With the digital age has come an embarrassment of riches for PR and marketing people to use to not just shout at consumers/audiences, but to engage, influence, and yes, even measure them. The only way we, the PR Community, will ever see its benefits is if we jump out of our comfort zone and become part of the BORG.
Let’s examine, for a moment, our march into the matrix so far. With the maturity of social media came a renewed call for ROI (return on investment)–which was awesome–but usually centered on the psychographics latent in the social chatter, number of likes, link authority and every now and then, sales conversions, if ecommerce website links were included. Good start, yes, but it’s only part of the picture. Then inbound marketing came along, fueled by customized, content-driven emails and digital advertising. These campaigns use email newsletters/promotions, along with high end reports, ebooks, webinars to drive click throughs to landing pages. These landing pages captured data and squeezed readers onto the client’s website and into the top of their sales funnel. Pretty cutting edge stuff, but it is based on a narrow band of specific content, and doesn’t capture the full breadth of releases a company sends out.
In the future, the key to the survival of the PR species will be full assimilation into content, marketing, social and SEO. Here’s my predictions on what that might look like:
1) SEO will merge completely into Digital PR. This has already happened with the release of Google’s latest algorithms, which award page rank based on the authority and relevance of the page where your links appear. All the black hats have gone into hiding as SEO firms are no longer able to bait, stuff and back link your way to the top of the search rankings. Now don’t get me wrong–the science of properly tagging and optimizing your site for search is alive and well. It’s just that content will now have to be carefully placed on reputable blogs, in online publications and in broadcast. The SEO side will provide measurement insight, while the PR people will forge the longstanding relationships needed to make this strategy work.
2) PR will fully support social. Social media is great, but it is only talking to the people that already like a company, and hoping like heck they will hit viral gold. Even on your best day, this is only a fraction of a company’s potential audience. Instead of just sending out a release on an occasional social media contest, PR and Social will be running on the same circuit– sharing common content calendars, merging campaigns, and creating a positive feedback loop between the two. Don’t believe me? Even media list software giant Cision just announced an amazing content marketing and social newsroom tool that makes this integration a matter of a few pastes and clicks.
3) PR will become Content Marketing. There is no one in a company that understands its content like its PR person. We know all the hidden evangelists, the pockets of great stories, the passion of a company’s employees for the products they sell. We know the audience, and what they need to hear. We know the C-suite executives, and what they need to say. There is no one better suited to take the captain’s chair in this brave new universe of possibilities.
But first, we have to think not just of the news that is coming out of our companies/clients, but the need for information that is coming in. What kind of search terms are being typed in when a potential customer is looking for the type of products you sell? For instance, if you are selling cabinetry, there could be hundreds of search terms people are typing in…bathroom cabinets, cabinet storage solutions, traditional cherry cabinets, for instance. Is the content you make available based around this need? Is your website optimized so they can come straight to the right pages on your site from a search? Have you been publishing blogs, email newsletters, social stories or press releases about these subjects? Have you been using services like Compendium, which slice and dice your existing content into search-term specific web pages? Is your internal communications and sales training informed by the information the customer wants?
4) Big Data will assimilate PR. As PR as we traditionally know it seamlessly merges with these other disciplines, what we do will be able to be measured like never before. While no one has completely cracked the measurement code yet, in the future, we will be able to measure our results, I think, on a carefully constructed combination of:
Visibility–where your message has appeared on the internet, the publications, blogs, forums, social pages and their overall circulations/readership.
Authority— The share of voice these outlets have among their audience. For instance, this measure might show how influential the publication or the author would be on a given subject. Huffington Post, for example, would be high up on the influence scale for political news because of the size of their engaged audience.
Virality–If an item appeared on a blog, or in a publication or on a social page, how much did it get shared? Were there any particularly authoritative sharers that need to be targeted next time or added to a list?
Convertability–Did this message lead people to a company sponsored website? How long did they stay? What kind of a person is this reader? Do they demographically match your customer base? Are they an existing customer already? Did they make it to your social page or sign up for an email newsletter? Did any of this activity lead to increased sales?
Granted, this interconnected marketing world I am describing may be first seen among the larger companies who can afford big data tracking services like Teradata, or whose product itself is content–like the award winning work being done in content management by Angie’s List. Not every company’s native content will lend itself to such aggressive sharing and promotion. But every company will be able to benefit by looking at their message as a whole–a part of one big promotion machine.
Resistance is futile.