Preparing for the PR Singularity: when PR, SEO and Social Become One

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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.

What Pearl Harbor Can Teach Us About Executive Communications

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Most people who know me well, know I’m a 1940s enthusiast, and could probably qualify for a 12-step program for over-informed History Channel addicts.  But every now and then, a special like “Pearl Harbor 24 Hours After” comes along, and it makes me not only see history in a totally different way–but the present, too.  In the case of this FDR retrospective, it also made me realize he may well have paved the way for modern crisis communications.

The show recounted the 24 hours after the fateful attack that, essentially, wiped the entire US Navy out in one stroke.  It showed how slow news travelled; how little they really knew; and how much confusion and dissention  existed among his advisors.  But as I watched in rapt attention as the story unfolded hour by hour, I couldn’t help but notice the communications lessons modern executives could learn from President Roosevelt today–in good times, and especially, in bad ones.  Here are my takeaways:

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 6.56.53 PM1)  Personal bravery counts.  A lot.

It took several hours for the full extent of the damage to finally get to Roosevelt’s desk. But when it did, his son and others who were there reported that the worse the news got, the calmer FDR became.  There were no recriminations.  No congressional committees.  No kicking the can down the road.  He knew the time to act was now. He made the decision to declare war, even though America had barely any real military left.  He convened the Congress and scheduled it for a live radio broadcast.  Newsreels rolling, this wheelchair-bound man made the decision to walk with leg braces, stiffly and in excruciating pain, from the back of the congressional chamber to the podium at the front of the chamber. He could have easily fallen flat, and shown the world a terrible message of weakness. But this symbolic act of personal strength brought Congress to its feet in deafening applause–and set the tone for one of the most memorable speeches in American history.

2)  When the news is bad, start with short, inspiring and emotionally powerful messaging.

A speech so memorable, it is part of the national World War II monument.

A speech so memorable, it is part of the national World War II monument.

FDR drafted the one page speech in just a few minutes.  His entire staff of advisors hated it.  Up to the last minute, he was being vigorously lobbied to read a very long speech that had been drafted by his speechwriters–one that laid out in painstaking detail every transgression committed by the Japanese over the last few months of negotiations.  He ignored them; and he was right.  The American people were angry and scared.  The last thing they wanted to hear now was a dissertation on the finer points of diplomacy.  They wanted to know three things: what happened;  what does this mean; what are we going to do about it? He viscerally showed the outrage the American people were feeling. Even today, little schoolchildren still know December 7th, 1941 is the “day that will live in infamy.” FDR was a transformative leader, because he was able to show us a vision of what we could be. He told the people we were going to defeat the Japanese, and he was just the man to show us how.  He knew our hearts, and he knew what we were capable of when asked.  And everyone lined up to follow him.

3)  Share the pain and sacrifice.

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 6.38.30 PMThough Roosevelt was a very wealthy man, he was seen as “a man of the people” because he was truly with the people.  He spent time with them, and he fought for the welfare of the common man. One of FDR’s greatest assets was his first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Did you know that it was actually Eleanor who gave the first radio address about the upcoming war--an emotional radio commentary that called the nation to work and sacrifice to beat this terrible threat? Later, while FDR was dealing with the war effort, Eleanor was canvassing the nation, visiting with the common folk, celebrating their successes and showcasing people who were doing great things for the war effort. Her weekly radio addresses painted a picture of a homefront at war.  She didn’t try to shellack the truth.  She admitted that things were hard, and likely to get even worse. She talked quite personally about the heartbreak of sending a son off to war because her son was gone too.  But she talked, too, of the day when it would all be worth it.

Eleanor Roosevelt congratulating the WACs, the first women to serve in the military.

Eleanor Roosevelt congratulating the WACs, the first women to serve in the military.

4)  Help people focus their energy for the common good.

Leaders often forget that in times of trouble, people want to unite. During the second world war, the government gave them lots of opportunities to do so.  Those who couldn’t fight went to work in factories building guns, ships and planes.  Those who couldn’t work in factories volunteered for the USO, bought war bonds, planted victory gardens, lived on rations without complaint and recycled rubber and metals for the war effort.  Every person, no matter how small, had a part to play. You might think this kind of altruism is a product of by-gone days.  But just look at the outpouring of volunteerism after  the 9-11 attacks, or Hurricane Katrina.  The can-do spirit is alive and well in America, and in your employees, too.  They just need the right leader to show the way.

Today, of course, leaders are under a lot more pressure.  FDR didn’t have to deal with whistleblowers, The Drudge Report, the 24-hour news cycle or online commenters on the White House Website.  But on the other hand, FDR didn’t have social media, Intranets, global vodcasts, viral video, text messaging, mobile donation campaigns and many of the modern tools we have for getting out executive messaging, either. Today, you can get your call to action out–and offer nearly limitless amounts of background information to support your case.

