Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

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!

 

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Brands Need a Plan for Facebook Live

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.

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

Arby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive-thru, and the city’s police chief did not take kindly to the 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. It’s clear their public relations team was not prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. 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.

The story has spread like wildfire on social media. 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 they failed to issue a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to right their wrongs. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we trust Arby’s and their employees? It’s important to take responsibility, not ignore the problem and wait until it blows over.

The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are needed to educate and inform the public. Instead, they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new sliders instead of doing some much-needed damage control and building goodwill with their audience.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it. A crisis communications plan needs to be in place. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. An interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening a well-established brand, and their comms. team has essentially lost control of the situation.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public and police departments across the nation. It may have been an isolated incident, but the brand is still affected wherever it operates. 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 direction.

The State of Social Media

The social media landscape is saturated, and communications professionals are struggling to keep up with new platforms popping up every day. Facebook held the throne for quite some time, Twitter experienced rapid growth and life was cozy for the few major players enjoying the quietness of the social landscape during the mid-2000s.

Fast forward to 2015, I have coworkers asking what a “snapchat” is and how the “vine” works. In less than five years, Instagram exploded in popularity and is slowly strangling a competitive field once dominated by its owner (Facebook). YouTube is a video behemoth, and there doesn’t seem to be any website that can rival its superiority. Google owns it, and with their money, resources and overall dominance it’s hard to imagine any other video platform competing with YouTube in the foreseeable future.

Apps like Vine and Snapchat offer short-form video storytelling, and a handful of brands have found success using these tools. From how-to videos on Vine (Lowes) to stop motion animation, it will be interesting to see how brands continue to reach younger audiences and create compelling content. Telling a story in six seconds is an art form in and of itself. I’m amazed at the creative process behind the amazing Vines being shared on a daily basis. Pinterest is a great outlet for brands to get creative and share fun DIY projects, recipes, products and more on their pages and pin boards.

Brands are getting help from influencers who dominate these popular social channels. Companies are leveraging the clout these influencers have to reach larger audiences looking for content that is genuine, authentic and relevant.

Today’s social media lineup is so deep it feels like a new platform is sprouting up every week. Periscope is an app I’ve been keeping a close eye on. It’s a live video streaming service, and as a newer platform it appears to have some staying power. Journalists are using it to cover live events and breaking news. Politicians and other organizations are live streaming speeches and other notable talks. The general public is live streaming pay-per-view boxing matches and Game of Thrones episodes. The app has many applications for both brands and personal users.

LinkedIn is a platform for professionals, but brands are doing a great job of sharing content that is relevant to job seekers and working professionals. It’s great to build your own professional network, but there is value for companies using LinkedIn to hire and inspire.

Flickr is a hub for photographers and enthusiasts who don’t need the social aspect of a photo sharing site like Instagram. It’s an image hosting site owned by Yahoo, so it’s easy to see why it’s not as popular as some of the more prominent photo apps.

At the end of the day it comes down to content and community. Satisfy a need, always ask what purpose your content is serving and why people should care about it.

Obama Embraced Social Media. It Won Him Two Presidencies.

My relationship with Obama can be described as a honeymoon period that never ended. I admired this man since my freshman year of college in 2008. I didn’t follow politics or listen to NPR. I didn’t know who he was until his presidential run. But when I first heard him speak, he had that swagger that was hard to ignore.

His communications campaign and use of social media captivated me beyond belief and motivated me to pursue a career in public relations. It had a profound impact on my life and career. It also forever changed politics in the digital age.

It wasn’t just a political campaign, but a well-calculated and strategic communications strategy targeting young, educated students on the platforms they used most. It ultimately won him the 2008 election and helped build a larger online community that helped him win a second election in 2012. Social media outreach also allowed the Obama campaign to collect important data on his audience and use that data to create content and strengthen the campaign as it gained momentum. Volunteers signed up to help with campaigning, followers gave up their personal information for tickets to rallies and other events. Politicians worked hard to get this kind of information from voters. Obama got it with little to no effort, but his supporters didn’t care. They were a part of something big, a blue wave that reached every corner of the internet.

It helped that Obama was the first presidential candidate who was not a baby boomer. He was young, charismatic and open to new technologies and ways to bolster his support online and in-person. Social media offered everything Obama and his team needed to reach constituents and engage with voters.

It also allowed him to speak to his followers directly without the need for traditional outlets like TV, radio and newspapers. He set the foundation for government communications campaigns and ushered in a new approach to campaigning online in the 21st century.

That 2008 campaign broke a lot of new ground on platforms that were not widely used when he ran his first presidential campaign. That’s what makes this accomplishment even more special. With very little experience and knowledge of social media and how it could be used, Obama still realized its potential and poured a lot of time and resources into it. It’s what made Obama such a great leader as our president and a visionary in the social space.

 

 

 

Yahoo Can Keep Buying, But It Won’t Fix Their Dying Brand

Yahoo is trying to stay relevant, and the company’s recent Tumblr acquisition is proof of their desperate efforts to keep up with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So desperate in fact that since Marissa Mayer’s takeover as Yahoo CEO in July 2012, she’s acquired 11 companies including the $1 billion Tumblr.

While Marissa hopes that Yahoo will get her groove back, she’s neglecting how far behind Yahoo is in every aspect of web culture today. Yahoo was a powerhouse in the early days of the internet, but they failed to adapt and were left behind. It has the resources to make a resurgence, but they missed the window of opportunity to innovate in the social space while the iron was still hot. They still offer decent products like Yahoo Finance and Sports, but overall the company is struggling to remain relevant in a digital world they don’t recognize anymore.

The Tumblr takeover was counterproductive at best. It may appeal to advertisers in the short term as far as reaching younger demographics, but it won’t change the perceptions these generations have about the company. Brands like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Pinterest, Instagram and Reddit have found their niche and are successfully building their respective user bases. Yahoo’s complacency during this time of rapid change is one of many reasons why they lost their competitive edge. It’s very congested now and it’s safe to say Yahoo missed the boat.