10/16/2013 01:10 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Content Marketing and PR: Making Both an Act of Service

It is impossible to create viral content. Before you jump out of your chair and start throwing things, hear me out. For ages, writers of stories who work toward creating "the great novel" instead create the exact opposite. Similarly, companies who work to create the "viral piece" do so to their own detriment. The result is something that barely includes input from the customer, either because the intent to create something "viral" trumped customer input or because the incorrect question was asked, resulting in a bad premise. For those in digital PR, content created without research about the reader is nearly impossible to earn coverage for, as the audience of the piece exists only in the minds of those who created it. In the creation of content, the marketer must utilize data to offer a real solution the brand provides. Digital PR is then responsible for meeting the customers where they are, providing said solution and encouraging the discussion. Both things lead to conversion -- whether that's a sale, a visit to the site or the downloading of content.

The Audience
Every brand exists to solve a problem for a select (or not so select) group of people. Who are those people and how can you reach them? First, use a tool like Topsy or Brightedge to help create a clear picture of your audience. As you analyze the mosaic data, buying behaviors and other reports, the questions that the audience is asking will come forward and you will be better prepared to create a piece of content which uses the brand to answer them. Look at what they are reading, what they care about and what specific questions they are asking. Social media has been truly beneficial in the latter, as many people not only share everything going on in their lives at any given moment, but seek feedback and answers from others on various platforms as well. Moreover, the propensity to complain is always present, providing you -- the marketer -- with countless opportunities to garner insight in real time. Once the audience is analyzed fully with an idea of what they want to see, it's time to address the content.

The Content
It is impossible to create viral content. Remember reading that? As stated before, if anyone sets out to create something for the specific purpose of going "viral" then the content will be forced, fake and forgotten. Instead of focusing on creating something "viral," focus on creating something that serves the audience. How does the content help the customer? How does it use the brand to solve their problem? Be genuine in your questions and look at the customer less as a statistic and more as a person with a real problem that needs solved. As a result, your content will be inherently more personal -- and more likely to be shared.

The New Face of PR Once the content has been created as a result of the audience analysis, the process for distribution can commence. Print media is still declining as a result of digital news outlets. As reported by the PEW research center,

since 2010 there has been a sharp decline in the proportion of Americans who got news yesterday only from a traditional news platform -- from 40 percent then to 33 percent currently.

Statistics like these are not uncommon and increasingly argue in favor of the digital medium for online content consumption. For digital PR, the first step is using the information gathered about the audience and understanding where they go online. With this information, PR can take the content that was created with the target audience in mind and offer it to the outlets that reach those people. The process for this can be complicated and daunting, but a basic question has to be asked before the process even begins. "Where can this content serve the customer?" Successful PR professionals focus on outlets where the reader will be served by content that was created for them. Their pitches are constructed with the message that such content adds value to the site while promoting readership and audience engagement. As Ashley Halberstadt, Director of Digital Media Relations for DigitalRelevance says,

For every journalist, there are hundreds of PR pros vying for their attention. Make sure that what you're offering them is a valuable resource that is too good not to share. Their readers will feel the same, helping you both meet your goals.

Brands were created to solve problems and therefore every piece of content created should also aim to solve that problem. Audience analysis promotes a strategy integral to effectiveness, which leads to an idea for content that serves the audience. Once created, the digital PR professional seeks to garner exposure for the content in places that serve both the reader and the site. The goal is realized when the right customer reads the right piece through the content, and then eventually uses the brand as the solution to their initial problem. This is the magic of serving your customer and the most important ingredient in any viral recipe.