Google came back with over 2.5 Billion (with a B!) results! Imagine trying to rank against those odds!

SEO helps Google determine the relevance of your content in the context of a number of key criteria, which Google, in its infinite wisdom determines and keeps private.

Digital Public Relations – ROI/Measurement

Finally, we’ll take a look at the impact of digital tools on measurement with regards to Digital Public Relations efforts. For most clients, this has become perhaps the greatest benefit of the move to the digital world because traditionally PR was very hard to measure and quantify.

The old-school approach (still practiced by many PR people and consultants today) for measuring PR was how loud of a Thud a book of clips made when it hit the client’s desk. In this world, weight equaled the measure of success. This is also known as the “Outputs” approach to measuring success. In other words, “how many mentions did we get?”

As Digital PR progressed, and the ability to measure become more prevalent, forward-thinking PR consultants began focusing on measuring Outcomes, in addition to Outputs. Outcomes reflect movement of the needle – what action was taken, who signed up?

In the Digital PR world, there are numerous ways to measure PR outcomes. One is to add Google Analytics code to the links in a press release or blog post. The Google Analytics report will reflect (in real time) clicks on the marked links.

Another way is to create dedicated Bit.ly links for each link in the release. Bit.ly will track click activity and keep a record of clicks as they happen.

In summary, Digital Public Relations is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced brand marketer. With the benefits Digital PR brings to an integrated marketing program come significant challenges and a required knowledge of industry processes. And despite the fact that Digital PR often utilizes off-the-shelf paid digital services which are readily available, it’s not the tools that lead to success. It’s strategic implementation and experience in the complex world of PR that ultimately will lead to success.

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns that integrate PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video and Email Marketing components.

 

Studio Profile: Alex Moore of Lunchroom Studios

We recently had the chance to sit down with Austin, Texas-based studio owner Alex Moore. Alex owns and manages Lunchroom Studios, a facility that records a wide gamut of music styles and projects, from rock to country, from voiceovers to commercials.

Alex recently purchased Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation headphones for use in various projects.

 

Direct Sound: Let’s talk a little bit about your studio. Lunchroom Studios is a great name. How did you come up with that?

Alex: One of my former bandmates/friends was Jay Bennett, who was the guitar player of Wilco. He passed away in 2009. At the time in Chicago we had a studio. It was a cinder block warehouse kind of a building. We had the space divvied up. A friend of mine who was a drummer was coming over one day and I was showing him up the staircase and we passed by this door that said “Lunchroom” on it. He said, “Oh, that should be the name of your studio.” That stuck, and so I just went with it.

Direct Sound: The studio was originally started in Chicago you said? How did you get to Austin?

Alex: I spent time in Chicago recording a lot of bands, and I think for me it just ran its course with the weather. I’d had one too many Chicago winters and I think I was just ready for a change, and so I came down to Austin and met a lot of great players. I went out and saw some really amazing players and just made conversation, and it turned into multiple record projects.

Direct Sound: Can you share some names of bands you worked with in the past?

Alex: One of them, actually, The Carper Family, was one of the first groups that I recorded here, and they went on to play the Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. I’ve had guys in the studio one week and then the next week I’d turn on the television, there they are with Willie Nelson on stage, literally. It’s like, “Hey, that guy was just here.” It’s really neat to be able to work with players that are so talented. It’s humbling, but you learn a lot. I really enjoy that part of being in the Austin area.

Direct Sound: On your website you talk a lot about the different types of work that you do, anything from music production to editing, mixing, and mastering, voiceover. Talk a little bit about the range of services that you offer and a little bit about some of the projects that you’ve been working on recently.

Alex: I do mastering. I also have done voiceover work. A lot of times I think some of the projects I work on tend to be songwriters who need help finishing a song. For instance, tomorrow I’ll be working with a producer who is bringing in an artist that I sent to him. He and I worked yesterday on pre-production so we’ll be ready for tomorrow. A lot of times it is singer-songwriters. I work with a couple of rappers, occasionally full rock bands. There are a lot of acoustic players. I’ve done a lot of acoustic albums here. It really runs a wide variety of clientele.

Direct Sound: What was the driving reason behind looking for a pair of isolation headphones, or what led you to the Direct Sound EX-29s and what was your initial thinking about looking for a pair of isolation headphones?

Alex: I’m a drummer. I have five of the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros. I like those headphones, they sound nice, but there s a huge difference. When I put on the Direct Sound EX-29s and tracked drums with them, I just noticed a massive difference in my ability to just hear the click, hear the playback, and really block out the ambient sound of the drums. It makes a big difference. It puts you in a head-space that helps you focus on getting a good take. Also, headphones take a lot of abuse in the studio. I like the fact that the Direct Sound headphones are really well-constructed and you can take them apart without any special tools. That’s really cool. I think that was one of the biggest things that caught my eye at first – the ability to easily repair them.

