In all honesty, I do not expect public relations textbooks to be laugh riots or thrill rides.
However, one area ended up being rather frustrating.
On page 95, Smith writes, “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.” On pages 93 – 94, he writes, “Strategy is the organization’s overall plan.” And on pages 225 – 226, he says tactics are the visual elements of a public relations or marketing communications plan.
What Are You Saying, Mr. Smith?
First of all, to my mind, I saw great deal of overlap. Hence I feel that much of the book could have been better condensed. And essentially, I feel, the strategic planner or public relations expert wants to follow an organization’s general goals. For example, an organizational goal could be to get more exposure.
Plus they want to achieve this with special attention to specific objectives. Such as, they might want to increase awareness by 6% during calendar year 2017. And then add the nitty gritty of tactics. E. g. the strategic planner might believe they can accomplish this by tweeting every other day following a particular plan. And that seems more or less to be it. However, it did not take me over 400 pages to tell you that, now, did it?
However, in all fairness, there were some good parts in the book. Furthermore, the sections on SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PEST (political, economic, social, and technological factors) analyses were very good. And you do not have to be in the public relations field in order to be able to use that information. But man, it could sure use some editing.
John Blossom wrote a rather interesting work. And so for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platform’s class (ICM 522), this book was assigned as required reading.
Blossom sharply and compellingly puts forth his case. The Internet has become home to more and more content creators all the time.
And this constitutes a very good thing indeed.
As publishing becomes push-button fast and friendly, publishers stop being gatekeepers. Suddenly, anyone with an idea and a connection can potentially become a publisher.
One of his most interesting takeaways appears on page 136. Here he lays out Content Nation Enterprise Rule #1:
“Social media isn’t about technology; it’s about adapting to more effective patterns of communications being adopted by competitors.”
Hence for Blossom, the key benefits are –
Effective social media tools enable people to choose who they want to allow within their circle of communication (although that makes for silos and walled gardens these days!)
Effective social media tools make it easier to collect and organize communications from internal and external sources
and Effective social media tools make it easier to collaborate internally and externally. This is to build and update valuable knowledge more effectively.
And I have to say that I agree with this. So much of what we read about social media centers around the platforms. In addition, the technology seems to overrule everything else, including common sense. And while everyone loves something shiny and new, it matters very little if the content behind it, well, frankly, stinks. Hence Blossom essentially disagrees with Marshall McLuhan. Therefore, the medium isn’t the message any more.
Instead, the message is the message.
And I think that is pretty powerful. Particularly in this day and age of constant content creation, promotion, distribution, and deconstruction. But you make the call, gentle reader. Feel free to contact me if you disagree, okay?
Figure out which content you’ve got and archive whatever isn’t working for you, e. g. fulfilling some sort of purpose. Good purposes include building trust and expertise, answering customer questions and facilitating sales. Not such good purposes are things like get some content out there because we’re naked without it!
Archive that Stuff!
For whatever currently published content that does not fulfill a good purpose, either archive it or get rid of it entirely. It does not help you, and it may very well harm your company.
Get someone in charge of content. Not surprisingly, a Content Strategist comes to mind but definitely get someone to steer the ship.
Listen to the customers and the company regarding content. The company may be setting out content that’s confusing to the users. The users may be asking for something that can’t quite work. It may or may not be in the company’s best interests to fix either problem, but at least you’ll know what the issue is and,
Start asking why content exists out there in the first place.
This process begins with a content audit, e. g. know what you’ve got out there. Then talk to the users. And, once you finish these processes, you can start to think of a strategy.
Yes, it’s really that much time before actually creating any content. Why? Because doing the ramp-up now will save a lot of headaches later. Think it’s a bear to audit and check every single piece of content on your site now? How are you going to feel about it next year?
I bet it would thrill to only have as much content to deal with as you have right now, at this very moment. So start swinging that lasso now. It’s time to audit.
