Making The Most Of Virtual Event Experiences

As we move into the fourth quarter of this interminable year, many of us in PR are eager to turn the page. But at least we’re not conference organizers! The pandemic has imposed real challenges on B2B tech companies who rely on conferences and event marketing for branding, lead generation, and customer retention.

By the same token, many business executives rely on attending, speaking, or sponsoring in-person trade shows for their own visibility and thought leadership, and to stay on top of trends. We’re all longing to return to real live meetings, but conference producers are only tentatively planning physical events for 2021. Most are holding off setting dates for their conferences, moving forward with fully virtual ones, or planning tentative in-person events with virtual backups at the ready. So, it looks like we’re all going to have to sharpen our virtual event producing, presenting, and attendance skills for the foreseeable future.

Virtual events don’t mean you can’t network

There’s good news here, however. In spring 2020, event producers raced to convince attendees and sponsors of the value of online experiences. Event technology providers like Bizzabo built robust solutions that allow online attendees to simulate in-person human engagement with networking tools for chats, socializing, meet-ups, and direct messages. If you plan to attend a virtual event any time soon, you’ll be able to participate in happy hours, join Slack channels chats, linger in virtual lobbies, and indulge in fun activities like yoga practice. Delegates can still enjoy stimulating interactions with industry leaders even if their video sessions are pre-recorded, since most conferences offer live online Q&A sessions that follow recorded presentations – known as the hybrid event model.

Executives, what if you have to record a keynote speech?

For executive spokespersons accustomed to presenting to live audiences from behind a podium at tech conferences, things have changed. Delivering a keynote address to a laptop screen instead of an eager crowd presents a new set of technical and psychological challenges. I’ve seen seasoned thought leaders shrink at the prospect of recording a video session. Yet they shouldn’t feel that way, because recorded sessions have many advantages, including a long life span. Video keynotes are often made available on-demand, so it pays to get it right. A poorly framed presentation with dim lighting and tinny sound will detract from any keynote. To deliver the best possible self-recorded presentation, speakers should adhere to a few fundamentals to maximize production value. First, the speaker should position herself in the center of the camera frame, leaving a little head room at the top. The laptop camera should be propped to eye level, and the background should be lightly colored, simple and uncluttered. The best lighting is natural daylight that faces the speaker directly, but if that’s not possible, a ring light can be a sound investment. Ring lights go for $60 and up and are useful not only for recorded presentations but for frequent Zoom meetings.

Event attitude adjustment: Act as if in Vegas

For those registering for their first hybrid or virtual conference, it might be tempting to approach the event as a throwaway. But it’s a mistake to plan to be half engaged while doing other work. Savvy event producers have put all the technology tools in place to approximate a live conference experience. If attendees approach the virtual convention with the same attitude as they would a glitzy conference in Las Vegas, they can reap many more benefits.

Virtual delegates should clear their daily calendars, eliminate possible homebound distractions (always tough but worth a try), and above all make a detailed plan for a day of active listening, asking questions, and networking. Well-conceived tech conferences will have an event app and custom agenda builder to help plan the day to the minute. Prepare some questions ahead of time for key session live Q&As, and engage as much as possible with live polls, quizzes, or Slack chats. Sharing favorite sessions on social media is another worthwhile way to engage with fellow attendees and network with VIP speakers. Finally, a quick test-run with a new event app and the meeting’s video technology will prevent any last-second hiccups or wonky interactions.

The year 2020 forced many event programmers to embrace the kind of technologies that used to intimidate them. Experts forecast that virtual sessions will become at least part of most in-person conferences, even as the pandemic ultimately subsides. As the hybrid event model becomes the norm, event producers have become more skilled and extremely inventive. Meanwhile, those of us on both sides of the podium can get real enjoyment from events and conferences even as we maximize the business benefits.

Five Reasons Why B2B PR Works

I’m a late convert to B2B public relations. That’s probably because I started my career at consumer marketing PR agencies and enjoyed the work immensely for many years. For young practitioners especially, it’s heady to have bragging rights about working with brands like Starbucks, Apple, or Netflix.  For many firms, consumer work typically offered lower margins, and the PR budget was at the end of the brand food chain, but the glamor factor made up for that, or so we thought.

But in recent years my team and I have found B2B PR work to be exciting and profitable, particularly in key sectors. That’s mostly due to the prevalence of high-growth technology players, who move fast and are extraordinarily collaborative as clients. But it’s also because B2C work has changed. The rise of Direct-to-Consumer brands was a big factor in the shift. The Caspers and Harrys of the world relied more on a strong brand persona, aggressive performance marketing, and paid influencers than traditional earned media or sponsorships. There will always be specialist agencies to partner with such brands, but PR firms don’t typically win the lion’s share of the work. Then there are the cutbacks by key players like P&G, the world’s largest brand marketer. Meanwhile, B2B budgets have boomed.

As Arun Sundhaman writes in PRovokeMedia, “With consumer clients becoming increasingly focused on the per dollar value of their investment, budgets tightened, highlighting consumer PR’s profitability issues versus higher-margin areas such as healthcare and B2B. More than one PR agency leader told me that the consumer boom had ended at least 12 months prior to Covid’s emergence.”

