What are LinkedIn Stories and How Can PR Pros Use Them?

Since LinkedIn launched its Stories feature last month, it has won mixed reviews. But PR professionals shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it!

Of course, with over 706 million global users, LinkedIn is the go-to social platform for B2B professionals, and it’s probably still the best way to build a network with colleagues, classmates and industry professionals. It’s also a great place to have conversations around hot topics in tech, leadership and current events. 

LinkedIn Stories is similar to Instagram or Facebook stories, allowing users to post an update that will stay live for 24 hours. The story feature makes sense for Instagram and Facebook where you can share real-time updates, but why did LinkedIn feel they needed this feature? 

According to LinkedIn, “LinkedIn Stories enable members and organizations to share images and short videos of their everyday professional moments.” In a pre-COVID world, this feature would have been great to use during industry conferences and events. While the timing of launch may be odd, this is definitely a feature PR pros should convince executives to include in their social strategy. Here are five ways to incorporate LinkedIn stories into yours.

Share professional tips

Instagram and Facebook stories are a great place to share real time pictures, videos and updates, so why not try this out on LinkedIn Stories? Create a social schedule of quotable tips from executives that can be shared a few times a week. The goal here is to share comments or quotes that are short but impactful. You want to grab your audience’s attention very quickly. Make sure content is easy to digest and you’re not cramming everything into one story. If you want to share five tips, create five slides and space out the updates to make a bigger impact.

Highlight ‘events’ in real time

One of the big trends of 2020 was a shift to virtual events, primarily on Zoom. In PR, we believe that securing speaking events for executives is a strong way to promote thought leadership and position clients as industry leaders. Share clips from virtual conferences with short soundbites of high-impact statements from business leaders. When the event is over, if you have access to a full recording, you can tease it in stories as well encouraging connections to watch the full talk if they missed it. 

Host a Q&A

A fun feature on stories is opening a question on your story and asking for followers and connections to weigh in. Consider hosting a weekly or monthly Q&A around current events in a given industry, — maybe on new tech launches or reactive comments around breaking news. Create a two-way conversation between business leaders and their connections. If you’re looking for a way to spread out content, ask connections to submit questions in advance and answer them a few days later. 

Preview company announcements and launches

One of the benefits of LinkedIn Stories is that when users log on, the stories will be featured at the top of the page before they start scrolling. Sometimes user posts can be lost in endless scrolling, but if you have a story, you have a better chance of higher engagement. Did your company just acquire funding or are launching a new tech offering? Tease this announcement in your story. Perhaps preview the headline of a press release to gauge attention and direct users to your company’s page or your own – wherever the press release link is live. Continue this momentum by posting any coverage you generate from the announcement.   

Highlight personal and company achievements

LinkedIn is the perfect place to share job promotions and personal achievements. Use LinkedIn Stories to highlight these wins. On an executive’s LinkedIn Stories, you can also share personnel changes and moves highlighting achievements and accolades. Connections will see how proud a business leader is of their staff, for example, and positive encouragement motivates and inspires any team to exceed expectations. 

How will you use LinkedIn stories? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr.   

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.

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.

20 Retail Journalists You Should be Following on Twitter in 2020

Twitter is an invaluable resource for both PR pros as well as top media and influencers. Love it or hate it, when news breaks, Twitter is the go-to source. It’s also a great platform for relationship-building for anyone in public relations or content marketing.

This week we’re thinking about retail and e-commerce. In a post-COVID-19 world, the retail space may look drastically different from what we currently know. Unfortunately, much of the news is bad — store closings, bankruptcies, CEO turnover, and more. But there are also stories about innovation, new retail startups, and the strength of ecommerce. Every PR professional should have a curated network of journalists for the latest news, trends, and insights. Check out the list below of 20 great retail reporters you should be following to stay ahead of breaking news.    

Tonya Garcia @tgarcianyc

Tonya covers retail and e-commerce for MarketWatch. Reporting for MarketWatch, she also follows major retailers stocks and how they impact retailers and their businesses. 