I have to say, while I can see where Ms. Halvorson is coming from. Furthermore, there was also a large chunk of the book devoted to, essentially, justifying the Content Strategist’s existence. And perhaps this is necessary with a new discipline – I don’t know. But it does make for an edge of defiance, e. g. this discipline is good enough!
The CSPI mainly uses proactive communications strategies in an effort to present a positive image to its publics. As Smith, on pages 130 – 140 writes, one proactive strategy is newsworthy communications. And on page 113, Smith indicates that a proactive strategy enables an organization to launch a communication program under the conditions and according to the timelines that seem to best fit the organization’s interests. E. g. this includes generating publicity, presenting newsworthy information, and developing a transparent communications process.
For the CSPI, one significant communications strategy is to showcase their past accomplishments. Making a case for future donations, the Center outlines how it has been fighting for consumers since 1971 (although the listed accomplishments only date back to 1973). Current communications are made on the organization’s blog, FoodDay.
Tactics include the existence of an online community, which a visitor to the site is urged to join every time they refresh the page. However, it doesn’t seem to be forums (which would be expected). Rather, the community might be the Facebook page or the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the organization’s newsletter. It’s hard to say; the site is unclear about whatever this ‘community’ is supposed to entail, and what sort of power they might wield, if any. It seems that their tactics encompass organizational media as outlined by Smith on page 229. A community should be able to engage in a degree of give and take, but the Facebook page doesn’t seem to have much in the way of responses to posters, and the newsletter is an even more one-sided method of organization communication.
If I were strategic counsel for the organization, the community would be a real community, with actual give and take. Tweets would be answered, as would Facebook posts. The public would not be ignored.
The organization’s main publics are people concerned about food safety for themselves and for their children. Hence parents are a component but not every communication is geared toward them. A side interest for the organization’s publics is an overall concern about health, as the front page of the website has links to articles about supplements, dieting (a huge online interest – just Google the word ‘diet’ and you get nearly half a billion hits), and rating coffee house foods. All three of these articles seem to be targeting nonparents, whereas articles on school lunches, candy at checkout counters, and children’s restaurant menus seem to be squarely aimed at parent publics.
Effectiveness seems to be mixed. As noted above, urgings to join a community reveals that there really isn’t a community to speak of. The Facebook page and Twitter stream both spew content but don’t answer community queries or engage with the community (although, in all fairness, there was a November 26, 2015 tweet wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.
The Pinterest profile is a bit better in that a lot of the pins come from offsite or are repinnings. The Healthy Thanksgiving pinboard is colorful and attractive without being overly busy and precious like Pinterest pins can sometimes be. It did not look like a lot of impossible to re-create craft items, and instead was filled with practical recipes.
The CSPI’s image does need some help, though. While their rating on Charity Navigator is a respectable 3/4 stars, a quick Google reveals two significant criticisms of the organization. AlterNet reveals that the CSPI is against labeling GMO foods as such. A PDF on the CSPI site bolsters this statement, wherein the CSPI appears to be endorsing a statement that GMO foods are not harmful and thereby don’t need any form of special identification.
The other, and more significant critique, comes from AlcoholFacts.org. In a well-researched (albeit seemingly slanted) article, Alcohol Facts states, “Center for Science in the Public Interest distributes its reports without peer review, contrary to the way real science operates. … Without peer review, an advocacy report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That’s exactly what Center for Science in the Public Interest does.”
The CSPI does not seem to have reacted to either criticism. Could this be the deliberate inaction strategy as outline by Smith on page 145? Or did the Center just drop the ball?
Tying it back to the ILSC
For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the Center’s website provides some lessons on how to proceed. For one, when mentioning a community (and mentioning it ad nauseum, as the prompt to join their community comes up with every single page refresh), the Center is writing communications checks that it is not cashing. Why say something is a community when it so clearly is not? The ILSC needs to pay attention to its communications promises to its publics. Calling something a community does not make it so – communities are defined by shared bilateral communications. Weinberg & Pehlivan (2011), on page 277, define a community’s (and other social media) objectives as including “Conversation, sharing, collaboration, engagement, evangelism”. That does not happen when a public is talked at.
