Latest PR Gambit: Publishing on Platforms

Back in the day (“the day” being about 10 years ago), we had a simple message for PR shoe-737084_1920clients who wanted to get in on the social media and blogging action.

It was: “Go forth and blog too. Master the channels that are accessible to all.” Those who took the time to produce quality content, nurture social communities and post consistently saw their online influence grow.

Now, the open web is being challenged by the growth of social networking platforms. They’re places we go to connect, and get entertained and informed. Their news clout is growing, as the networks are increasingly publishers and aggregators of content. The social networks reach vast audiences with precise targeting – compelling attributes for marketers.

In short, if you are in the news business or want to promote your own, you are missing out if you are not on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

But there are a number of challenges along the way. It takes PR out of our media-centric comfort zones. It’s not obvious how to use social networking channels to accomplish your goals, which generally include coverage KPIs.

Sure, many in PR have jumped on the social media and content marketing bandwagons. We can handle Tweeting and blogging quite well. But getting your news seen and covered or appreciated by the right audiences, especially if your profile does not already have umpteen million friends/followers, is another matter.

Success generally requires a combination of paid and organic promotion as well as an understanding of the algorithms, those wonky programs that determine what appears in our news feeds. But they are black boxes and constantly changing. Plus, ad options may be unfamiliar, and they’re also moving targets.

How does one figure this all out? Listen, read, and more important, experiment. Dip your toes in. Test, validate, then repeat.

Reading this blog is a good start, as it offers commentary, articles about best practices and links to the right resources. The networks can be opaque, when it comes to specifics about their algorithms – but they do inform about changes and make recommendations.

In short, there are no pat answers, although one could invoke advice similar to the words at the beginning of the article: go forth and publish on Facebook (for example). Learn about the secrets of shareable content and how to get into the news feed.

I’ll close with an example from the world of politics, which seems fitting since the election has been front and center. It’s an article that ran awhile back in the NY Times Sunday magazine.

What do you think? Could a similar approach work beyond the field of politics? What ideas does this give you for PR? See the link and excerpts below, and please share your comments.

Inside Facebook’s… Political Media Machine
[Facebook’s] algorithms have their pick of text, photos and video produced and posted by established media organizations… But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed…

These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook… cumulatively, their audience is gigantic: tens of millions of people. On Facebook, they rival the reach of their better-funded counterparts in the political media…

But they are, perhaps, the purest expression of Facebook’s design and of the incentives coded into its algorithm — a system that has already reshaped the web…
Truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news…. The point is to get [users] to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.



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Platforms as Publishers: 6 Key Takeaways for Brands

I checked out a NY Daily News Innovation Labs event last week: Platforms As Publishers: where are We news-644847_1920Now? A panel of experts spoke about their work with the social media platforms, and implications for the news business.

Claire Wardle of Tow Center moderated the session, which included Samantha Barry, of CNN; Allison Lucas, from Buzzfeed; Vox Media’s Choire Sicha; and Carla Zanoni of Wall Street Journal.

The timing was interesting, given all the excitement about Facebook Trending News.  Also, there was a reference to BuzzFeed’s exploding watermelon video that recently went viral (yes, they did use safety goggles).

You will only learn so much at an event like this.  News is a competitive business, and they likely keep most of their cards close. Still, I found it to be interesting, a friendly and apparently open dialog.

Some say that the platforms are the present and future of the news, content and marketing arenas.  Publishers need to go where audiences are, and marketers should be right there too. It was great for this PR guy to have a front row seat on the conversation, and learn more about how some of the top names regard and work with the social media platforms.

The Tow Center ran a nice recap, as did NY Daily News.

So can brand publishers get in on the action too?  What if you want your news to run on social media?

Below I include key takeaways for brands.

  • Don’t just focus on traffic; use social media to build relationships and create a news and content habit that makes the brand relevant.
  • Listen to the audience, use social media to learn new storytelling ways
  • Size does matter, platforms make deals with the largest publishers; who in turn hire small armies of editors, and content, social, engagement and revenue experts. Unless you are a major brand with similar clout and budgets, you need to find other ways.
  • The only constant is change – if you are doing the same thing you were six months ago, you’re probably losing, in the words of CNN’s Samantha Barry.  Experiment and innovate, or be left behind.
  • Have “cool kids” AKA early adapters blaze a trail with new projects and then bring others along
  • Vary strategies and metrics based on goals, features and audiences of each platform

See below for curated tweets on Storify.

 

 

 



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How to Pitch an Algorithm

android-161184_1280 calculator-695084_1280The Wall Street Journal had an interesting op-ed this week. The Algorithm is the EditorJeffrey Herbstandroid-161184_1280 android-161184_1280wrote: “Social media companies quickly are becoming the dominant news providers… Four in 10 adults in America now get news from Facebook and one in 10 from Twitter.”

Similarly, WGBH News posted an article: How Facebook Became our Biggest News Publisher – and Why we Should be Worried.

The articles warn about the implications of tech companies becoming news organizations, vs. the distribution channels they claim to be; their newsfeeds increasingly determine what we see.

If the algorithm is now the editor, how long will it be before PR people become code-driven bots (cue up sarcastic comments about PR)?

I have not tried to pitch an algorithm recently (well, ever); and it might not be obvious for many of us in the field how to deal with these new realities.  Does our job as PR pros end after we get our clients in an article?  What if the story does not make the feed?

The New York Times argues that media need to become more data-driven to survive:

“Hooking people on your… news  is [hard]… But news organizations have ways they never had before to figure it out… Through real-time analytics, reporters and editors know how many people are reading their work and through which devices and sites, how long those readers are sticking with it, and what they’re ignoring.”