Nathaniel Meyersohn @nmeyersohn

Nate covers breaking news to original stories, at CNN, in retail analyzing trends that impact major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Best Buy to name a few. 

Steven Barr @steven_j_barr 

Steve contributes to Forbes as a senior retail leader focusing on emerging trends and the evolution of consumer markets. 

Dan Berthiaume @DBerthiaumeCSA

Chain Store Age is a great source of news for retail news for smaller retailers like supermarkets, drug stores, department stores, etc and Dan is their tech editor reporting on how tech is impacting the retail space. 

Arthur Zackiewicz @arthurzaczkiew1

Arthur is the executive editor at Women’s Wear Daily where he publishes breaking news, industry insights and data reports around major retailers. 

Aine Cain @ainecain

Aine is a retail reporter at Business Insider covering major retailers like Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot and Target. Her focus is reporting on stories about how labor issues affect retail employees. 

April Berthene @ByAprilBerthene

Are you more interested in e-commerce and technology? April at Internet Retailer is your go to reporter! 

Madeline Stone @MadelineLStone

Business Insider is a great outlet for in-depth retail news and Madeline is BI’s senior reporter covering consumer-related stories focusing on e-commerce, fast-food, department stores and the recent downfall of shopping malls. 

Suzanne Kapner @SuzanneKapner

Looking for news on your favorite department stores? Suzanne at WSJ is  covering news pertaining to Macy’s, J.C.Penny and Neiman Marcus. 

Mary Hanbury @MarySHanbury

Mary at Business Insider, reports on Big Box retailers, retailers filing for bankruptcy and most recently how COVID-19 is affecting brick and mortar shops.

Anna Hansel @ahhensel

At Digiday, Anna covers retail and internet marketing focusing on digital strategies of big-box retailers and DTC startups. 

Khadeeja Safdar @khadeeja_safdar

Khadeeja has been writing for WSJ since 2013 where she covers US based retail companies, including brick-and-mortar chains and e-commerce. 

Phil Wahba @philwahba

Phil covers consumer goods, retail, and restaurants for Fortune, focusing on how large companies like Walmart and JCPenney are changing to stay relevant in the industry. 

Adrianne Pasquarelli @SheLikesToShop

Since 2015, Adrianne has been covering marketing strategies for retailers for AdAge. Her stories focus on how retailers and their marketing efforts impact the industry. 

Kate Taylor @Kate_H_Taylor

Kate covers a wide variety of retail topics at Business Insider from restaurants, food, beverage and retail for companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-a. 

Hayley Peterson @hcpeterson

Hayley writes breaking news, analysis, and investigative pieces on large public and private companies like Amazon, Walmart, department stores, and major grocery chains. 

Matthew Boyle @bizboyle

Matt covers retail at Bloomberg News focusing on big-box retailers like Amazon, Walmart and their impact on larger retail trends. 

Lauren Thomas @laurenthomas

At CNBC, Lauren is your source for everything retail. She covers major retail trends and news and even covers a bit of real estate news!

Jason Del Rey @DelRey 

Jason has been covering commerce at Recode for the past six years. He focuses especially on news pertaining to Amazon, e-commerce and how tech is transforming brick-and-mortar.  

Ben Unglesbee @Ben_Unglesbee 

Ben reports for Retail Dive, an industry go-to, covering retail policy, finance and bankruptcy and how these trends are affecting major corporations. 

Any retail journalists I should be following? Let me know @ColleenO_PR.

3 Social Platforms Tech PR Pros Need To Know

If you’re in tech PR, you try to know a lot about every social media platform. You have to — either for research, to promote clients, for personal branding, or to connect with journalists. Still, it’s a challenge to keep up with the latest social sites and services, because every day brings something new. With that in mind, here are three up-and-coming social media platforms tech PR pros need to know and use in 2019.

