Easy as Pi: How Comms Pros Can use Numbers to Shape Social Strategy

By Kevin Coroneos, Digital Director, Aerospace Industries Association

When it comes to communication professionals, there’s one thing that usually unites us: a hatred of math.

But for a digital strategist, numbers – specifically social media metrics – should be your best friend, especially if you have a wide-ranging audience.

With the growing divide between generations on social media platforms, relying on audience and post analytics can help shape a cross-generational digital strategy that can grow your engagement and your community.

In running communications for the world’s largest student rocket contest, I get to speak directly to some of the brightest young minds in the country. But these students aren’t launching rockets on their own. They have teachers and a network of mentors and aerospace professionals guiding them along the way!

With this full network of participants and supervisors comes a generation gap. We have adults who want the facts, and students who worship Fortnite and think storming Area 51 is hilarious.

Luckily, that’s where the numbers come in.

Audience analytics on each platform are wonderful for figuring out who you’re actually talking to. There are, of course, several fancier tools to analyze your audience, but if you’re a smaller organization with limited budget, you can get pretty scrappy with the back-end analytics.

At our organization, by looking at the ages, genders and locations of our audiences, and matching them up with the locations of our participating teams, we were able to gain a very strong idea of the individuals on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

To confirm our beliefs, we also analyzed key metrics, including total engagement and engagement rates (the number of engagements divided by the number of impressions). With that information, we were able to build audience profiles to match to each platform.

On Instagram, we found that our audience was current participants – both their personal and team accounts – and young alumni.

On Twitter, we found our most diverse audience: a mix of media, politicians, teams, sponsoring companies, teachers and more.

And on Facebook, we lacked our current participants, but we had the adults and family members involved in the program – an important outlet for communicating with the students.

So basically, we’re talking to a lot of different people in a lot of different places – and our digital strategy must reflect that.

For example, our data showed that content around participants in action had a much higher engagement rate on Instagram than other platforms. We knew that in order to engage students, we needed to give them the content that they cared about. But with a nationwide contest, we can’t get in every classroom.

But we can put the content in the hands of the students so they’re communicating to one another. Using these analytics and information, we did two things.

First, we ran weekly photo contests as a way to get our audience to post on their own accounts more often, as well as provide us with more content.

Second, we began executing Instagram takeovers – letting our audience decide their own content. Not only did we see increased engagement across Instagram, but also we grew our audience because the students wanted to show off to their friends.

By looking at the top-performing content on the platform, we were able to build a strategy to give our audience the content they wanted, increasing our engagement and our audience over time.

But that’s not all we were able to gain from our analytics.

By exploring the metrics and audience breakdowns, we also determined HOW to talk to each unique group. You wouldn’t necessarily talk to a 15-year-old the same way you’d talk to a 50-year-old, so why would you do the same on social media?

On Facebook, we saw our posts were highly engaged with when our tone was more informative, resourceful or supportive. When it featured a more playful voice, we saw much less engagement. This helped us develop the appropriate voice to effectively communicate with our audience and provide them with information, as well as develop a legitimate, supportive community in which there was information sharing and well wishes.

Since our audience features older mentors and teachers, we also learned that posts that featured a call-to-action directed at “your students” or “your rocketeers” outperformed general calls to action.

But on Instagram, if we were a bit sarcastic or humorous – we saw more likes, more comments and more direct messages. This, of course, makes the role more fun, but requires me to try to be hip and stay up-to-date on the meme culture…

By developing an audience-centric strategy and building our voice and tone based on data analytics, we saw our engagement on each platform grow organically. We also built an overall stronger community because of it. All it took was for communicators to finally accept math as a part of life.

Kevin Coroneos is the Digital Director for the Aerospace Industries Association and Communications Director for The American Rocketry Challenge.

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3 Low-Cost PR Strategies for Small Businesses

By Grayson Kemper, Senior Content Developer for Clutch

Small businesses often struggle to find low-cost solutions to create awareness and promote their brands to the public.

There are, however, many public relations strategies that your small business can implement to create discussion and awareness about your company.

In this article, we share three public relations strategies that can help build your brand’s reach, awareness, and reputation without overextending your budget:

  1. Online reputation management (ORM)
  2. SEO
  3. Community building and engagement

1. Online Reputation Management

Businesses that monitor their online reputation can effectively gauge public perception about their company and find opportunities to meaningfully engage with customers about their feedback and challenges.

