Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

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Gone are the days when public relations professionals could pump out a press release, gather news clippings and call it a day. The industry has expanded at a rapid rate, and this transformation pushed practitioners to expand their skill sets, embrace new technologies and adapt in the digital age. Traditional PR practices like press release writing, pitching and media interviews will always have a place in this profession, but we no longer have to rely on conventional tactics to tell our brand story.

Our toolbox has grown, it’s just a matter of knowing the right tools and when to use them. Here are a few you will need to make the most of your communications efforts.

PR Software

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, agency or in-house, it’s important to use software that makes our job easier. Cision and MuckRack are two widely used programs for targeting journalists, distributing press releases, monitoring media coverage across multiple social and traditional outlets and analyzing the performance of earned media efforts. These programs are fee-based, but Cison does have a University Program that allows students to learn and use the software for free if your school is registered. I took advantage of this opportunity during my undergrad and it was a great resource to have as a young PR pro. If you’ve graduated or don’t have access to this software, try and find online tutorials, webinars or classes offered through PRSA or another communication association.

Social Media

These are the most used tools in the box. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube should be in the mix of any communications campaign. We use these platforms in our daily lives, but as a PR pros we need to think strategically about these tools and how they’re leveraged to accomplish different tactics. Twitter is useful in your media relations efforts and building working relationships with journalists covering topics relevant to your brand. Facebook should be at the center of your social media outreach efforts. It has the most active users and continues to dominate the space. Snapchat and Instagram have important roles to play when trying to reach younger audiences with fun, creative content. YouTube dominates online video, but live video and stories on FB and IG continue to grow in popularity. Social apps are creating new features every day to enhance the visual experience for brands and their audiences. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of social media to position your company and brand with the technology and online trends that influence our lives.

Photography

Every communications professional should know the basics of photography. We use images in our campaigns and sometimes those photos need to come directly from you. Get your hands on a DSLR and learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera can be intimidating to an amateur with its many buttons, dials and display options, but the hardware is the easy part! Elements like composition, light, story, space and subject are much harder to capture. Try and tell a story with your photos, one that coincides with your brand’s identity and image. I’ve been completing a photography course on Lynda, a great website that offers training and education resources for free if you have a library card. Of course, YouTube is also a wonderful place to learn anything about everything.

I can’t forget about smartphones. We have computers in our pockets and most of them have excellent cameras. They’re convenient, easy to use and great when you’re on the go and need images for social media or other press materials. The smartphone has transformed public relations in so many positive ways. Providing news, apps, photos, videos, audio, notes, search and more, it’s an indispensable tool for today’s PR professional.

Analytics and Monitoring

There are a lot of great paid and free options PR pros can use to evaluate the performance of communications efforts. Evaluation is important for demonstrating the value of your public relations efforts and identifying areas where improvements are needed for future campaigns. Analytics software can track outputs and outcomes and provide data and insights to see how your efforts had an impact on business goals and communications objectives.

On the paid side I really like the Cision Communications Cloud and Meltwater. You can track news coverage, monitor conversations about your brand on social media and gather data to present the impact of your campaign when it’s finished.

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Its high-level, dashboard-type data is compelling for even casual users, and the software offers in-depth data if you need it. It’s a great free tool to monitor how your website is performing, where visitors are coming from and the content and landing pages they’re gravitating to. For social monitoring I really like Hootsuite. It allows you to schedule posts, moderate discussions, scan relevant news and keep tabs on all of your social pages in one dashboard. Buzzsumo also deserves a mention. This software tracks what sort of topics are trending online and can help your brand locate influencers, analyze hot news topics and identify social platforms and users that are receiving the most engagement around a topic of interest. Piggybacking off trending news that’s relevant to your brand is a great way to stay relevant and visible in a congested digital landscape.

Graphic Design

The Adobe Creative Suite dominates this space. Their products are a little pricey, but if you have an opportunity to buy Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator for your personal computer or use them at work then do it! Your office may have a dedicated designer, but it doesn’t hurt to have experience with graphic design concepts and software. Creating logos, infographics, newsletters, website designs and other branded items will likely be one of your job duties if you’re working at an agency or in-house. Canva is also a neat graphic design tool for businesses on a budget. It’s a drag-and-drop program to add photos, fonts, designs and other graphics to customizable templates for social media, websites, blogs, print materials and more. The more design knowledge and skills you have, the more of an asset you will be to your agency or in-house PR team.

Blogging

Many brands have their own blog. My favorite platform is WordPress because it’s free and easy to use. Blogging is a great outlet to share updates about your company-client or fun content from events, holidays, award ceremonies and other company outings. With blogs, we have a platform to express ideas and information without the rigidness of a press release. The writing style can be more conversational and less formal. You know your company culture best. The culture should be expressed through your blogging efforts. Know your audience, craft content with that audience in mind and write with an authentic voice.

A steady stream of content is key. Before you start writing, identify people who can provide content as regular contributors. Everyone from CEOs and managers to entry-level associates and interns have their own unique perspectives and should be involved in the publishing process. The more people who contribute, the more diversified and complete your narrative will be. Develop an editorial calendar, brainstorm content ideas with your team and set goals and expectations for your blog.

