Thought Leadership

Connecting the Dots with Content

Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a series of 12 guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2013. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2013, the series began Jan. 7, 2013, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.

Last year in her #PRin2012 blog post predicting key trends for the public relations industry, MaryLee Sachs predicted that convergence would continue as “organizations’ brands and reputations merge. . . making the most of a blended approach to marketing and public relations.” Of course, she was right.

One year later, convergence continues to pick up steam and market forces are impacting how we communicate. Digital, social and search are changing how public relations is managed on a daily basis. More organizations are turning to integrated agencies as they seek better collaboration across disciplines – public relations, media, marketing, digital, social, etc.

Content stands at the center of this convergence and public relations professionals are well positioned to bring it to life. So how do we do that? We start by connecting the dots.

Content in a different context

We know content must support organizational goals and objectives and effective engagement is first and foremost for achieving that. We must engage our audiences on their terms, whether it’s using email, websites or social networks. With so many options for accessing content, you must always keep the user in mind.

Some people do everything on their smartphones. Others prefer checking email on smartphones but writing emails on their laptops. Many people prefer reading on a tablet, since it’s easier to scroll or double tap to enlarge a page. Some believe live streaming boxes like Roku or Apple TV could fundamentally change the way we consume highly visual content on larger screens.

Regardless of the delivery vehicle, the reader should have a seamless experience and be able to identify that all communications originated from the same source. Done well, this content should be easier to digest. Holistic integration should be the goal so we can repurpose content for new audiences or communications vehicles.

Impact of the “second screen”

We know social is becoming more integrated into websites, TV programs and live events. We hear about the “second screen” experience with people watching their favorite television programs with tablet or smartphone at the ready to research an actor’s IMDB page or see what’s trending on Twitter. This trend is amplified during live telecasts such as award shows or sporting events. In fact, Nielsen recently announced plans to work with Twitter to track social media as part of its ratings on television programs.

The effect of the “second screen” offers opportunities to engage readers and viewers in new, exciting ways. Try it yourself during the upcoming live broadcasts of the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and the Oscars. See how your viewing experience is enhanced (or diminished) by following trending topics on Twitter or clicking on the many websites that are mentioned as part of the advertising shown during these programs.

Consider the recent BCS National Championship football game between Alabama and Notre Dame, which did not feature compelling action on the field – Alabama won 42-14. When ESPN announcer Brent Musburger commented on the beauty of Miss Alabama USA Katherine Webb, who happens to be Alabama QB A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, the Twittersphere blew up. Ms. Webb went from 500 followers to more than 100,000 Twitter followers during the course of the game. She now has more than 270,000 followers, will cover Super Bowl XLVII for syndicated news magazine program Inside Edition and will appear in the next Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She’s had to change her phone number, too. It all happened in less than 72 hours.

So how do we adapt to these fast-changing dynamics?

Develop your content strategy

Content strategy is hardly a new concept. In fact, it dates back to ancient Greece when the art of rhetoric was first deployed. In a Brain Traffic blog post last year, Lee Thomas says that when we develop content, “. . . we practice what Aristotle, father of rhetoric, called ‘the art of discovering the available means of persuasion in the given case.’ We practice rhetoric.” So we’re simply adapting early theories of communications for use in the digital age.

At the core of any content strategy, the purpose is to make sure content supports an organization’s business goals and/or user need. More communications options create higher expectations for the reader and first impressions become more important. Think about when you visit a restaurant website – What’s on the menu? Is it open for lunch? How do I get there? If you don’t discover what you’re looking for right away, you quickly leave the site and begin searching for other options.

Technology is completely integrated into our daily lives; it’s an absolute necessity. Plan your content strategy accordingly.

Content needs constant care and feeding

Gone are the days when you could launch a website and forget about it. Copy becomes outdated and if readers see that, you lose credibility and visitors. Change happens quickly so your content must be updated and revisited more frequently. You have the ability to make edits, so make sure your content remains relevant.

The proliferation of online journalism has had significant implications for public relations. Today, “being first” often trumps “being accurate.” News organizations constantly tout being first on the air with a particular story, whether it’s predicting election results or announcing coaches being hired or fired. This reinforces the need to continually update your content to remain factual, accurate and relevant.

More is not better

Remember Short Attention Span Theater, which ran on Comedy Central back in the early 1990s? Well, we’re living in it every day as people are bombarded with more messages on multiple devices. Despite our attention spans growing shorter, it actually takes a little longer to read content on screen. This demands we write simple, straightforward copy that communicates instantly. Fortunately, the same principles that apply to writing effective press releases work with digital content, too.

Readers are also showing an insatiable appetite for infographics and animated GIFs. They’re engaging, easily digestible and less intimidating than a large block of words. It’s hard to imagine attention spans getting even shorter, but they probably will. Keep that in mind when designing content for capturing (and keeping) your reader’s attention.

Connect the dots

Today, we live in a “user demand” world and the content we create must adapt to be more effective. Learn how your audience prefers to consume content, tap into what interests them and you stand a better chance of staying top of mind. Fortunately, PR professionals have the skills to lead the way.

Philip Tate, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior vice president at Luquire George Andrews (LGA) in Charlotte, N.C. He served on the PRSA national board of directors from 2008-2011, including two years as national treasurer (2010-2011). He currently serves on the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards and the PRSA Nominating Committee. You can follow him on Twitter at @philiptater.

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