I’m not predicting the death of consumer PR, but there are good reasons why B2B PR is a win for all stakeholders. Here’s how I learned to stop worrying and love B2B work.

B2B PR boosts SEO

Even major B2B categories are likely to be narrower than large consumer product or services industries, so they lend themselves to “long-tail” search terms. Those more specific keywords like “price optimization software” or “ad tech companies NY” get fewer searches but have a high conversion value. They are therefore far easier and less expensive to own, and a typical B2B PR agency team will focus its content on those terms. The result is a fairly effortless boost in organic search terms by likely sales prospects.

Quality content conveys expertise

The typical B2B sales cycle is lengthy and the cost of customer switching may be high – think data storage, logistics, or business financing. A solid B2B PR program offers ample tactics for a brand to educate its customers and convey its expertise through business conferences, content like bylined articles and white papers, customer seminars, and the like. This type of “soft sell” offers both positive visibility and credibility in the minds of customers who hold the business budget pursestrings.

Industry thought leadership is a differentiator

In a sea of sameness, the “thought capital” offered by a given B2B brand can be a powerful differentiator. Leaders who offer compelling ideas and opinions about trends, common customer problems, and emerging opportunities will naturally attract positive attention, and with it, prospects. Company stability and reputation are also key to a business purchase. The buyer isn’t forking over his own money for a PC or a car lease; he’s buying with corporate funds, and any problems may reflect poorly on his performance. Business reputation counts.

PR promotes customer success stories

Testimonials or reviews are powerful for any product category. But in a specialized vertical like business banking or HR software, a trade testimonial offers extra credibility. A published case history about a company that cut costs, grew the bottom line, or boosted morale after investing in that new software is more believable than an anonymous review. That type of case history is likely to be a staple of any good B2B content program, and its SEO benefits can last for years.

B2B budgets are wildly efficient

In my time working with top B2C brands, admittedly a golden age of consumer marketing, the PR budget often included sexy elements like big sports sponsorships or deals with celebrity endorsers who were sometimes available for media interviews. It was fun and exciting work, but often not very original. Sometimes we felt we inherited scraps from the marketing campaign – big scraps, to be sure, but that can limit creativity. More importantly, those budgets are available only to top consumer brands. The B2B world is a bit more democratic. No one’s trying to sponsor the Olympics here. B2B programs have a narrow focus, so most PR budgets work harder than those in a broad category like food and beverage. PR programs will vary widely in size and scope, but a hard-working B2B budget might come in at half the cost of a comparable program for a consumer product. When it comes to earned media outreach in particular, there is usually a finite universe of journalists and producers who cover a particular category, so the PR staff’s time is used efficiently and well. Moreover, a good agency team will be familiar with the key players in a smaller media community, which saves time and traction when it comes to placing news of a new product or key corporate development.

 

Using Tech Tools for Maximum PR Coverage

Most PR agencies perform the same daily tasks – targeted media outreach, meticulous coverage tracking, and competitive monitoring, among others. Yet the tools that PR teams use can make the difference between a project and an ongoing retainer relationship. Below are ten tools PR professionals can use to impress their peers or clients and maximize efficiency.

Meltwater

While Google is a default monitoring tool for many agencies, it can be time-consuming, and it often misses coverage. Meltwater tracks from 275,000 online news sources and has partnerships for print and broadcast monitoring. It can track social media coverage as well, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and over 300 million blogs. But the real advantage of Meltwater may be its ability to showcase this data in the format agency and internal PR teams prefer, from excel grids to pie and bar charts. Mastering it can not only help PR pros track coverage, but offer feedback on steps to increase visibility.

ProfNet

Sometimes it can be difficult to land pitches, but with ProfNet, the media opportunities present themselves. ProfNet provides direct emails with queries from journalists and others looking for commentary, as well as requests for speakers for conferences and trade shows. It also offers the opportunity to showcase the expertise of a company or client prior to a timely newsworthy hook, making it useful during a slow period of news coverage with few announcements.

Upwave

Upwave helps PR professionals create proactive data and trends using its Instant Insights feature. This tool helps survey and garner insights from more respondents than any other insights platform, meaning more data. In addition, Upwave ensures that the data collection is coming from regular people and not survey addicts, leading to high-quality results. This data is often wide-ranging and offers insights that can be newsworthy to a host of different reporters and outlets.

Muck Rack

With reporters switching outlets and topics, especially in these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to have an up-to-date database showcasing where reporters are and what topics they cover. Along with helping monitor coverage, news and social media, Muck Rack helps provide and share media lists that are always contemporary resulting in stronger pitching success and more media opportunities. 

Google Trends

Google Trends is underutilized in our view. As a free tool that offers data and graphs on the popularity of specific search terms, it can be useful for research and brainstorming as well as monitoring. PR professionals can not only capitalize on newsworthy angles based on popular trends, but target specific locations using the geographic search trends features. That results in personalized and significant media opportunities affecting a specific community. In addition, the keyword function helps monitor popular topics throughout an extended period, providing an opportunity to analyze and launch specific campaigns precisely when people are searching for a specific topic. 

