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On the subject of online PR

Matt

May 20th, 2009.

Thought You Knew About Online PR? – Think Again

Online PR has been a huge growth area in recent times. As the shift from print to digital media becomes more pronounced, the relative importance of digital PR continues to grow against its more traditional equivalent.

digital-prThe problem for many companies is that there are some fundamental differences between the two disciplines, while at the same time it’s increasingly important to maintain as much synergy as possible between your online and offline PR messages.

Where Does Online PR Fit In With SEO?

It’s often confusing nowadays where SEO ends and digital PR begins, the two disciplines are complimentary and do overlap to a large extent. There are certainly two differing objectives, I view SEO as being more metric orientated, it’s about maximising revenue through increasing traffic sent via search engines, ultimately raising search rankings. Online PR is more about client perception, managing exposure, and building relationships with key influencers. Where some confusion lies is that very similar techniques are now used to achieve both goals.

Developing Key Relationships

Certainly the largest difference between online and offline PR is the diverse and fragmented nature of online media. Your offline press targets may consist of 40-50 publications, online that total may well run into several hundred, potentially more. These contacts themselves will almost certainly be diverse, spread worldwide, some professional writers, many part-time amateurs.

Obviously maintaining one-to-one relationships with all of these people is unrealistic due to time constraints, however, be aware of the key influencers in your industry, find out which sites are the highest trafficked or have the most RSS subscribers and make sure you try to forge relationships with them.

Going Social

A valuable alternative to forming direct relationships online is community participation. A key part of any campaign is being aware of where and how your industry communicates online, these days most industries now have forums and message boards, influential industry blogs and Twitter communities. It’s vital that you’re not just aware of these, but active participation will ensure that you have a direct line to these influencers at what should be a minimal time cost.

Writing For The Web

Often the bane of the offline journalist, mundane press releases and content along the lines of “We’ve just hired John Smith” or “Our new Widget 3000 is the best Widget since the Widget 2000″, these kind of topics just don’t cut it as content any more – they never really did. Whereas before a cosy relationship with a tame journalist may have helped snooze inducing releases get published, online it really is the content that counts. You will find yourself having to water down brand messages and promotion in order to maximise your take-up rate.

Before you sit down and write anything, ask yourself what’s in it for other people. Despite being a great bunch, bloggers (I’m one myself) are generally pretty selfish. They’re not going to publish something just because you ask them to. You have to give them something in return.

6 Great Paths To Publication

  1. News – Bloggers can’t resist genuinely newsworthy stories that aren’t already published all over the web. A possible alternative to this is expert commentary on breaking industry news.
  2. Humour – everyone loves a bit of humour, especially bloggers.
  3. Controversy – Be careful here, controversy works very well at generating publicity, much of it negative. Be prepared to defend yourself and field some awkward questions – Ryanair, we’re looking at you.
  4. Tools and applications – Building great tools and apps and making them available for free is a sure-fire way of getting great publicity.
  5. Resources – Articles that act as how to guides or resource lists are usually well received.
  6. Poll and survey results and data – Try conducting customer and industry surveys and publish the results via press release and offer them to key industry sites in advance of publication.

Writing Tips

  • Be aware of the keywords that people use to find your products/services, and be sure to use these in key areas such as press release titles or page headings.
  • Keep it short and punchy. People tend to scan text online. Bullet points and lists work well.
  • A punchy attention grabbing headline is key, this is what readers will see first and influence their decision to read or not.
  • Work an angle – where possible relate the content to something topical that is happening in the news or your industry.

Time For Release

Once you’re happy with the content of your press release there are several dedicated syndication sites such as PR Newswire, PRWeb and PR.com. However, by just syndicating to these sites you’re almost certainly missing a huge proportion of your market. Contacting news sites and blogs directly will bring far better short term success and will also help to develop a long-term relationship.

  • Start by creating a list of blog and news sites in your industry. Google is a good place to start, use searches like [your industry]+news and [your industry]+blog to find some established sites. Follow their blogroll links to find out who they link to. Search blog directories and Technorati to create an extensive list of your press targets.
  • Contact them all individually, introduce yourself and your company, ask them if they’re happy to receive press releases from you, and ask about their editorial policy
  • Keep a spreadsheet of information such as URL, contact email, key staff, editorial policies and notes on the site content. This will help you later when it comes to choosing who to send individual releases to. For example, some sites may be happy to conduct product reviews, others may prefer to concentrate on industry news. The key here is to continuously add to this and to keep it updated over time.

Pre-release be sure to publish the release on your site and link to it, rather than emailing the whole thing to people. Bloggers don’t generally like to just republish releases, they’ll generally want to rewrite them and offer their own opinions. The editorial integrity of blogs is pretty sacred to many bloggers, don’t try to ride roughshod over this.

