How Key Influencers Can Help You During Crisis Communications

During a PR crisis, you need to mobilize every asset available to protect your brand—and today, this includes having an influencer strategy in place.

Include Key Influencers in Your Crisis Plan

Consider the global response to the Zika outbreak. Zika rocketed to awareness in 2016, initially in connection with the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) focused on crafting ongoing communications to educate the public.

Zika affected popular tourist destinations across the Caribbean and Latin America, with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimating economic losses of $18 billion. Individual brands, hotels, cruise ships, and tours serving those areas, were also being affected.

Here’s how players responded in the face of Zika and what role influencers played in crisis communications messaging and response.

Activate Influencers on Social and Beyond

Despite being hardest hit by this crisis, Puerto Rico took a proactive communication stance in educating tourists in a responsible way through its “Facts Not Fear” campaign.

The New York Times noted in October 2016, “Puerto Rico has been hardest hit, with over 21,000 locally acquired cases through Sept. 28, according to the C.D.C. Though the Puerto Rico Tourism Company says nonresident visitor numbers dropped just one percent from February to July, it is fighting back with an information campaign devoted to prevention at puertoriconow.seepuertorico.com.”

The NYT goes on to say, “It has also enlisted stars like the Olympic tennis gold medalist Monica Puig to talk about protection.” The campaign also featured other Puerto Rican stars, from sports to Broadway. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company worked with Puig to profile her trip to the island after her win. Their partnership highlighted Zika prevention while encouraging tourism:

“Puig says that Puerto Rico is a great getaway for everyone and travelers should know the facts when planning a trip to the island, ‘Zika can have serious consequences for pregnant women and those looking to get pregnant. But if you’re not pregnant or planning to have a family in the near future, come visit Puerto Rico, my home sweet home.’ Puig adds that precautionary measures are simple for visitors, ‘Apply insect repellent carefully and liberally and enjoy a worry-free experience.'”

Puig, who has a following of 188,000 on Twitter, shared tweets, videos and pictures of her return to Puerto Rico after her victory—and later continued her pro-Puerto Rico tweets as an activist to help the island rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

In another example, Broadway actress Chita Rivera recorded a “Facts Not Fear” video, and shared the following message with her social following:

Scenario Planning: Public Health and Institutional Influencers

Brands were careful to limit original communications around Zika. Instead, many relied on the most current information available from influencers like the CDC and WHO for aligned communications. While most tend to think of influencers as individuals with a social following, that can be a limited view. Working with an authority influence—such as an established health organization—helps brands provide the latest and best information.

The CDC embraced digital resources to make that easy, by launching a podcast and creating an action awareness toolkit. They developed an award-winning social media campaign, reports Healthcarecommunication.com. The CDC created a video series, dubbed “Zap Zika,” and partnered with media and influencers for a campaign that ultimately produced a total of more than 6,800 messages. Videos were viewed nearly 700,000 times across networks as of awards’ campaign analysis. Here’s a sample video, with 1.4 million views alone:

Elmo No Like Zika

Influencers can also effectively reach younger audiences, to raise Zika awareness and share prevention best practices. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) partnered with Sesame Street to create two 30-second public service announcements in Spanish and Portuguese.

According to CNN, they were shared on social media and aired on Plaza Sesamo, the Latin America version of Sesame Street. One video on Facebook received more than 24,000 views on that single channel:

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Media Monitoring and Working with Press Influencers

As a crisis unfolds, media monitoring helps your team keep tabs on the situation as it evolves and track reactions of key influencers—such as journalists. It’s possible to set up alerts to track specific terms, brand mentions, and shifts in sentiment, and to monitor the activity of specific influencers. Tracking media and social mentions can help you craft strategies to combat misinformation and find story hooks that address concerns.

Destinations have used this type of data to engage with the media around Zika, to ensure thoughtful and fair coverage. Meet Puerto Rico organized a forum at the D.C. National Press Club called Traveling in These Times, which addressed issues such as perception and industry responses. This targeted effort to get clear facts in front of the people shaping news stories splashed across websites and papers around the U.S., and it has had an impact—less than a year after the CDC issued serious warnings around Puerto Rico, the agency is in discussions about hosting several of its conferences there.

PR Takeaways

Crisis plans are multi-dimensional, and prepping your executives and issuing press releases is no longer enough. Identifying your most important influencers and having a plan to activate them during a crisis can help you manage evolving situations. From partnering with the media to using recognizable faces to amplify your campaigns, there are numerous opportunity to collaborate. Learn more about developing effective crisis strategies—and including influencers in your crisis plan—by checking out our webinar “Crisis, Not Catastrophe: Minimize Damage When Trouble Hits.”

