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.

How You Can Achieve With Your Communications Campaign by Adopting the PESO Model

By Ailis Wolf

peso

From left to right: Tyler Suiters, Tara Dunion, Robert Krueger, Dan Higgins, and Sultana Ali.

PR professionals have long seen the need to develop skills traditionally part of the marketing and advertising space. And all communications professionals have been aware of the power of integrating social media as part of a good communications plan.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee hosted, “The PESO Model: Success Requires Communicators Now Adopt a Paid, Earned, Shared & Owned Strategy.” Moderated by the Urban Land Institute’s Robert Krueger, panelists Dan Higgins, director of social and content marketing for the PlowShare Group, Tara Dunion, director of media relations for AARP and the AARP Foundation, and Tyler Suiters, vice president of communications for the Consumer Technology Association discussed how using the PESO model has allowed them to achieve high-impact results for their organizations and clients.

Dunion started by sharing a recent challenge the AARP Foundation faced – recruiting enough volunteers to pack 1.5 million meals for needy seniors across the Washington, D.C. region in one day and obtaining media and social media coverage of the event. They focused paid efforts on volunteer recruitment and included a bus wrap, ads on Pandora and some other social media, and a paid media partnership with NBC4. The media partnership with NBC4 included a social media takeover and, although paid partnerships don’t promise media coverage, this one generated earned coverage on NBC4. A story also ran on the front page of the Metro section of The Washington Post and Lindsey Mastis from ABC7 also did a Facebook Live at the event. The social media promotion ended up helping them reach 3.17 million people and meet their goal of 1.5 million meals for needy seniors.

Higgins presented next and first introduced the five principles everyone needs to keep in mind when employing a PESO strategy –

  • Attention economy – Audience attention is scarce, since people have so many choices about what and how they consume information. Individuals determine what they want to see based on ease of use and we need to keep that in mind.
  • Data – PR professionals may not need to do a deep dive but do need to know the basics about how to attribute campaign success with data.
  • Audience at scale – Know how to reach your audience with paid media – targeting is key.
  • Fragmentation versus convergence – Although there is a fragmentation of media sources, there has also been a convergence. You can put information out on various social media platforms and pitch to traditional media and it can be complementary.
  • Evolved content system – Keep in mind you want your content to last longer to be seen by more people. Users come to content from various sources so look at how to optimize everything, from content on your own website to ads you place elsewhere to social media, to keep users in contact with your content longer.

Suiters said there are three questions you should always ask before engagement to guide your strategy:

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What’s your narrative?
  • Which is your platform?

At CTA, Suiters said they start by doing a deep dive into the data to understand their audience. They look at demographic data to determine what platform is best to reach the audience they are targeting and consider who is most likely to take action, if that is part of their campaign. For a ports campaign encouraging supporters to write their elected officials, CTA pulled news stories about a slowdown at West Coast ports and assembled them into a video, which they pushed out on social media. They ended up with 3,000 messages being sent to 100 senators, 424 representatives and 900+ emails going to the White House.

A key takeaway from the Q&A that followed backed up what Suiters said about understanding your audience being the first thing to do when planning a communications strategy. Higgins stated it’s about getting to the right people at the right time but it’s also about considering all of the platforms and whether your audience uses them and how they interact with each. Suiters told the audience to make it as easy as possible for the audience to get to your content, stay with it, and share it.

Krueger asked the panelists how to convince nonprofits to put money towards campaigns when there are limited resources, even if you are operating within one. Dunion responded by suggesting minimum funding towards the right paid tactics with proper targeting can go a long way, particularly in the crowded marketplace of social media. Suiters suggested using data to show how a particular strategy or tactic can deliver results for the audience you want to reach.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit www.prsa-ncc.org/events.

Know Your Audience, Understand Your Brand’s Voice, and When to Report ROI

By Simran Kumar, News Generation, Inc.

brand1

From L–R: Emily Zeigenfuse, Josh Habursky and Mike Fulton

On Thursday, September 15, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development committee hosted “Social Media: Staying on Message and on Brand.” Moderated by the Asher Agency’s Mike Fulton, with panelists Josh Habursky, Director of Advocacy, Independent Community Bankers of America, and Emily Zeigenfuse, Senior Digital Strategist, Hager Sharp, the discussion focused around the changing social media landscape. Habursky and Zeigenfuse offered tips on how to stay on brand and maximize budgets while researching audiences on the appropriate social media platform.

Habursky started the discussion by emphasizing the importance of understanding the brand’s voice and message. Zeigenfuse continued by encouraging PR pros to be sure to craft messaging that resonates with the desired target audience. She also talked about creating content that is unique to each channel and understanding who is using which channel.

brand2When it comes to staying “on brand,” Habursky said it’s necessary to know what a brand’s “untouchables” are. For example, the McDonald’s arches are signature to the McDonald’s brand. As communications professionals, it would be unreasonable to try to change something so iconic. According to Zeigenfuse, it’s important to go back to basics, and understand what a brand or client’s end goals are in terms of social media campaigns and then work backward to meet them.

