Fuel Your PR Strategy with Social

May 22, 2018 Lacey Miller

As part of our continuing learning series on PR and communications, David Cardiel, Director of Demand Generation at TrendKite stat down with Jenn Deering Davis and our very own VP of Marketing, Russ Somers.
 

Jenn is responsible for ensuring a consistent and excellent experience for Union Metrics customers. She holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Communications from the University of Texas at Austin and has more than 15 years of experience in corporate communications and social media, spending her career turning data into stories and helping stakeholders understand new technology.
 

Russ balances a data-driven approach with an interest in finding growth hacks. He writes occasionally for publications such as MarketingProfs, Wired, and Website Magazine. Russ has 20 years of experience ranging from high-growth startups and Fortune 500 companies and has led teams at Invodo, sonarDesign, Dun & Bradstreet, and Dell. Russ holds a BA in Sociology and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.
 

Their conversation focused on the state of PR and how it relates to social media. Here are the highlights.
 

Can you tell us about how the PR industry has evolved over the last few years?
 

Russ: PR has always been a fast-changing industry, but there are a number of recent shifts that everyone is wrestling with right now. For starters, PR professionals outnumber journalists. There five PR pros for every journalist. Although the minority still prefer to get pitches via email, the majority prefer to get their information from social media. Either way, the key to getting your news covered is tailoring the pitch. Journalists want you to make it suit my beat, make it fit my coverage, and understand my media outlet before you pitch.
 

Jenn: I'd say that definitely maps to what we see. We know that everyone uses social media. There are more than two and a half billion social media users worldwide. So, people turn to social media to get news and understand everything that's happening in the world. This is true particularly as it relates to brands and businesses they're interested in. We know that 86% of social media users follow at least one brand on social media, if not many more. Most brands, more than 90%, no matter the size of the business, from the smallest SMB, to the biggest Fortune 100 companies have a presence on social media to help get their message out. But it is also important to note that of the people who talk about brands on social media, 96% of those don't actually follow the official brand account. That means they're looking for their information from somebody else. When they do talk to brands officially, 89% of those messages go ignored because brands either don't know how or can't talk to everybody that's talking to them. So there's a big disconnect on all sides.
 

Clearly, it’s past time to start working social media into the integrated marketing mix. Can you talk a bit about the PESO model?
 

Russ:  There are four basic types of media best encapsulated by the acronym PESO: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned. Now what I've been wrestling with for the past 10 years or more in marketing is owned, paid and shared are increasingly tied together around a unified technology stack, everything integrates with everything. Your Marketo integrates with your Salesforce, integrates with your AdWords, and so forth. And yet, earned media PR is oftentimes, not plugged into that marketing technology mix. That channel for interacting with the audience and managing the media mix isn't integrated into the rest.
 

Jenn:  That's exactly the same thing that we deal with on the social media side, especially because social started as something fledgling experiment for a lot of brands. It wasn't necessarily integrated into their overall marketing stack, and it still isn't for a lot of companies. I see the earned social media side of things functioning very similar to the PR earned media side of things. They are very similar.
 

We like to say that no one puts PR in a corner. That goes for both earned and social media, for sure. Can you talk a little bit more about how everything comes together in the PESO model?
 

Russ:  Sure, let’s talk about paid media for a minute. Whether it's a billboard, pay per click advertising, or whatever, you are paying to reach an audience, you have reach that you can buy and scale up easily, but you don't necessarily have trust authenticity engagement. Owned media is, of course, your website, your blog, and your other owned content which is a phenomenal way to engage. The challenge is you may not have to reach without leveraging paid, shared, and earned to expand the audience.
 

Shared is the way you engage your communities, your fans, your followers on social media. It’s the special sauce that brings is authenticity, combined with reach.  What earned media brings to the table is authority and credibility. Interestingly, in this era of #fakenews, the latest Edelman Trust Index shows in increase in trust in journalists. If we can leverage that throughout the marketing mix, we've got something very, very special by combining these things.
 

Jenn: There’s even a mini PESO within social.  You spend a lot of time on your own social that you support through paid advertising and then you hope that you get many shares and then the earned component of the things that lends credibility.
 

In addition to the PESO model, we find the Communicator’s Funnel a valuable tool for measuring the impact of PR as a whole. Can you walk us through that?
 