While online reputation management agencies can provide a full suite of service for both proactive and reactive online reputation management, the cost may be too hefty for some small businesses.

Some ORM strategies, though, can be done in-house, with the proper care and attention. Two in particular are encouraging online reviews and social media monitoring.

Reviews provide opportunities for brands to build a meaningful connection with consumers. Responding to both negative and positive reviews is essential to building brand authority.

Encouraging customers to leave reviews can create benefits for your small business, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.

  • Brands that respond to negative reviews by helping to correct a problem prove their dedication to customer satisfaction.
  • Brands that thank people for positive reviews show the public they’re engaged with customers and that they appreciate feedback.

A recent survey by The Manifest found that over half of small businesses respond publicly to negative reviews, while nearly half respond privately.

Companies  that respond to reviews and comments are able to build awareness and strengthen their brand reputation.

For example, when a Zappos customer posted a shipping complaint on the company’s Facebook page, the company responded with an offer to help resolve the issue.

Source: Facebook

In another thread, a customer wrote to praise a customer service representative at Zappos, and the company responded immediately by thanking the commentator for his feedback.

Source: Facebook

Social listening also is an essential part of online reputation management. Specifically, it helps companies understand what people are saying about them online and gives them broader insight about general perceptions about their company

There are a variety of free social listening tools that your small business can use to track social conversation about your company and respond quickly.

2. Organic SEO

Optimizing your website for search engines can help to get your brand and its products in front of new people daily.

Over 60% of people click on the top 5 results of a search engine results page. If you are able to earn placement in a prime spot, you create an opportunity to earn the attention and potential patronage of search audiences for keywords related to your business.

People also increasingly rely on Google results to find local businesses – i.e., “laundromats near me.” Investing in local SEO allows small businesses to establish a presence for local searches that can help attract and retain key local audiences.

Though SEO has a time cost associated with its implementation and maintenance, small businesses can benefit greatly from a strong SEO strategy.

Include some of your best reviews on the welcome page of your website, to encourage Google to feature these positive reviews.

3. Community Engagement

Rather than simply treating social media as a method to communicate to the public, you should strive to create a community through your company’s social media.

To do this, focus on sharing content that is highly relevant to your followers interest. This sort of content on social media creates opportunities to truly engage with your followers.

According to The Manifest survey, 56% of businesses do not engage with  their audiences through social media. This creates an opportunity for your business to gain a competitive edge by building an active social media audience.

For example, SEO expert Rand Fishkin recently founded SparkToro and has used social media to create discussion and engagement to grow brand awareness.

Source: Rand Fishkin on Instagram

Starbucks, for example, shares a mix of entertaining content, including inspirational quotes. Recently, it shared a quote that garnered over 800 comments.

Posting engaging content on helps customers better understand your company, and by extension, creates appeal for your products.

Small Businesses Can Engage Customers Using Inexpensive PR Strategies

Small businesses can create visibility and appeal through low-cost public relations campaigns such as online reputation management, organic SEO, and community engagement.

About the Author

Grayson Kemper is a senior content developer for Clutch, the leading research, ratings, and reviews platform for B2B services and solutions providers. Clutch serves as a resource for businesses searching for top PR firms, app developers, and other marketing and technology services.

Public Relations and the Free Press: Elements in a Critical Equation

By Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA; PRSA National President and CEO, 2005

PRSA’s Code of Ethics has always been a point of pride for me, as a member and a public relations professional, just as I’m sure it is for all of us who have pledged to uphold it. The words set the stage, but it is understanding and translating them into action that counts. Ethical public relations doesn’t just happen because we say so. It’s part of a critical equation that begins with a free society. That free society, in turn, requires a free press and an informed public.

As public relations professionals, we have an obligation to speak up if any element of this equation is threatened. It’s the only way we can do our jobs successfully, on behalf of our employers/clients and in the service of our own ethical and professional standards.

Recently, PRSA – on behalf of all of us – exercised its right and obligation to advocate forcefully and openly for the necessity of a free press and an informed public. In a public statement, it affirmed the free press as a “vital engine of democracy” and urged the White House to reestablish, with its new appointment, the traditional role of the White House Press Secretary. In particular, the statement called for recognition of the Press Secretary’s role to “advocate for a free press and keep American citizens well-informed about actions being taken that will affect their lives.” Practically speaking, that translates into “frequent and informative briefings and working productively with the press,” the statement notes. In contrast, during the last six months, two formal press briefings were held at the White House, and the last on-camera briefing by a spokesperson at the Pentagon was May 31, 2018.