For all social media campaigns, the ability to show ROI to management is key. Habursky talked about being sure to show tangible results. Zeigenfuse echoed Habursky, and said the ideal measure of success depends on a client and their end goals. As for how often to report results, both Habursky and Zeigenfuse said it depends on whether a campaign is paid or unpaid, and that when it’s a paid campaign, it’s often necessary to report more often to determine if messaging should be changed.

brand3If you’re struggling to convince senior management to pursue a social media strategy, Habursky stressed the importance of having an advocate within your organization that’s going to be first follower. Zeigenfuse also talked about being able to show senior leadership why it’s important to have a presence on social media. When collaborating with digital influencers, Zeigenfuse talked about the importance of trying to work with someone who is passionate about the specific organization’s cause. Haburksy stressed the importance of building a relationship and showing an influencer the value of getting involved with the organization.

As for future social media changes, Haburksy said he’s recently looked at what presidential candidates are doing as they usually use innovative techniques. For Zeigenfuse, one of the next big changes will be related to content publishing.

The lively discussion with Habursky and Zeingenfuse offered the audience takeaways for staying on message and on brand on social media and tips for keeping up with changing trends in the industry.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit www.prsa-ncc.org/events.

PRSA-NCC Board Members Meet with Communications Leaders from North Africa and Middle East about Social Media Uses

By Stacy Hope

Image courtesy Luke Price/Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy Luke Price/Flickr Creative Commons

Three PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) Board members recently met with social media and digital communications leaders from business and media sectors in North Africa and the Middle East to introduce them to the PRSA National Capital Chapter and discuss how nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and government agency public relations professionals in the United States use social media to connect with key constituencies.

PRSA-NCC President Sultana Ali, President-Elect Laura Bynum, and Board Member and International Committee Chair Stacy Hope joined participants in the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for a 90-minute discussion that ranged from the early days of Facebook to PRSA’s accreditation programs to client-agency relations.

IVLP, the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, organizes short-term visits to the United States for current and emerging foreign leaders in a broad range of fields. IVLP alumni include more than 335 current or former Chiefs of State or Heads of Government.

Hailing from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, the IVLP participants were particularly interested in learning more about networking and public relations professional development opportunities provided by PRSA, as well as the ethical obligations of public relations professionals in the United States.

One of the visitors communicated with the group that a U.S. communications firm had agreed to represent the government of Egypt – a country currently ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House. (Note: The firm in question had been hired by the Egyptian government following the 2013 coup to provide public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel, and government relations services.)

The PRSA leaders explained that based on the American rights of free speech and expression, foreign governments are welcome to seek representation by U.S. public relations professionals, regardless of the political disposition of the government (barring sanctions). They also discussed the difference between lobbying and PR, which are two distinct professions, each with its own code of ethics. For instance: The PRSA code of ethics states states that we as PR professionals “serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.”

The IVLP participants were also very interested in how social media is used and the PRSA panelists provided case studies of how social media can make a difference in augmenting or promoting a brand in the U.S., citing examples such as Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet when the lights went out during the Superbowl in 2013. It was a robust discussion that reminded all in the room that we have more similarities than differences, and communication continues to be an important skill regardless of the country where you reside. PR professionals play a critical role in conversations and through media that shape the world in which we live.

Media Relations in the Age of the Mobile Device

By Ailis Wolf, Van Eperen

media-mobileOn Thursday, Nov. 19, the Professional Development Committee hosted an exciting media panel at the Navy Memorial to discuss what the rise of the mobile device means for the future of media relations campaigns and for the outreach being conducted now by media relations professionals.

The panel consisted of Lisa Stark, national news correspondent for Al Jazeera (@LisaStark); Lenny Bernstein, fitness and health correspondent for The Washington Post (@LennyMBernstein); Eric Lichtblau, justice department correspondent for The New York Times (@EricLichtblau); and Andrea Shalal, defense industry correspondent for Reuters (@andrea_shalal). The panel was moderated by Aaron Cohen, president of Aaron Cohen PR, LLC (@aaroncohenpr).

The panelists shared insights into what the changing digital landscape has meant both for how they work and for the level of their workload, which informs how best to reach them when pitching. They also offered a variety of useful information about the changes going on within their organizations in order provide content optimized for mobile platforms, both phones and tablets.

