In this blog post, I’m going to talk about Digital PR and cover a few key points about what Digital PR is — and what it isn’t — and how Digital PR differs from Traditional PR. This will be a basic overview. In a future blog post, I’ll go into more detail on some of the technical differences between the two methods, such as the importance of SEO, Backlinks and Keyword Strategy in a Digital PR program.
How Is Digital PR Different from Traditional PR?
Historically, Traditional PR has been purely deadline driven. It’s focused primarily on outreach to editors and influencers based on the speed of getting a pitch or news release out quickly and beating the competition to the pitch angle or story. Traditional PR is often marked by a focus on cold call pitching to editors and writers, and this is known as media relations, with the component of fast-paced pitching and speedy activity driving the process.
Digital PR is also deadline-driven and recognizes the need for speed — that requirement that news and new product information get into the market as quickly as possible to maintain relevance. But a major difference between Digital PR and Traditional PR is a keen focus on ROI that enhances the concept of speed and incorporates the component of velocity.
Most of us are aware of the importance of speed, or reaction time, with regards to marketing communications. Speed is the rate at which a pitch or press release gets to editors and influencers. Velocity also centers around the concept of speed, but with the added component of direction. Velocity is defined as speed in a particular direction, and this is the major difference between Digital PR versus Traditional PR. It’s a more focused and directed approach, with speed remaining a key ingredient.
Another way to put this is that Digital PR is a much more efficient approach, with greater value because the ROI can be measured, where this is difficult to do with Traditional PR.
Digital PR uses digital tools and services to identify the optimal places for outreach — the direction to go with your efforts if you will — as opposed to relying on guesses or perceptions on which direction to go with a pitch. Traditional PR is the style of PR that has been practiced for decades, and it typically centers around the distribution of a press release announcement.
In a Traditional PR outreach effort, a press release announcement is first drafted. Next, the press release gets distributed one of two primary ways.
Should I Use the Newswire For Digital PR?
The first is via the newswire. Newswire services have been around since the days of newsrooms and an environment where editors got breaking news information sent directly to them via a discrete stream known as the newswire. Newswire services such as Businesswire, PRNewswire, Marketwire, PRWeb, and others have cropped up over the years to provide a way to distribute news via the newswire.
With a newswire, you pay to have your press release uploaded to the newswire feed and the press release would then be distributed, eventually reaching an editor or writer. If that editor or reporter deemed the information relevant, it might get picked up and run as news.
As the Internet developed into a robust broadcast medium, the newswire gained popularity with marketers because the feed was also distributed via the Web directly to mainstream news outlets. This content was automatically placed in new sections on many online sites. So, for instance, if your press release went via the newswire, it might also appear in the online version of USA Today or the New York Times.
The benefit of this direct-to-source distribution approach was short-lived, however. A few years ago Google decided that those news releases distributed via the newswire and picked up by outlets via the Internet were no longer deemed as credible news sources. So Google changed its indexing algorithm which meant that news distributed via the newswire was no longer picked up online. And this happened almost overnight, catching many marketers off guard.
Even though the newswire’s primary benefit as a digital distribution medium dropped with the non-indexable nature of news releases, newswire services had a business model to maintain, so cost for the newswire remained high while the value dropped significantly, and quickly.
Even though the value of the newswire as a news distribution source has diminished, many companies still resort to the newswire as part of a PR program due to a lack of understanding of how to get news out. So, for many companies today, the use of the newswire falls in the category of, “…it it feels like I’m at least doing something to help promote my brand…” But the reality is there’s just very little value in the newswire these days, especially as a news distribution mechanism.
The second way press releases are typically distributed in a Traditional PR approach is via blast email. And much like the newswire, this is typically a shotgun-style approach to media outreach that, in theory, puts the press release in front of key potential influencers. But the problem with this email distribution approach is that there is a lot of waste in terms of those recipients on an email list who either have no interest in the release or ignore the email altogether because of the blast distribution approach.
