What is Digital PR?
Digital PR, also sometimes called “online PR” is the practice of creating and sustaining an influential presence across the web. A common question often asked is: “How does digital PR differ from traditional PR?” The answer to that question lies within the context of the five key components of digital PR listed below.
Traditional PR is focused primarily on distributing press releases and interacting with online and print outlet editors to try and get a story told or published. This process of interacting with editors is known as “pitching,” and it’s known in the PR trade as “media relations.”
Media relations remains an integral part of digital PR because the practice of online PR is based on getting influencers to help you tell your story. These influencers can be editors of an online outlet like Forbes.com (if you’re a tech company or entrepreneur) or The Law Journal if you’re a personal injury attorney firm. Print and online media are both still part of the pitching process, but online has become much more dominant, helping lead to the introduction of the “digital” element of PR.
Digital PR is a key component of the principle of Positioning, which is built on the premise that companies don’t position products and services, people do. Content integration in Digital PR is essential to help with SEO and visibility, and this can be achieved through a method like the Content Distribution Ecosystem.
Below, I’ll cover five key components that help answer the question “What is digital PR?” as wel as mention a few processes a digital PR agency handles as part of an ongoing scope of work. I’ll also include some examples of digital PR to show how the process differs from traditional PR.
5 Key Components of Digital PR
You might be surprised to see SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, at the top of the list when it comes to answering the question “what is digital PR?” SEO integration is one factor that helps delineate a key difference between digital PR and traditional PR.
There are billions of pages across the web that search engine bots must index and organize everyday, and this number increases by the thousands daily. It’s the search engines’ job to create a sense of order for this content. A digital filing cabinet of sorts. SEO in digital PR focuses on optimizing the connectedness in terms of context and relevance for content on the web.
The goal of SEO in digital PR is to help the search engines associate relevant pieces of content together so individuals can discover this content more quickly and efficiently.
Using core keywords and keyword phrases in press releases, blog posts, etc., a digital public relations specialist works to make sure that these core keywords (call them brand digital assets) are used consistently across related pieces of content. For example, a press release on a new product introduction should contain certain keywords that are often searched on with regards to the product category.
This is known as creating contextual relevance. And search engines like contextual relevance because it supports the search engines’ goal to create a sense of order and association.
Those same keywords should also be used in ancillary forms of content associated with the above-mentioned new product introduction. This includes using targeted keywords in subtitles in a video about the product, keyword usage in social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, SlideShare presentations done at a conference and posted on the web afterwards, etc.
Ensuring these keywords and keyword phrases are used consistently across these multiple forms of content helps solidify the SEO value of the keywords for the product introduction.
I’ll talk more about the use of consistent keywords in online PR a little bit in the section on Content Integration.
2. Media and Influencer Relations
Media and Influencer Relations is the process of connecting with targeted media in an effort to get them to help you tell your story or communicate news. As mentioned earlier, media relations has always been a key tenet of the traditional PR process, and it has evolved in the digital PR age to expand to digital influencers media such as bloggers and online reviewers.
The concept of leveraging third-party media such as trade outlets, bloggers, and Instagram influencers centers around the fact that, if you want your message to reach beyond your core audience, you need to leverage the size and reach of a wider audience.
For example, you may have a newsworthy tech announcement ready to break, such as a new product or service. You send that announcement to your email list of 5,000 people and post it on your Facebook and Instagram pages that have 10,000 likes combined.
But let’s say you want to get your new tech product message to more people. This is where media relations in online PR comes in. Going back to the mention of Forbes.com earlier, a digital PR specialist would use a media database such as Cision to locate the name and contact information for an influential editor at Forbes.com and pitch your tech announcement to that influencer.
Will it get picked up on Forbes.com? Maybe, maybe not. That is where the reality of PR as being a non-paid third-party outlet opportunity becomes clear. You can’t (or shouldn’t try to) pay this editor/influencer to place your press release online at Forbes.com. That would be a surefire way of getting blacklisted by the outlet – it’s considered unethical. And besides, paid media is a legitimate tactic in strategic marketing. Paying for placement fits in the category of advertising, not public relations. (See this blog post on the PESO media model — Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned)
Let’s assume the digital PR specialist has successfully pitched the Forbes.com editor on your tech news and runs it on forbes.com. Just like that, you have just tapped into a new audience of almost 30 million individuals (28,307,082 to be exact), which is Forbes.coms’ number of Unique Visitors Per Month (UVPM). And if you’re lucky enough for the post to include a link back to your website or landing page, you’ll reap the benefit of having hundreds if not thousands of new potential customers.
Remember, you did not pay for this coverage to appear on forbes.com. The placement was “earned” by the efforts of a digital PR specialist who used a strong pitch with a good angle as the currency to convince the editor to place the press release or story.