On Al Jazeera America and what she does, Lisa Stark shared that she loves PR people as they give her a window into items about which she would not know otherwise. But for her, the worst thing is individuals who try to “pull the wool over my eyes.” She said the most important thing to her is that PR professionals are honest. She says, “You want me to be straight with you, and I want you to be straight with me.” Lisa said, and other panelists agreed, that it is important to know the audience of the media outlet you are pitching and know the types of things they cover, particularly when pitching a journalist who has a specific beat. She noted that Al Jazeera America, for example, is focused on covering stories about inequality, social justice, immigration, gender issues, and pioneers. They think of themselves as the “anti-Kardashian” network. They tend to do larger pieces and their pieces run longer than most found on other networks. Their network is also on social media across all platforms and she has been told the big issues for them on social media are gender and race. And unlike some of the other speakers, Lisa said 60 percent of Al Jazeera’s online traffic is from desktop, with 40 percent coming from mobile.

Last month (October), 80 percent of the online traffic for The Washington Post – 51 million out of 66 million – came from mobile, either through phone or tablet. That statistic, reported by Lenny Bernstein, is indicative of a major trend affecting changes at all media outlets with the goal of optimizing online traffic. What changes are being made at the Post that have allowed them to recently beat The New York Times in unique page views? Bernstein reported that the big difference between what is seen on mobile versus on a desktop has to do with design. The Washington Post has a team of people focused on redesigning content to make it shorter, punchier and grabbier to appeal on mobile. Other Washington Post statistics the audience was interested to learn include:

  • Forty percent of mobile users are millennials.
  • The top levels of traffic come from (1) Facebook, (2) Google search, (3) other sites. Direct site visitors fall fourth or fifth when it comes to overall online traffic.
  • Many readers only read through the fourth paragraph of a story.

Bernstein also said he gets 200 emails a day and he does try to read them all. Therefore, it is key that you have a compelling subject line and a short, interesting pitch. You don’t need to put all of the information in your pitch email, just the key points – you can always send additional details later if he contacts you with interest. If you have a health pitch for him, he said not to call unless you know him – just send an email. He is interested in health and medical trends, particularly topics he would have a hard time finding himself.

Eric Lichtblau said about mobile: “It’s all about the delivery.” As with the Post, The New York Times is also seeing a lot of traffic “coming in sideways” – from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile platforms. Only about 20-30 percent of their online traffic comes directly to the website – the rest is all from mobile. He said as the focus shifted to delivery, there was initially pushback from reporters who wondered about why content wasn’t the focus. But the change had to be made to stay competitive as the digital landscape continues to shift. Regarding how to pitch him, he agrees with Bernstein – if you don’t know him, email him. The only exception, of course, is if you have something that would be a page 1 exclusive. Eric also added that while he is not as involved in Twitter, as is the case for many reporters over 40 years old, the younger reporters often do everything on Twitter so PR professionals should do their research. And younger reporters don’t only use Twitter to share their own stories, they use it to track news, competitors and even to find sources for stories.

At Reuters, the world’s largest wire service, reporters are always racing against other newswires, newspapers and all other media to be first to a story so PR professionals need to keep in mind that the pace is incredibly fast. Andrea Shalal told the audience that she gets a daily report showing scores for how fast they were on the daily headlines as compared with other media outlets – down to the millisecond. She said the average length of a Reuters story is 400 words – for PR pros, that means pitches need to be quick, pithy, honest and to the point. The short length also changes what she is able to do with a story, even a really good one.

Across the board, the panelists agreed that a pitch with visuals was better than one without. Even better – if the reporter can bring a photographer or videographer with them to film it themselves. The speakers also agreed that they are all open to an introduction to a good source, given that source is easy to connect with when needed. Also, the speakers said it is fine for a PR pro to sit in on a call with a source that they have coordinated, but they should make the call happen as fast as possible and stay out of the way so as not to clutter up the process.

Top 5 Takeaways from Digital Summit DC

by Peter Morscheck

Several hundred digital marketing experts descended on the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va., last week to share best practices and cutting-edge digital marketing strategies at Digital Summit DC. What follows are my top 5 takeaways from the conference, and a quick snapshot of the state of digital marketing in October 2015.

 

1) Content Marketing Needs Strategy

Content Marketing has been the hot “new” buzzword combo in PR for the last three years, along with the concept that brands should act as their own media companies – gaining awareness, credibility and (eventually) sales through the consistent production of content.

More than half a dozen sessions at this year’s Digital Summit dealt with content marketing and how it’s evolving.

The greatest theme is the need for a more systemized and integrated approach to content marketing across an organization. Specifically:

  • Use a content calendar – While brands are now producing content across a range of media and distribution channels, very few companies are using a systematic approach, including a content calendar. Content calendars ensure a consistent publishing cadence and that the individual pieces reinforce and amplify each other to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Metrics Tracking – Even with ubiquitous access to Google Analytics, few companies are taking the time to review and analyze the effectiveness of their content, including which topics and distribution channels are most effective, and where their best (not necessarily most) traffic comes from. If you don’t know how your blog posts, videos or podcasts perform, you can’t focus on creating the most valuable pieces that best drive customer awareness and sales.
  • Internal Communications – It’s not enough for the PR or marketing department to be on point with their content marketing game. Without consistent internal communications, the sales department and other key employees may not know, let alone use, these great resources.