Anewstip

Anewstip is a search engine used to find journalists and media outlets who have posted about a topic on Twitter. The software gives users the ability to sort by influence, number of tweets, or how many times the person has mentioned a specific keyword. This provides an opening to construct a media list that targets individuals who are, at a minimum, interested in the topic. The site also offers the option to monitor tweets and articles about a keyword in real time, enabling PR professionals to contact the journalist at the right moment. 

GetNotify

GetNotify is a free tool that helps monitor the success of a campaign by notifying the sender if the email has been read by the recipient. The recipient will not know that the tool is being used, so it should be used with caution. But it can offer feedback about the success of the pitch, such as whether the subject line was catchy, in addition to the longer-term benefit of understanding which reporters view pitches regularly and which do not. 

Radio Guest List

Building radio and podcasts lists can be grueling, in part because of the difficulty of finding both the opportunities and the relevant contact information. With Radio Guest List, PR professionals can sign up for email notifications from producers, journalists, and podcast hosts who are looking for experts on specific topics, providing opportunities to showcase clients and their leadership teams. The email notifications occur daily ensuring recent and relevant talk show, podcast and radio opportunities. 

Hunter.io 

Hunter.io is a sophisticated website that uses company websites to track down email addresses. In addition to its paid service, users get 150 free searches a month. Hunter also allows users to undergo a domain search for all publicly available email addresses associated with a company’s domain name. Lastly, it can verify the addresses, ensuring updated emails and media lists.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo provides the latest trends in a given industry. Simply by entering a specific topic into the search bar, BuzzSumo will deliver all the most popular, relevant and recent content on that subject. It can search Q&A sites and forums to help users keep track of what a given community is asking about. This tool also helps track competitors, including what they publish and their engagement.

What are some of your must have PR tools for coverage? Let us know on Twitter @crenshawcomm!

Getting Antsy At Home? 6 Ways To Stay Motivated

I often think back to March 2020 and how those of us in PR, like many people, thought we’d be home for a few weeks at most. Oh, how wrong we were! As we creep toward the end of 2020 (thank God), it’s important to avoid burnout, especially for PR pros. For me, working from home has been a major adjustment. It was strange not to get on a train and walk into the office by 9 AM to start the day of media calls and meetings. 

The WFH life gets mixed reviews from our staff as well. Some people say they are more productive at home and enjoy going fully virtual. Others who are social butterflies, like me, miss the social aspect of working in an office –  catching up with co-workers and in-person events. 

No one was really prepared for WFH life and it took some time for everyone to find their groove, but we did it. Now, however, it could start to get tougher for people to stay motivated. As we enter the home stretch of 2020, consider the following advice for staying motivated while continuing to work from home.  

Maintain ‘normal’ hours

Are your company hours of business 9-6? What time do you actually start working? Maintaining normal hours can be tricky when working from home. You save time by not commuting to an office, but does that mean we should be working longer? Yes and no. Set a schedule and stick to it – most of the time. Just like working late in an office, there will be times when you may have to work longer than normal. If you’re in the midst of a client project and you have one small section left, finish it right now, then reward yourself when it’s all done. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself as well. Perhaps you don’t answer non-urgent emails until you log on at 9 AM. Make a schedule that works for you!    

Location, location, location!

The great thing about being remote is that as long as you have internet access and a laptop, you can work anywhere. Since being home, I have switched my ‘home office’ five times. Living in a household of five adults felt very crowded, and space was limited. After a few weeks, I found my most productive spot was in a room filled with windows and sunshine. Find a quiet space in your home that is free of major distractions like a TV. Find the best office space you can. If you spend too long in one place, switch it up the next week. In my case, a change of scenery may spark new motivation for finishing that byline or press release draft.  Be sure to set boundaries with your family or roommates and ask them to limit surprise visits during working hours to avoid unnecessary distractions and increased productivity. 

Personalize your space

We spend the majority of our week at an office and have spent time personalizing it to make it feel like a second home. No one was really prepared to create a home office. Slowly, my home office feels more like my desk in the real office that awaits my return. Personalize your space with the essentials like a comfortable desk chair, daily planner, and favorite pens. Add accessories that have made our lives easier like blue light glasses, wireless headphones or  Airpods (mine were the best purchase I made this year), a ring light and a motivational water bottle to make sure you stay hydrated. Make your space comfortable but productive – maybe feng shui to welcome in good energy for a great work day! Have you been addicted to HGTV during lockdown and want to make your space more visually appealing? Research interior designers and their tips for a better at home work space. Their main tips? Make your space a place you want to work in everyday!     

Use the 50/10 rule

If you are used to stepping out for lunch or that afternoon coffee, don’t give those up just because you’re working from home. The theory of the 50/10 rule is one that remote workers should note. It suggests for every 50 minutes of work, like meetings, pitching or writing, you should take a 10-minute break. These short breaks in your day will help avoid burnout, cut down on distractions, and overall make you more productive. Sometimes we need distance from Slack or emails to regroup. Motivate yourself by saying if I get X, Y and Z done, then I can take a break or a quick walk around the block. It may seem simple but it’s highly effective.   