The ILSC can also take away the idea of developing a means of reacting to online criticism. The AlterNet and Alcohol Facts critiques of the Center are not going away. Not addressing these criticisms does not do the Center any favors. Instead, the Center looks as if it does not care about what is said about it, and its ignoring of the posts by its own Facebook and Twitter followers bolsters that impression. In order to stand out and better serve its own publics, the ILSC has got to not only listen to its followers, its fans, and its critics – it also has to answer them.
Added Applications of the RPIE Strategic Process
For the RPIE process (e. g. Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation), the review of the Center’s website and their other online presences reveals that implementation cannot be overlooked. All the research and planning in the world does not amount to much if an organization does not seem to do anything with the available information out there.
The Center is shouting. Its community does not seem to be a community at all. Imperfect implementation is to blame, but at least that can be fixed.
Ian led us through a history of both hip-hop and content strategy as a discipline. Neither one sprang up overnight; the roots are in the 1970s or so, perhaps earlier.
Then it was down to business — an outline of the Five Elements.
#1. DJ’ing – on the Content Strategy side of things, this is the technical expertise. It’s being able to understand and apply semantic categories. It is being able to interpret analytics. A Content Strategist cannot be a Luddite. She cannot fear spreadsheets.
#2. MC’ing – on the CS end, this is the editorial expertise. Often, this is what people think of when they think of Content Strategy. It is acting as a copywriter, a librarian, a research analyst and something of an artist. The Content Strategist finds and tells the story. He selects the format and helps to promote the brand.
This is where Ian introduced the concept of the Content Triangle.
(a) The first type of content is Trustbuilding. This is where a company establishes its expertise and provides value to its clients and potential customers. Here is where the company is informative about internal and industry trends. For a product-based company, this area should encompass approximately 30% of all of the content. For a service-oriented company, this area should be about 70% of all of the content.
(b) The second type of content is Informational. This is basic internal site information, such as the Contact Us page and the FAQ. This is for users to understand how to, for example, return a defective product. For a product-oriented company, this area needs to be around 30+% of all content. For a service company, that figure should be around 20+%. In either instance, start here.
(c) The third and final type of content is Sales/Call to Action. Somewhat self-explanatory, here’s where you close the deal. The deal need not be a commercial one; your call to action may very well be for your reader to sign up for a newsletter. For the product-based company, this area will have to be around about 40+% of all of the content. In the case of the service company, it’s less than 10%. Either way, this should be A/B tested.
In all instances, analytics must drive the percentages and the content.
#3. Graffiti – for the Content Strategist, this equates to design expertise. Infographics are, according to Ian, only going to continue to become more and more popular.
#4. Breaking – to the Content Strategist, this element represents Information Architecture expertise. The two are related but not identical — cousins, not twins. The gist of it is the concept of movement through a site. What are the funnels? What kind of an experience do you want your users to have? What’s your preferred destination for them?
#5. Knowledge – this final piece of the puzzle speaks to the Content Strategist’s Project Managerment/Change Management expertise. Change concepts are disposable, iterative and proposed. It is the idea of moving from a concept to a solution. The best solution is not the best solution, per se — it’s the best solution that you can implement for, without a consensus (and a budget and a signed contract!), the so-called best solution is no solution at all.
Content Strategy is different from Content Marketing. The first must drive the second. One of the best ways to help the discipline to get more respect is to branch out the network. Get to know people in vastly different disciplines (say, Robotics, for instance).
And helping the client? Think differently. Generate a 404 error and see what happens. Sign up for something: what kind of message does the user get? Is the message consistent with the remainder of the site’s look and feel and philosophy? Is the footer out of date?