3 social platforms tech PR pros need to know

TikTok

The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz has an excellent explainer on TikTok, so check that out. But, in a nutshell TikTok is a short-form video social network for Gen Z. Users post 15-second clips and the content ranges from vlogs to (mostly) musical performances to brain teasers, and beyond. I’ve seen everything on TikTok (follow me at @bravacadotoast). The content is hilarious and weird. For tech PR pros, TikTok is an opportunity to research content preferences among younger audiences and identify nascent memes that could be useful for marketing campaigns. For tech brands interested in a unique marketing channel, it’s also ripe with potential. TikTok campaigns have built-in PR value simply because the platform is sexy right now. Take advantage.

Imgur

Imgur is a personal favorite. Look at the site. It looks like someone vomited memes on a page. That’s what makes it great. It’s an image and photo hosting and sharing site that has actually been around for 10 years. At one point it was a platform for image hosting, and the social piece grew out of that years later, popularized through Reddit. According to SimilarWeb, Imgur gets 500 million monthly visits. It’s insanely popular and a great place for tech PR pros and brands to research memes, get inspired by content and understand what young men in particular are thinking. From the always incredible Kerry Flynn: “More than 80 percent of users are male, and more than 50 percent are millennial male.” As a more tactical use case, it can host press images for you if you’re in a bind. But make sure to only use it to host something you are okay with being public.

Houseparty

Launched three years ago, Houseparty is another video-powered social network, but with a different use case. I like Business Insider’s description of it as “a group video-chat app most easily described as FaceTime but with more people.” Users are typically in the early 20s, so they’re a bit older than TikTok. While its popularity has stalled a little as wealthier competitors like Snapchat and Facebook have taken it on as competitors, the user numbers are still impressive. Today Houseparty says 20 million people spend an hour on the service every day. That’s a captivated and engaged audience that tech PR brands — particularly on the consumer side — can potentially connect with through influencer marketing or even sponsored chats. Tech PR pros need to use the service to identify opportunities and guide clients who want unique activations.
What sites did I miss? Let me know on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

Who Is Fighting Fake News? [article]

Web 2.0 has radically changed journalism and public relations, two industries that rely on the free exchange of information and ideas. But one highly undesirable outcome is “fake news.” It’s a war of information being waged on keyboards and in the cloud and it affects all of us. The online communications revolution has unleashed a Pandora’s box of disturbing problems that threaten privacy, democracy — even the concept of objective truth.

But whose responsibility is it to fight fake news? If the big tech platforms try to identify and sift out hate- mongering posts or users, then they become editors. If big tech chooses to sift out bad news sites, then they become publishers. Another dilemma for the platforms is that both human intervention and technology algorithms have disadvantages, so in a way, they ‘re in a trial-and-error phase.

The tech giants

Alphabet

Alphabet’s Google News Initiative earmarked $300 million in the war against misinformation. So, what does that entail? They will work to curb bad information during breaking news by attempting to prioritize accurate and legitimate news. The initiative will create a subscription tool for consumers, so readers can safely subscribe to their favorite news outlets through Google. It also includes the development of educational programs for young journalists and programs to assist the growth of reputable news outlets. It’s their way of supporting journalism into the future, which is a good thing.

YouTube

After catching heat for a Parkland shooting conspiracy video, Google’s YouTube took steps to thwart the promotion of extremist or misinformation videos. Any time YouTube finds a questionable piece of video content, it will add a text box linking pertinent “factual” information supplied by Wikipedia. The platform will label government-funded videos as such. It’s also launching a media literacy campaign as part of its larger strategy.

Facebook & Twitter

Even before the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook had come under fire for its role in featuring fake news that may have influenced the 2016 presidential election. For well over a year, Facebook has been trying various tools to curb the spread of misinformation. In February, the platform retooled its algorithm to deprioritize paid publishers’ content.
Now, Facebook is considering vetting news organizations. This comes in contrast to the approach taken by Alphabet, which warns that social platforms shouldn’t become news editors. Meanwhile, Twitter is attempting to weed out fraudulent news outlets manually. It has recently been fighting spambots and retooling its automated posting options.
But the big tech companies aren’t the only ones fighting fake news.