Direct Sound: Okay, we’ve talked about drummers, but what about singers?

Alex: It’s funny you should mention that! I have several singers that I work with who complain that they have small heads, which sounds funny, but the Sennheisers won’t go small enough to fit on their head. With the Direct Sound EX-29s, you can really scrunch them down. They’ll fit a very small head. That’s a big plus. The fact that there’s that little adapter holder on the end is really cool. I’m constantly losing the quarter-inch tips off of those Sennheisers.

Direct Sound: It sounds like when you first reached out to us that you had bought the EX-29s at a local music store. Do you research ahead of time, or what was the process of going and finding them?

Alex: I did to research. I looked for them on Sweetwater’s site. Then I watched the video. I’m not sure who it was that did the demonstration. Somebody from Direct Sound did the demo. In that demo video he practically takes the whole thing apart and shows you how you can take the driver out, how the driver is closed back. It’s got the foam in there. Pretty cool. He takes the ear piece yoke and just bends it back like 180 degrees. That was a shocking selling point. It was like, “Wow. You could step on these and they’d probably survive.” After a while, these little cables, they get bent back and forth, and the fact that you can replace that and that there’s a kit is great. I like it when I’m buying a product that I know somebody has thought about the construction and maintenance. That to me is very impressive.

Direct Sound: Talk a little bit about some of the work that you’re doing now or that might be coming up in 2017.

Alex: I’m working on a record with a singer named Ryan DeSiato, who is really talented. I’m very happy to be working with him. Great singer. He just works really hard at what he does. We’ve done pre-production on a bunch of tracks, I think at least 10 or 11 tracks at this point, which will later become full band productions, or maybe half of them. He’s kind of producing himself. I’m stepping in and producing part of it. Ryan has been a really great client to work with. There’s also several rappers that I’m working with that are up-and-coming.

Direct Sound: Do you also come out from behind the board and play on any of the projects?

Alex: Yes, I just finished a record for Tommy Moore. That was a full album. I played drums, bass, and a little bit of guitar and some keyboards and I produced that record. It’s called “Need Some Sleep.” That’s on iTunes. He’s been getting some good response from that.

Direct Sound: Thanks again for being a Direct Sound headphones fan!

Alex: Thank you!

Exploring the Targeting Benefits of the Facebook Pixel and Standard/Custom Events

Many companies use Facebook to market and promote products and services, but very few even scratch the surface in terms of taking advantage of Facebook’s marketing tools and resources, and so they get little value or results from their efforts.

For this reason, many marketers think of Facebook as a sort of necessary evil for marketing, but also a time-zapping quagmire that wastes significant amounts of time and money (if they are experimenting with Facebook ads).

Let’s start with stating the obvious. With over 2-billion engaged users worldwide, if you are not at least considering or experimenting with Facebook marketing, chances are you are missing out on significant opportunities to build your brand.

The 800-pound gorilla in the Facebook ecosystem is the Newsfeed. The Newsfeed is the rolling list of posts that you see, including those from friends, friends of friends, and others such as paid advertisers, which you can identify because the post will say “Sponsored.”

How did these sponsored posts get into your feed? There are several ways, but one common way is through the Facebook Pixel.

What is the Facebook Pixel?

The Facebook Pixel is a snippet of code that gets installed on your website in the HEAD tag section. This code essentially creates a connection between those that visit your site and their Facebook feed. So, when a person visits a specific page on your site with the Pixel installed – let’s say it’s for a mountain bike they’re interested in that you sell — Facebook captures that interest and the Pixel creates the ability for you to serve a sponsored post (ad) about the bike into this person’s news feed. The caveat: this will only happen if you have created and set up an ad and to be delivered to people who have visited the website page. The Pixel is the way that Facebook knows they have visited your site and can serve the ad.

Here is an example of what the Facebook Pixel code looks like:

Threlkeld Communications blog Facebook Pixel Code Example

Some might think this approach to targeting seems big-brother-ish, but think about it. An individual is in the market for a mountain bike. They visit your website as part of their research. You sell mountain bikes and would love to get your product in front of them for consideration. Assuming you can add value to their customer journey by showing them an ad that gives them more information about something they’re very interested in, isn’t that a win/win?