Typically these blast emails are sent to legacy internal PR media lists that are kept in a spreadsheet, and the reality is that, with the turnover in the reporting/media pool an all-time high today, these lists become out-of-date very quickly. So much of this type of email distribution effort is wasted.
Also with regards to results and results measurement, Traditional PR coverage has typically been quantified by what’s known as “Outputs.” Outputs is essentially a listing of places where coverage appeared over a given period of time. In the past, measuring and reporting Outputs as a measure of ROI was better than nothing, especially for clients who wanted to understand some of the benefits that PR was delivering.
Speed Versus Velocity in Digital PR
As mentioned earlier a key benefit of Digital PR versus Traditional PR can be seen through the differences between speed and velocity. Also as mentioned earlier, speed is the rate at which something is able to move. By definition, speed is one-dimensional — it doesn’t take into account the direction of the speed.
Velocity by definition is the rate at which something moves in a particular direction. So velocity is a much better measurement of the impact of PR outreach because it takes into account a course of direction along with the pace of activity. So Digital PR is all about PR moving with speed in the right direction. The right direction means focusing on, identifying and connecting with influencers that you already know have an interest in the subject being pitched and a history of writing about this topic.
Digital PR is based on the process of using digital tools and methods to efficiently identify current opportunities for coverage. The key word here is efficiently. The ability to identify relevant opportunities in the media, whether that’s via a roundup story of products or services in your sector or placement of a press release in a new product section of a leading B2B outlet is a primary benefit of digital PR over traditional PR.
What’s the value of identifying coverage opportunities based on past articles? The answer to this question and Digital PR’s ability to address it lies with the principle of Positioning. By definition, your brand’s position in the marketplace has its greatest context with regards to competitive brands and products in your space.
A key principle of positioning is this: “Companies don’t position products and services … audiences do.” So your position in the competitive market is heavily determined by that of your competitor’s place in the competitive landscape. So, when an article such as a roundup story showcasing primary products in your category shows up and you’re not listed, that is a positioning problem.
Digital PR has the ability — through the use of digital tools and services — to identify where this type of coverage is occurring and to address the gaps in those places where your brand or product may not be appearing. For example, let’s say your company makes Bluetooth keyboards for use with tablets or iPads. And a roundup story on the best Bluetooth keyboards on the market appears on a site like reviewgeek.com. And let’s say that your product was not included in the roundup story.
In a Traditional PR effort, there’s a good chance that this opportunity would go unnoticed because media digging and uncovering of opportunities such as this is not generally part of a Traditional PR program’s scope of work. But a Digital PR consultant would use a service such as BuzzSumo to scour the media landscape for articles on the topic. And once found, the next step would be to locate contact information for the Review Geek writer. Most Traditional PR consultants don’t have a way to identify writers like this except to do manual searches on Google, which can take a significant amount of time and eat further into the into the retainer fee.
Using a Digital PR media database tool like Cision, a Digital PR specialist or consultant could search for a list of writers associated with the outlet. Once a targeted writer is identified, an email pitch and press release can be sent informing that writer about your Bluetooth keyboard model and brand.
Oftentimes, the writer will appreciate the outreach, creating the opportunity for that writer to go back and edit the article to include a link to your product. So this is an example where initially coverage on your product did not appear but using Digital PR tools and processes to identify an opportunity and follow up with outreach resulted in highly valuable PR coverage.
One more important thing to note with the Digital PR process. Let’s say you pitch an editor via email and after the story was published. Now what? In a Traditional PR environment, you cross your fingers and hope that the pitch email got opened and read. You have little to no insight on the editor’s interest in the pitch in this case.
In a Digital PR approach, you would use an email service with the ability to track email opens on the backend so you would know if and when the email had been opened. This would lead to valuable insight into the increased awareness opportunities created by the email on that subject … if you know an email has been opened by an editor or influencer, this means your follow-up pitch call or email can be more productive because you have insight into the recipient’s awareness of the subject.