While PRSA’s statement reflects a current situation, it is about good practice, not politics. Threats to a free press are a worldwide and growing concern. Last August, PRSA joined with 14 leading international public relations communications organizations to issue a collaborative statement in support of a free press around the world in response to these concerns.

Public relations professionals understand all too well that threats to a free press anywhere, in any form, directly impact another critical element in our ethical public relations equation: an informed public. When public interest is ignored, an uninformed public can rapidly lose trust in a society’s basic institutions. Loss of these essential elements in our equation threatens our ability to provide valuable service to all our audiences.

Some wise words from the late Patrick Jackson (founder of Jackson Jackson & Wagner and 1980 PRSA President) come to mind. Pat, one of the most widely known and respected practitioners in our profession, talked about trust as an essential part of ethical, successful public relations. He called relationships with our publics “the currency of public relations” and said trust was necessary to build those relationships. He argued that people want to be “served, not sold; involved, not told.” Those words still resonate today. They remind us of the great things that can be achieved through a free press working in tandem with thoughtful, ethical and strategic public relations professionals.

 

New PR/PA writing, shorter than ever, FYA not FYI, zippier: Are you prepared?

By Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA

Keep writing long, indirect, colorless documents and soon no one will read what you’ve written as intently as you would like – or at all.

Today’s for-profit, nonprofit and government organizations, along with their audiences, expect PR/PA writers – both staff and consultant – to get to the point quicker and with more oomph.

This is due, in part, because readers don’t have time for what social media expert Guy Kawasaki calls ‘War and Peace’ memos or 60-slide PowerPoint presentations for one-hour meetings. Email and texting have robbed us of untold time and attention once devoted to more traditional writing styles and forms.

This is due, as well, to the truncated text that is intrinsic to the internet, the single most important driver of new business writing and design influence. Online images, for example, have replaced a megaton of the verbiage that was normal in the print-dominated world of a relative few years ago.

Because of these and related changes and influences, headlines, subject lines and lead paragraphs must also be shorter and snappier. Writers must use tighter, more concrete language that will get more people to do things quickly on their employer’s or client’s behalf – e.g., buy, invest, donate, volunteer, participate, support, work for and vote.

Copywriting is the key to creating the desired energetic text, especially for blogs and social media sites, which people scan like ads. Copywriting is generally zippier, friendlier, younger in tone, more playful and more emotional than traditional business prose.

Unfortunately, most organizational writers have little serious copywriting experience – that’s found mostly in ad and marketing agencies – so they must go back to school to upgrade their skills.

They must attend workshops and seminars of local and national PR, advertising and marketing associations. They must read books on the topic. And they must subscribe for free to online sites such as HubSpot, Copyblogger and Co-Schedule, each of which will send them invaluable how-to guidelines as context for buying their innovative products.

In the current organizational writing environment, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words. Writers at all levels need to keep this in mind as they’re urged and eventually required to embrace the “snackable” brevity that is fast becoming the new norm in PR/PA and related business writing.

About the Author

Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, teaches public relations writing and management at New York University. He also teaches writing workshops worldwide. For over 40 years, he has handled PR for corporations, associations, and nonprofit organizations. He owned The Bates Company, Inc., an international PR agency, which he sold after 12 years. He has taught at Columbia University and the New School University and is founding director of the graduate program in strategic public relations at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), Washington, DC. He teaches his well-known full-day writing workshop several times annually for the PRSA-NCC chapter in Washington, DC. His next workshop is August 20.

Make Your Next Website Redesign Your Last

By Carrie Hane, Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen

Is it that time again? Time to redesign your organization’s website. It’s been about three years since the last time, and it is showing its age. People are having a hard time finding things. The design is so four years ago. Content creators are complaining about how much time it takes to get content published.

You’re about to embark on a journey that will be expensive and disruptive. Everyone is dreading it because they’ve all been through it before.

What if I told you this could be the last time you had to do this? That you could make this your last website overhaul.

It can be if you start by thinking about content in a broader context, outside of a website—or any interface. It can happen if you have a deliberate, forward-looking way of planning and creating content.

