Friday, November 29, 2013

Owning a Key Topic on Social Media

 The Three-Team PR Approach
(originally published in a shorter form in PR News, November, 2013)

For the past decade, the blogosphere and the extended social media world has spawned a new and fresh cadre of industry leaders, men and women who have now transcended the Internet to become best-selling authors, convention keynoters and highly-paid consultants.  In almost all cases, these individuals have used a series of well-defined steps to become, in the parlance of social media, “subject matter experts” and even visionary “thought leaders.”  Social Networking pioneers in the public relations field include David Meerman Scott and Seth Godin, each of whom has truly excelled in this process.

This once-intuitive process is now sufficiently well-established that steps needed to capture perceived leadership in a given topic area can be replicated as part of a more comprehensive public relations program.  To do so, however, begin by really understanding the process.  Compare this online topic-dominating effort to the classic measurements of PR and advertising impact – reach and frequency.  Online success comes when the reach – the number of people contacted, and especially the number turned into followers or friends – reaches a critical mass of awareness. 

To do that, you must interact with those followers – in two distinct ways – and with sufficient regularity to become a “name” in their minds and in their word.

It is also essential that a real person be used as the public face on the effort.  In the world of social networking, “corporate” presences are not going to succeed.  Their very nature as impersonal non-persons defeats the whole concept of “social” media.  Instead, that named individual must become the visible front for this ongoing effort.  However, this person should know that it’s not really about him or her – it’s about turning them into an avatar, an image that will create its own online reality.

This individual requires a few characteristics.  First, and most obviously, his or her background should lend itself to claims of credibility in the topic matter.  Next, that person must be able to present well on camera for YouTube – as well as in front of the public as a platform speaker. They must also be effective and credible when addressing the news media during interviews.

In the social media world, the process of turning an individual into a credible subject matter expert and as a visionary thought leader begins with “content.”  This first involves creating and posting blogs and comments on others’ blogs, but it also includes creating and posting other written content, such as white papers, case studies, and eBooks.  However, because of the importance of YouTube in the online world, content should include video blogs, video white board presentations and even webinars.  To succeed, this on-topic content must be fresh, insightful, helpful and well-presented.  It must add value to the ongoing online discussion of the topic at hand.  Finally, this content must be refreshed with sufficient frequency to keep interested readers coming back for more.  Online, a steady drumbeat of new and vibrant content is essential to success.

The second step involves “conversation” – primarily tweets, Facebook posts, Linkedin comments and activity on other social networking platforms.  The more platforms involved in the process, the more impact will be created.  However, with so many social networking platforms out there, the law of diminishing returns quickly kicks in.  If staff-time resources are limited, focus conversation efforts on the big three.

The conversation process humanizes the front individual, the person who is credited with creating the content.  This begins by posting insightful brief topical comments on Twitter and other sites, posts that are, in essence, “mini-content.” These are used to establish credibility and attract subject-matter followers.  Many of these posts can be pre-written, then – using one of the social media posting tools, such as Hootsuite – this mini-content can be scheduled for posting at times and dates in the future.

However, to truly humanize the lead individual, this person’s posts must transcend the process of just adding content value. You can’t just talk to followers – you must talk with them as well.  These interactions with others must get into personal – or more accurate, seemingly personal. 

To make it personal, interactions must involve a timely and original response to all feedback comments received on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.  Interactions also involve looking behind the curtain and exposing a bit of the named person in a human sort of way.  However, these posts shouldn’t be truly and deeply personal. Instead, they should show a bit of insight into the man or woman behind the avatar.

The perception of accessibility is the goal here – conversation turns a source of useful information into a living, breathing individual, one who can be trusted by followers and friends, one who creates the perception of real relationships and online (business) friendships.  

By providing meaningful and valuable content on a regular and frequent basis, and by entering into the social networking conversation as a distinctive and humanized source, you can own a topic area – and because the Internet is so diverse, virtually any topic area is up for grabs.  No matter what your client does – no matter what area of expertise your client “owns” – the social media world is ready to entertain the bid for leadership.

To do this in an organized and professional fashion, create three PR teams, each with a specific assignment.  These teams cover content creation, conversation and the promotion of the content, both online and off-line. 

The Content Team writes the blogs and the major blog comments, as well as the case studies, white papers and eBooks.  This team also creates the video component – video blogs, white board presentations and webinars.  The content team must also create the promotional material – or at least promotional guidelines – that will be used by the Conversation Team to position new content on the various platforms for maximum impact.  The Content Team must also work with the client to become sufficiently well-versed in the subject matter to create new and meaningful content.  Finally, this team must become a high-output production house for the creation of new and exciting material for the social media world on a regular and frequent basis.

The Conversation Team handles the ongoing social networking interactions that not only promote the new content online, but also serves to humanize the titular source.  This team will then create and post – in the individual’s name and voice – a regular and frequent stream of topical and off-topic comments that will provide a three-dimensional framework for those who ultimately follow or friend the program.  The conversation team will also seek out other bloggers on the same topic, and post brief comments to their blogs – longer subject-matter comments will be written by the Content Team.  Because of the nature of the Internet, this conversation is a 24-7 process – if possible, it helps to have members of the Conversation Team located in different time zones to spread out the responses. 