Additionally, by using trackable linking services such as bit.ly in your press release or email pitches, you can also gauge the level of knowledge or interest that an editor has taken with regards to the pitch subject. So if you see the email has been opened and trackable links have been clicked, it’s relatively safe to assume that the editor has taken an interest in the subject, and this opens a door for additional coverage and conversations down the road.
Digital PR Tools and Services
Finally using digital services such as SpuFu or SEMRush you can analyze key opportunities for increased backlink and keyword content development. One of the primary benefits of Digital PR in the web publishing era is the benefit that backlinks offer once a story has been published.
These backlinks bring greater ranking value to your website in the Google search ecosystem, which means that your successful Digital PR efforts are not only driving additional traffic to the website but increasing value in the Google search ecosystem at the same time.
So in summary, whether it’s a Traditional PR approach or Digital PR approach, both are focused on the pure value of what PR brings to the marketing mix, and that’s generating non-paid third-party endorsement coverage of your brand, product, or service.
And while Traditional PR has worked well for this in the past and continues to have some value in today’s content-rich environment, Digital PR has emerged as a much more robust and effective way to create and build awareness for your brand or product and help move the needle in a measurable way towards the sales and marketing goals that that you set.
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 marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.
With all due respect to any PhD’s out there, marketing is not rocket science (thankfully!).
That said, marketing is a science. And science is all about the discovery of new things, and trial and error is an important part of this discovery.
However, trial and error as a marketing strategy can be costly, and deadly – especially when your competitors adeptly move past you in terms of positioning and/or sales while you’re experimenting.
In this post, I identify three Big Rock components of a marketing program and point out why most companies are making mistakes in these three areas.
In many companies, a public relations program consists of drafting a press release, sending it to a list of journalists, and posting it on the newsroom of the company’s website. This approach is akin to “if we build it, they will come.” It’s a feel-good tactic, because pushing out information about a product or service feels like you’re doing something. But increasingly, the singular press release approach is ineffective and probably a waste of money.
To understand this point, let me add some context. Traditionally, a press release served the purpose of informing the media – primarily reporters – of “news.” This news could be about a new product, service, upcoming event etc. The press release was then put on the newswire, a pathway of sorts that delivered the information to a select group of reporters via a private, subscription only network.
When the Internet came along, newswire services opened the feed to distribute these press releases widely via the web. This meant that a press release, which was historically intended for reporters’ eyes only, now became a public editorial piece.
Many of the traditional news outlets who had an online presence, such as the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today had cached news sections on their sites that received these newswire feeds directly. So, if your release had gone via a newswire service such as PRNewswire, BusinessWire, etc. it generally appeared in search with the major news outlet as the primary domain. This gave the news greater weight and value because of its association with these premium branded news outlets.
This also caught the attention of Google, whose business is primarily optimizing search and delivering relevant links to those searching on particular keywords. Google decided that the content appearing via newswire feeds on these cached sections was not relevant. So Google changed its search algorithm so that the news on these cached sections of the major news sites no longer appeared in search.
Overnight, this rendered the value and impact of a single press release distribution via the newswire almost irrelevant. Add to that the fact that most companies have an online newsroom with very little, or very old news. This gives a visitor the impression that not much news is happening with the company. So, the online newsroom section ends up hurting marketing efforts as opposed to helping.
So, do press releases still have value? The answer is yes, particularly when used as part of an integrated editorial ecosystem approach to content. This is a branded content approach, where the press release is part of an editorial ecosystem published by the company. Each component of the editorial ecosystem, whether it be an audio podcast (ie a customer interview), video, blog post or press release, has the thread of the core communication strategy in it. This means that when someone reads a press release and clicks on a link to a podcast with the same messaging strategy in the press release, it gives the press release much greater impact, and value.
Click here to see an example of how a branded content ecosystem like this might look.
The explosion of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn has radically changed the way companies think about marketing to customers. But, like the companies who issue a singular press release and wait for sales to start rolling in, most companies are making serious mistakes in the approach to social media.
