For the past 16 months, I’ve been working in PR. There’s a sentence I honestly never thought I would type. I cut my teeth in advertising and never looked for anything outside of it. Back then, PR was something I simply did not understand, or admittedly care that much about. My main experience of PR came from working on integrated campaigns and “integration” was a buzzword used for show.
But then, something big happened. The king of social platforms, Facebook, made the shift from a photo-sharing platform to a news source. In fact, it became the largest referrer to news sites in the world (overtaking Google in 2015). Suddenly the platform became a source of information, a place to tell and share stories. This shift made conventional social advertorial content stick out like a sore thumb. People no longer wanted to a see a photo of a product, they wanted to read a story about it.
Fast-forward to today, and people are more ad savvy than ever. 96% of the people that discuss brands online do not follow those brands’ owned profiles. Dark social – the sharing of content in places marketers can’t track, like WhatsApp and email – accounts for 75% of all online content sharing, with no sign of change. So even if people are reading your product story, it’s now difficult to fully track who is sharing it.
What’s the challenge we are facing?
This brings about a question: What’s the ultimate goal with social content for brands? In an ideal world, I’d love to say sales, but unless e-commerce is fully integrated into social platforms there will always be barriers to conversion. Furthermore, can a social platform be an e-commerce platform at the same time, or must one eventually give way to the other?
Let’s rephrase the question: What are the ultimate and achievable goals? I believe they are engagement and conversation. Social media is our post-postmodern-day word of mouth and we all know that’s the best recommendation you can get, it’s genuine and it shows intent. A RadiumOne study recently told us that those who share brand content are nearly 10 times more likely to convert. If that share was a dark share, it’s also believed to be more impactful with the recipients, as it’s more personal. So, if we kick those goals of engagement and conversation, consumers will be driven in-store and online to purchase by their friends and family. Which is much more meaningful.
If we take this onboard when planning a campaign, the first problem we have is how we track all this dark activity? The second is how do we make content that people want to talk about and share? Those billboard-style brand and product ads that used to clog up chronological newsfeeds have long been redundant as a stand-alone approach to retaining humans’ attention on social. Humans won’t share ads, for many, many reasons:
1. It’s an ad.
2. It’s most likely not very interesting.
3. It’s not adding any value to the user – it doesn’t give them any social currency (make them seem funnier/more interesting/smarter).
4. It doesn’t connect with them, they cannot see themselves in it.
5. It’s an ad.
PR ideas on social media
So, what does engage humans? The ever-elusive viral social campaign (that we can’t really track properly) relies on one thing now more than ever. A good story. A good story, with the right human insight can connect a consumer with a brand and instigate action. And here’s the kicker, good stories like these have been created by PR professionals to generate scores of editorial articles for decades.
Editorial articles are objective and hold authority, they can affect the way consumers think about a brand, even more so than a brand campaign perhaps. PR, by nature, is designed to make a lot of noise and traditionally this noise was enough of a KPI. However, social has opened the possibility for this noise to be measured, analysed, optimised and retargeted. Now we can control who we share the story with and understand how engaging a story was.
We already know that a newsworthy story makes for good social content and now we have access to the means to prove it and fine-tune it. A newsworthy story based on a solid human insight is what makes a piece of content sharable. Fundamentally, PR and social are highly compatible and highly effective when it comes to moving people.
What am I suggesting? Let’s put an end to the traditional process of advertising as the default lead. This isn’t the answer in 2017, especially if we always fail to integrate. How about leading a campaign with a PR idea? A shift in the perspective of many marketers is still long overdue.
Siona Singletary is Digital Strategy Director at Poem Group.