Companies can fix this by centralizing their content in one place, granting universal access to employees and informing them of the best new pieces, and periodically training employees on how best to optimize the content for use across different social media channels.

A key takeaway here was the reminder that a company’s employees remain among its best brand ambassadors, and are an untapped resource for spreading great content across personal and professional social media channels.

2) Measure the Cost of Content Strategy

Now that many companies have adopted some form of content marketing, a key but oft-forgotten next step is measuring its cost. As with all aspects of marketing, measurement is key to proving ROI.

If you don’t know how much that individual video, blog post or infographic cost to create, there’s no way to prove whether the effectiveness of your overall content strategy is driving sales.

3) Influencer Marketing is Changing

DMCcloudSeveral speakers at Digital Summit DC touched on the resurgence of influencer marketing and use of paid celebrity spokespeople, particularly in launching new products or companies.

But more telling was a shift in the definition of “influencer” away from traditional media celebrities to social media stars.

A chart of the top 12 current media influencers among millennials counted only three traditional stars (such as Kim Kardashian), compared to 9 stars (including PewDiePie and Jenna Marbles) whose fame comes entirely from platforms such as YouTube or Vine. (See Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube stars of 2015.)

4) Blogs Still Matter

Consistent blogging is key to organic SEO rankings in Google, as it indicates fresh content and a larger web footprint.

When Google released its Panda update in February 2011, it began punishing websites that had employed early SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and backlinks to low-quality sites that artificially boosted Google search rankings.

Since then, Google has rewarded websites that seem to grow naturally, through things like quality backlinks from respected sites, as well as a cadence of fresh content.

For most companies, the easiest way to show Google that you are continually updating your site is through a steady cadence of fresh content via blog posts.

Further, companies that regularly blog receive 126% as much lead generations as those that don’t. (source)

5) The Rise of Video

By 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. (source)

While we’ve long observed a shift of communications towards visual media, video marketing remains a largely untapped resource and will soon become as essential to marketing as building a website was 10 years ago.

 

Peter Morscheck is a communications consultant for Dale Curtis Communications, a Foggy Bottom-based PR firm with specialties in the telecommunications, federal technology, non-profit, and education sectors. You can follow him on Twitter via @PeterMorscheck.

4 Twitter Tips for Businesses and Organizations

By Sabrina McGowan

The explosion, variety and evolving nature of social media has created both PR opportunities and challenges for businesses and organizations. In an October 1 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies, offered her suggestions for leveraging Twitter to create greater interaction between you and your followers, and to increase your numbers.

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

  1. Define your audience. Customers, members, business partners and vendors are just a few of the people you should be following on Twitter. Professional and industry organizations as well as local businesses will likely produce additional followers for you, too. Don’t forget to follow your competitors for insight on how they’re engaging with your ideal customers.
  1. Build a content strategy. If you want to know what type of content you should share on Twitter, follow other accounts and decide what you like about them. You can also monitor conversations by using the “search” function to find examples of content you like. It’s important that you find the sweet spot between what your target audience wants to hear and what you want to say that promotes your business. So add value through your tweets and give people a reason to follow you. Lisa suggests following the 80/20 rule for your content strategy – 80% follower interaction (retweets, favorites, replies) and 20% offers. Creating a calendar will help you stay on task.
  1. Expand your reach. To get more interaction with your tweets, you need to be visual and creative. Your tweets should encourage immediate action from your followers, so include offers and calls to action. And don’t hesitate to ask for replies. You can increase your followers by putting your Twitter handle everywhere – be sure to add a follow button to your website and email signature, and ask your existing customers to follow you, too.
  1. Use Twitter ads effectively. Did you know that the click-through rate on Twitter is higher than Facebook – 3.6% vs. 0.4%? Twitter ads can be a great tool to increase followers and engagement as well as drive more traffic to your website. According to Lisa, Twitter ads are also great for lead generation. For example, you can grow your list via an ad that asks followers to enter their email address to receive a coupon or other offer. Keep in mind that Twitter ads can be pricey and that the most effective ads use photos and brief videos (under 30 seconds).

The key to Twitter is conversation, so use it to communicate with your followers, and let your personality shine. By focusing on how your products and services benefit your customers, you can help ensure your Twitter success.

Sabrina McGowan is the owner of SQM Communications, bringing creativity and integration to the communications efforts of non-profits, trade associations and forward-thinking businesses. Sabrina is also the marketing chair of the Independent Public Relations Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter at @sabrinaqmcgowan.