The Facebook Pixel has many benefits, and basic targeting such as the example above is just one. But Facebook targeting can go beyond simply identifying a potential customer because of their visit to your website. At a deeper level, Facebook can  track and retarget visitors based on those who take certain actions on your website. This feature is called the Standard/Custom Events feature. By adding a little more code to the Pixel, you can target visitors to your website who take specific actions including page views, registrations, purchases, searches, and more.

We’re going to take a look at how and why you should use the Facebook Pixel and Events feature to target and track activity between your website and Facebook.

Facebook Pixel Events

Once the Facebook Pixel is installed on your website (see video below on steps on how to do this), as mentioned earlier you can add snippets of code to certain pages to capture and track the details of specific events that you define and are important to you, including registration, purchase, search, email signups, etc.

Once you’ve added this Standard/Custom Event code information to the Pixel on your site, you’ll be able to use Facebook’s Website Custom Audience feature to create specific ways to target users on Facebook, based on their activity.

Installing the Pixel using a PlugIn

Installing the Pixel manually is definitely an option, but, if you’re using WordPress, there are free plugins available that streamline the process and let you do some advanced Standard/Custom Event targeting without the need to alter the code manually.  I recommend using a plugin like PixelYourSite or PixelCaffeine. Both are equally as good, have free/paid versions and have great help sections.

After you’ve created your Pixel, locate the Pixel code in your Facebook Business Manager/Business Settings and enter the Pixel Code ID into your plugin (I’m using PixelYourSite plugin in this example, see below).

Threlkeld Communications PixelYourSIte Pixel ID

 

Once you’ve installed your Pixel code, the next step is to add desired Standard or Custom Events for tracking purposes. Again, the fastest and most streamlined way to to do this is to use a plugin like PixelYourSite or PixelCaffeine, but you can also do this natively through the Facebook Business Manager.

What are Facebook Standard and Custom Events?

Facebook Standard and Custom Events code are additional snippets of code that get added to the end of the master Facebook Pixel code. Once these extra snippets of code are added, this will enable specific pages with that code to capture and track details of an action a user takes, such as a purchase, webinar registration, search for an item, etc.

And that information gets passed through to your Facebook data so you can keep more detailed track of the ROI of an activity. Additionally, once you have an Event set up, you can use the information captured by the Pixel to create custom audiences of people who triggered the event for detailed targeting on Facebook.

For example, if a product page is set with a Facebook Event code snippet to record a visit to that particular page, you can target that person with a product-specific ad in Facebook by building a custom audience based on those that trigger that Event Pixel.

In other words, anyone who has visited that page has triggered the Facebook Pixel identifying that person as someone who is interested in the product, and as a result, someone that is worthwhile for you to target. That creates a highly relevant re-targeting opportunity since the person that visited the product page on your site is now served an ad about that product in their Facebook feed.

Again, I’m not going to cover the specifics of setting up a Standard or Custom event using the Facebook Business Manager, since the plugins make this process much easier. But if you’d like to add the code natively in Facebook, see this link.

The first step in using a plugin like PixelYourSite is to give your event a name. This really is just for your own identification and doesn’t impact what happens when the code is fired, but it’s important to give it a name that will help you remember the context of why the Event was set up. “My First Event” for example won’t help you six months later when you go back to do research on campaigns you’ve set up.

Threlkeld Communications Facebook Pixel Blog Post

 

The next step is to set the Event Trigger Conditions. This defines what action triggers the Pixel from firing and is typically a user visiting a web page. You will enter the URL of the page defining the trigger. Make sure to add the wild card character “/*” after the URL so all instances of the page, not matter what code follows the primary URL will be triggered. If you don’t do this, your data will be inaccurate or incomplete.

Threlkeld Communications Facebook Pixel Blog Post

The final step is to Define the Event you want to track, and Facebook gives you a range of pre-set options in the Standard Event set-up (Custom Events lets you define an event outside of the pre-set options. We’ll cover that in another blog post).

The options include VieContent, AddToCart, Lead, CompleteRegistration, etc. So, for example, if your Standard Event is “CompleteRegistration,” the Pixel will record activity on that page as someone who completed a registration, such as for an upcoming webinar. You can then use this information to serve Webinar-specific ads in Facebook to those who have filled out the registration.

Threlkeld Communications Facebook Pixel Blog Post

The Facebook Pixel is a must-have tool in the digital marketer’s arsenal today. By understanding how the Pixel works, and how you can take advantage of the benefits of targeting and re-targeting on Facebook, you’ll be well on your way to out-maneuvering your competition and creating a market advantage for your products/services that you would not have if you ignored the value of the Facebook Pixel.

 

Bill Threlkeld President Threlkeld Communications

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns that integrate PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video and Email Marketing components.