When you start with strategy, audience needs, and content instead of website design, content management systems (CMS), and vendors, you can get a website that will still have the same underlying structure and content in seven years as it does today. Ask the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is still working for them and looking good through a series of small improvements instead of massive changes.

How to make a future-friendly website

A web design process that starts with discovery and alignment, then planning, and finally creation.

To make your website future-friendly, you have to start with acknowledging that the site is for your audience. It is for them to get the information or complete a task. Therefore, you need to ruthlessly prioritize who is really using the site. Then map what you offer to what they want. A bit of user research and internal stakeholder alignment goes a long way toward an effective website. And you can even use the information collected and consensus built for other work within the organization.

Now that everyone’s on the same page and you’re focused on how to serve your audience, it’s time to plan your content. The best way to do this is to create a content model. A content model is a representation of the types of content, their relationships, and their attributes. Not just for the website, but for the organization. After all, any piece of content rarely has one specific purpose these days. Get it all in there. This will guide your content creation, information architecture, CMS development, and interface design.

Now the real fun begins. You get to figure out what it will look like! It is so much easier now that you have made decisions about what is needed. Designers have material to work with so that they can support the content and strategy. Developers can build a system that support the content delivery and management (a true content management system). Authors can develop the content at the same time. Everyone is working from the same set of specifications and a shared understanding of what things are and what their purpose is.

When this all comes together, you can confidently launch the new website knowing it is useful, usable, flexible, and findable. All along the way you’ve made decisions that can now come together in a governance plan that allows you to govern the content and website efficiently.

Launching a website is only the beginning. Kind of like a garden: with regular care and feeding, it will continue to serve you and bring delight to others.

Simple but not easy

This explanation is simplified, of course. The biggest challenge in creating websites with this process is the mindset shift. Not only does the team managing the website have to buy-in to this approach, so does everyone else. And that’s no easy task.

It is possible. I’ve done it and so have others. In the 10 years I have been using some version of this process, I’ve seen two things happen:

  1. None of my projects have been late because we were waiting for content.
  2. The underlying structure of the websites I created are still holding up.

This framework is tried and true and builds on my own lessons as well as those of many others. It is detailed in the book Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow. And I offer training so that others may learn to adopt it for themselves.

You’re Only As Good As Your Plan

By Joseph Davis

Recently, I was having a spirited conversation (mostly my spirit) with a fellow communications colleague about what constitutes successful communications strategy. My main question was “How are you approaching the strategy of communicating effectively?”

This broad question begged for specifics. So, my next question was, “Does your organization currently have a communications plan in place?” And my colleague replied, “Of course!” And, I followed up, “What does it look like, what’s in it?”

In what I can only describe as a full-throated description (see defense) of their organizational communications plan, the colleague said, “Well, we created a full year’s project calendar, including all the social media tools we planned to use—and even developed evergreen posts for them!” They were obviously proud.

“Wait,” I said. “That’s it?” “Yep, pretty much,” they said. This led me to think: exactly how many other communicators essentially have no tangible communications plan for their company, client(s) or organization? And, furthermore, how many know what should be included? I imagine we would have subsequently discussed what was essential in a plan—had I not awkwardly ended the conversation staring blankly at them.

Before building a communications plan, you have to understand what it is NOT:

  • An activity or event calendar filled with projects
  • A list of tactics disguised as a strategy (social media usage, digital media deployment, marketing promotions, etc.)
  • A list of social media tools that simply include schedules and/or sample copy
  • A list of communications functions devoid of objectives that can be measured

As we know, every organization is different, and needs vary, so there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to communications planning. With that in mind, there are general guidelines for forming a proper plan.

What a communications plan INCLUDES:

A communications plan acts as a guide for all of your communications initiatives. It establishes what is considered success for you (the communicator), your organization or your client. And it outlines a process of planning and implementation.

Your communications plan should highlight three clear aspects:

Goal

I define this as the actionable output directly related to your organizational mission.

Objective(s)

What is it you’re aiming to achieve, ultimately? This should be measurable.

Strategy

How will you achieve your goals and, therefore, successfully reach your objective? This is your broad outlook for everything you plan to accomplish—your vision, if you will.

