Most-asked questions about PR & social media

October 19, 2010

I was talking to a B2B company that learned of Gregory FCA through this blog. We discussed how they can use traditional public relations and social media to reach their target audience, tell their story to the marketplace, and build recognition and awareness for their brand.

They sent me an e-mail with some of their questions in advance of our meeting, all of which we have heard many times before. So I thought I’d post our exchange here as a way to share our insights into how traditional media relations impacts social media, and vice versa.

Hi Greg!

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us later today. In advance of our meeting, I thought it might be helpful to send you a few questions to educate our management team.

Greg, how can a PR firm help with the launch of our new technology?

On a couple of fronts. Recognition is vital in the introduction of any new service or product, and certainly, as your sales team takes the message out to the marketplace, they will need air cover so prospects will have heard of the newly introduced technology. As the campaign matures, it needs to provide a direct link to your prospect base. That’s where social media has taken on a significant role in the public relations equation.

How would you roll out a public relations campaign for our new technology?

That’s hard to say without knowing more about your marketing plan, your target audiences, the technology, your advantages over competitive offerings, and so on.

But as a framework, I think you would want to announce the new technology offering you have developed through search-optimized press releases and personal one-to-one pitching of narratives presented to key industry trade media, business publications, influential bloggers, and other online news and information sources. You also will need to develop a way to use social and other digital media to communicate with influencers and targets, and your prospective clients.

I understand the traditional PR side of the equation. But how do you use social media to sell and isn’t it best used to reach consumers?

The fact is that social media can be exceptionally effective in B2B marketing. It’s highly targeted, and provides a great platform for subject-matter experts to share their knowledge and expertise directly with the audiences who are hungry for and can benefit from such knowledge.

Moreover, done well, B2B social media can become integral to the sales process, and provides a way to connect and engage your sales team with the ultimate decision maker. This is in addition to its effect as a force-multiplier for traditional PR efforts, and a driver of organic SEO.

We manage a number of successful B2B social media campaigns for companies large and small. For many of them, social media has become a crucial strategic weapon for delivering their narrative about a product, service, or technology; providing an on-demand repository of compelling collateral for the sales team; for publishing evidence to potential buyers; for feeding the mainstream and vertical media with storytelling resources; for supporting lead generation efforts; and for ranking well in search results.

So how does that work? Using social media to tell a story to the marketplace?

Well, it starts with research. We use a number of proprietary tools to monitor and measure the online conversation/buzz/coverage (call it what you will). We then determine where the conversation is taking place around topics of interest to clients and the market, and who the key influencers are.

Once we know that, we go to work figuring out how to get our clients and their messages into those conversations, while always remaining within the rules of online engagement.

Sometimes that’s simple, and little removed from traditional public relations, where we build a relationship with a blogger or online media point, and introduce them to our client, their product, or whatever. That can result in an interview, a podcast, or a guest blog post from our clients on these sites. Or it could result in a guest appearance by the media point on our client’s blog.

And then there’s the strategy of helping our clients gain their own voice online. That might, for instance, take the form of a thought leadership blog that covers key topics of interest and importance to our client’s targeted audience. The blog aligns to our client’s business objectives, and can serve many purposes in addition to publicity and thought leadership, such as lead generation, presentations, media leverage, SEO, content syndication, sales collateral, customer evidence, newsletter support, and so on.

We publish a range of B2B blogs across a variety of industries, all designed to educate and inform prospective clients and the press, and/or have current clients upgrade or otherwise buy more because of what they learn from these publications.

But how do you gain attention? Right now, there are thousands and thousands of online conversations. Is anyone really reading these online forums or blogs?

And there are billions of offline conversations, too. That’s always been the magic of PR and earned media: to separate the signal from the noise, and help clients cost-effectively reach their targeted audience amid a confusing and overpopulated media universe.

In fact, with online tools, it actually becomes easier and more cost-efficient for agencies such as ours to do this filtering and targeting. The real magic is gaining a following for your storytelling. That’s a function, again, of using sophisticated monitoring and measurement tools to isolate the conversation and target the influencers, and of constantly working your content and leveraging it across the various spheres (Web media, blogosphere, Twitterverse, e-mail, etc.) to drive traffic back to your online properties.

Sometimes we accomplish that by developing white papers or articles and syndicating them throughout the Web. Sometimes we do this by placing stories in online media that links back to your blog. Sometimes we do this by strategically commenting in prime media points and, again, linking back to your blog.

There are all manner of tactics at our disposal — too many to run down here. But all are optimized for search, which sometimes becomes the ultimate tactic. It surfaces your content on Google, Bing, and Yahoo, where prospects who are at the beginning of the sales process are looking for places to start, or looking for answers to questions or problems.

They see your content, click the link, and are then brought back to your blog where an array of convincing digital assets and resources are at their disposal. One of our key goals is to optimize your content for search around the semantics that define your business, and rank as much content as possible with your name and URL on page one of those results.

I noticed that you haven’t mentioned Facebook or LinkedIn yet. How important are they, Greg?

They do have importance. But you have to think hard about which social networks are most appropriate for your story. Facebook, although it has 500 million members, is almost entirely a consumer network.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is business focused and very strong with professionals. We use social networks primarily to drive interest and traffic to our clients’ blogs and other digital channels. We integrate them with our client blogs where appropriate (for example, your blog posts could be automatically published on targeted LinkedIn subnetworks).

We also work with client sales forces to raise their personal visibility on these networks as a way of finding new opportunities, and leading the interested back to our client online media channel.

How do we determine the ROI?

For sheer exposure, we benchmark a client’s share of awareness versus their competitors at the outset, and then test again as the campaign matures to see if our clients are gaining on their competitors or showing separation. We also provide a secure on-demand SaaS database of all media impressions, complete with copies of clips and audience reach.

We also monitor and measure other business metrics, such as traffic to the blog, impressions, SEO results, trends, e-mail subscribers, top stories, deltas, and a lot more.

Lastly, we use Nielsen BuzzMetrics to measure awareness across several dimensions, including around targeted terms and competitors, and sentiment.

In the end, our clients want meaningful exposure that leads to thought leadership and additional revenue. In the new world of public relations, where behavior is measurable online, that’s what we aim to provide.

Anything else to add, Greg?

Just that we’re looking forward to talking more with you.

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