Russ: TrendKite developed the notion of the Communicator’s Funnel based on the fact that marketers and salespeople typically work some sort of funnel to understand their activities. Communications is no different. There are three broad levels on which it impacts. You impact people on a brand awareness level. You impact a digital level where they're engaging with your digital properties, and then there’s the bottom line impact level where you actually generate conversions, revenue, etcetera. The reason it is important for communicators to think this way is that typically if you look at communication's measurement, we've thought across the top level quite well. We are good at asking, "What's my reach? What's my audience?" But we often haven't taken it to the next level of asking, "Do the quadrants of media work together?" so we can understand the interaction on the digital and bottom line levels. We want to be able to say, "This is the money I make for the company, and by the way, I would like a raise."
 

Jenn: It is so important that we can prove our value and justify why we are here.
 

That’s a great overview. Let’s talk about brand impact in a bit more detail.
 

Russ: When it comes to brand impact there are three pieces - awareness, mindshare and reputation. In terms of measurement, there are metrics or proxies for metrics for each. Awareness is about how loud is your voice? Are you being heard? Are you being seen in the public sphere? For mindshare, it is how loud is your voice relative to the competitive set, whether you're a corporation with competitors or a non-profit or university with peer organizations. How loud is your voice relative to theirs?  And then, reputation is what are people saying about you? Because many companies, Uber, for example, there have been times when their PR signal has been very, very high, and yet it hasn't necessarily been the message that I think they would like to be sending to their audience and shareholders.
 

Jenn: On the social side, it's the same. We want to know how big the conversation is. How many mentions are we getting and from how many people? Those are things that are really easy to measure on social media and become top-level metrics that you use to set a baseline.
 

Russ:  For mindshare from a PR perspective, it's very simple. It's share of voice and share of voice over time. Think of it as a consideration set. If you go to a soda machine you may have three to five choices that you can carry in your mind. If you're the sixth or the seventh choice, if you're 7 Up, for example, you will not be in the considerations at the primary brand association. 7 Up is something I drink when I'm sick, which is the only time it gets brought up in many people's consideration set. So, you need to know which of those lines you're tracking to from a mindshare perspective.
 

Jenn: Share of voice on social is extremely important. You do want to see how much of the conversation about a particular category or sub-competitors is about you. How does that change over time? And just monitoring those changes is great, but the other thing that it does is it gives you some benchmarks to help you understand your own performance. Questions like, "How many mentions does our closest competitor get every day?" helps us understand whether our number is any good. One of the biggest questions we get asked is, "What do these metrics really mean?" I understand that a billion is a big number, but is a billion good in this case?
 

Russ:  Absolutely. Then the final piece is reputation. What do people actually think of you from a PR analytics perspective? Using a platform like TrendKite, we'll do things like pull through key messages and understand when people are talking about Mazda, what specific vehicles are they talking about, for example. Or if you are using this to analyze the Uber situation I alluded to earlier, you would look at how much of their coverage is around scandal, versus around growth, ride sharing, etc..
 

What’s interesting is that we find that when many of the companies we are working with are dealing with a reputational crisis, they find that much less of the coverage is about the crisis than they think. This is natural because if you’re a PR pro and you're having a PR crisis, you live and breathe it and every single negative article gets forwarded to you with, "What are you doing about this?" It’s nice to actually be able to analyze this and go, "10% of the coverage is about the scandal and 90% is about the good stuff or the neutral stuff." That’s a very powerful message to be able to send.
 

Jenn:  We think about sentiment on social media the same way that you're thinking about in PR. Is this a good or a positive or a negative piece of coverage? In this case a tweet or an Instagram post we want to understand what is the impact of that individual piece.  You may see that you've got an article that's getting hundreds of shares on social media worry that this piece of this newspaper article about this scandal that is plaguing our brand is really spreading, but then you go and you look and you see that actually it's not spreading, it's two or three accounts that are just tweeting this over and over and over again. It's not really getting past their follower set, which I think is another good way of seeing potential damage to the brand's reputation, not just how many but to whom and how is that spreading. Tracking these things over time and understanding how they spread is really important to measuring reputation.
 

Russ: A thing that I see a lot of really good brands doing is powering the social feed with editorial content because that brings the trust, the authority of editorial and yet uses the reach and authenticity of social to share it. I particularly like what Tesla did with this. They didn't just share out the article, they picked out the smartest, most buzz-worthy tweet about the Tesla model 3 which is a love letter to the road. They sent that to power-sharing and engagement because when you see that, if you have any interest in Tesla, there's no way that quote won't drive a click and some engagement.
 

How do you best measure social media influence and where may we find reliability and validity?
 