Here is what is generally in a communications plan:

  • Summary/Mission/Vision
    This should be easy. A simple summary of the current state of the organization and why the plan is necessary. I assume most organizations have an established mission and vision. State it here, and lay the groundwork for the plan.
  • Challenges
    There should be a discussion of what obstacles may present a problem, albeit internal, external, tools, logistics or competitors. Know what problems you may face.
  • Audience/stakeholders/competition
    The phrase “know your audience” is vital in communications. Include that audience in your plan, along with any stakeholders (include possibilities) and what the competition looks like (the competition element is only relevant depending on your industry).
  • Messages
    This is where the language you plan to use in your marketing/communication materials goes. This should highlight the value your organization brings or how you’re different.
  • Tools/Tactics
    Now you can incorporate your ideas for social media channels, along with other tools and tactics (video, content marketing, collateral, etc.)
  • Cost
    Often, this component is left out of a plan; however, it’s important to have an idea of how the overall organization will be impacted monetarily. How will cost affect reaching objectives or accomplishing goals? This is also important if you charge for services implemented through the plan.
  • Timeline
    How long will it take to reach your goals once the plan is implemented? A broad timeline is a given, and, in many cases, multiple shorter timelines centered on your stated goals can be directly tied to specific tactics.
  • Market Changes
    Any changes in the industry you need to consider that will affect you? Try to prepare for those changes.
  • Measurement/Evaluation
    Measure, measure, measure. Did those tweets and Facebook posts really engage? Did you drive more web traffic? Did sales increase? Did donations increase? Evaluating if all (or any) of your efforts have been successful in meeting your goals is essential for any level of communications planning. You may even have to set periodic measurement benchmarks. Many communicators may want to check in weekly, monthly or quarterly. Whatever the case, measure what you’re doing!

Strategizing on the most effective way to communicate ideas and value should be at the forefront of everything we do. Most communicators know this. If you need some tips on building your communications strategy, visit the PRSA Learning webpage. Since I enjoy asking questions, I have one more—do you have a communications plan?

About the Author

Joseph Davis works in Communications for the City of Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services.

What’s ethics got to do with it?

By Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, Lecturer, Georgetown School of Continuing Studies

As members of PRSA, we are bound by a set of principles and guidelines that provide our ethical framework. The PRSA Code of Ethics sets the standard for the ethical practice of public relations. Have you ever thought what we would do as public relations practitioners if we did not have this code of ethics?

I have. I think about the derogatory words sometimes used to describe our profession – flack, spinmeisters, truth-twisters – and tell myself these terms do not apply to PRSA members. I cringe at the thought of being called a spinmeister. My job is not to spin the truth but to tell the truth. Additionally, we perform our work adhering to a code of ethics. These ethics set us apart from others who may operate under the public relations umbrella.

As an adjunct professor and now as a full-time lecturer, I tell my students that many people say they do public relations, but what separates us from this broader group is our membership in the world’s largest association dedicated to public relations practitioners and our ethics. But is the PRSA Code of Ethics the only element that sets us apart? I don’t think so. In addition to the PRSA Code of Ethics, what about your personal code of ethics?

Each of us should have our personal code of ethics. Our personal ethics are shaped by our belief system, our families and our interaction with others. For most of us in our profession, our personal ethical code closely aligns with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Without question, I believe in honesty, loyalty, independence and fairness. I constantly seek to improve my skills and expertise. And through my clients and employers, I serve the greater good – the public interest – and provide a voice for viewpoints, facts and ideas.

If you remember the television show, “What Would You Do?” ask yourself what would you do if your personal and professional ethics clashed? As I reflect on my career in public relations, I once found myself in the situation where my personal ethics conflicted with the professional PRSA Code of Ethics. Although, the company operations were ethical and legal, my personal ethics code took issue with the overall industry and its commitment to the greater good. In this case, I found myself with limited choices. I tried in vain to find a place with less conflict but I was unsuccessful. In the end, I realized I just could not give all I had to offer professionally, and I found another position in an industry that was better aligned with my personal ethics.

If you encounter a situation where your personal and professional ethics conflict, you do not have to go it alone. PRSA has resources and counseling to help. Contact the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards or the PRSA-NCC Ethics Committee.

About the Author

Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, is a 21-year member of the PRSA-NCC and served as chapter president in 2011. She has 20+ years of experience in public relations, communications and marketing. Her focus is primarily nonprofits – forestry, education, youth development, affordable housing and public health. In 2016, she joined Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies as a lecturer in the public relations corporate communication track. She is a native Washingtonian who enjoys days at the beach, a hike in the woods, all things college sports, film studies, reading and collecting first edition books.