Don’t skip Zoom calls

Zoom has been a savior during lockdown, connecting us to friends, family and coworkers. At Crenshaw, we pride ourselves on having a strong company culture and just because we’re not all together in the office, it doesn’t mean we can’t socialize. Since the first week, we have had a standing Thursday call for happy hour. This hour includes very little work talk but simply conversations around the latest Netflix show, personal updates or sharing opinions on the latest tech product launch. We all have those days where we may not be in the mood or would rather sign off early but try not to do this! You’ll feel better if you keep on your routine and spend some facetime with your coworkers, even if it is virtual!    

Take care of yourself

During this weird time we called 2020, we need to remember to take care of our mental and physical health. Admit it, you had a short period in spring when you thought the world was ending and this was the worst thing to happen. There have been hard times and struggles this year but like any other problem, we will overcome this pandemic. We won’t wake up one morning and things will go back to normal. It will take time. Until then, we can reflect on our state and work on becoming better. Pick up a new hobby, read that New York Times bestseller that has been on your list for months, take a Zoom yoga class or bite the bullet and buy yourself that Peloton bike. Set a goal to become a better version of yourself. If you feel good, you will want to share it with everyone and it may even make you a stronger PR person overall.

How are you switching things up during WFH life? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr!   

6 Things Cybersecurity PR Pros Should Do To Stand Out

Global spending on cybersecurity products and services will exceed $1 trillion by 2021. The sector’s accelerated growth, however, makes it hard for companies to stand out. That means cybersecurity PR pros must be savvy, creative and tactical to ensure their companies are noticed by target audiences. 

In honor of Cybersecurity Awareness Month here are six ways to help providers stand out in the cybersecurity space.

Understand how you fit into the big picture

Like ad tech, cybersecurity is a crowded and highly segmented market full of vendors, services and enough acronyms to make your head spin. Knowing where a company fits into the ecosystem is essential to differentiation. Beyond the umbrella of cybersecurity, PR pros need to adopt a granular understanding of their focus and expertise. Are the company’s offerings geared toward consumers through products like antivirus and firewall solutions, or toward business and enterprise via security information and event management (SIEM) software suites? Does it excel in enterprise data security for the private sector or are government contracts the goal? The answers to these questions will dictate strategy and help PR specialists discern what storylines can achieve the visibility they need.

React to breaking news

PR teams must be tuned into what’s happening in the cybersecurity space every day. Sometimes there’s only a four-hour window to jump on a breaking story, so we need to be ready. From massive breaches and ransomware attacks, to election security issues and data privacy concerns, the sheer volume of stories makes news monitoring essential. Cybersecurity PR professionals should be following key contacts on social media, as well as subscribing to major newsletters like Politico’s Morning Cybersecurity or the Washington Post’s Cybersecurity 202. 

But, pick your battles

It’s self-defeating to hurl yourself at every story, however. PR teams should recognize that it’s impossible to be included in every type of news and should keep a fairly tight focus when offering subject-matter experts for comment. When it comes to reactive commentary, we base outreach on company specialty and the nature of the news. For example, a company specializing in enterprise IT security probably has no place commenting on data privacy surrounding government contact tracing. The pool of cybersecurity reporters is relatively finite, so PR pros should pick and choose the most relevant trending story and offer their source only to the most appropriate reporters to maximize return-on-effort. 

Know your media targets

Cybersecurity PR pros must be savvy enough to understand the nuances of media targets’ disciplines within the cybersecurity space. For example, there are multiple contacts at The Wall Street Journal that cover cybersecurity. Approaching any one of them without understanding what they cover will ensure your pitch is ignored. Study up. Follow key reporters on social media, read the trades and learn the differences between contacts that cover breaking data breaches or ransomware attacks and those that cover IT security management policies or white hacks and research reports. PRs who are aware of these differences will be more precise in their outreach efforts and maximize the potential for media visibility.

Diversify vertically

In an industry as crowded as cybersecurity, we are often competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of other brands and executives for thought leadership space. At times it’ll be more difficult to garner coverage depending on the story being told. But thanks to how many industries are affected by general cybersecurity issues, PR teams may gain advantage by diversifying their coverage options based on vertical sectors. These sectors may range from education, government and energy to financial services, healthcare and insurance. If an industry depends on the Internet to operate, it will undoubtedly face cybersecurity challenges. Attacking industry trade publications creates more coverage opportunities and allows PR pros to position their company in an outlet that can yield visibility among a new audience segment and even create a customer lead-gen opportunity down the line.

Use research and data to cut through the noise

Data and research can be highly effective for creating visibility for a cybersecurity brand, especially in a crowded category like antivirus and encryption software. Since there are hundreds of vendors in this segment vying for market share, the odds can be stacked against us from a media perspective. By either leveraging a company’s own research team or commissioning and white-labeling research from a third-party vendor, PR teams can gain an edge over competing brands in the battle for media mindshare. Cybersecurity reporting is inherently data-centric, which makes media in the space comparatively more primed to cover emerging industry research. Successful promotion of a report on a trending industry topic can result in high-impact coverage at scale and a big boost in brand visibility for the cybersecurity companies.

The Cost Of Losing Credibility

A former PR agency boss once told me, “You don’t win by being right. You win by being credible.”

That’s been ringing in my ears since the White House COVID-19 credibility crisis shifted into high gear. Credibility is among the most valuable currencies of any leader. It’s tough to watch it squandered even on an ordinary day. But in the midst of a global pandemic that has triggered a host of additional worries, it’s downright scary. And while it makes us feel clever to parse the press secretary’s statements and tweet snark about the handling of the president’s illness, it clearly goes beyond a PR problem.