The startups

What’s interesting about the fake news crisis is that some tech startups are also fighting misinformation. Newsguard Technologies will in effect create a ratings system, or as they put it, a “nutrition label” for news sources. They say that a battalion of journalists will be vetting the legitimacy of news sites. Another software startup, the UK-based Serelay, claims to be able to find fraudulent online photos by combing through the metadata and the pixels to detect manipulation. Of course, for every AI company charging ahead to parse out misinformation, there’s likely an AI company working to spread misinformation.

Government regulation?

If Facebook and Google decide it’s not their job to regulate the content, and tech startups cannot do the job, then the government might decide to do so. Despite protests, the Malaysian parliament passed a fake news bill. The bill will punish the malicious spread of false news with a fine of up to $170,o00 or up to six years in prison. Such harsh government censorship of media, however, is unlikely to work in the U.S.

The truth is we have unleashed a beast of sorts with Web 2.0. In some ways the billionaire creators of this social media revolution have lost control of their creation – and are scrambling to regain it. Time will tell which actors and methods prove effective in the battle to preserve journalistic integrity. One thing is certain: the fight against fake news is not only a technical problem, but is also a moral and ethical one.

Improving PR Content Strategies

Content is fire. Social media is gasoline,” according to writer Jay Baer, and most in public relations would agree. The trick is how to create content that is “fire” and will fire up audiences about your brand. We look at an eight-point plan that will help any team create, produce and promote meaningful content.

Bringing an earned-media sensibility to the effort increases the credibility for some content that is overly commercial, badly targeted, or stuffed with obvious keywords.

Best Practices For PR Content

All good content marketing initiatives begin by getting everyone on the team in agreement with campaign goals.

Set content marketing goals

Start by knowing who your audience is and what they care about.

Then ask how reaching the audience through targeted content can help move the needle. “The needle” can mean drawing more customers to a retail website, lead generation, attracting donors or investors to a cause, or increasing app downloads. With a clear set of marketing goals, the team can more easily determine what the content output will consist of and better show how content marketing can help meet business objectives.

As with any PR or marketing campaign – leadership needs to know how it will impact the bottom line. What are the cost and revenue metrics that will make the program meet goals? For some brands, seeing content marketing as a way to reduce customer acquisition costs is a powerful motivator.

Define challenges and opportunities

Speak to others and help develop a clear short list of challenges, which can include anything from competition in the marketplace to overcoming a dated or muddled brand image. As well, offer up opportunities. Brand opportunities can include things like a truly differentiated USP or a seasoned management team with a stellar reputation. Whatever the list may look like, it is up to the content team to create stories that help conquer the challenges and leverage the opportunities. We like the way American Express has built its online publication  Open Forum, directed at small businesses. The brand has many small business initiatives and has been very good at providing a ton of good info for companies who may not have initially thought that Amex was the appropriate credit card partner for them.

Develop a sound content strategy

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads, according to DemandMetric, but many brands still have a haphazard approach to strategy. Here are the important factors to consider when planning custom content. Focus on who you’re really targeting. Often a B2B marketer may think they are targeting CEOs with their content, only to find that it’s actually those who report into the C-level who read and vet things to put before leadership. It may seem subtle, but it does affect how teams create effective content.

Using a custom content partner like HubSpot can help better define your audience and provide actionable assistance to increase readership. Learn what kind of content resonates best with the target – blog posts, in-depth “how-to” downloads like this, white papers, e-books etc. The strategy should also include design elements for custom content, subject matter and, importantly professional editorial guidelines, like any publication.

Appoint a content manager and team

It may take a village to plan and create a great content program, but it’s best to assign responsibility for the effort. Aim for an editor and one or two writers, if possible. The goal is to task great writers and to make posting a “real job” within the company and not a thrown-together afterthought where folks are scrambling to put out a blog post or keep to a social media posting schedule. Nothing creates better PR writers than a rigid writing schedule. People assigned to content creation and marketing are performing a very important service to the brand and should think of it as a plum assignment.