3. Content Integration
I talked about the use of keywords and keyword phrases earlier in digital PR, and the fact that these keywords should be used consistently across multiple forms of media across the Internet (blog, video, email, PDF, etc). Another term for this process of inter-connecting media through keyword relevance is Content Integration.
Search engine crawlers have the ability to analyze various forms of content that appear widely across the Internet. Strong content integration through keyword association in press releases, videos, and social media posts will get a vote of confidence by the search engine crawler in creating its master index of content across the web.
This vote of confidence by the search engine is a strong pillar that will help ensure your content is ranked higher in search over competitors who may still distribute various forms of content, but without contextual relevance among the various forms.
The model I created to illustrate the process of content integration is what I call the Content Distribution Ecosystem. In a Content Distribution Ecosystem model, content themes – supported by consistent use of keywords and keyword phrases across various media forms – are organized into content clusters, which I also call content campaigns.
These content campaigns are distributed in a timely and cohesive manner to help reinforce the connection between them.
Each one of these content clusters is built around a core keyword or keyword phrase. Over time, as the graphic below shows, these content clusters continue to grow and form an interconnected content ecosystem that the search engine crawlers can detect. This vote of confidence for the content association by the search engines results in higher rankings in search over time, with the ultimate goal of appearing on page 1 in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page).
It should be noted that various forms of content, just because it’s connected by using similar keywords across media platforms, won’t automatically get ranked well in search by keyword association alone. The content still has to have authenticity and relevance. Google refers to this as its EAT formula for success in content creation and placement. EAT stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
According to Google, EAT is a foundation for success in content marketing and Digital PR pitching across the web. As part of my digital PR best practices approach, I work with you to help ensure that the content campaigns in a Content Distribution Ecosystem model are optimized with strong keyword usage and relevance, and written in a style that conforms to Google’s recommended EAT guidelines.
4. Compelling Content
The definition of “compelling” is “…evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.” And this is what your digital PR content and campaigns must do in order to get noticed by the search engines.
Refer back to Google’s EAT guidelines. In order to be compelling, that content must spark an action — such as getting thoroughly read (measured in Google Analytics by time on page), liked, shared, etc. This refers to the “Engagement” component of the EAT guidelines. Engagement means that your content sparked someone to take an interest in it — enough to take action.
Second, compelling content must have Authority, the “A” in EAT. Authoritative content uses keywords, phrases, lingo, etc. that conveys deep knowledge of the topic at hand. For example, I could do lots of research on how to repair a carburetor, and then write a blog post on the topic. But, that blog post won’t have authority, because I know nothing about repairing a carburetor, an the search engine bots have grown increasingly more intelligent in scanning content for authority.
So, it would be better for me to interview an expert on car repairs about this subject, then post that interview in written form on my blog.
Trustworthiness is an extension of the pillar of Authority. Think about it. If you know that I have no knowledge of how to repair a carburetor and read my article, even if it’s factually correct (because I did my research), can you still trust the content? No — because trustworthiness and authority go hand in hand.
So, compelling content must also be based on a trustworthy topic and point of view, as well as the writer or author of the blog post, press release, video, etc.
Measurement is the 5th core component ind Digital PR. There’s an old saying: “I know that half of the money I spend on PR is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” This is why measurement is the rule much more in digital marketing rather than the exception.
It’s true that old school Traditional PR was much more difficult to measure than Digital PR. This is because in the traditional PR model, engagement was much harder to detect and measure versus what it is in the online PR world. For example, your news release may have been picked up in the local newspaper and read by thousands of people, but because you had no way to measure this action of them reading, you are not able to track and account for that activity.
Because the digital web is an interactive medium, engagement is much easier to detect and measure. And to take that even a step further, sequence actions can be measured which can help you gauge digital PR’s contribution to an end result action such as purchasing a product.
For example, you can set up a behavior flow sequence in Google Analytics to measure the path an individual took on the way to a desired business goal such as signing up for your monthly newsletter. Using Google Analytics as a measurement tool, you can see the actual path an individual took to get to the newsletter sign up stage in your behavior funnel.
Referring back to the forbes.com example, let’s say an individual read the news release on forbes.com and clicked the link to your website homepage. From there, a homepage button encouraged them to click to a blog post related to the topic the news release covered. At the bottom of that blog post, there is a newsletter signup link.
This path from original trigger (forbes.com) to final goal (newsletter signup) is measurable in Google Analytics. Monitoring this type of behavior flow over time will help you gauge whether or not your digital PR outreach efforts are performing to your expectations.
How Digital PR Can Help You
Asking the question “What is digital PR, and how does it differ from traditional PR?” takes into account many components, including SEO, media and influencer relations, content integration, compelling content, and measurement, just to name a few.
By focusing on EAT content guidelines in a model such as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, Digital PR can help you reach your brand and product goals in a much more efficient and systematic manner versus traditional PR or other ad hoc marketing efforts.