White House fails transparency test

The lack of transparency around the spread of the coronavirus at the top levels of our government has further tarnished the Trump White House, our CDC, and even the Walter Reed Medical Center, among others. A September poll by ABC-Ipsos showed that 68% of Americans don’t trust the president when it comes to updates about the pandemic. Some even doubt the diagnosis itself, suspicious that it could be a stunt. Videos of the president posted from Walter Reed were parsed for edits and timestamps with a zeal that would make QAnon followers blush. No one seems to believe anything anymore.

The news that the president and several members of his inner circle have contracted the virus resulted in “worst-practices” communications by the White House. The government clearly had no plan to deal with a COVID infection in their midst. It started with a leaked story about Hope Hicks’s positive test results, followed by several hours of suspense about the president’s health status. Then, like dominos falling, the bad news just kept coming.

Yet four days later, we still don’t have answers to crucial questions about how the president contracted COVID-19 and who else was exposed. The initial briefing about the president’s health was dodgy; Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, seemed to cast doubt on the timeline of events released by the White House. He was notably evasive when asked about the president’s oxygen levels. To compound the problems, after Conley’s upbeat report, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows released a statement “on background” that indicated the president’s condition was far more serious than reported.

Contradictions undermine credibility

Granted, there’s a long history of obfuscation when it comes to the health of a U.S. president. But in this case, the clumsy handling of the situation reflects the flawed management of the broader COVID-19 national health crisis. The administration and members of Trump’s family and inner circle have openly flouted the guidance from his own CDC. They have politicized the simple safety measure of wearing a face covering while denying ambivalence about masks. The key message point adopted by the administration over the weekend – that we should “live our lives” and not fear the virus – comes in direct and stunning contradiction to national guidelines. It will do nothing to protect public health.

Could an administration known for a lack of credibility have done anything differently or better? Yes. A straightforward report on the president’s health status would have been a first step, followed by disclosure of others affected and news of real actions taken to manage the outbreak – remote work, masks, contract-tracing, and the rest. But that hasn’t happened.

COVID is reality, not a reality show

The crisis has done more than finish off the administration’s credibility. It could cost well-meaning behind-the-scenes staff and members of the press their health, or worse. It has done lasting damage to our institutions. And the worst of it is that the lies, half-truths and distortions will probably continue once the president is released from the hospital.

We’ll most likely start a new chapter of the COVID reality show with only our common sense and the free press to interpret what we see and hear. It’s not the way it should be, but it’s the price of an administration that has sacrificed all credibility in pursuit of political gain.

How Paid And Organic Social Media Work Together In PR

Social media marketing and PR have become inseparable. That’s because social media plays a large role in most consumer and B2B PR programs. Of course, the right strategy is key to success, but for amplifying or growing the results of a strong PR program, the best option is usually a blend of paid and organic social media. Fully 86% of B2B marketers combine paid and organic social tactics. Here’s why.

Paid vs. organic social

Organic content uses free social media tools to share posts, photos, videos, and stories with the people who already follow a given brand or individual. The only way social media users can see posts organically is if a brand’s followers share its content or they’re following hashtags used by a brand to attract those searching for a specific topic. 

Organic social is the best way to begin to establish a connection with relevant audiences, but it has other benefits.

  • There is no cost to use it

  • Builds brand awareness

  • Extends the reach of thought leadership content 

  • Helps build a community around common topics or interests 

  • Develops campaigns with custom hashtags 

The reach of organic social sharing, however, is self-limiting. That’s where paid social media programs come in. While organic posting is key to reputation and relationship-building, algorithms that drive social content have made the paid social necessary for many campaigns. Its benefits are obvious.

  • Paid social connects brands with audiences that would not have discovered its content 

  • Paid campaigns can reinforce or amplify the message of organic social content

  • B2B companies can use audience targeting to reach industry decision-makers 

Integrating paid and organic social programs 

Organic social media reach is dwindling across most platforms. Organic posts on Facebook only reach about 5.5% of brand followers since Facebook’s algorithm decides which posts users see, and in what order. Here are some tips on finding the equilibrium of paid and organic social tactics for your social media strategy.

Where to post

The balance of paid and organic social media in a given program should be determined according to the social platform involved. The mix should vary according to program goals, and you may choose to incorporate more paid media one platform while organic may better suit another. Promoting a webinar can benefit more from paid posts on LinkedIn compared to Facebook, and audience engagement can thrive on Twitter when using organic tools such as polls and hashtags. People visit different social platforms for different reasons, and knowing which content to share and where to engage will play to the strength of each platform. 

Serve targeted ads based on organic audience

By using organic social media to build relationships with a given audience, you gain data insights about them. Information such as job title, age, and location can help build ads that are as relevant as possible. 

The beauty of social platforms is that they create lookalike audiences according to the data that closely matches a preferred audience segment. This could be webinar registrants or people who have actively engaged with brand content. A lookalike audience consists of people with similar demographics but are new to the brand and thus very valuable.