Calenderize a content schedule – but be flexible

Once you know your target and have defined editorial guidelines, coming up with content ideas should be less challenging. We regularly look at our own internal metrics to see what topics “pull” the most with our readers. This helps greatly in setting a content schedule. There are traditional seasonal and holiday “hot topics” as well as evergreen ones with a fresh spin. And, as important as a content schedule is, we also value flexibility to take advantage of breaking news which can offer up great opportunities to demonstrate PR expertise on a variety of topics. Once content editorial has been defined, it’s important to determine how often the team will post and on what platforms. Typically, a 1000-word blog post per week is effective, with scheduling of downloadable e-books and newsletters slotted quarterly to keep pipeline varied and full.

Create a content promotion plan

Here’s where the all-important gasoline gets added to the fire. There’s no point in publishing a bunch of terrific content that no one sees, so a crucial part of content development is promotion.  To begin with, most smart marketers today employ a professional content marketing tool that offers products, assistance and analytics to turn any content effort into a well-oiled machine. But true success goes beyond simply retaining a firm. The brand needs to promote its efforts on applicable key social platforms, maximizing the targeting capabilities of Facebook for B2C visibility, using LinkedIn, which is influential for B2B marketing, and Twitter, which is useful for reaching business influencers and journalists. We also recommend a strong backlinking effort to ensure readers get to and from information in our posts. Additionally, linking relevant content within company newsletters and other output helps draw a larger audience. Other best practices include seeking quotes from influencers important to the brand’s target, emailing content directly to sources who are quoted, and creating content “snippets” that can be posted on social platforms and communities for days and weeks after the original publication.

Scale content through smart repurposing

Today’s consumer connects across a broad spectrum of social channels and savvy marketers realize that any new piece of content can be repurposed in several different ways. We recommend compiling blog posts into an ebook, for example, or turning a byline article into a how-to video for YouTube or slide presentation for SlideShare. We also like to package terrific client content and use it to interest conference and event planners in potential speakers. With so many established sites such as Mic, Quartz and others hungry for well-written thought pieces, content developed for one platform can reach exponentially greater audiences via such outlets.

Maintain high quality standards

Whether you’re creating a single piece of content per week or scheduling more often, set and adhere to producing the same level of quality with each piece. As teams build an audience, there will be a level of expectation and you don’t want to disappoint. Quality checks might include keeping the content fresh and interesting, peppering in visuals and making sure that grammar and syntax are correct – remember 10% of readers don’t scroll through articles at all. It’s helpful to develop an editorial checklist like this to make sure all boxes are ticked. However, even though a checklist is important to check on quality issues, its equally important that each post reflect the brand’s personal voice. The most visually appealing, well-edited blog will not attract an audience if its perceived as dull or inauthentic.

Should Brands Talk Back On Social Media?

As all PR and social media pros know, a brand’s digital presence is both very powerful and very fragile. In the attention economy, we want to break though and engage customers, and a good way to do that is by showing personality. A flippant attitude or a risky tweet can take a brand even further. Social platforms are made for snark, right? Just look at Wendy’s. The fast-food brand is famous for its sassy social media voice, and what’s more, its strategy has won it praise and coverage in mainstream media.

But research shows that consumers don’t always welcome social snark from brands. Social media company Sprout Social surveyed 1,003 consumers on what they really want from brands on social media. It found that “snarkiness” was the least desired trait, with 67 percent of respondents saying it’s undesirable. According to Sprout Content Director Lizz Kannenberg, “Consumers follow brands on social for entertainment, answers to their questions and for contests and promotions.” Not a cheeky retort.

But from a public relations perspective, brands that master the art of social wisecracks can reap a PR bonanza. So, when should a brand talk back? It turns out there’s enormous variability in how far a little irreverence can go, and much depends on the individual situation. Here’s what we can learn from the most successful social brands.

