If you have ever watched pre-school children play soccer, you may have noticed their obsession with the ball. So focused on that 27-inch sphere, heads down, eyes looking at their own feet, that quite often—in fact, most of the time—they lose sight of where the goal net is, even of its general direction. This is perhaps the biggest challenge facing public relations practitioners in a digital era—not being so focused on the ball (the product, the event, the message) that they risk losing sight of the larger game.
So, instead of putting on a show, we should meet people where they are with an attitude of benevolence and largesse, an attitude that sincerely wants to help our publics find answers to the problems they have. This attitude should be communicated in our web pages, our Facebook posts, our tweets, our FAQ lists—all of our external communications.
Though direct-to-consumer communication has never been more possible or more abundant, the research shows that “earned media,” or “word of mouth,” is still dominant. The prevalence and durability of the press release is evidence. And this earned media is still more valuable than paid coverage. In a study conducted by Outsell, earned media was rated as more effective than either owned or paid media by 81 percent of senior marketers because it results in higher levels of engagement and trust.
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The earned media tactics such as seeding stories, monitoring social and other media, sending press releases, pursuing speaking opportunities, and managing communities are, therefore, still necessary to be effective. You need mentions, shares, re-posts, reviews, and recommendations, and your content picked up by third-party sites. You want strong rankings on the search engines, and you need good brand content to generate those rankings.
How to Use Blogs
taught that to effectively use blogs in a larger public relations strategy, you are wise to be authentic, transparent, interesting, and at least at some level an expert on something, however focused or narrow that expertise might be. Creating useful content that helps your public, that eases their pain, shoulders their burdens, enriches their lives, that is honestly communicated in human language is not only the right thing to do but it will be rewarded by the search engines, particularly Google. A sweeping overhaul of Google’s algorithm has ensured that gaming gets punished and that empty language gets punished.
A Few Examples
The blog for the City of College Station, TX, written by Colin Killian, public communications manager, gets so many things right. Killian writes in the first person, with his byline and email address. He uses humor, writing about, for example, what city maintenance crews have found in muddy trenches over the years, as well as about the tough subjects, like the shooting of a police officer. He live blogs city council meetings. Killian’s consistent supply of useful information creates trust, reduces rumors, creates goodwill, and seeds media
Public relations practitioners might find themselves responsible for a corporate blog or perhaps an employee blog. Corporate blogs typically are “written” by an executive of the company (“written” in quotations, because often that executive doesn’t actually write the blog, even though his or her name and image appear on the blog). Corporate blogs are routinely sub-contracted out to public relations firms, which use them to paradoxically give the impression of increased transparency on the part of the client.
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If material is borrowed or used, it should be appropriately credited; intellectual property has to be respected. And bloggers should be careful not to share trade secrets or proprietary information. In fact, to prevent insider trading, the Securities Exchange Commission prohibits this.