In a nutshell, the reason most social media campaigns fail is because companies forget that the word “social” is an integral part of the definition. As a result, these companies use platforms like Facebook as one-way communication mediums (much like an enhanced newswire), posting endlessly about their company, products, services etc. paying no attention to putting effort towards engaging with people – through comments, questions, etc.
This approach is also like the “if we build it they will come” mentality. What happens is that there is an initial burst of excitement about posting on Facebook. An intern or junior level marketing person is put in charge of running things. Sales don’t increase, visitors start making negative comments to the posts (which either get ignored or deleted) and gradually the posts get farther and farther apart. It’s easy to spot companies that have taken this approach. Just visit the company Facebook page and look at the consistency of posts over a 3 to 6 month period. Better yet, look at the bold ignore-ance by companies of people asking questions or for help with customer service.
If you see bursts of posts followed by weeks of silence you know the company does not have an integrated communication strategy that can maximize the value of a social media platform. This highlights the fact that the reason for starting social media in the beginning was based on a flawed strategy.
So, does social media have value as a marketing communications strategy? Like the integration of press releases in a communications program, the answer is yes – if the social media approach is used to support or reinforce the components of an editorial ecosystem, or branded content approach.
For example, take the published press release and create a short video version of that news item and post it directly to your Facebook feed. Or better yet, set up a Facebook Live session where you can present the news story in the press release directly on Facebook as a live streaming session. This enhances the value of the press release because someone who watches a video on the news item and becomes interested is very likely to click to a link on a company newsroom page.
In this example, the social media platform has pushed the person to the website greatly building the value of the brand because of the exposure. Additionally, if the Facebook pixel has been added to the website, this opens up a whole new world of opportunities because you can now re-market to that person on Facebook based on the fact you know they showed interest in the content of your press release.
The final component I will touch on is the blog. Like social media, most companies misuse the blog platform. Similar to what you see with social media, the company will get excited about blogging, posting press releases and other company centric items on the blog. Sales don’t spike, writers get busy with other things, and all of a sudden there are weeks between blog posts. And then months.
Again, the good intentions of this approach have ended up harming the brand because a visitor comes to the blog section of the website and sees no new posts for six months. To that visitor, this conveys that nothing new is happening, or that the company has nothing to say. And an opportunity is lost.
While a company blog is a great place to republish company news and press releases, it should be much more than that in order to really have impact. For example, let’s assume you have some really smart people in your company – those who are experts on an industry topic. Why not set up a thought leadership strategy, utilizing the knowledge base that exists in these individuals? They don’t even have to write the blog (although some will, and this can be very impactful).
Take away the fear or threat of these people having to write a 500 word blog post and do a 20 minute sitdown interview with them. Record the interview and send that recording to one of many very affordable transcription services that exist on the web now. Then reformat the transcribed interview into a Q&A that you publish on the company blog.
Utilizing a company blog for thought leadership can be very effective in helping position the company as a leader against competitors. And this is especially the case when the blog is part of an editorial ecosystem approach.
So there you have it. Three marketing efforts you may be doing that you might need to rethink. If you’d like to discuss how to shift to an editorial ecosystem approach in your content marketing program, please send me an email.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content marketing and public relations agency based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in integrated editorial ecosystem campaigns that utilize PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video and Email Marketing.
A bold claim: Customer Service is the New Marketing.
Now that I’ve gotten that big rock out of the way, let me drill down a little on the statement. Effective Customer Service is the New Marketing. And to put this in a bite-size perspective, let’s say it this way: Effective Social Customer Service is the New Marketing.
Now, let’s focus on what this means. In this era of social interactivity, commonly called Social Media, your customer is much more empowered than in the old day’s (let’s say five years ago) marketplace model. This is because the dynamics inherent in the social web gives the little guy (the individual consumer) the power to positively or negatively impact the positioning of your brand by expressing their feelings or opinions to a potential World Wide audience.