Conversation is just as critical as credible content.  Without effectively humanizing the front individual, the whole effort will ultimately fail.

Finally, create a PR team.  This team will create wire service press releases about each of the key content posts, describing why they are important and providing links to that content, then follow them up with individual pitches to the top media targets.  This is where most organized social media topic ownership efforts fall flat.  To promote new content, they rely solely on postings online – on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and all the rest. Those online posts are absolutely necessary, but they are not sufficient.  BusinessWire-like press releases and direct media pitches to key  targets will bring new followers to the content, rapidly expanding the impact of the entire program. 

However, in addition to press releases, the PR team will also seek out breaking news on the focus topic.  Then they will reach out to the news media, including – when appropriate – talk radio and cable news or cable business news. To these news media, they will present the lead individual as a blog-published expert on the topic who can put the breaking news into perspective for the media’s various audiences. They’ll cite recent blogs or other content that demonstrates the individual’s expertise in the field and about the breaking news topic.  This will generate media coverage and broadcast participation, which will attract new followers and add credibility online to the named source.  This is another area where most purely online social media efforts fail – they don’t take it outside the four walls of the computer screen and into the larger media.

A side note:  publishing an eBook, or even announcing a forthcoming eBook, will enhance the lead individual’s credibility with the news media.  Authors have an almost automatic cachet that few others can claim.

Bottom line:  By coordinating these three efforts – content, conversation and off-line PR promotion – you can position your client as a subject matter expert on a narrow topic, and as a visionary thought leader in that same topic area.  Over time, this will all help make the person the Internet’s – and the media’s – “go-to guy” on the subject at hand, that one credible individual who is a touchstone for both online and offline discussions on the topic.

Sidebar – Creating the Conversation Team

 Creating ghost-written content is second nature to every PR professional, and that goes for media relations as well, making the creation of those two teams largely self-explanatory.  However, creating “Conversation” is far more personal, and more than a bit tricky.  Individuals on the Conversation Team are a special breed, men and women who need to be able to do the following:

1.     They should be able to look at new content, then immediately know where and how to position it online, by using social media platform posts and with various discussion groups.

2.     They should be adept at identifying, creating and posting items which seem to personalize or humanize the lead individual, based on that person’s daily calendar.  Instead of posting (in the lead person’s voice) “I’m in Las Vegas today to give a talk on such-and-such,” say something like, “I never realized what heat really was until I came to Vegas today to give that talk at …”

3.     However, the real trick is to win the confidence of the lead individual, then get inside that person’s head. It’s vital to understand their thoughts, their passions, their dreams and the things that make them eager to get up in the morning to tackle a new day.  This kind of information is essential to humanize this individual, but that only comes after trust is established. 

However, once trust is established and the client becomes an open book, judgment kicks in.  There are a string of topics that should be avoided – strongly-held political views that will polarize followers is one, of course, but taboo subjects include exposing this person’s family or intimate interactions while trying to create that humanization.  It’s a tricky tight-rope, one that requires real discernment, as well as real trust.  It takes a special, intuitive and insightful person to fill this role.

There is one other caveat to using an individual as the lead face in the program.  In most cases, the client will become the lead individual, but whoever takes the lead, that person needs to understand that this is about business, and not about them, personally.  Let me repeat:  this is not about them.  this is about the iconic “them” that you are creating to capture and own a key topic area on the Internet. 

This means, among other things, that the lead individual should not be posting him- or herself on these social media sites, and it should go a step further.  Their previous personal posts – if posted in their name – must come down.   This is a tough sell, but it’s essential to make the conversation part of the process really work.

Friday, November 9, 2012

From Blogger to eBook Author … The Pyramid Approach to Quickly Creating Client Credibility

By Ned Barnett, APR - Barnett Marketing Communications
This is the basis of the article published in PR News on August 13, 2012

There is something about being a published author that seems to raise a client’s credibility with the news media.  Perhaps because so many reporters, editors, producers and hosts have either written books – or wish they could have – but an individual with a topical book credit seems inherently more newsworthy, as well as more credible.  Today’s Social Networking has created an easy and ideal platform for both creating and “pre-selling” a topical non-fiction book, making it far easier for a supportive PR exec to turn a client into a respected and credible author.  Then, whether that eBook is sold or given away, its publication will transform your client into a published author – someone now perceived on the social internet as a subject matter expert and perhaps even a “thought leader,”
Following a pyramid approach – building content on top of content – this can be accomplished in few easy steps.

First, come up with a topic and a title for the book, defining the information to share and the market to reach.  Then create a table of contents for the book that is at least seven to nine chapters long.  The first chapter will tell the readers what the book is going to cover; then middle chapters will present the real and in-depth content; then, finally, the final chapter serves as a summary.   

Down the road, each of the middle chapters has the potential to be expanded into a more narrow-focused and in-depth book – a pattern followed by many successful non-fiction authors, such as John Gray, author of the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” series.   But that’s for the future.  

