Speaking on the PR and social media panel at the SAScon SEO, Analytics and Social Media conference yesterday prompted me to finish a draft blog post that I’ve been cogitating on since February looking at how social media and the internet has changed the way we do traditional media relations. My good friend and and ex-colleague Mark Hanson called it modernised media relations. I’m still not convinced about the name, but I am about the ideas all of which I’ve used successfully so here are some of the tips.
Some of these tips I talked about yesterday, but others are new as time didn’t allow me to cover everything.
Think online first
1) Know how newsrooms work today and don’t ignore online editors
Too often corporate communications and PR professionals think primarily about print and broadcast media, downplaying the importance of the online properties of mainstream media. Former Sky News journalist Ruth Barnett said that one of the most annoying things about PRs is that they don’t understand online and appreciate that a story that didn’t deserve ’20 seconds of live coverage’ might benefit massively from online coverage that would ‘exist on Google forever’.
Many publishers expect journalists to produce content for the paper and additional content for the website. Coupled with reducing headcounts this puts considerable extra pressure on them, where you can help. Another difference is deadlines. This now means different things at different media. Some still prioritise the print edition, others break news online first, most adopt a mixed approach.
2) Think beyond mainstream media
Blogs are the most obvious media to look at if you want to go beyond mainstream media. In fact many ‘blogs’ have become so big that they challenge and dwarf mainstream media. Blogs like Engadget and Huffington Post are now proper publishers with paid journalists and huge advertising revenues. Beyond this there is still a huge range of blogs still published by ‘amateurs’ in their spare time, many of which can be highly influential and are watched by mainstream media journalists looking for stories and sources.
Another more frequently neglected area is online forums. It was good at SAScon to hear MoneySupermarket’s Ben McKay cite the importance of the Martin Lewis Moneysavingexpert forums, he could equally have cited MoneySupermarket’s own forums which are highly influential in personal finance.
Search analytics and SEO
3) Use search analytics to create your target media list
One of the main tasks for junior public relations people is to compile a target media list. The traditional way of doing this is to use one of the many commercial media databases to find media outlets and journalists that cover your particular topic. Today that list is also likely to include some blogs. You’ll consider factors such as circulation, readership, ABC profiles of the readers etc in order to help identify the most important targets.
However, there is an alternative approach. Most internet sessions start with using search and many mainstream media websites rely largely on people arriving there by using a search engine. You can therefore start to select your media targets by finding out where people will arrive if they search for that topic. That’s where you want to be.
4) Use search data to pitch your content
So if many mainstream media websites rely on search to generate traffic then it’s logical that they would perhaps welcome content that helps generate search traffic. Ways you can use this include looking for content gaps where people are searching for particular keywords or phrases, but not finding what they are looking for. Another is to look at search trends to see what is increasing. Armed with this data you can then pitch mainstream media to say look here is the evidence people want this information and we can help to provide it.
5) Optimise your content for search
When you create content you should no longer just think how you can pitch it to media and get them to cover it â€“ your ‘earned’ media. You should also be prioritising how you use it on your ‘owned’ media and optimise it for search. The more specialist you make your content the more successful this approach can be. You can then ‘pull’ people in to your content, rather than aggressively ‘pushing’ it out to them. Journalists use search to find information and identify sources. You’ll also be making your content directly accessible to your end target audience and stakeholders without relying totally on the third party filter of the media.
SEO specialists will also tell you that you’ve got to get in-bound links to your website. However, that’s easy said than done. Many of the sites that you’ll be prioritising because of their real world influence, such as the BBC, are the ones least likely to provide you with a link. Being persuasive or creative won’t work when they have strict rules governing the use of links to external sites.
Relationships and pitching
6) Social networks complement the pub
An oft-mistaken view of public relations is that it’s all about your contact book and drinks down the pub. Today social networks open up a whole new realm of possibilities. LinkedIn, Facebook and above all Twitter enable you to network with a much larger group of contacts. You can figure a lot about what a journalist is interested in and even what stories they might be working on simply by following them. Interaction becomes easier than ever and you build up a store of goodwill by retweeting their stories and tipping them off about useful stories or contacts that aren’t necessarily of any direct benefit to you or your clients.
And many media outlets make it easy to identify journalists by either publishing a directory on their websites like the New York Times does or with public Twitter lists such as the English list of Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
7) It’s multimedia content, stupid
At it’s most basic modern media relations is about understanding the changing content needs of publishers. When I started out in public relations you’d hear stories about the dumb PR who’d post photographs to a radio news show. Today that isn’t so daft as websites mean that ‘newspapers’ want audio and video content, while radio stations need photos!
So you need to constantly be thinking about what content you can provide that adds value to readers and makes the journalist’s job easier. This might be video, behind the scenes photos, infographics, podcasts or whatever you can think of. Some publishers will want you to provide content directly, others simply to offer the right type of content and make it easy for them to get it themselves.
8 Securing coverage isn’t the end of the story
Once you’ve secured a great piece of coverage on a mainstream media website or blog there is still a lot more you can do with it. As well as tweeting out the link â€“ and remembering to @credit the journalist that wrote it â€“ you can also maximise the value of the coverage by writing about it on company blogs, ‘liking’ it on Facebook and Google+, bookmarking it on news aggregation and bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious. You can use Delicious to maintain a list of media coverage on your corporate website or online newsroom, although if you’re in the UK you need to consider the copyright of headlines following the legal action by Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) against the NLA.
If the story has attracted reasonable attention and conversation you can then use social curation tools like Storify and Scoop.it to add further value to the coverage. That creates even more good content, without a great deal of work on your part.
9) Offer media more reader engagement
As ‘news’ has become increasingly commoditised and readers expect to find it for free it is becoming harder and harder for mainstream media to compete and differentiate themselves. One way they can do this is by engaging with readers and developing a stronger relationship with them. Public relations can help by providing exclusive interactive content such as live webchats, which can just be simple text or even video webcasts. Instead of just a journalist interviewing the chief financial officer about the multinational’s quarterly results you can offer the CFO up to answer questions directly from readers.
Become a publisher
10) EC=MC Every Company is a Media Company
Former FT journalist Tom Foremski coined the term EC=MC for Every Company is a Media Companyand this is one of the most powerful weapons in your public relations armoury. Creating a good social media newsroom or corporate blog enables you to directly reach journalists, influencers, customers and other stakeholders. Just some of the benefits include the fact that if done properly they help SEO; you can publish content that might not be of interest to mainstream media but is of interest to some stakeholders; reduce the number of ‘mundane’ calls to the press office by making it really easy to find relevant facts; by providing genuinely useful facts and information you can actually generate positive coverage and get journalists contacting you, rather than you pitching them.
This top 10 tips about how social media and SEO can improve your media relations could just as easily been a top 100 tip list so if you’ve got any more to share then feel free to do so in the comments and I might do an update post to highlight some of the best ones.
- Speaking at SAScon | Search – Analytics – Social Media conference (stuartbruce.biz)
- Good crisis communications – 99p Stores CEO turns tables on BBC Watchdog (stuartbruce.biz)
- Social media crisis comms – outflanking the Sunday Times (stuartbruce.biz)