What does this have to do with the concept that Effective Social Customer Service is the New Marketing?
The social web has increasingly become a multi-dimensional powerful publishing platform that can have great influence on how a brand or product is perceived. Now couple that concept with the principle that “Companies Don’t Position Products and Brands, People Do.” Then add the dynamic of web-wide engagement — where anyone who can read a post or watch a video can make a comment — and you’ve got a situation where the customer is in the driver’s seat of the commerce model, not the manufacturer or retail outlet.
Engagement between consumers is not new. Word of mouth as an influential marketing force has been alive and well since the caveman era.
What is relatively new with this concept of word of mouth is the ability for this type of engagement to spread like wildfire across the social web and become a broad conversation. The roots of ideas going viral and spreading quickly go deep, but we can identify a key flashpoint in the modern era for this phenomenon: Frank Eliason, Comcast and @ComcastCares.
The year was 2007. Eliason had joined Comcast (who was already enduring a rash of customer complaints) as Executive Support Manager, a middle level management customer service position. At the time, Comcast was getting pulverized across the social web for all sorts of issues, from its uncovered practice of blocking certain types service to poor response times to consumer complaints. Many of these unhappy customers abandoned the traditional method of calling the company and were taking to Twitter to express their hatred for the company.
Eliason was an early adopter to the newly emerging interactive social media landscape. Twitter had just exploded onto the scene at South by Southwest, and Eliason had begun experimenting with Twitter on a personal level. Once he began seeing all of the rants online about Comcast on Twitter, Eliason took it upon himself to do something about it.
He liked the Comcast brand and took the rants against the company personally. He wanted to do something. He had no idea that his grassroots efforts on behalf of Comcast would spark a new style of customer support and interaction.
So Eliason asked his boss for permission to start experimenting on the social web by interacting with Comcast customers via Twitter — read: letting them know they were being heard and trying to solve their problems.
The rest is an Internet success story of epic proportions. Almost singlehandedly, Eliason not only turned the negative sentiment about Comcast around, but created a perception of the company as one who cared about its customers. Indeed, Eliason’s Social Customer Service handle on Twitter was “ComcastCares.”
Eliason went on to become an Internet celebrity in the area of customer service, setting the standards for effective social customer service, many of which still apply today.
Which brings us to the subject at hand, as referenced in the blog title: “Marketing Tools of the Tirade.”
If your marketing department’s mentality is not collectively connected to the level of real world engagement and interactions that are going on about a brand or service online, there’s a stong possibility that marketing dollars spent on proactive messaging and sales pitches are, at worst either going to waste, or at best, being severely discounted. That’s because the aggregate noise generated by the complaints (negative messaging) is more than likely going to overshadow — and out-influence — the proactive messaging garnered from paid media.
So how can traditional marketing departments and people get involved, and become a part of the changing era of social marketing and social customer service? Here are some tips, and a quick overview of the marketing tools of the tirade:
The Big Three: Twitter, Facebook, Blogs
Here are a few general guidelines for using these tools to build the profile of your brand using a customer service approach.
- Monitor the web for flashpoints. Whether you use a free tool like Google Alerts or a paid tool like CustomScoop, there should be no excuse for not knowing that your brand, service or product is being talked about. It’s simple: add the keyword you want to track into the tool of choice, and watch for pickups.
- Deal with sensitive conversations or rants immediately. Conventional wisdom says that it’s a best practice to address a social web flare up within 24 hours. And yes, this does include weekends and evenings. Why? Because the real-time component of the social web has set the standard for quick response. Notice I said “address,” not “answer.” Sometimes, you may not know or have an answer within 24 hours. If this is the case, the response could simply be to acknowledge the comment. i.e. “@username thank you for your comment. We hear you and will address this shortly.”
- Take sensitive conversations or rants into a private channel as soon as possible. When you think about this, it’s really just practical sense. Don’t argue or have a difficult conversation with anyone on the social web in public. Besides the fact that this will encourage additional negative comments (“birds of a feather flock together”), it’s a no win for the brand.