SEO

Chances are your company or the brand you represent has a website. People find web content using search engines, almost always Google. With millions of web pages competing for views and visibility, it’s a challenge to organically bring more traffic to your website. That is where Search Engine Optimization can be useful. PR people should have a basic understanding of SEO and how it’s used to create a better user experience on websites. Here are some basics:

  • Identify keywords or phrases. Put them in your headlines and body text, but don’t overstuff your content.
  • Inbound links. Create compelling copy, content that people want to share and link to on their own websites, blogs or social media. Be a thought leader and a reliable and relevant source. Build your site’s credibility and create good content consistently so other websites will be encouraged to link to your content.
  • Research. Find out what people are searching and tailor your content to meet their needs. Good content marketing is about identifying why people need to read your content and what search terms they’re using to find it.

Shooting and Editing Video

Let’s borrow a play from the journalism playbook. Newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are expected to do more with less. That means becoming their own videographer and editor. PR folks should be shooting their own video, editing, packaging multimedia projects and rolling them out during communications campaigns. Budgets can be tight, and having experience with cameras and software is essential for today’s practitioner. For shooting video, I always refer to this list from the Berkley Advanced Media Institute. It’s simple and straightforward with important techniques for capturing quality video. You might have a great story to tell, but without applying proper techniques your videos won’t be polished or professional. For editing, Final Cut Pro is my first choice for software. Many editors also use Adobe Premiere. Both are extensive programs with a ton of tools and features. YouTube, Lynda and other sites have great training and tutorial videos on FCP. If you have access to the software through work or on your personal computer, spend some time learning how to organize your media, navigate the timeline, work with audio, learn tools/shortcuts and streamline your workflow from import to export.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start if you work in the exciting field of public relations. If you have any suggestions or input on the topics I’ve discussed, please leave a comment!

 

 

 

A Security Flaw Brought Down Google Plus. That’s Not What People Are Talking About.

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Google Plus was destined to fail from the start. It was late to the game, other platforms had already established their dominance in the social space and it had no competitive edge since the day it launched in 2011. The hype around this new and exciting channel was palpable, but it didn’t take long for users to test the waters and jump ship before the boat even left the harbor.

But I’m not here to discuss the failures of Google Plus. It’s not surprising a tech giant like Google wanted a piece of the social media pie. It had the resources to make it happen, even Zuckerberg saw Google’s foray into social networking as a serious threat to his company, but ultimately the fittest survived.

What I’m interested in is the communications strategy Google and parent company Alphabet devised to let Google+ down easy while staying on good terms with their users and the general public. This week, Google posted on its blog about a security flaw that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users on Google+. They opted not to disclose the issue because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. At the time Google discovered and patched the bug, Facebook was having legal and image troubles of its own when Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased tens of millions of users’ FB profile information from a third-party app maker. Google didn’t want to get caught up in Facebook’s legal and PR problems at the time, so they waited.

From an ethical standpoint, Google and Alphabet should have told the public about the Google+ security flaw as soon as they knew about it. Honesty and transparency are the pillars of public relations. Instead, they wanted to stay in control of the narrative surrounding their social network and remain proactive throughout these events.

In the end, it worked in Google’s favor. They released news of the security flaw along with the decision to end Google+ for consumers. Instead of talking about the data breach, the public was eager to discuss the end of the social network and how it should’ve happened sooner. Google knew plus was a lost cause for years, and they used that dumpster fire as a distraction to lessen the blow over the very concerning security issues.

Some tech news outlets and other mainstream media have covered the story, but the buzz online is mainly focused on the death of Google+. When you control the message, you also have some control over public opinion.

People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Google made a lot of people feel relieved that Plus is gone for good.

 

 

My Career with the FWC

It’s been a busy year at the FWC! Here’s what I’ve been up to. In the latest edition of FWRI’s quarterly newsletter, I was featured in the staff spotlight video series. As a social media coordinator, I’m usually the one behind the camera. This was a perfect opportunity to educate staff throughout the agency about my job and the important role social media plays in our outreach efforts at the institute. I’ve learned so much about Florida’s natural resources over the last four years, and it’s rewarding to be able to share this knowledge with a community of people who are equally passionate about fish and wildlife research and conservation. Thank you to everyone who continues to support our mission.

Brands Need a Plan for Facebook Live

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As any public relations professional will tell you, strategy, calculation and precision are ingredients guiding every decision that is made during a communications campaign. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals are set, objectives are established and tactics are identified to show how these goals and objectives will be accomplished throughout the duration of the campaign. A well established communications plan will help guide your efforts throughout the campaign, and a similar plan will also help achieve success using Facebook Live, the social media giant’s live streaming video feature. Facebook Live is now available to all Facebook users, pages and brands, and it’s important for social media coordinators and managers to develop a “Standard Operating Procedure” to help your organization remain consistent, efficient and prepared as you begin using Facebook Live to promote your brand.

The FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has been exploring Facebook Live and discussing its potential benefits for promoting fish and wildlife research throughout the state of Florida. As the social media coordinator for the institute, I led efforts to create a framework for Facebook Live as it relates to the overall social media strategy for our brand. Over the past two years we’ve implemented more video into our content plan, and live video offers another exciting avenue to engage our audience in unique and interesting ways. To help other organizations that are making the leap into live video, I’ve included our new communication plan specific to Facebook Live. Instead of going in with guns blazing, we’re building a road map to help us effectively use Facebook Live as a vital brand building tool for years to come.

The Panther That Traveled the World

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This is no ordinary panther. It traveled the world in less than a week, but how did it do it? The Florida panther has a limited home range (South/Central Florida), it can’t swim across the world’s major oceans and it would be physically impossible for this endangered feline to accomplish such a bold feat. It traveled the world alright, and its inspiring journey began on social media. For being such an elusive animal, it could not escape the spotlight any longer when it made a decision to visit the porch of Phil Hendra’s father, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida. This incredible photo was taken, we shared the story on our Facebook page and the rest is internet history.

I first encountered this photo on Facebook in late March, and there was misinformation spreading across social media concerning where the panther was sighted. The story had legs by the time I got to it, and over 2,000 people had already shared a Facebook post with incorrect sighting information. I had to be proactive in this moment or we would quickly lose our ability to control the message and release correct sighting information on behalf of the agency. I contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) panther biologists, who confirmed the sighting location to be in Fort Myers and not in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties as some local news outlets had reported. Our biologists put me in contact with Phil Hendra, the man who saw the panther on his father’s porch and took the candid photo. Mr. Hendra gave me permission to share his image on our Facebook page, and he also provided more details about the sighting and talked about his experience at great length. Everything fell into place that day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon fact checking, gathering additional information and obtaining quotes to include in my draft. I was inspired after hearing about Phil’s experience with our state animal, I knew I had an obligation to share his “once in a lifetime” encounter with the world. Little did I know, this photogenic porch panther from Southwest Florida would make it half way across the globe in a matter of hours.

Stories like this only come around so often, but I could not let my excitement cloud my judgement. There were potential issues that needed to be addressed before deciding to go public. Will there be public safety concerns among local residents once they find out a panther is roaming their neighborhood? Does this photo highlight a failure of the FWC to properly manage this species in the first place? Will this content encourage people to actively seek out the panther and try to harm it?  I had my doubts when deciding to move forward with the story, but in the end I determined the pros outweighed the cons. It brought national attention to an endangered species that desperately needed it. It also sparked an important discussion about habitat loss, which caused a near extinction of the species years ago and continues to be a problem today. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before we completely wipe out the only remaining habitat the Florida panther has left. Human-panther encounters are a direct result of this habitat loss, and the image spoke louder than anything I could put into words. Thousands of users made “here kitty kitty” jokes and responded to the photo in a playful manner, but many others came to the realization that it could mean life or death for this panther or the species entirely.

As with any trending or viral story on social media, it faded quicker than it arrived. Local, state and national news outlets covered the story for their own editorial reasons. It was a unique picture to most, to others it made for a catchy headline, but it undoubtedly became the symbol of a larger issue that may be too late to fix. It’s any social media manager’s dream to receive as much press and attention as we did during that time, and our brand reaped the benefits as a result. If you have a great story to tell and your heart is fully behind a cause or client, don’t let anything stand in your way. Not even a panther.

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

arbys_redux_logo_detailArby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines (Florida) restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive through, and the Pembroke Pines Police Chief did not take kindly to that news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications, and from observing the way they handled this situation it’s clear their public relations team was blindsided by this unexpected event. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

This story has spread like wildfire on social media, and from what I’ve observed the company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and at the very least they could have issued a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to alleviate the situation. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we ever eat at Arby’s again? The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are necessary to educate and inform the public, but instead they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Right now Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new “sliders” on all of their social media channels instead of doing some much needed damage control.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it, and a crisis communications plan needs to be in place for trying times like this. The power of the web should not be underestimated. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. A simple interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening to tear apart a well-established brand, and the company expects this to just blow over. The internet never forgets, and with how much cops like fast food Arby’s is also in jeopardy of losing a large percentage of their customers.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible way.

My Encounter With a Bottlenose Dolphin

One of the best perks of my job is working in a location that is teeming with wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute is located on Bayboro Harbor in downtown St. Petersburg, and each day we have a unique opportunity to witness something special. On my lunch break a few weeks ago, I was observing schools of tarpon rolling over the calm waters of the harbor when a bottlenose dolphin approached the seawall near our building in search of a quick lunch. The dolphin provided a solid 10 minutes of entertainment while chasing fish and playing hide and seek with its prey. A few of my coworkers were there to see it, and it was certainly a unique experience for all of us. We often find great stories when we least expect it, and having the freedom to grab a camera (or my phone in this case) and escape the confines of my desk is one of the best parts of my job. Seeing a dolphin in the wild is much more rewarding than seeing one behind glass, and I hope everyone has an opportunity to experience what we did that day.