Then, break down each of the middle chapters into a detailed series of sections and sub-sections, an approach that is standard for business-oriented non-fiction books.  Having done that, the book is ready to be researched and written. 

However, because this is an eBook, the material in each of these sub-sections will be written several times, in several different formats – in essence, at different levels of the content pyramid – then each will be published on the Internet and promoted as Social Media content.  Basically, as you develop the content for the book’s sections and sub-sections, you’ll keep using that same material, not once but over and over again.  That’s the Pyramid – the foundation is made up of blogs, the mid-section is built on white papers and case studies, and the capstone is the eBook.  All of it is made of the same intellectual-property material, presented in different ways to attract different audiences.

Each time some element of what will become the book is published, it will be flagged something like this:

Written by John Client, author of the forthcoming book, “John’s Book,” and based on material which has been developed for that book.

In this way, your client will already be seen as an author “of the forthcoming book.”  The credibility bestowed on authors by the media and social networking followers alike will be generated, long before the book has been completed and published.

Going from detailed breakdown to finished book, proceed as follows in creating your content pyramid:

First, for each sub-section of the book, interview your client for 30-90 minutes, obtaining the background information needed in order to write that sub-section of the book, then write up the interview and share it with you client to confirm its accuracy.  

Once cleared, take that interview material and write it in several different formats – as blogs, white papers, and case studies, before finally being rewritten as a sub-section in the book.  Not including the initial notes or the book section, each of these write-ups will be published online and promoted via social networking and traditional PR tactics.

Write the material for your clients, or engage a ghost-writer, so the client doesn’t get bogged down in the process.  In this way, all they have to do is sit for a series of brief interviews, then review and edit what you write – the notes, the blogs, the case studies, the white papers, and finally, sections of the book..  

When sub-section material is transformed into blogs, create and post video blogs as well.  Keep in mind that overly “produced” and “polished” videos often do not do well on YouTube – it seems that YouTube’s “corporate culture” prefers more off-the-cuff, “just you and me” spontaneous-looking videos, and those are easy to create.

Blogs should be informal in style.  Case studies on the same material should be factual and to the point.  White papers should have a bit of an academic feel – if research was conducted, include a list of sources at the end of the white paper.   These white papers and case studies cover the same basic material as is found in the blogs – use this “publish-in-three-formats” approach to give the market the information they want in the format they most prefer.  In addition, this provides three tools for pre-promoting the eBook, building an audience and credibility.

Finally, we take the same information and rework it into book sub-sections.  
Keep re-using the same material, in different formats that suit different people, each time gaining additional followers and further enhancing your client’s market-niche reputation.

But it’s not enough to create excellent social networking “content;” promoting this material – not once, but every time it’s used – is critical to success.

Each time you publish a blog, a white paper or case study, promote this new content via Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and other social networking sites.  Then promote it again via a press release posed via one of the major and far-reaching distribution services.   While many bloggers post a Facebook comment or a tweet promoting a blog, few ever consider the huge potential for attracting new followers that comes from creating and issuing provocative press releases to support that content.

Bottom line – create a content pyramid that focuses on making the maximum use of each sub-section in the eBook.  This chart may help you visualize how it works:

Using this approach, on the same subject matter, create at least three blogs for every white paper or case study, and two to three white papers or case studies for each book section.  Blogs should be relatively short and to the point – they should cover a single, focused topic – while white papers and case studies can cover several topics in a single document.

For each posted content item, create seven tweets, five Facebook posts, three Linkedin posts – as well as other social networking posts – along with a single press release, all to help attract people from to your published material.  
Using this approach, you build the content of an eBook via the creation of useful social networking content posts, appropriately promoted using online and traditional PR tools.  Your client will become known as an author long before the book is completed, and an eager audience will have been primed and prepped for when that book is finally produced and released. 

Case Study - How it Works:  A few years ago, an Internet “friend” of mine, David Meerman Scott, created an eBook on PR in the Social Networking age. This was produced as a free give-away eBook, and as such, it was downloaded 250,000 times.  However, an enhanced version of this free eBook was published on paper as The New Rules of Marketing and PR – and though the basic information was available in a free down-load, this book soon became a New York Times business best-seller.  That was in 2006.  

In 2010, recognizing how much the social networking market had changed in half-a-decade, Scott and his publisher came out with a 2nd Edition.  Remarkably, this second edition also became a NYT business best seller.  

This remarkable book – in two editions – was financially successful for Scott; but even better, for him, he now makes his living writing new PR-oriented business books and giving standing-room-only talks at trade conferences – and at corporate retreats – all over the world.  His is the ultimate model of the success of this pyramid approach.

Ned Barnett’s Publishing Experience:

As a key element of a forty-year PR career, and starting when his first book was published in 1982, Ned has written ten published books (mostly on marketing and PR, but one on Finance, one a biography and several others in equally diverse fields).  In addition, he’s ghost-written at least that many books for clients, along with in-depth case studies, white papers or other published works.  He has also represented a half-dozen different publishing companies; and, for a decade, he owned a literary agency.  Barnett knows something about publishing, and about what that can do for your client’s image and business.