Jenn: Influence is one of those nebulous words, that means so many things yet sometimes nothing at all. When we're talking about influence and how to measure it, we look at a few different metrics. This will depend on your goals on social, and your brand, and what you're searching for. But we look at what happens when that person tweets or posts. We want to know if they are getting more than average engagement on that. We look at engagement rates as a form of influence. When that person posts, does that get amplified out?  Do people further spread it? Amplification is a really excellent way to measure influence. There are some third-party influence metrics as well that you might potentially use, but we like some of those built around actual engagement because that shows not just potential influence but activated influence.
 

Now let’s turn to digital impact.
 

Russ: This is where typically communicators have not measured and are now starting to. I speak at a lot of PR conferences a couple of years ago when I would ask, "When was the last time you logged into a tool like Google Analytics?" Maybe 10% of the folks would say in the past year. Now 50% or more of the hands go up. That's awesome, people are starting to understand the digital disruption of PR. There are three elements to digital impact. Traffic, are you driving people from your earned media to your site and your web properties? SEO impact, are the backlinks that you're getting driving search engine rankings for your web properties? The third piece is what we call "social amplification", which is a subset of social. Are people amplifying your earned media? Are they taking that social credibility and pushing it out over their social channels?
 

Unsurprisingly, there are metrics for each of these. Traffic is very simple. It is visitors. We have tools such as PR Attribution and web analytics integrations to measure this within a PR platform like TrendKite, but you can also measure this within your Google Analytics or other tools. You want to know how many people are coming to your site driven by each earned media mention. From an SEO perspective, you want to look at the domain authority, the SEO impact of each publication because not everybody's influence is the same. Obviously, a TechCrunch, a CNN, a major publication, those will be long-standing domains with high engagement and lots of content, and hence a backlink from them then lends a lot of credibility to your search engine profile versus from Joe's littleblog.com.
 

Jenn:  We like to think about social SEO or SSEO.  Basically, how is your search footprint on social? If you put in a Google search for something and your brand showed up, you'll be ranking high for that in SEO. the same goes on social, if you search for #travel, you'll see a number of tweets that come up towards the top that feature different brands, is your brand one of those that comes up in that search? What sorts of social backlinks through hashtags and mentions and things are you getting, and how do those help boost your brand impact?
 

Russ:  It is all about findability. When people search, whether on a social platform, whether on Google, how likely are you to be in that first consideration set?
 

Measuring social amplification from an earned media PR perspective is done by social platform. How many people are sharing your content? You get your article in The New York Times and that's awesome. How many people like it on Facebook, share it on LinkedIn, share it on Twitter, etcetera. It’s a very simple, but profound thing to measure because from an earned media perspective, if you have two articles in different publications one may have a massive social impact, such as 3.6 million amplifications, and one may have virtually none. What that tells you as a communicator, is that the second one didn't resonate with folks. They saw it, they didn't care, it didn't move them.
 

Jenn:  We take that exact concept, social shares, and then we figure out what do those shares mean? If you get three million shares on Facebook, what is that really doing for your brand? Every channel is different, Facebook, for example, is very private, while Twitter is completely public.  So, we like to look beyond how many shares and understand what those shares are doing, how is the amplification performing. We consider what is the potential audience for those shares as well. Is it the audience you're trying to reach? Maybe a New York Times article isn't actually where your customers are. It's a great piece of coverage, just generally and probably the boss likes to see it, but is it where your potential customers are? Maybe not, depending on your brand.
 

Are there differences when you are talking about B2B vs. B2C?
 

Jenn:  On social, you think about where your audience might be for B2B versus B2C. Your audiences maybe are spending time on different platforms, LinkedIn versus Facebook versus Instagram. think that's one of the distinctions that I would make is, is where you focus your time. If you have a B2B audience, they're probably using Twitter and LinkedIn, maybe not so much on Instagram, so maybe you don't spend as much time on Instagram. On the other hand, we have a B2B audience, and our Instagram content works really well.
 

Russ: I couldn't agree more. The question is always, who is your audience and where are they? And in a B2B scenario sometimes a trade publication that nobody has heard of outside your vertical is incredibly impactful. And as a communicator, you need to know that, be able to measure that and show that impact. Because otherwise, what happens is you end up being steered towards the big, almost vanity placements in Forbes or whatnot, which can be great, but they may not be where your audience is.
 

Working with B2C clients, the question is always, where is your audience? And that's one area in which social amplification can help you analyze because you can understand the placements in different publications. The one in Forbes, we felt good about, but it didn't get massive social amplification, and the one in this little trade publication that we, perhaps most people haven't heard of, drove a massive amount of traffic. We saw that with one client in the beauty industry that pursued Vogue and major publications like that. They found that niche beauty bloggers drove a lot more traffic that converted a lot more resonance.
 

