THE BLOG
06/06/2013 11:06 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

In the Age of Social Media, Why PR Should Matter to Businesses, Both Small and Large

I tell my clients all the time that social media is Public Relations' BFF, or as I prefer to call it, BFFL -- "best friend for life."

Why?

Consider the following scenario which I have recounted thousands of times over the years to clients ever since social media became an integral part of the PR bragging strategy, a face-changing entity in the world of Public Relations:

If, when I started out in the Public Relations business in 1990, I had landed a business client an interview on, let's say, the 6 o'clock news on the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. and low and behold there was a huge accident on the Beltway (not an unlikely scenario) and 65-thousand people missed my client's interview, that would have been it, it would have been a "too-bad" moment. My client's so-called day in the sun, his/her three minutes of fame (three out of a lifetime of "15 minutes of fame," the much touted measurement by Andy Warhol), would have been over. I would have been supportive. I would have told him/her "you were fantastic, you hit all the talking points on which we worked, it's a bummer more people didn't see you, maybe next time people will drive safer during their commute and more people will get home in time to see your next interview."

Fast-forward to 2013 and I will never again have to have this disappointing discussion with a client. And it's all because of social media - PR's BFFL. In the age of social media, though agonizing for commuters, a tie-up on the highway doesn't mean a death sentence for a hard won media landing. Search engines, websites and blogs, social sites (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, so on and so on), all allow a media moment to live for more than a lifetime. The 21st Century has given us what our PR forefathers and foremothers prayed for: media moments that can be resurrected as often as the whim strikes, to coincide with a company campaign, a marketing event, a Hallmark holiday, another PR moment, a "fill-in-the-blank here."

Let's focus first and foremost on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what a media landing does for a company's SEO.

Ken McGaffin who runs the company, Linking Matters, writes, trains and consults on link building, online PR and market research. In a recent post on Search Engine Watch, McGaffin waxes poetic about PR and SEO and makes my heart sing in the process. It's my mantra as a PR person. What the highly respected McGaffin says, I say too. It's not only about the PR moment, it's about what you do with your media moment and what the world of search engines can do for you in return! While I wouldn't say I scream this at my clients (in other words, it wouldn't translate into a text in all caps), I do seriously underline my comments, comments I repeat over and over again - yes, like a broken record.

In his post, McGaffin interviews Ken Deutsch, whom he calls "a seasoned specialist in public affairs." According to McGaffin, Duetsch takes SEO "seriously" which, apparently, is not the norm. Says Duetsch, "many PR people stop at getting media coverage and think their job is done. They get a placement in the New York Times, but they don't follow up to make sure a link is put in. So they're not taking advantage of the SEO side of the story." Note: that link is only one out of many strategies to promote your PR moment.

Here's the really exciting flip side to Deutsch's comment. Mike Cherenson, former Chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and EVP of Success Communications Group says, "public relations professionals are skilled storytellers and content generators and should be a part of every SEO effort ... The future of SEO is not in the technology, it's in the ability to tell stories that readers and Google will find interesting... and that's public relations." In other words, it's not only what SEO can do for your PR, it's what your PR can do for your SEO.

Oh boy, how I love this very Kennedy-esque concept. It's such a great shot in the arm for PR, which unfortunately for budget-strapped medium-sized and small businesses, isn't a priority when it absolutely needs to be.

Let's take a look now at a few other ideas generated by McGaffin that support the need for an uptick in public relations in general by businesses of all sizes.

SEO, PR and the Press Release

"Putting it simply, SEO enhances a press release," says McGaffin. He's right. It's absolutely true. Therefore, "use popular keywords and the press release, never mind any stories it generates, will continue to bring search engine traffic. And the editorial links the press release generates bring direct click-throughs and lead to higher rankings." For the doubters, it's a measurable entity. That is, PR now comes with a more effectively measurable ROI. "PR helps SEO directly by increasing branded traffic," said Lindsey Kirchoff, a Media and Speaker Relations specialist at HubSpot.com, interviewed for McGaffin's article. "We always see a bump in branded traffic after a big campaign! ... SEO grounds PR with hard, measurable data. PR has always been notoriously difficult to pin down, but SEO adds hard numbers to the equation. I also think that SEO allows PR to be less isolated from the rest of the team - sometimes PR can feel like an island. SEO helps PR connect their work to the rest of the company's business goals." Ahhh Kirchoff, you are so right. It's exactly why PR, marketing and social media should never live in a vacuum. It's like I say, PR, marketing and social media are a trifecta that works in tandem to help build an individual or company platform.

So, as PR makes you more "Google-able," it begins building a foundation for free PR. If a reporter can find you because you have great SEO (generated in part because of prior endorsements by other media outlets), you get placed in his/her "rolodex," end up on the radar screen and you are well on your way to becoming a talking head for your industry.

The middle school lunchroom of popularity

I have been known to say that social media sites are analogous to the middle school lunchroom. The popular table gets more popular as more people vie to sit where others are sitting; this rule applies whether or not the popular table is even talking about anything interesting. And, I'd wager a bet that those at the two-top are having a more engaging debate. That said, Twitter is a prime example of how popularity breeds popularity, (the more followers, the more people want to follow you); it's the way journalism has always functioned. Once you have been quoted, you are likely be requoted. Writes McGaffin, "Journalists will often quote, comment or enlarge upon other journalist's work. Bloggers are also constantly citing other stories." It is exactly what I've done here; the proof is in the proverbial pudding. "So if you get your story covered in one prominent media outlet, it is likely that you'll quickly see a cascade of similar stories and links spring up." It's the rolling stone of Public Relations. "You'll get links you never even asked for," says McGaffin.

PR is all about bragging rights

This is one of the best reasons to engage in public relations. Step back for just one minute and think about your reaction when you go to a website whose homepage shouts, "As featured in the Huffington Post..." or "As seen in the Washington Post." You know you immediately think something "better" about that company. There is a twitch of a thought, at least. It's human nature. It's the cool kid in the middle school lunchroom who, one day for some reason (backstory unnecessary) decides to sit at that two-top. It's an endorsement that changes the minds of every pre-teen at the school. The two-top is now cool. That's perception and it's also consumer reaction. It's what PR is all about. Just think, does someone with an Ivy League education necessarily have a more intelligent comment than someone who went to a no-name school? No, but we get that twitch when we hear that so-and-so went to Princeton. The value of that Ivy League education is the value of the media landing. In many cases, it's priceless and the bragging rights can bring with it a rolling stone effect of media and consumer popularity. "You ... increase trust from other reporters," says McGaffin. "If you've already been quoted or covered by a respected publication, then other reporters will think you're a safe bet to write about, too." Oh how that middle school lunchroom has such a last effect on us all.

PR isn't rocket science.

"SEO experts should think of PR as a way to build strong referral links," says Kirchoff. Adds McGaffin, "learning about public relations will help you understand the process - but it might teach you that there's a lot you don't know. If that's the case you might do better to partner with a PR resource." PR doesn't need to be expensive. For many, the yearly retainer is an over-rated dinosaur. 21st Century PR is about thinking outside of the box not only in angle development but also financially. PR is about organic SEO, messaging, differentiation, pitch development, developing a story idea that fits with the breaking story of the day (week or month) as well as growing evergreen angles. It's about editorial calendars and taking a national story and finding a local angle for powerful, local media attention. It's about finding the human-interest story that allows a media venue to talk about a company in a way that grabs a wider audience.

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