Know your audience 

An irreverent social media persona is like wading into controversy; you can do it if you understand your base. There’s a good reason why a company like Patagonia can criticize the president without fear of social retribution. Its leadership knows that their loyal customers are vehemently opposed to Trump on climate issues. Conversely, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A was candid about his opposition to marriage equality when asked about the issue. The stance sparked boycotts, but it probably didn’t harm the business, because brand loyalists rallied to its support. A social media voice is an extension of a brand’s persona, and knowing your customers is an unerring guide. No such brand decision or position should be made purely for publicity purposes.

Be reliable

Look at Thrillist, the men’s digital lifestyle newsletter. Its Facebook page is a celebration of bro culture, with silly and occasionally juvenile humor. The master in this arena just might be Taco Bell. For years, it has earned a spot on the list of the sauciest and most entertaining brands on the social web. The core customer is a young male, making it a good bet to post occasionallly risky content, and the brand delivers. From the taco emoji to its Tacobot Slack integration (that’s right, taco ordering from a snappy Slack friend is now in beta) the brand is not only cheeky, but reliably innovative.

Punch above your weight

T-Mobile CEO John Legere is a great example of shrewd strategy here. His “bad-boy schtick” on social media is well suited to his flamboyant and iconoclastic personality, of course. And when Legere tweaks the big-brand competition, it’s a fairly low-risk move.  T-Mobile, whose subscriber base is roughly half the size of its two largest competitors, has very little to lose by courting controversy. Picking a fight with a Goliath competitor is a time-tested strategy with a large upside – it generates plenty of attention – and very little risk. It’s a smart play.

Use humor

This goes without saying, but it works particularly well when it’s unexpected. We expect humor from Charmin, but who could have predicted that the venerable Merriam Webster would gain social fame in 2017 for its sly subtweets?

Back it up

Wendy’s reputation for social attitude has earned plaudits, but the brand has done more than just show personality. It creates social initiatives with “meat” that pack more momentum than simple posts.

Remember Carter Wilkerson, the teenager who tweeted a request for free chicken nuggets in May? Wendy’s could have tweeted a tart response, or simply accommodated Wilkerson with coupons to earn some Twitter love. Instead, it challenged the 16-year-old to earn 18,000 retweets of his request, setting off a user-driven social media campaign that drew over 3 million RTs, surpassing the record set by the 2014 Oscar selfie. The story naturally whetted the appetite of many “mainstream” media, who ate up the quirky challenge. Even though Wilkerson fell short of the goal, Wendy’s gave him a year’s worth of free nuggets, and to add substance to the contest, it pledged $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation in the bargain. Well done.

Be real

We were startled when Delta punched back at conservative pundit Ann Coulter, but it was an unusual situation that probably did call for a tart rejoinder. As the world knows, Coulter was infuriated when her assigned seat on a flight from Laguardia to Palm Beach was given to someone else. She raged at the airline to her 1.6 million Twitter followers for two days after the flight, even tweeting a picture of the blameless passengers who were given the seat she had reserved. Given the rough PR weather that airlines handle, you might have thought Delta would apologize and lie low. It did offer Coulter a refund of the $30 she paid for the better seat. But when the nasty tweet barrage continued, Delta returned fire, calling Coulter’s comments “unnecessary and unacceptable.” As one headline blared, “Ann Coulter Is So Awful, She Makes Delta Airlines Look Good.”

The PR Case For The Social CEO

Not long ago, a chief executive could lead a business, even a large one, fairly quietly, leaving public relations and social media management to the corporate communications team. The CEO job was mainly to deliver a strong financial performance.

Today, things are different. A capable business leader is expected to also serve as a brand ambassador, a voice for corporate reputation, and a social media personality.

