The Public Relations Strategist

This article by Aaron Long was published in the Spring 2012 edition of The Public Relations Strategist. It is posted here with permission.

Aaron Long ArtIn a way that could not be imagined even 20 years ago, organizations have unobstructed access to the entire connected world.

Our ability to interact with an audience today is primarily limited by two major factors: time and holding the attention of the individuals consuming and sharing information. As we approach the 10th anniversary of Friendster’s launch and the dawn of social media, it is clear that time and interest are powerful gatekeepers.

Today, there is almost too much opportunity to connect. There are too many things to say, show, demonstrate, photograph and post, to the point that it is overwhelming.

The term “content strategy” is gaining favor to describe how to deal with this kind of opportunity overload. People or organizations can’t take advantage of every opportunity to connect or have the ability to create rich content that will captivate every community that they seek to reach.

You can’t do it all

The mistake that many organizations make is that they venture into social media only because they feel they have to. Without a defined purpose, many get into a routine that saps the life out of their online activities.

For example, they might tweet first thing in the morning, post a link to a story of interest on the organization’s Facebook page, find something to retweet right after lunch, post a comment on an influencer’s Facebook wall and see if any responses are needed on Facebook, and then post a final tweet before calling it a day. Perhaps if there is time, then they might post something on their blog a couple of times each month.

People often ask, “How many tweets should we be doing in a day?” or “Why isn’t anyone Liking our Facebook page?”

Our typical response is, “Stop. Take a moment and think about what you want to accomplish.”
If you are able to define what you want to achieve and spend the time researching the communities you want to connect with, then it is easier to prioritize your social tools and figure out what messages will elicit interaction.

Everyone knows that there are thousands of social tools, but as a result of opportunity overload, PR practitioners tend to gravitate toward the biggest channels — Facebook and Twitter — and to a lesser extent to YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and their organization’s blog.

These social tools have become standard for PR programs in addition to traditional media. But any or all or none of these might be appropriate for you. Knowing whom you want to connect with will help to determine the right choices.

Content is king

A good example of content strategy comes from our work with the Children’s Museum of Houston, one of our clients at Schipul — The Web Marketing Company. In October 2009, the museum team enjoyed success by bringing families to the museum, but they were worried that people perceived the brand as a place to “play,” not a place where kids would also learn. They saw the need to firmly position the museum as a fun and educational resource to teachers and moms. The solution was “O Wow Moments.”

The museum’s branding and positioning served as the platform for the content strategy. Their leaders position the Children’s Museum of Houston as “A Playground for Your Mind.” It is fun but challenging, just as a playground poses physical challenges in a fun environment to keep kids active. We designed “O Wow Moments” to reinforce the positioning by creating captivating content that encouraged participation and was easy to share.

The museum committed to developing a series of videos featuring educational experiments and posting them online almost every week. A video blog introduces the fictitious “Mr. O” as an Alton Brown-style educator who leads children in scientific experiments and shows them the science behind everyday things.

The Children’s Museum has produced 165 videos that have been uploaded to the museum’s channel on Vimeo and are embedded on the museum’s blog. The videos and the blog have attracted thousands of visitors — about 60 percent live outside the Houston area.

Video production is neither cheap nor easy, so why go through the trouble of developing so much content? An organization cannot claim that it is the best in the market without having any proof. Online video is an excellent form of proof.

How to be more strategic

So what can you do to be more strategic with your content?

  • Satisfy community needs. We will often spend several days (or longer) listening and gathering information about the communities we seek to connect with. We note the language, the tone  and the topics that people use to ensure our client interactions can be woven into the fabric of the community. Visitors to your website or blog are likely providing hints about what they consider valuable information. Use Google Analytics to keep tabs on which Web pages and blog posts attract the most visitors and interaction, and prioritize topics based on these observations and metrics. 

  • Don’t be confined by your brand. This may seem contradictory, but your brand can sometimes hold you back. In addition to executing tactics that are directly brand-related, you’ll want to consider things that are adjacent to the brand that may be interesting or shareable. In our case, one of the most linked posts on the Schipul blog is “How to build your own river radio.” We don’t sell river radios or river radio kits, but the post was created as part of a summertime campaign called “Geek Vacation Guide.” It featured content about technology and gadgets, and tips for geeks on vacation that showed off our company culture and our collective passion about technology. Brand-adjacent topics may not generate immediate leads, but they can pay big dividends down the road. 

  • Use free tools. I am amazed by how few PR people use the Google Keyword Tool. Plug in a few keywords, and Google will give you related keywords, including competition level and number of monthly searches. This tool can help you find popular search topics that might not be on your radar, and it also helps ensure that the words and phrases that you use reflect the way your community thinks. Google Insights allows you to plug in up to five keywords and compare their popularity, including trends over time. Insights also allows you to break down statistics by category and geography (down to the metro area), and shows rising or “breakout” related searches. 

  • Think like an editor. Be your own filter for what content is relevant and interesting. I heard a CEO say, “Today, every company is a media company.” You need to think and act like a media company in order to succeed. Create an editorial content calendar, including a sharing strategy. Keep in mind that different outlets have their own social norms. Quantity is low on the list of priorities.

You will be hearing more about content strategy. Everything from your CEO’s presentation at the annual meeting of shareholders to a simple comment on Facebook can help or hinder your efforts. There isn’t anything new there. But what is new is that the perceived importance of communications has been turned upside down. 

In any reasonable world, the presentation to shareholders, which requires weeks of planning and positions the organization at its best, would carry significantly more weight than a mere tweet or Facebook comment.

The reality is that the simpler communications matter more: They are easier to share. They are often more interesting. And they invite response.

The key is to understand that every communication — regardless of how small — needs to have a purpose and can contribute to or detract from your efforts to achieve a desired outcome. That is content strategy.

Aaron Long is vice president, professional services, with the Houston-based Schipul — The Web Marketing Company (www.schipul.com).