The role of PR in the digital ageMember News
Whilst it is right to say that we have been living in a digital age for the last 20 years, the reality is that many of us are merely scratching the surface of what digital technology can do for us in our everyday lives, and a lot of us are also scratching our heads as we try to work out what it can do for our businesses.
Last month, Joe Richardson from Yorkshire PR, communications and digital agency The Partners Group headed to the annual Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) conference. From the relationship between content and power to the future workplace and digital detox, the day explored the digital future of PR. Here are Joe’s takeaways from the event and a fascinating day of discussions.
The role of PR in the customer journey
If the customer journey is made up of four stages - Awareness, Consideration, Action, and Loyalty and Repetition - then prior to the rise of digital it was easy to see that the value PR brought sat squarely in the ‘awareness’ and ‘loyalty and repetition’ stages, by raising the profile of a business or brand and managing its reputation on an ongoing basis.
This was all very well when the customer journey was a linear one. However, in today’s digital world it is anything but. With more and more people researching and making purchasing decisions online, and subsequently posting about their experiences, online influence has grown exponentially.
The role of PR during the ‘awareness’ stage of the customer journey remains one of driving awareness, but that role has now expanded to encompass PR activity to help drive greater visibility for businesses and brands in online, organic search.
PR’s role at the loyalty and repetition stage has also expanded significantly. Digital reputation management is key to securing new and repeat purchases, and online PR now very much includes online reviews. From TripAdvisor and Google to on-site product or service reviews and social media feedback, keeping on top of customer reviews and responding appropriately to negative feedback or complaints can make or break your online reputation.
Organic and paid search
The role of PR as part of an organic search strategy is well established in the B2C world and is becoming more so in business-to-business communications. In the PR world, we talk a lot about follow and no-follow links as well as citations. These are all things that can boost a company’s search rankings and, if done correctly, the increase in revenue from a jump in organic search rankings can more than pay for the PR budget.
There are a few things that will ensure your PR activity is working hard to support organic search. Taking a campaign-based approach to your PR can reap significant rewards. A successful PR campaign will have a clear objective, such as raising awareness of a product or informing the public of company news and will use strategic messaging to communicate with an audience to achieve this objective. Taking this strategic approach, rather than simply trying to encourage other websites to post a link to yours, allows you to target key trading periods as well as making it easier to measure what is successful.
Both journalists and publishers know the value of links. However, they do not want to feel as if they are being manipulated for a brand’s needs. Don’t risk a valuable relationship by requesting a link: the reporter’s loyalty is with their audience, not the brand that is the subject of the story.
With paid search, PR objectives can and should be aligned to paid search tactics in a couple of ways. On a basic level, using PR to earn links in the media is a simple way to boost traffic from a higher search results position. This can allow for the reduction in spending on certain keywords to maintain website traffic.
If a major piece of coverage is due to be published, paid search can be used to help deliver value from that media coverage. A tactical and timely paid search campaign that is based on campaign keywords will help direct and drive people towards your business.
The latest figures estimate that sales of smart speakers are set to overtake tablets by 2021. Children today will grow up talking to the internet, rather than typing out enquiries.
As smart speakers become more widely used, the way in which people search the internet is changing. Voice search differs from desktop and mobile: people don’t use keywords, they ask questions. This has opened up the discipline of Voice Optimised Search as companies seek to be ranked highly in voice searches.
Currently, we are seeing voice and AI (artificial intelligence) coming to the fore in the B2C world, which generally tends to be an early adopter of new technology. As the technology becomes more refined, it will become increasingly important in the B2B world, too.
For the PR industry, this means focusing on creating content that uses more conversational, ‘long-tail’ keyword phrases. Delivering content that answers spoken questions will result in higher rankings in voice search results. Another tactic is to create compelling questions about your product or service that will drive conversations.
The ongoing advances in voice, paid and organic search mean that the job is never finished. What is working well today will be outdated as soon as the next wave of technological advances comes along. There will always be a balance to be struck between these advances and the rate of adoption by businesses and the public. Move too quickly and customers may struggle to keep up. Move too slowly and brands and businesses risk looking outdated.
Changes in digital communication have led to the creation of roles that didn’t exist 15 years ago. As these changes continue, this pattern will continue and may lead to the creation of entirely new industries. Children may not know what they want to do as a career, partly because the jobs they will end up doing don’t exist yet. This isn’t unique to the PR industry: it applies across every industry.
The manufacturing sector faces the challenges and benefits of Industry 4.0. The legal and professional services industries are having to adapt to the buying habits of tech-savvy millennials and Generation Z. The telecoms industry is seeing a shift away from a traditional model of selling to an ‘As a Service’ model (AAS). This model allows for steady reoccurring revenue. The way people buy products and services – both B2B and B2C - is changing. It’s happening across the board, and it’s vital that businesses in all sectors keep up with the pace of digital change to make sure they are not left behind.
Joe Richardson is a senior account executive at The Partners Group in York, working with clients across manufacturing, engineering, food processing, professional services, hotel and leisure industries.