All promotion isn’t equal

Ads aren’t always the way to go – a captivating, creative organic post can generate buzz and compel your followers to share. In our view, organic social is most useful for amplifying an announcement, namely earned media coverage, change in leadership, or a new partnership. Use relevant hashtags and tag companies, people, or media outlets to ramp up impressions engagement. That being said, if the reach of organic posts isn’t meeting your goals, then you may want to back your content with spend.

An organic post that performs well can be “boosted” by paying to get it in front of more people – one of the benefits of marrying paid and organic social. Boosting is the perfect introduction to paid social and is low-risk, since there’s no need to produce an ad designed for a specific campaign. A running of your weekly or monthly analytics report will include likes, conversions, and profile views to determine the top-performing posts for boosting.

A/B testing

Before finalizing the social media budget allocation, most of us will run different versions of an ad in front of a small audience to see which performs better. You will want to test copy, graphics, ad placement, and audience targeting before deciding on a set budget in order to maximize the campaign’s effectiveness. You can also test organic content performance by setting up manual split tests and tracking results by using UTM parameters.

Optimize for success

A winning B2B social media strategy will typically include both paid and organic social media elements. Determining which approach works best for a given brand will take some testing and adjustment, but once you find what works, the results will be well worth it.

Five Types Of Bylined Content That Work For PR

As outlined in my post on PR tips for effective bylines, bylined content is a powerful part of a B2B PR plan. It can help deliver key messages, communicate expertise and drive thought leadership for business brands. But there are many types of content that build credibility and leadership as part of a strategic PR program. Here are five of the most common.

Traditional Trend Piece

Content that explains a new or emerging trend is among the most valuable for business customers because it helps educate prospects. Educational content is particularly useful for any category with a long purchase cycle and steep learning curve, like software or insurance. Executives who are subject-matter experts can share relevant insights on business happenings. These will typically include a specific point of view about an industry trend, what it means, how businesses should prepare or respond, and possibly even how they can help, although this may only be implied. For example, we represent several ad tech companies at a time when major browsers like Chrome are phasing out support for third-party cookies. What does this mean for digital advertising? How can marketers cope? What does it do for publishers? These issues seem arcane for anyone outside the industry, but they’re hot-button topics in the ad tech lane because the community is rushing to adapt. As in any category, change represents opportunity for those who can seize it.

Personal/Lessons Learned

We love this type of piece because we represent high-growth technology companies often led by entrepreneurs, and they all have stories to tell. What’s more, these pieces are usually both well differentiated and authentic. The important thing to bear in mind for “lessons learned” content is that the most influential and widely shared articles will offer insights for the reader as well as an interesting personal experience. Right now, many businesses have learned and changed enormously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among our base of clients there are some excellent stories about what they’ve learned, how they’ve adapted and how they’re continuing to navigate the situation as business leaders and as citizens. A “lessons learned” piece is also among the most versatile, and it can usually be augmented or even replaced by a video version. 

Service Content

This type of content can overlap with the “lessons learned” category, but it is typically more tactical and less personal. It may also be far more grounded in research. An effective service piece can be in the form of a whitepaper that offers proprietary industry data and outlines key steps for customers who face a specific decision or business dilemma. The best service articles are generous with data but offer clear tips, steps, or checklists for moving a business forward, responding to customer preferences, or effecting specific change. Service content is among the easiest and best types of content for incorporating different types of visuals beyond text, including digital graphics, charts, and short video snippets. 

Opinion/Contrarian Piece

This type of contributed content showcases a personal opinion on an important business, social, or cultural matter. Op-ed pieces and bylined articles are a staple in politics, but they’re equally effective for entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to communicate their ideas and build a reputation for bold thinking. The most effective such articles set out a single take or point of view and back it up with statistics, experience, or other evidence. An op-ed is a perfect vehicle for experts who want to help shape a public conversation. A contrarian opinion and/or a strong call to action can help an op-ed writer stand out. In our world, a less popular opinion may have a better chance of being published in an influential business or trade outlet – but only if it is authentic. 

Call-to-Action

A Call To Action, or CTA, can exist in nearly any type of content but it’s worth calling out because it is essential to achieving content marketing goals. The CTA tells a target audience what action they should take after reading through the post. The most basic CTAs involve encouraging the customer to buy a product or service. Other types might involve asking readers to share the content, make a donation, subscribe to emails, and so forth. CTAs should be short and concise so the reader knows exactly what to do and can easily follow through. 

Leverage bylined articles for maximum exposure

After deciding on your content mix, it’s important to make sure it is seen by the most relevant target audience. Any business can ensure that its pieces are seen by those who matter most: clients, prospects, referral sources, alumni, colleagues, internal staff, and, of course, the media outlets that influence different segments. Promoting content social media and encouraging others to share it as well is important for gaining maximum exposure for your piece. Direct marketing to customers and employees through timely emails is also useful. We will explore the best ways to merchandise business content in an upcoming post. 

 

A PR View Of Ellen’s Apology

It’s not the biggest story in the country today, but it’s instructive for PR and crisis management experts. This week Ellen DeGeneres issued her first on-air apology after reports of her show’s “toxic workplace.” For those who are tapped to help craft redemptive messages for personalities and corporations, a public apology is always useful, and this one was no exception.

