When we talk about Digital PR today it’s important to make the distinction between traditional public relations and digital public relations. And this is particularly true when it comes to the concept of velocity as it relates to digital PR. But that’s jumping ahead … first things first.
There’s a lot of confusion around the topic of digital PR and quite a bit a misunderstanding as to the differences between traditional PR and digital PR. I hope to clear some of the confusion up in this blog post.
I am going to cover two defining differences between traditional public relations and digital public relations in this post. But
What is Positioning and What Does it Have to Do With Digital PR?
Many companies mistake positioning as being an actionable marketing activity. As if it’s something you do to a product or service. Because of this you often hear, “Let’s position X (the new product or service) as [this or that].” But the reality is that companies don’t position brands, products or services, people do. So your position in the marketplace is not necessarily what you say or think it is, but it’s what the market in aggregate says it is. This collection of these attitudes is what is known as share of mind.
Once you understand where the market has your brand or product positioned (and competitive research such as with a SWOT analysis or an SEO audit can help here), you are ready to set a strategy. A positioning strategy has two goals: a) protect and maintain that position; or b) shift from that position in a direction you want to move in.
Understanding a particular position (brand, product or service) before taking action is essential. It’s with this positioning mindset that digital public relations outperforms all other marketing communications disciplines. Digital public relations relies on actionable insights. And these insights are gleaned from a range of digital tools and services that help monitor and gauge the pulse of the market with regards to a product or service category. Understanding this positioning, or share of mind, from a macro standpoint lets you direct your public relations, or other marketing efforts in a pinpoint fashion.
How Is Digital PR Different from Traditional PR?
So back to the two primary differences between digital public relations and traditional public relations. These two components have to do with the point I just made about efficiency and direction when it comes to marketing communications.
The two components are Speed and Velocity.
Now we all know what speed is. It’s the rate at which something is moving. And historically traditional public relations has been reliant on speed for impact. Such as, “Let’s get our new product press release out quickly so we can break the news before competitors have a chance to react.”
To be sure, speed is an essential part of developing a competitive edge. And we all know the value of first mover advantage. But the problem with speed is that if you’re not 100% sure about the direction you’re going to move in, you’re going to get into trouble fast. And it may happen before you realize it. And then, it’s very difficult (and costly) to recover.
So that’s where Velocity comes into play. Velocity is a defining characteristic of digital PR. By definition, velocity is speed in a particular direction.
So to circle back to what I mentioned earlier about the value of PR insights. Especially those gleaned from digital tools and services that help gauge the pulse of the market with regards to a brand, product or service. Remember, positioning is something that consumers and competitors do. So gaining real-time insight into the realities of a competitive market helps ensure that you’re going to move with speed in the right direction when you take action.
What’s Next for Digital PR?
So does this mean traditional public relations is no longer effective? Not entirely, and it’s too early to predict the demise of traditional PR as an effective marketing communications tool. But that said, consider how many companies are still practicing “old school” PR. This means producing press releases, case studies, and other PR content and distributing it to the market based on best guesses when it comes to positioning.
It’s my belief that this tactic – moving quickly in a direction without market intelligence that confirms the direction – lies at the heart of why much content never gets any engagement or eyeballs. It’s because the content is not addressing topics and themes that the market is interested in at that particular moment.
So while it’s too early to predict the demise of traditional PR, the writing is on the wall. Digital PR allows you to move quickly and efficiently with velocity. In other words, speed in the right direction. This leads to greater impact, greater value and more targeted content marketing than you get with traditional PR efforts.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing
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How does SEO fit into the world of Digital PR?
Let’s use a press release as an example. In the past, companies wrote and distributed press releases such as new product announcements using corporate speak and proprietary lingo that made sense to the internal audience, but generally had little relevance or appeal to the target audience. Because distribution channels were relatively few in the pre-web publishing days, basically limited to the newswire or email, this blast approach to a content strategy was accepted by default.
The web as a publishing platform changed all of that. Now, content published one place can stream to literally thousands of places instantly. This means increased competition for visibility, and this is where the search engines exert their influence by analyzing and ranking content.
So, for example, if the press release does not include key words or phrases relevant to the target audience (and I’ll explain more what this means in just a second), it will get ranked lower and receive less visibility because the algorithm has determined it’s not as relevant as other content that uses keywords best associated with the category or sector.
To put it another way using a familiar analogy as a springboard, content may be king but it’s relevant and engaging content that trumps everything.
So, to cut to the chase and the key question. Does this mean that SEO specialists are now the drivers of the discipline of PR? Absolutely not, and here’s why. The proprietary sophisticated search algorithms owned by Google and Bing grade and rank content on a number of criteria, and one very important one is content context and quality.
I know a number of top-notch SEO specialists, and with all due respect, while most are great at analyzing and optimizing existing content pieces and slicing and dicing relevant datasets, creative writing is not their specialty. Which means that, even though their content may be perfectly optimized in a lab for viewing, it won’t get read because it’s not interesting or creative. Content written purely with SEO in mind will come off as lacking emotion and appeal and a good litmus test of this type of content is when it’s not shared or engaged with.
What’s the Bottom Line for SEO and PR?
So the bottom line with regards to SEO for digital PR is that you need to focus on creative writing and relevance first and SEO second. And the process of writing — such as crafting press releases, blog posts or ghost writing bylines or OpEd articles, is what PR professionals do — and have done for ages — as a core part of their job. Plus, the search engine algorithms these days are getting very good at being able to “read” a block of content not only from an SEO
To sum things up, when it comes to PR, you need an experienced writer first and foremost, and one that has a solid grasp of SEO second, not the other way around. Because content that’s not read or engaged with is not going to support your PR and marketing goals.
One last point when it comes to SEO and digital PR. Since context is so important, how does Google or Bing determine what is relevant and what isn’t? Think of it this way — search engines capture millions of searches daily. Each one of those search phrases is a nugget of contextual gold to the search engine. The search engine is essentially learning contextual relevance by what people type into search, connected to what link they click on based on the search results.
So while your old school press release might have referenced your new product by its model number and internal company description, the “PY-61 Ultra-light Aluminum Extruder,” an actual keyword phrase to use in the release could be something like “tool for creating a metal support beam.”
How do you find these search terms so you can know to include them? I use a number of paid Digital PR tools and services that streamline this discovery process. But Google itself yields strong insight through the organic search process. Next time you type in a search on Google, notice that Google will begin suggesting terms in the search box. This is Google’s way of telling you what terms in its database initially match the search you are performing.
Once you’ve identified core keyword associations, the challenging part is still to come – drafting a compelling and engaging piece of content. And that’s a process that is best left to an experienced writer, not an SEO Specialist.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content