Some things never change.  Leadership will always be a careful combination of what you do AND what you say. Make sure you’re worthy of the podium.

Is Healthcare Ready for Technology’s “Threshold Year?”

It’s the start of the new year–high season for social media punditry. There’s a lot of Internet chatter that 2013 could be “the threshold year” when content marketing becomes king, mobile technologies gain critical mass, social media matures fully and the online world becomes the thread that ties all marketing together.  Exciting stuff.  But for the healthcare industry to fully take advantage of all that these new tools have to offer, they’ll have to work a little harder to get over that threshold. Here’s my take on the issues that need to be overcome:

Yes, you can do a patient community.  Mayo did.

Yes, you can do a patient community. Mayo did.

Issue #1:  Legal and liability issues.

How can a healthcare organization possibly provide useful patient information without handing out unqualified medical advice? Organizations like The Mayo Clinic have begun to crack this nut with its online community site, which encourages patients to share with each other, while they enjoy the organization’s vast medical article archive and one button access to the Mayo Clinic online appointment reservation tool.  Other organizations, like MD Anderson, have focused their attention on offering referring physicians greater access to their patient’s test results and reports, in addition to a truly unbelievable trove of oncology journal articles, trial reports and conference presentations.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 9.51.46 PMMany smaller organizations are making use of their social media clout by allowing patients to celebrate their progress, like Boston Children’s Hospital’s “Thriving” Page on Facebook.  If you have a solid social media policy and enough disclaimers posted; and the medical professionals who contribute to your site keep all their comments general; it is easy to keep legal liabilities in check.

Issue #2:  Physician time/expertise.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 10.07.30 PMLet’s face it.  Most physicians don’t go to medical school just so they can spend their precious downtime dealing with patients on Facebook.  The days when hospitals or other organizations pressure working physicians to be on social media as an “add on” are over.  I think most people can agree that it’s a good idea to having a real nurse or physician blogging or shepherding the patient conversations in an online community or social site.  Organizations have to realize the value in this, and pay and schedule physicians accordingly.  The good news is, more doctors are looking for reduced schedules and flexible working arrangements.  Seattlemamadoc is a good example.  — works for Seattle Children’s Hospital, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she sets aside paid time for talking to her patients online, posting important stories to social media, and blogging for Parents Magazine.  Fully online-enabled physicians like this will be the wave of the future. You can bet they will provide greatly amplified value to their employers.

Issue #3:  Putting useful content first.

This may require a total rethink for many organizations, who think only in terms of marketing, and not teaching and supporting.  For instance, how many messages have you gotten from healthcare organizations telling you about a national ranking, a new facility, a new pill to take or a new insurance product to buy.  How many of them help you address your underlying conditions and make the choices you need to live better? Few, to none.  And many of the ones that do, do so in a very cursory and paternalistic way.  Is it any wonder that patients are flocking to national forums or Web MD, when they could be getting the information they need much closer to home?

Issue #4: Harnessing the power of partnerships.

This is one of the key ways healthcare organizations can pool their collective credibility and resources to create truly useful patient resources. What if public health agencies, big pharma and insurance pooled money with local hospital systems to create local online patient communities for disease specific conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer?  What if on these communities patients could find and make appointments with specialists in their area, talk to other patients like them in their area, register for health education classes, join support groups, and get access to breaking health news and even get local discounts for healthy foods and medical supplies?  Granted, a partnership like this is incredibly ambitious, but it illustrates the point.  The more healthcare organizations pool their resources, the more attainable the goal of providing localized, useful information for patients. Perhaps a start might be a joint enewsletter, or blogs written in community forums where patients would see them.  The point is, it’s time to get started.

 Issue #5:  Making the most of mobile.

Triple digit percentage rises in smartphone use mean that by 2015, more Internet traffic will come from mobile devices and not laptops. Smartphones now rule as the dominant cell phone platform, and the explosion of sales for tablets mean more patients will be getting their information from mobile sources than ever before.  Healthcare organizations must get serious about making every website and online community accessible and easy to read, no matter what device is being used.  Big strides have been made on this front in 2012, as innovative organizations like The Boston Globe have used jquerty to not only conquer universal web design standards, but have provided a beautiful online publishing model that may be the blueprint for online newspapers and magazines in the future.  With mobile platforms now more secure and predictable, now is the time to take stock of every online property, and bring it into line with modern standards.

Getting over the threshold.  That’s my wish for the new year.  What’s yours?