Successful Pitches to Journalists–Stories from the Trenches

Public relations campaigns often include media outreach. But, as any PR pro who works in media relations can tell you, pitching influencers is a challenge, but successful pitches can make all the difference.

These days, as journalists change jobs and staff shrinks at many media outlets, the reporters who remain are overwhelmed with pitches. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are now nearly five PR people for every staff writer.

So, How Can PR Pros Win

“It takes more to build a pitch of interest than it did say five years ago,” says Susan Thomas, founder, and CEO of Bay Area agency 10Fold. “Gone are the days when writing a clever pitch and working with the right reporter were enough. Now, you have to have a ‘why’—and it has to be impressive. It takes more forethought, more planning, more research. It’s no longer about product coverage, especially for unproven companies.”

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Lauren Stewart, media relations advisor for Canadian airline WestJet, agrees. “Spending more time preparing and researching will bring you more success when pitching your story. And when I say pitching your story, I mean it. Not a product. It takes some skill to create a story that will make the journalist interested in talking about you. No reporter wants to be a shill for your product.”

So what should you pitch? “Often, it’s the people side of things that get coverage,” says Stewart. An example involved her company WestJet giving away what they dubbed “Christmas miracles,” and allowing the media behind-the-scenes access to those who received the “miracles,” which included vouchers for air travel. “We got fantastic in-depth coverage with a third-party telling our story for us.”

What else works when you want to make a pitch about more than the product? Thomas, who works primarily with technology clients, says that even for funding announcements, the standards have changed.

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“Because the media is tougher on validation and proof points, we have to think beyond the pitch and go further to get the coverage.” For example, conduct a survey, Thomas suggests, so that you can include the results in your pitch to help validate the need for the product.
However, Thomas cautions that for this strategy to be effective, you have to start long before the announcement date. “Much more goes into this type of effort, but it’s what we had to do to achieve the results the client was looking for.”

Taking advantage of a trend can also lead to success. Meagan Ewton, a public relations coordinator for Rogers State University, explains how her team was able to ride the wave of Pokemon Go’s popularity to promote a community event by pitching a story instead of issuing a press release.

“Our most successful pitch this year was for a Pokémon Go event held three weeks after the app’s launch. There was synergy there for reporters already covering the story, so we took advantage of that. We were able to share about our game development, software development, and graphic design programs, and this made it into the story, which drove up attendance at our event.”

Another piece of advice to create a winning media pitch comes from Karen Swim, PR consultant and founder of Words for Hire. “The most successful campaigns begin with a clear-eyed focus on the result,” says Swim. “The objectives aren’t merely to ‘get press’ or ‘increase visibility’ but have specific end-goals that are measurable. It’s critical to have tools that allow you to analyze and measure your efforts and then use that feedback to inform your next steps.”

“Data-based decision making has become part of our everyday lives,” adds Thomas. “You need to have data that backs your performance.”

The takeaway from pros is that as our industry continues to evolve, it’s clear that focusing on the relations part of PR is essential in pitching reporters. Take a measured approach while crafting successful pitches to outlets and reporters as appropriate. Fortunately, with the help of a media intelligence platform and access to an influencer database, brands can get results. And that’s the kind of success that keeps PR budgets growing.

 

This post was originally published on this site on January 17, 2017. We republish posts on Saturdays for readers who may have missed the original publication.

Strategy: 3 Ways AI Will Help PR in 2018

It’s that time of year again when PR pros are making predictions. And the industry revisits the death of the press release as the need for more creative media relations becomes necessary as newsrooms continue to thin out. Those doing the work face the reality of why paid practices are a must have, the rise of influencer marketing, an increased focus on content distribution, and how new measurement tactics will help redefine ROI for PR.

These predictions, among other tried-and-true trends, seem to resurface every year. And, they’re not wrong. But, for those–like me–who jump at the mention of new tech, the PR trend to watch for 2018 is the incorporation of AI (artificial intelligence) into our everyday publicity work.

3 Main Ways AI Will Help PR

1. Audience Insights

Just as with advancements in data science and machine learning, AI will help companies delve deeper into their target audiences to reach them on a more discreet and personal level. With the ability to predict interests and uncover trends, companies – especially consumer brands – will be able to create more relevant products and services with the buyer experience front and center.

With this level of intel, PR pros can produce more sophisticated campaigns with relevant messaging that corresponds to specific audience segments. PR and comms priorities can align with reality and adapt quickly as markets change. Talk about ensuring the most bang for your buck!

