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On the subject of writing

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.

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