Here’s how to take a sensitive subject offline:
- Twitter: Acknowledge the comment in the public channel. Then follow that person and ask them to follow the brand channel. Reason – you cannot have a private conversation with another Twitter user if you are not both following each other. Once that person follows your brand, send them a private message to let them know you have heard them and want to help. If possible, get a phone number so you can take the conversation to a voice-to-voice format. Once the problem is solved, go back on the public timeline and let that person (and all of their followers) know you addressed it.
- Facebook: Look for comments in posts that indicate a customer is unhappy or frustrated. Trust me, they will tell you! The same principle applies to Facebook as with Twitter. Ask that person to Like your page so you can move the dialogue to the messaging channel. Then, get it a one-to-one chat with that person via Messenger. Once the problem is solved, go back on the public channel and close the loop with a short Reply, such as “Glad we were able to solve this for you!”
The era of Social Customer Service is here to stay, and it’s only going to get more robust as new generation customers, who are more comfortable with texting and digital communications, become influencers in the market. If your marketing team is not ready to integrate your outreach efforts with social customer service efforts, you’re going to get left behind quickly as more progressive companies recognize the marketing value in helping customers online, and on their own terms.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you implement a successful social customer service program, please give me a call or send an email, or post a comment below.
Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing is much like pirating. Let me explain. Remember the line from “Pirates of the Caribbean” when Geoffrey Rush, as Captain Barbossa, explained to Elizabeth, who was trying to bargain with the pirate based on the principles of parley, that the rules of pirating were “…more like guidelines.”
Marketing is the same way. There are few one-size-fits-all absolutes in setting your marketing strategy. That’s because markets are dynamic, always shifting and changing based on consumer demand and disruptions, such as new product introductions or emerging competitive threats. This is supported by the principle of positioning, which says that companies don’t position products, people do.
That said, there are general marketing guidelines, which we could also call principles, that have consistently been relevant for decades, even since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Authors Al Ries and Jack Trout did an excellent job of outlining this concept in their classic book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” While “Laws” may sound more absolute than “guidelines,” one would have a hard time arguing with their points, because most of the Laws just seem like common sense.
If I were to pick one law to highlight in a short blog post such as this, I’d take the natural step of starting with what the authors define as the first law of marketing: “The Law of Leadership.”
This law says that “It is better to be first than it is to be better.” The authors use a compelling example. What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Even if you’re not a history buff, you probably know the answer: Charles Lindbergh. That’s because his name has been burned in our brain from an early age as the “first ever.”
Okay, now get ready for the questions to get a little harder: “What’s the name of the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Not so easy, right?
His name was Bert Hinkler, and he actually had a more successful flight than Lindbergh. He flew faster and consumed less fuel. Yet, his name is a footnote in the history of aviation.
Many companies approach their marketing programs using the Bert Hinkler method — wait until something new is introduced or demand develops and then enter the market claiming to be better, cheaper, faster, etc. But historically, consumers have not responded to this message, even though it makes sense logically. This is why, even though the ingredients show on the package as exactly the same, most people will choose the branded leader instead of the generic equivalent.
Generally, if you don’t know the first name in a category, you can supplement “first” with “leading.” For example, what’s the first university in America? Don’t know? Then take a guess by suggesting what conventional wisdom says is the leading college. If you said Harvard, you’d be correct!
So how does this apply to brands and marketing, particularly if your brand or product is not the first in a category or first to market? Fortunately, the Guidelines of Marketing allow for exceptions. And that exception, according to Ries and Trout is “The Law of the Category,” which says, “If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.”
We’ll cover this in an upcoming blog. We’ll set up a teaser for that blog post with this question: “What’s the name of the third person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo?” Chances are, you definitely know the answer. Stay tuned for more.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you build an effective marketing strategy for your brand, service or product, give us a call at (310) 684-3552 or send me an email at the address below.
Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at email@example.com