Yet social engagement presents both opportunities and risks for the top guy. Steve Tappin puts it well when he explains that the rise of social media represents not just a technological shift, but a cultural one, for business leaders. Mastering digital technology is the easy part. Shaping a unique point of view and knowing when and how to weigh in is a bit trickier. C-level executives feel pressed to grow a presence on major social platforms and to show currency on matters ranging from politics to pop culture.

Are Social CEOs More Successful?

When used well, social media blends direct communication with customers and employees, thought leadership, and brand-building. Above all, it helps create a more accessible and authentic image for a C-level leader and the business s/he represents.

But are socially adept CEOs actually more successful than those who shun the social spotlight?  Those who push CEOs to be social tend to be―surprise!―PR and digital marketing people or other chief executives with a vested interest, like Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite.

And there’s the risk factor.  It hasn’t helped that our current president is famous for his use of Twitter. Mr. Trump’s impulsive tweets have been a red flag to some corporate executives who dread being his target, and who’d rather be below the radar in any event. Only 39% of Fortune 500 CEOs have a social profile, and most who are active on social media use the relatively tame LinkedIn.

Yet there is some objective data that makes the case for the social CEO. A 2015 Weber Shandwick study found that executives who are active on social media or create content for digital channels are seen as good communicators and are among the most well-regarded business leaders.

Most PR and reputation experts agree that a strong social profile is a means to differentiate a business executive’s brand as well as convey the kinds of ideas and opinions that inform a thought leadership platform. It’s also efficient. A social executive can reach and engage with journalists, influencers, and employees with a single tweet or post. Social content has a humanizing effect on the brand, making it and the resulting conversation more authentic.

Beyond the most celebrated social CEOs like Marc Benioff and Richard Branson, I think Lenovo’s Yuanqing Yang does many things right as an ardent social media proselytizer. Yang is more typical of the future CEO, who will increasingly use social platforms (his are Twitter, LinkedIn, and Weibo) to build and engage a global following.

One benefit of a strong social profile that doesn’t get enough attention is the internal PR factor. A social media presence can help with recruiting and employee communications.  It’s also not just about broadcasting your views or posting company updates; true social engagement is about interaction. Yang is a LinkedIn Influencer, but he makes it a point to interact directly with the public so that his company and its customers can learn from each other.

Seven Tips for the Social CEO and C-level Execs

Social media is most valuable to a social CEO or C-level executive as part of an overall communications strategy. Here are some key points to note in planning such a strategy.

Start by listening

Social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are more than platforms; they are communities, and they can be unique vehicles for tuning into the conversations of customers and stakeholders. As Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes points out, Twitter is a great source of intelligence―from competitors, analysts, pundits, and others.  After weeks of listening to conversations about your industry and issues that affect it, it becomes easier and more natural to engage others.

Stick to a social media strategy 

Which audiences can be reached more efficiently or powerfully through social content? For example, a strong C-level LinkedIn profile and quality content relevant to prospective hires can enhance a company’s recruiting function. What are the organization’s communications priorities when it comes to telling its story?  Where do visuals come into play in simplifying a complex technology or scientific narrative? What simple metrics (engagement, re-posts, followship) can you set to gauge progress?  A simple strategy will help keep the social program from becoming a casualty of being overly ambitious. Only 62% of CEOs with a Twitter account are active, according to CEO.com.  Maybe they wanted to claim their handle to head off hijackers, but it’s not a good look for a CEO to have a dormant Twitter feed. It looks like no one’s home.

Share the responsibility

We talk about the social CEO, but a social media commitment is something that can and should be shared across key members of the leadership team. Most senior teams offer distinct subject-matter experts, and that expertise is both valuable and shareable. A CMO or chief revenue officer will offer insights that are different from those of a quality officer or chief executive, but social content should be linked by a common strategy and organizational values. When it comes to social media, a shared commitment can take the pressure off the top guy, but more importantly, it extends the program and makes it more authentic and enduring.