Be sure to include high quality images that you’re happy for people to re-use. Again, don’t email these, give them a link to them

Some Examples Of Successful PR/Social Media Campaigns

Will It Blend? – A great example of a brand using the humour hook to generate publicity. Blendtec got around the problem of having a fairly mundane product by videoing their blenders being used to destroy all manner of interesting items.

Compare The Meercat – A fantastic integrated campaign, engaging users on a variety of social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and of course the microsite.

obama_hope_poster_faireyRyanair – Ryanair are either the kings of the contraversy hook, or they just don’t care about PR at all. I’d go for the latter, especially when carfully crafted stories such as this, this and this manage to get them a disproportionate amount of media attention from the national press. How damaging some of these stories are to the brand is of course debatable.

Barack Obama – The Obama presidential and nomination campaigns both focused on listening, engaging and getting people involved. Another cross channel campaign, engaging on Twitter and a range of online tools to increase participation.

Measuring Impact

One of the advantages of the internet is the fact that almost everything is measurable. Whereas offline you may be relying on a press cuttings service and measuring success in column inches, online you can measure an almost infinite number of metrics, such as visits, sales, links, search rankings, social media mentions etc.

Of course, to be able to do this you need the correct tools. Some of my favourite ones are,

Google Analytics for measuring traffic, referring sites, keyword search data.
Blogpulse – for tracking brand/story mentions in the blogosphere
Google Alerts – Sign-up to receive an email alert each time you brand is mentioned online
Technorati – Another great way to search what blogs are talking about.

Matt

March 10th, 2009.

Link Building 2.0 – Getting Attention In The Social Age

Building links to your website has always been vital, and it is likely to remain so for the near future. Links provide the basic structure that the Google algorithm is based on, and are the main indicator of a pages importance.

It’s important not to make the mistake of assuming that as the need for links hasn’t changed, that the methods of acquiring them haven’t. Just as the web has changed from brochure websites to interactive communities so has the methods of building links to these sites.

So how did people used to build links?

  • Directory submissions – We’ve all seen the “submit to 10,000 directories for $9.99″ adverts haven’t we? With that many links you can’t go wrong surely?
  • Internal links – Footer links, yes I know, we’ve still got them!
  • Paid links – need some quick links? Pop over to Pay-Per-Post and get a blogger to knock up some paid reviews.
  • Forums and blog comments – Drop by, drop your links, nobody really cares right?

All of that sounds easy right? And to be fair it is, or was. Google wised up to all of these methods a long time ago. Some are devalued and won’t bring you any benefit, others are going to put your site in danger of being penalised.

So bearing all of this in mind, what should your link building strategy consist of in the Web 2.0 age?

  • Directory submissions – I’m a firm believer that good directories will still pass value. Directories like Yahoo, JoeAnt, Business.com, BOTW, The Good Web Guide, Elib, Site Sift and many more are on my submit list. Niche directories that offer a comprehensive review process are also worth their weight in gold.
  • Internal links – Logic dictates that footer links are probably devalued by now. Either way, it’s probably preferable making the most out of your standard navigation links. Include your keywords where possible. Make sure your navigation links are present on each and every page. Provide an additional breadcrumb navigation where this isn’t practical.
  • Internal in-content links – It’s not just navigation links that help. Be aware when you’re using your keywords in your body text. Link them to your target pages.
  • Online PR – Drop the paid links and start drawing up a list of sites that you HAVE to be seen on. Go through the list contacting them, form a relationship with them, find out what you need to do to get involved with their site. They may allow you to write editorial for them, offer to review your products, publish your link in their directory or even just give you a mention where relevant.
  • Offline PR – A lot of people don’t give this any consideration. Bear in mind that a lot of offline PR is now also published online in digital editions. A surprising number of places don’t automatically include a link to the website, your PR has to be aware of this, normally it’s just a case of asking.
  • 3rd party hosted pages – Make sure you have a presence on sites that offer profile pages. Facebook brand pages, About.org, Flickr, Squidoo and many other industry based sites.
  • Press releases – Do something newsworthy. People generally aren’t interested in how your XPC-1i is different to your XPC-1ii, but they’ll probably want to write about it if you’ve just set a land speed record in it. Don’t just submit it to the PR outlets, but send it directly to the people that you want to publish it.
  • Linkbait – Create worthwhile content. These days your site HAS to stand out. You need to offer something that others don’t. Create something useful, funny, or shocking – think like a tabloid newspaper editor or an encyclopedia publisher. Whatever you do, do it better than anyone else.
  • Related industry pages – Don’t forget industry bodies and associations, suppliers, retailers or other business contacts with websites. Many have places where they would be happy to link to your site.
  • Network – One of the most important of all. Join in with your industry online. Comment on blogs, post on forums, subscribe to RSS feeds, link up with people on Twitter. Networking with people will give plenty of opportunities to ask for a link. By getting involved though you’ll probably find that people link to you anyway.
  • Competitive intelligence – Tools like Linkscape and Yahoo Site Explorer now mean that we have even more imformation than ever before about who links to our competitors. Find out who they are and then add them to your target list.