In other words, online media are now getting ratings… and publishers can learn from them. So, what gets attention and survives the social filter?  The article continues:

“Videos, podcasts, short items of interest that can be read easily on smartphones, and almost anything with ‘Trump’ rate well. Perhaps counterintuitively, deeply reported features and investigative pieces…  draw readership levels that were never possible in the print-only era.”

The last part validates my post Wonky Articles Trump other Forms of Content.

Despite the title of this post, I do not suggest that you go out and pitch an algorithm.  I do recommend becoming more data driven.  Get smart about the new ways in which content and news get shared and consumed.  Apply this insight to make sure that your coverage makes the cut.

 



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What Does it mean to Hack a Feed, and why Should PR Care?

So what does it really mean, to “hack the feed”? Here are some of the key ideas, from articles that I wrote wireless-155910_1280for Flack’s Revenge, MarketingProfs and Entrepreneur.

This is an excerpt from the first:

“If you are interviewing PR agencies, a good question to ask is: ‘what business are you in?’ If they say: ‘Getting you media coverage, building visibility,’ politely show them the door.

The reason is that any agency worth its salt knows that press coverage will happen.  But in a sea of noise and info choices, it is the ability to break through and connect with audiences that makes the critical difference. In short, the correct answer is the ‘attention business’.  And getting attention – quality attention – is getting more challenging every day.”

The second story said:

“Sure, many still turn on the TV to stay on top of current events, pick up a newspaper or magazine, or type in the URL of their favorite news site. But, more often than not, they are getting news from aggregators, sharers, and curators—whether via algorithms (in the case of LinkedIn and Facebook), from their friends on Twitter, or via professional curators such as Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

Where does that leave you if you are readying a launch or you have news to promote? To get the attention of your intended audience, you need to understand how and where they get information—and work hard to ensure that your news is right there.”

The third piece further explains:

“Much of the problem has to do with information overload. How do people cope? We scan. We prioritize. We note what’s trending. Google and the social networks track our content engagement, and adjust news feeds accordingly. People stir the content soup in myriad ways and, in doing so, affect their popularity.

The result is that the architecture of content and news distribution has changed. It’s no longer primarily top down. Sure, big media still has reach and influence, but the revolution is by and large user-driven, with a healthy dose of platform and algorithmic selection thrown in.”

The challenges are clear – info overload, media fragmentation, changing information flows and consumption trends – what is the solution? The above stories provide some answers.  I urge you to click the links and read them.

But if it were so easy, we wouldn’t need a whole blog like this to break it down – right?!!

The Hack the Feed ethos is not about hacking in the black hat sense. It embraces technology solutions – but is driven by an understanding that you must start with information consumer – and communicate on their terms.  It is about earning a place in increasingly inundated attention spans, breaking through with content that is read, makes an impression and inspires action.



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Publish Blog Content on Facebook – in an Instant

Why try to hack a feed when there’s an open invitation to join one?facebook-388078_1920

Facebook introduced Instant Articles last year to speed access to publisher content.  Clearly, they want to improve the user experience and make the network a stickier, one-stop destination for all information needs (of course, they’re not the only ones packaging news for easy user access – Google offers AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages – and there’s Apple News).

If you are after Facebook’s audience, you’ll be happy to know that even smaller blogs can soon publish Instant Articles.  On April 12, every publisher can participate, according to their blog. And TheVerge ran a piece that said even small WordPress sites can jump on board – which is welcome news for those who blog as an extension of PR and marketing.

This Social Media Examiner article offers a step-by-step approach. You will need a Facebook Page, the Facebook Pages App to preview articles, an RSS feed that displays full text, and to mark up your blog (WordPress users can do this with the PageFrog plugin). You need at least 50 articles to submit at the beginning.

Good luck and happy Facebook Instant Articles publishing!! Would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences as you check it out.



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Welcome to Hack The Feed

With this post I launch Hack the Feed, a blog dedicated to leading edge PR strategies.code-707069_1920 (2)

What does it mean to be on the leading edge? Who in PR would claim the trailing edge?

Many think of press coverage when it comes to PR.  We’ve never been just about media relations – yet this is still the bread and butter for many PR agencies. And most who employ PR hope that it will do its fair share to meet short (read: sales) and long term business goals.

But It is harder than ever to get media to care about pitches and press releases. And when you are successful, and they do write – well, the earned media hit does not drive the same results any more. The servers don’t often come crashing down from a major hit.

Here are other relevant trends:

  • People are overloaded with content choices. So, they become content grazers and scanners and tune much out.
  • Buyers have many ways to get smart about products and services – they don’t need the media to stay informed.
  • There’s a growing tech influence, with the major social platforms, Apple and Google determining what shows on our screens and in news feeds.
  • Users increasingly determine the flow and popularity of info.

They give rise to the following questions:

  • What works better than mass blasts and relying on the media to build buzz and draw attention?
  • How can you craft content, news and campaigns that get noticed and produce results?

HTF is a blog dedicated to updating practices and communicating effectively in today’s info-saturated world.

The HTF ethos embraces technology solutions – but is driven by an understanding that you must start with information consumer – and approach them on their terms.

You can come here to read about topics as diverse as word choice and storytelling to social network analysis, memetics and news feed optimization.   The topics are united under the singular focus of communications that connect. It is about hacking attention spans, breaking through with content that is read, makes an impression and inspires action.

Does this sound interesting? Please subscribe to this blog and become part of the community.

 

 



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