2. Day-to-Day Tasks

A lot of day-to-day tasks that PR teams undertake are crucial to understanding the industry landscape, competitor activities, and new trends, or to demonstrate the success of a campaign and establish benchmarks or records.

But, the amount of time spent on these types of tasks – including news scanning, media monitoring, coverage clipping, social listening, sentiment analysis, reporting, and other similar endeavors – are greatly reduced with the help of AI. There are already services out there for such tasks, but many still require a lot of manual oversight or corrections since the software isn’t quite there yet for the tools to really know what’s relevant and what’s not.

This could all change with AI so that PR pros can get even more time back in their day and use their strategic brains for more creative campaigns and relationship building – the things that lead many of us to join the field in the first place!

3. Social Interactions

When it comes to social interactions, human involvement is obvious. Or is it?

Chatbots are increasing in their capabilities and prevalence as major companies invest in the development. But, for PR, we need to think beyond today’s most common chatbots like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, and typical questions like, “What’s the weather today?”, to fathom an interaction that helps further PR goals of brand awareness and beyond.

AI advancements are helping create smarter chatbots that are paving the way for PR pros to help further conversations on behalf of brands in a relevant way.

The easiest place to imagine this is on social media where chatbots could interact intelligently with relevant hashtags, or respond to comments or direct messages on a company’s behalf. It’s just a matter of harnessing that level of machine integration in a strategic way to help expand PR efforts, which can focus on more of the human elements that bots can’t take over!

 

This article originally appeared in March Communications, it was by Meredith L. Eaton from Business2Community, and is legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

In PR, There’s Power in Third-Party Validation

I recently came across this quote:

“To get something from nothing, you need the validity that only third-party endorsements can bring.” – Al and Laura Ries, Ries & Ries

It got me thinking about the importance of third-party validation in the PR world.

We’ve probably all worked with clients who, while they understood the importance of having a third-party reference, were unable to produce one.

There are even clients that will ask, “Why does this matter? Can’t we just move ahead without a customer to speak on our behalf?”

While you can try to reach out to media without a customer reference, it certainly makes it more challenging.

Why Third-Party References Matter

So, why is a third-party endorsement important?

A journalist needs to hear from someone other than the company itself. When clients talk about themselves, of course, they’ll say favorable things. Reporters need third parties to back that up.

“Most of the time, there is no point in a press release about a new product without a customer reference,” says author and long-time analyst Josh Bernoff.

If you can’t produce any third-party references, the reporter may look for some on his or her own. Or he or she may just flat out refuse to interview the client. This makes it well worth the time to put together a short list to provide to them.

And, don’t wait until you’ve pitched reporters and they’ve requested references. Have your references lined up and ready to go BEFORE you pitch.

How to Go About Choosing a Reference

A customer, an industry analyst or a partner can make an ideal third-party reference.

If you’re looking at customers, your sales team may be a source of potential candidates. They’ll know who’s happy, and maybe more importantly, who’s not.

On that note, be sure to vet your references. If the last time you spoke to them was six months ago, it’s a good idea to check in to make sure all is well. Maybe they WERE happy – but they’ve experienced a problem. Until that’s resolved, it’s probably best to go to the next name on your list. The last thing you want is to provide a journalist with a reference who’s unhappy with your product or service.

Be sure to mention that talking with media benefits them, too, as chances are their name will also appear in the article. Beyond that, they may forge a relationship with the reporter, resulting in future opportunities.

Getting the Most from Your References

If a customer agrees to be a press reference, it might also be a good time to:

  • Ask if they’ll allow you to interview them for a success story or case study. This could be produced as a digital and print piece, as well as a video. You can also use quotes from those interviews on your site or in other materials.
  • Ask if they’d like to be interviewed for a guest blog or a Q&A for your site. This meets needs on both the PR and content marketing sides.

The beginning of a new customer relationship can be the best time to ask. Some brands include it in contract negotiations.

Reference Etiquette 101

Once you’ve secured the third-party references, you may want to prep them by providing some questions reporters could ask so they can be ready with answers. You can even offer some idea of how you’d like them to answer, i.e., what strengths or benefits to highlight.

It’s also a good idea to impress upon them how important it is to be responsive, should the media get in touch. For example, you don’t want to provide a customer who’s traveling out of the country for the next month as a reference. Journalists work on tight deadlines and may move on if they can’t reach your reference quickly.

Use care not to send too many requests their way. Of course, some references see it as a win-win and love to be interviewed by media, as it gets their name out there, too.

