Communications leading social business: expand the PR skill set

As marketers, we are learning the value of integrated programs where we plan efforts across owned media (our controlled content), paid media (all advertising channel work), and earned media (wherever we earn people's attention and content).

As marketers, we are quickly learning the value of integrated programs where we plan efforts across owned media (our controlled content), paid media (all advertising channel work), and earned media (wherever we earn people's attention and content). But with the explosive growth of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even the latest darling, Pinterest, we align owned, paid, and earned to really stimulate more earned.

Everything a social network user can do with a brand online is some form of earned media. Sharing a video link, commenting on a Facebook wall post, Google +1-ing a page, liking a Pinterest board – these actions all deliver some form of implicit or explicit endorsement from the person taking the action. In a world where we often prioritize the recommendations of social connections over traditional advertising and media, that matters.

Learn something from marketing
Communication leaders need to tune up their PR teams to both be adept at integrated planning and also to take better advantage of these new forms of earned media. To deliver real business value via social media, the PR teams need to broaden their skill set and reach across the aisle to their marketing brothers and sisters. Three specific skills can help the PR team deliver more to the business.

Strategic use of paid media: Facebook ad channels give you the ability to deliver highly relevant content to a very select audience and earn their page or content “like” and hopefully their ongoing engagement. This is not about exposures or impressions. You are recruiting advocates. Now, extend that logic to all the other ways we can integrate advertising in a program to reach more people with an experience meant to earn their “follow.” A strong understanding of ad targeting can strengthen the skill set of a great PR pro. 

Planning for the full lifecycle of owned content: Brands need to build a persistent relationship with customers and influencers. Kraft delivers recipes every which way as seen on their “Recipe Hot Spot” page. Mobile, widgets, applications and, yes, even email. DuPont engages stakeholders and customers with important content about three megatrends: food, fuel, and protection.

The importance of content – owned media – for marketers in 2012 is critical. Since this, again, is intended to earn attention, engagement, and advocacy (some form of sharing and promoting), PR pros can play a bigger role from the early stages of developing a strategy, content creation, optimization for search, distribution, and all through evaluation and performance optimization. When I was creative director at Discovery.com, we ran editorial meetings every week that allowed us to adjust and optimize the level of engagement with our content. It seems only natural that today's PR pros, many of who come from an editorial background, step forward to drive this process. 

Applying behavior-related metrics to everything: PR pros need to get better at measurement. It's not enough to have one measurement scientist within a PR team or company. PR team members need a sharp understanding of key performance indicators that point to relevant behaviors. They need to push hard to connect programs to sales data and insist on that level of rigor whenever possible. Settling for reporting impressions is not good enough. 

The world is changing. It's time to train our teams in new skills that will let us all reap bigger benefits for our business through strategic use of social media.

John Bell is global managing director of Social@Ogilvy.

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