While linkbuilding over the past few years has become more skilled and time intensive, it isn’t always harder. Just like Web 2.0 linkbuilding 2.0 is all about developing relationships, information sharing and adding value.

Matt

February 25th, 2009.

Ryanair – Their Attitude To Online PR Part Of A Bigger Reputation Problem

A throwaway comment on a blog by a Ryanair staff member has led to an online storm that now threatens to spill over into the national press and potentially harm the already tarnished reputation of Ryanair even further.

It all started when a Dublin based web designer Jason Roe posted on his blog that he had found a potential bug on the Ryanair website which changed the displayed price of a ticket to €0.00 when he amended his flight times.

At this stage Ryanair had three options of how to deal with this,

  1. Post on Jasons blog thanking him for notifying them of the error, explaining the steps that they had taken to rectify the problem. Possibly even offering him a discount for bringing this to their attention may have turned this into a positive piece of PR.
  2. Fix the error and do nothing, solves the issue but not much else. The incident gets little attention and goes away.
  3. Post on Jasons blog anonymously insulting him and his website.

In the event they opted to go for #3.

jason!
you’re an idiot and a liar!! fact is!
you’ve opened one session then another and requested a page meant for a different session, you are so stupid you dont even know how you did it! you dont get a free flight, there is no dynamic data to render which is prob why you got 0.00. what self respecting developer uses a crappy CMS such as word press anyway AND puts they’re mobile ph number online, i suppose even a prank call is better than nothing on a lonely sat evening!!

Although this was done anonymously, the Ryanair staff member was easily identified through his IP address. At this point having their staff members abusing people online becomes far more of a news story than a bug on their website ever was, and starts to get coverage on the major social news sites popular with bloggers like Digg, Reddit and Twitter.

Although Ryanair are starting to look bad for not listening to their customers, an apology and explanation for the comments would probably have sufficed and the story would have died before it gained any more momentum.

Unbelievably Ryanair then released an official statement further insulting Jason and bloggers everywhere.

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel”.

This is now becoming a major story threatening to blow up in the faces of Ryanairs communications department. As well as national press coverage of the story this morning in The Times and The Telegraph people are now threatening boycotts of the airline over their treatment of customers, dragging up old grievances, and has sparked a raft of blog comments and even protest sites.

What Can We Learn From This?

  1. It just goes to show how failing to deal with, or worse, dealing badly with negative online reputation can blow up in your face.
  2. It shows how closely online and offline PR strategies are linked and should be treated as such.
  3. The importance of having an online strategy that ALL staff are aware of and adhere to.
  4. The power of an apology – it can turn negative PR into positive very quickly.

Is This Part Of A Wider Failing At Ryanair?

Managing the reputation of a budget airline such as Ryanair can never be an easy task at the best of times. Uphappy customers and poor press all take their toll. However, performing a quick audit of their online reputation throws up several areas for urgent attention and improvement.

Their search results, that threaten to take a battering after the latest round of blog posts and national media attention are already suffering. I have highlighted their own properties and positive results in green and negative results in red.

Worryingly for Ryanair, not only are they suffering from negative press in their search results, but there are also competitors and affiliate websites that are potentially stealing business from them, both in the natural results and though pay-per-click adverts.
Failure to respond to this is undoubtedly costing them business and keeps other Ryanair properties such as their hotels, magazine and insurance websites off of the first page. The PPC competition needs to be addressed though a campaign of their own.

In terms of their reputation on social media they fare even worse than in the search results. Searching Technorati for blog posts about them brings back an overwhelmingly negative sentiment, the same is replicated on Twitter, though Digg is more mixed however Michael O’Leary is named among the worst corporate leaders of 2006. Lots of negative sentiment to Ryanair in the comments though.

Ryanair protest sites such as Ryanair Campaign and a Ryanair Customers Google Group seem to be very busy with complaints from users and boast visitor numbers running into the hundreds of thousands.

5 Steps For Ryanair To Take To Fix Their Online Reputation

  1. Address the search results problems using SEO to boost their own properties onto the first page while pushing down negative results.
  2. Use press releases and rich media to take ownership of Google news, video and image search results.
  3. Use a PPC campaign to outbid competitors bidding on their own brand names.
  4. Instigate a blogger outreach programme to listen to and address peoples public concerns – turning negative PR into positive.
  5. Create a social aspect to their own website, bringing complaints and concerns in-house so they can be dealt with more quickly and effectively – firefighting negative PR and limiting it’s impact.

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