Toxic workplace threatens “Ellen” brand

The on-air apology wasn’t the first response to the reports of “racism, intimidation, and fear” at “Ellen” broken by Buzzfeed in July. Early efforts to manage the story were clearly aimed at protecting DeGeneres. Three executive producers released a joint statement taking full responsibility for any problems and pledging to do better. WarnerMedia opened an investigation into the charges. Yet DeGeneres herself did not respond publicly. Two weeks later she wrote a letter to staff which was promptly leaked to the press, of course. In it she seemed to duck blame.

“As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done,” DeGeneres wrote. “Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”

The letter was followed by accusations of sexual misconduct by top producers. After a second Ellen apology to staff during a tearful Zoom meeting, employees learned that three senior executives would be leaving the show. They were also promised better perks and benefits. WarnerMedia installed a dedicated HR executive at the show and a hotline to manage confidential concerns. So, in a PR sense, things were cleaned up. But Ellen had yet to face her viewing audience.

What makes an apology effective?

Monday brought a new season for “Ellen” and was thus her first opportunity to face fans on the air. DeGeneres addressed fans for nearly five minutes in a monologue made a bit surreal because audience members were visible on individual monitors scattered among the seats. She began the apology with a joke (“If you’re watching because you love me, thank you. If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome!”) She emphasized that necessary changes had been made and that the show was “starting a new chapter.” In a departure from earlier remarks, she made it clear that she was ultimately accountable.

“I know that I’m in a position of privilege and power. And I realized that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”

The first rule of a good apology is to take responsibility for the situation. It should also focus on those who were harmed, not the one at fault. In her remarks, DeGeneres mostly accomplished both. She pointed out her name on the set and acknowledged that the buck stops with her.  She also spoke at length about those affected.

The last public apology rule is typically the promise of a fix. Here, DeGeneres was vague, but we can assume her fans (and employees, who are in the best position to judge) accept that positive changes have been made. If not, it will surely make news.

Authenticity will out

But the true goal here went beyond a strong mea culpa. DeGeneres had a more difficult objective, which was to regain the trust of fans. Amid the negative fallout over the summer there was a persistent theme – that contrary to appearances, DeGeneres just isn’t a nice person. The bad PR fed into long-swirling rumors that the woman whose brand is linked to her admonition to “Be Kind” is anything but that.

That’s why her monologue had to address the discrepancy. She assured her audience that, while she has bad moments and plenty of flaws, she is who she seems. She seemed to give her audience credit by saying she wasn’t a good enough actress to fake it every day for 17 years. They see her for who she is. It was well delivered and, for fans, reasonably authentic.

DeGeneres was strongest when she talked about what she wants her show to be – essentially “that one hour where people come here to escape and laugh” at a time when the news is often very grim. The remarks skated close to thin ice when she alluded to the many problems that beset us today, as if she wanted to place employee complaints in perspective by comparing the two, but she reined it in well.

Yet what could have been a near-flawless apology earned mixed reviews at best among Ellen-watchers. Most who objected were critical of her jokes, which they called tone-deaf. I’m not a regular “Ellen” viewer, but to my mind the opening quip was a legitimately witty icebreaker and set up the apology well. Yet after the opener, the constant reversion to humor undercut the sincerity of the message. Even when the jokes were self-deprecating, they were distracting and in some cases, not very funny.

In the final analysis, Ellen DeGeneres is a brand, and it’s her brand integrity that is at stake. Maybe the neurotic-seeming deflections into self-referential humor are just part of who she is. It may be what fans love about her, and those who follow and admire her can certainly judge for themselves. But I think DeGeneres fell short. A rawer, more forceful, and more sober-minded apology was called for here, and it’s a shame she couldn’t get there. As she said during her monologue, “I let myself down.”

 

How (And Why) PR Pros Should Use TikTok

There’s a new social media app taking the world by storm. It’s called TikTok. Ever heard of it? 

Seriously, TikTok has been on the PR radar for a long time, and most recently it made news for different reasons. Media interest peaked over the weekend with reports that a deal involving TikTok, Oracle and Wal-Mart would avert a ban of the app in the U.S. The agreement is still tentative, but it’s meant to resolve the simmering controversy about the app as a potential security risk.

TikTok’s users, however, don’t seem concerned. The app has surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, with 1.65 billion downloads to date, more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., and more than 500 million active users worldwide. TikTok is currently the sixth largest social network in the world. 

What started out as a Snapchat-like platform for younger generations of social media influencers and general users for sharing video snippets has grown into an essential platform for marketing and advertising. Whether a brand’s focus is fitness, fashion, food, or anything else, TikTok can connect it to a highly desirable and sometimes elusive audience. 

Why TikTok? 

New and creative social channels should be key elements for consideration in any PR plan, especially for brands aiming to reach a younger audience. TikTok is essential for this demo, as 60% of U.S. users are between the ages of 16 and 24. The app is intrinsic to its users’ lives;  the average Tik Tok visitor opens the app more than eight times per day, spending about 46 minutes on it daily.  