Lastly, be sure to thank your references. Let them know you appreciate their time and effort. Share published pieces with them and mention them when you post the pieces on social media.

Third-Party References Are Powerful

Remember, your story may fall flat if you’re the only one telling it.

No one can sing your praises as convincingly as a satisfied customer, an enthusiastic partner or a well-educated analyst. If you harness the power of that praise for your benefit with the media, journalists may view you as a more attractive brand to work with.

How Social Media Went from Exciting to Ingrained in Our Lives

When social media first started to emerge in the mid-2000s as a popular way to connect online, marketers and consumers split into two camps. One camp boldly proclaimed that social media was the wave of the future. The other denounced social media as a fad (something people still occasionally insist today, more than 10 years later).

It’s clear that social media has had and continues to have a substantial impact on our daily lives—and it’s hard to imagine sites like Facebook ever going away, with more than 1 billion people currently using the platform. But when you look at the broad context of social media, and some of the recent developments shaping the industry, you have to wonder—are we heading to a post-social media world?

Coming and Going

For starters, let’s take a look at the rates of emergence and decay of social media platforms. In the early days of social media, and even as recently as a few years ago, new platforms would spring up constantly, looking for a piece of the social pie, and they’d die off just as quickly when their user bases wouldn’t grow to sustainable levels.

These days, that rate has substantially slowed, and people are gravitating only to a handful of apps—Facebook earns the attention of 79 percent of adults, with a cluster of other apps (WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter among them) hovering close to the 30 percent mark.

This slowdown means a couple of things that could indicate progress toward a post-social future:

  • Normalization of social media. With social platforms becoming more stable, less novel, and more intuitive, users aren’t focusing on social media as separate from their daily lives. They’re becoming more integrated, and over time may cease to be considered distinct entities.
  • Centralization of platforms. It’s also worth noting that single platforms are rising above the fold, giving them the power to dictate the future of social media development in the same way that Google dictated the development of search for years. As this trend increases, social media platforms will likely start heading in newer, bolder directions that leave our old conceptions of “social media” in the dust.

Live Streams and Constant Interaction

Many platforms are also heading toward further integration with the “real” world; user interest in live video and other “in the moment” posts is enormous, especially when compared to reflective or retrospective posts. This is at least part of the reason why Snapchat has become as popular as it has; since messages are temporary and capture a specific moment in time, they’re a form of interacting with the live world.

The fact that most social apps cater to mobile users is another indication of this trend; mobile users are more likely to share things as they happen, rather than waiting to post about them at a later time. Social media apps run in the background, and users interact with each other on a constant basis. Already, social apps are becoming more like instant messaging platforms than a distinct entity on their own.

Wearable Tech and New Interfaces

As technology evolves, we’ll likely see new worlds of socialization emerge. Wearable technology and smart home systems like Google Home are encouraging users to decrease their reliance on screens and traditional interfaces. For technology like smartwatches, screens are too small or unnoticeable to present easy engagement. For smart home systems, hands-free communication and functionality is essential. That doesn’t leave any room for the world of social media as we’re used to it—a place to browse through the posts and photos of your friends and family and interact accordingly.

Augmented and virtual reality will make this trend escalate even faster, and given Facebook’s interest in the technology already, most social media platforms are clamoring to get to that next level. With integrated AR and VR, you can talk to people as if they’re in the same room as you, and you can even experience what they’re experiencing vicariously, complete with a full sensory experience and no need for the platforms of old.

What the Post-Social Media World Looks Like

Any social media interface you can imagine will be long gone. There might be buttons or menus that allow you to do things like call up a specific contact or stream a projection of your current line of sight, but online social interaction won’t exist the way we know it today.

Instead, social media companies will be focused on advanced forms of messaging and broadcasting, which will transcend our current limitations by a factor we can’t yet imagine. I imagine most interactions like “comments” and “likes” will disappear too, in favor or real-time feedback, and decades down the road, all this technology may become so minimalistic and so integrated that it doesn’t exist as an external device.

A Timeline

This projected reality of social media is exciting, and may sound a bit too sci-fi for your taste. That’s fine; I encourage you not to make any bold business or marketing decisions based around this far-off projection of what’s to come.

In reality, social media will likely evolve gradually, with no major revolutions over the next few years. But don’t write off these developments too far—if I had to nail down a date, I’d argue that we’ll start seeing a full transition away from traditional platforms within a decade.

But before that happens, if you have questions about setting up a social media program for your company, consider downloading our ebook, Social to Scale.

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This article was originally posted on this site on January 25, 2017. On Saturdays, we republish posts our readers might’ve  previously missed. It was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.