Let's turn to the bottom line impact.
 

Russ:  The bottom of the funnel is my favorite part because that's where the money comes out. You look at very simple metrics like influenced pipeline. Of the current sales opportunities you have, how many of those have been touched by your communications, conversions? When you're driving people to your website, a conversion is simply people that take a high-value action on your website. It may be that they submitted a request for a quote. It may be that they bought something, or maybe they download applications or submitted information.
 

Whatever space you're in, you've got some type of conversion, and that turns into revenue. This gets you an actual dollar value to the communications that you're delivering based on actions, not assumptions.
 

At the bottom line impact level, you need compelling content. It's going to include a CTA that's for a sign-up or social contribution.
 

What social media metrics do you care about the most?
 

Jenn:  Engagement is a big one for sure. Everybody wants to know, how is this content performing? Is it driving, clicks back to my website? Is it getting amplification? What should I be doing more of to get more engagement with it in the future? Reach is also really important. How far is this going? And sometimes, we also talk about impressions. It's nice to compare those as well to see how many repeat eyeballs are you getting? And influence, of course, that's, everybody wants to know, "Are the people talking about my brand? Who's influential? Who should I be rewarding or paying attention to? How can I get more of that?" So that's a really big one.
 

I think one of the things for those of us in any communication field, at social, in particular, is how do we stand out? How do we differentiate our brand's message when there is so much going on? People want to see where that can get interesting, compelling content that maybe just doesn't come from there space. There are lots of ways that you can find the content that might make you stand out amongst the sea of noise.
 

Social in particular, but any of our communication strategy is always made better when you try new things. It's really easy to do that on social, it's pretty low-risk and very inexpensive to just try some new strategies, put some new kinds of content or work with a different kind of influencer. You shouldn't be afraid to do that. Always measure what you're doing on social of course, because if you're keeping track of what you're doing, you know what's working and what's elevating you beyond the noise.
 

Russ:  I love the always be testing philosophy. There are some interesting things that are happening in the market. For example, there's a massive amount of traffic, and yet over 100 million of the accounts generating these posts are bots or scripts. Of the ones that aren't scriptsor bots, another large percentage are sockpuppets, which is a person with a false identity. It is not a bot, but it is a human tweeting, pretending to be someone else.
 

Jenn: It's important to remember not all bots are evil. There are plenty of bots that are useful for customer service, for quick replies, for plenty of purposes, but they can also be used to create a false impression of social support, just like a sockpuppet does, where a person is paid to tweet and support of a cause. And astroturfing is just the practice of hiding who's actually behind the message and using it to potentially sway public opinion. There are conversations about this in the political sphere, but it happens in the business sphere as well. It is fairly easy to buy and sell followers depending on the type of account you're managing.
 

Not all bots are bad, but a lot of bots are bad and spreading misinformation or falsely amplifying messages. One of the things that I think will help all of us in this conversation is understanding how to identify and work around these bots and what to do with them. It's easy to identify these bots because they're posting in ways that humans don't. They post a lot. They post around the clock. I was talking to a customer this week who had a potential crisis happening and there was a news article about their brand and a potential lawsuit that presented them in an unfavorable light. So they were really worried about this spreading on Twitter. It got 200 tweets almost right away.  But it turns out it was three accounts, the same people, three different accounts, just robo-tweeting this over and over like 10, 20 times a minute, just constantly. A human isn't producing this. It was the exact same content across all three accounts. That's the kind of behavior that will likely get those accounts banned by Twitter soon, but in the meantime, you can see that that's not really contributing to the spread of this crisis. It wasn’t as big a deal as the client originally thought.
 

Another thing I think is important is actual versus potential impressions.  So, if you have X Facebook fans, or Y Twitter followers, you have the potential all of them to see what you share. That will never happen, but that is possible, theoretically possible in a universe where all of these are real numbers. If you tweeted one thing to all 100 of your followers and all of them retweeted it to all of their followers, you find a cap on your potential impression that you could use as a benchmark to see what's going on. So it's really useful to compare that to how many actual impressions you're generating and to see how that changes over time, how it varies from content to content. When you compare actual to potential impressions at scale, it's very, very, small. So, if you have content that's performing better than that 20 or more percent of your potential impressions, that means it's actually getting some traction and it's getting out there.
 