One of the most appealing aspects of TikTok, especially for those younger users, is that everyone is a creator. It’s open to all formats, and there are no distinct guidelines or rules on how the app should be used. Creativity is the only rule. Videos range from singing and dancing, to comedy, reaction videos and challenges. On the flip side, users can find more serious content, with videos focused on topics like politics, climate change, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Depending on individual users’ personalized recommendations, TikTok plays videos instantly upon the app’s opening, immediately drawing viewers in. This is TikTok’s most central feature – its AI-driven algorithm that shows videos based on user preferences. This same feature helps guarantee that a brand’s videos will reach its target audience – an important distinction TikTok has over other social media platforms. 

TikTok is a powerful brand marketing platform

TikTok makes it easier than ever to promote a brand – reaching the right people in the right ways. Over the last year, it introduced self-serve advertising platforms, including branded hashtags, video ads, branded lenses and much more. Based on a company’s wants and needs, there are a variety of formats to choose from. 

Branded hashtags drive discovery

Branded hashtags encourage users to create videos with a certain hashtag, often accompanied by a specific song or dance move. Videos with branded hashtags are not only available in a user’s normal feed, but also in the Trending section of the Discover tab, making these videos widely viewable. In fact, with TikTok, users rely heavily on hashtags to navigate the app. It’s “For You” discovery page engages far more than Instagram’s “Discover” page, for example.

Pepsi’s #SwagStepChallenge, a great example of a branded hashtag campaign, spread like wildfire on TikTok, as well as on Twitter and Youtube. The challenge became the fastest hashtag challenge using a branded effect to reach one million video creations globally and a whopping 95.5 billion views through user generated content (UGC) on the platform.

Video ads for the win

Video ads are understandably the most common format for ad and marketing purposes on TikTok, with brand takeovers, in-feed videos and top-view videos being popular. Brand takeovers are pop-up ads that typically last 3-5 seconds. They can be videos, GIFs, or images that include links to a landing page. TikTok only allows one brand to take over a category per day, but it guarantees five million impressions, a promise that may well be worth the investment for many. Additionally, brands get immediate attention, as the ads display upon opening the app. 

Branded lenses jump on trends

With branded lenses, brands partner with TikTok to create 2D and 3D lenses for users to “try on” and share. Branded lenses also let companies land in the Trending section of the Discover tab for ten days. According to Prowly, about 64% of TikTok users have tried facial filters and lenses, making it another valuable option for marketers. 

Influencer partnerships spice it up

For any marketer wanting to incorporate TikTok into a brand PR strategy, TikTok influencers are essential. As on other platforms, TikTok influencer marketing ads partner brands with creators to generate and share sponsored content. When the partnership is authentic and the creators are given freedom, these partnerships can be highly successful. 

For example, David Dobrik, one of the most popular social media influencers, with more than 22 million TikTok followers, partnered with Chipotle for its Lid Flip Challenge, a Cinco de Mayo campaign to promote the chain’s free delivery for digital orders. Chipotle discovered that Gen Zers order delivery more than any other segment, making them the perfect audience. To participate in the challenge, users only needed a phone and a Chipotle burrito bowl. 

According to AdAge, in just the first six days of the Lid Flip Challenge with David Dobrik, 111,000 videos were submitted and the promotion garnered a record-breaking digital sales day for the chain, driving app downloads and delivery among the key Gen Z audience.

But Can It Work for B2B?

B2B companies might be hesitant about TikTok because it’s so consumer-oriented, but they shouldn’t count it out. Companies wanting to reach business customers have the same end goal of reaching and forming lasting relationships with their target audiences. So, for B2B companies, how can TikTok help? 

With any brand, it’s important to feel approachable. Stronger relationships can be formed when customers feel connected to your brand on a more personal level. TikTok users want the platform to stay a creative, authentic channel for human-to-human interaction. Do you have a CEO with a unique story? Maybe how he/she established the business, or maybe insights on building a strong culture at work? Sharing tips or short stories in visually appealing ways can engage viewers and make lasting impact. For example, marketer Adrian Brambila shares his success story on TikTok by explaining how he established himself as a marketing leader, and to date, his videos have generated more than 4.7 million likes. 

TikTok is overflowing with innovative, fresh ideas, so brands must be clever with their posts to be noticed. Even for brands thought of as “boring” that is doable. For example, just before the global shutdown in March, The Washington Post began sharing content on TikTok, but they weren’t posting videos of daily headlines. Rather, the outlet shared relatable videos on the daily struggles and adjustments of working from home, incorporating popular trends. They must be doing something right, because the content has generated more than 25.8 million likes. 

Staying relevant, influential and top-of-mind is important for all brands, whether B2B or B2C. Keeping up with content trends is one way of doing that, and some of the best, most buzzworthy ideas online are shared on TikTok. Viral TikTok videos make great templates for high-performing content on other platforms as well – Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 

With TikTok, B2B companies can connect and engage with more of their audience and show prospects the more creative and personal side of their business. B2B companies not leveraging the app may be missing out on opportunities. 

TikTok: making connections and driving lasting impacts 

TikTok is the first app of its kind. What separates it from other social media platforms is the creativity it affords users. It lets them be both creators and viewers, and exposes them to an endless stream of personalized content. More importantly, the sense of community on TikTok is what draws users in and keeps them coming back for more. It will continue to play a key role in the PR efforts of brands appealing to younger users. If you’re looking to engage with the elusive teen or young 20s demographic, chances are you will find them on TikTok.