Check sites like Compete and Tweetvolume for more information about how a company is really doing. Consider CMS Watch as well. Know the company’s baseline strengths and weaknesses and understand related practices and disciplines.
The Content Strategist often wears a millinery’s worth of hats, not just during a particular project but in any given day. For the CS to excel, he or she needs to have an understanding of fundamentals in a lot of areas, and be able to speak knowledgeably.
Fortunately, acquiring and applying that kind of knowledge makes and keeps this discipline fresh and exciting. Ian clearly has fun every day. And who wouldn’t want a piece of that?
The Importance of Content Marketing for Community Managers
Why is content marketing important for Community Managers?
It is deceptively easy for companies to ‘get on Facebook’ or ‘get a Twitter’, and start pushing content out through a firehose. Companies may even make a splash in the beginning. But it’s unsustainable. Furthermore, it’s not serving customers and potential customers terribly well.
Much like any other aspect of modern business, online content requires strategy and structure. Just having content is not enough. It has to be relevant to fans and followers, and be more than something they will just click on and read. Instead, content is for marketing; it is for getting customers and potential customers into the sales funnel and then bringing them along. This is the case whether the sale occurs online or in a brick and mortar store.
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
The Numbers Say It All
As Steven MacDonald reminds in The 5 Pillars of Successful Content Marketing, the amount of data being created in two days is more than was created from the beginning of time until 2003. Certainly, that figure is only going to grow. The United States census, in 2012, released an infographic comparing 2012 data on computers and Internet usage with 1997 (when the census first began asking about Internet usage) and 1984 data.
Per the United States census, the percentage of households without Internet has fallen dramatically, from 45.3% in 2003, to 25.2% in 2012. This does not even take into account persons who might not have home access, but are using the Internet at work, school, a café or public library or other such location.
With all of these people online, and all of that content coming at them 24/7/365, the race is less to get any sort of content online, and more to get relevant and preferred content to consumers. When a potential customer is being bombarded with Instagram images of their friends’ lunches and Facebook status updates with pregnant friends’ ultrasounds, gossipy Tweets about celebrities and amusing Tumblr blog posts about upcoming movies, and Pinterest boards with recipes, somehow, some way, a company’s content has got to compete with all of that.
While companies can purchase additional reach and engagement, a more sensible ad spend is to target content more closely to customers’ and potential customers’ preferences and demographics. This is easier and more detailed and better-researched than ever before, due to all of the tracking coding which is embedded in social media. As Avinash Kaushik has said about digital marketing (a term often used interchangeably with ‘content marketing’ but a bit more general, involving the use of digital devices but not necessarily as fully integrating marketing with content types like in true content marketing) and measurement –
The root cause of failure in most digital marketing campaigns is not the lack of creativity in the banner ad or TV spot or the sexiness of the website. It is not even (often) the people involved. It is quite simply the lack of structured thinking about what the real purpose of the campaign is and a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.
Structured thinking and objective measurement can help marketers to create and define success. Content marketing is similar in that it’s studied and planned. Content marketers don’t just put up any old content whenever. They study the various platforms, as Gary Vaynerchuk strongly suggests. Successful content marketers listen to their audience (there’s that idea of measuring again!) and determine what does and doesn’t work. They post their content when their customers and potential customers are online and listening.
Putting Content Marketing Together With Community Management
Community Managers are often tasked with shaping conversations online. This is everything from thanking happy users to publicly addressing complaints to being the first line of communications for public relations problems. But that’s mainly reactive communications. Proactive communications from community managers can and should dovetail with company plans to market to consumers (or to businesses in a B2B organization). Offering helpful, engaging, amusing, and informative content is the job of the community manager as much as the soothing of angry online customers is. Posting the right content, when consumers want to see it, can be the difference between a sale and no sale. Put enough of those together, and jobs and even companies can be on the line. The community manager, doing content marketing right, can bring in business and help a company retain its customers even in troubled economic times.
Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).
The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.