If you're reaching 100 million Facebook accounts, but only 10 of them have engaged with your content, that's a pretty poor percentage. You want to know what can you learn about the audience that's seeing your content versus the audience that's engaging with your content, and where are the differences and how can you think about maybe reaching those a little better or getting that to reach a more relevant audience to you?
 

Russ: That's very similar to our philosophy on social amplification in terms of understanding which content resonates, and which content are people ignoring. It’s possible that people are perceiving it as spammy, and saying, "Unsubscribe me from this, I'm not interested."
 

Jenn:  The content that people see as so uninteresting is offensive to them. It's not just boring but irrelevant, and that would make people actually leave, unsubscribe, or unfollow if you keep bothering them with this kind of content. They may actively rebel against it, which you definitely don't want.
 

We often get asked about the budget. Not everyone has the budget to invest in sophisticated PR and social analytic tools. What are your thoughts about that situation?
 

Russ: First off, it's worth thinking about what your total marketing budget is, and I'll always challenge a little bit the idea that there's not budget for measurement because are you going to simply do things without understanding the impact? Without some level of measurement, you may well be wasting a massive amount of your budget and simply not know it. Redirecting 20 cents to a quarter of your budget towards measurement is never a bad thing, because then you can actually manage what you're doing. That said, in the market, there are any number of either scrappy approaches for no budget, or cost-sensitive approaches for a low budget. It can be as simple as saying, "Okay, we're at least going track this with Google Alerts and put it into a Google Spreadsheet." That's why we’ve put out some Excel templates and tools for people to track these things on their own. You can start with them.
 

Jenn: If you're very small, just starting out and it's just you a spreadsheet is absolutely going to be your best friend. You’ll need to track a lot of these things manually, but it's possible. There are some native analytics in Twitter and Facebook and Instagram that will tell you at least something about how your own content is performing, which is a great place to start if you don't have any budget for anything beyond that. You can start to keep track and update your spreadsheets and watch for what's working and what isn't working and start to make the case internally to spend a little bit more. The money you spend on measurement is not going be money that you waste because it's helping you improve your effort across the board, which will impact your bottom line. If you can show that by measuring it, then your boss is going to approve that budget.
 

Speaking of paying for things, what are your thoughts on paid social placements?
 

Jenn:  I do think you should do paid social. I think you should constantly iterate on that and find out what works. You may not do it on all the channels; find some that work and direct your budget there. But I think when done well, paid and organic supplement each other really well, and then you get the earned and the shared around it, and that's really what you need, you need to come from all sides. One of the things that I think is great is to use paid social to test some of your experiments. So, if you're trying a new piece of content or you've got an e-book, or something you're promoting, try putting a little money behind that on social and see what sorts of CTAs are working. Maybe A-B test a couple of different CTAs. Putting a little money behind it allows it to get out to a bigger audience.
 

Where should one start in terms of measurement regarding PESO and the Communicator’s Funnel? Start at the top?
 

Russ: I'd start with your objective. I'd start with defining what you want to happen; are you trying to sell business to business software? Are you trying to get people to apply for a university or to visit a destination? Establish first what you're trying to do, then use a framework like the funnel to come up with one or two simple metrics at each stage towards that, that you can easily measure.  The challenge we run into as marketers is not that we don't have enough metrics, it's that we often don't have a clear tie between the metrics and the business objective. And if you can't answer the question when you say, for example, "Hey, we got 300 retweets on this, great, how does that impact our bottom line?" If you don't at least have some hypothesis of what this is doing for your bottom line, for your outcome, then it may not be the right investment of time and money.
 

Jenn: That's great advice. I think we also have a tendency to over-measure. Just because we have data doesn't mean we need to use all of it at once. So I like the idea of focusing on one or two metrics in each of your goal areas, and you may not have time to focus on all the parts of the funnel right now, so which ones are most important, and then one or two things can you measure? Are you making progress in those areas? Maybe the next month you pick another metric or two to focus on unless you think you have it under control. One of the mistakes I think we see people doing is trying to measure 30 things at once, and how do you make an impact on each of 30 things? It's impossible. So, pick out the things that are most important to you right now and really focus on that.
 

Thanks so much, Jenn and Russ for this valuable insight.
 

About the Author

Lacey Miller

Passionate about public relations and empowering practitioners, Lacey Miller found her dream job at TrendKite, where she carries the crown of 'word nerd'. With a background in public relations and technology, she's a great fit with her desire to innovate the industry! You can find her most days writing for PR Forward, PRSA, and other marketing trade publications.

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