When it comes to content, mix it up

Some C-level tweets are painfully self-conscious. Others are clearly composed by others – overly commercial, colorless and devoid of personality. It doesn’t have to be that way. A novice CEO should mix personal observations and opinions with sharper reflections about business or industry trends. Entrepreneurship and leadership are always fruitful topics. Business travel, last books read, the day’s headlines, family―all can be great social fodder. If all else fails, try sports. There’s always something happening, with a fan base to match.

Consider a C-level blog

A blog is still a natural hub for a CEO’s voice, and it’s a logical first step in establishing a content program. It’s also a practical way to address part of the problem of what to post/tweet.  It offers opportunities to mix it up with guest posts, post video entries or interviews, and use graphics to illustrate insights.

Invite commentary

This goes without saying; it’s the essence of social engagement. A skillful CEO will ask questions, use Twitter polls, jump on hashtags (judiciously), and RT or repost the content of other company leaders or customers.

Embrace advocacy

In my experience, advocacy can help many C-levels overcome reluctance or even shyness. It’s ideal if the platform is business-related―like STEM education for a technology company CEO or a focus on entrepreneurship for a CEO who got his or her start by bootstrapping a business.  But it isn’t limited to business; it can be support for a charity or other.  The important thing is a genuine connection.

An earlier version of this post appeared on The American Marketing Association’s Executive Circle blog on March 28, 2017.

Enhance PR Through These Simple Social Media Tips

Our public relations clients are always looking for ways to leverage traditional media on social channels in a relevant, traffic-building way. We observed how well some organizations and businesses are using social media to amplify other efforts and want to pass on a few current tips.

Rethink the 70-30 rule. Many social media managers use the 70-30 rule when it comes to creating shareable content for sites like Twitter and Facebook. The guideline recommends that 70% of social content be non-brand focused and 30% brand-focused. We’re looking at packaging the percentages differently by incorporating a third category — more creative, original content, some created solely for social media channels. Recommendations include simple, inexpensive survey data owned by a brand but only tangentially related to its product or service as well as short articles drafted specifically for a particular outlet. Also recommended? Interactive games and quizzes.

(Self) publish or perish. Best practices have always included breathing new life into bylined content, speeches and panel discussion output via social channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter. With the continued combining of staffs (People and Entertainment Weekly) demise of print editions (Self Magazine is the latest casualty) and other media downturns, look to expand your self-publishing opportunities. There are those offered by social media platforms (Medium, LinkedIn) as well as those provided by online publishers from BuzzFeed to HuffPo and plenty of esoteric verticals in categories from medical to marketing.

Get personal. Think of the content you click on. While some of it may be cute animal pictures or provocative tweets, most of what people view is determined by its relevance. Think like your target audience and prepare content that speaks to them. For Crenshaw affordable housing client NHP Foundation, one target is philanthropically minded millennials. While they may be micro-donors today, we want to invest in them for tomorrow, so it’s important to show them what the foundation does through personal stories of NHPF residents who have been helped, or “sexy” data on housing trends in different jobs and cities.

Stay on top of top tools. Automated scheduling software like Hootsuite is nothing new, but there are other players in the sharing game that warrant a look. We’ve examined Hootsuite, Buffer and Everypost and found that while each boasts publishing and scheduling capability, sourcing of content, responding to followers and analytics, there are differences. For instance, Everypost is the only management tool with true music and video embedding capabilities – so important when you consider that by 2020, 75% of the world’s mobile traffic will be video, according to an ambitious estimate by Cisco. Buffer is known for its simplicity and analytics and many believe Hootsuite’s auto-scheduling is still the best. Look here for a side-by-side comparison to see which tools can up your game.

Rules of engagement. Finally, we find it invaluable to remember the following when using social media to enhance your PR programs, the most engaging posts:

Give: offers, deals, and contests that everyone can benefit from

Advise: tips, especially about problems everyone encounters

Warn: dangers that everyone faces (scams and the like)

Amuse: funny or entertaining pictures or quotes

Inspire: quotes, videos, and images that make people feel good and valued for who they are

Amaze: pictures, stories, and videos of amazing people and events