Deep Dives Into Digital Tactics on Display at PR News’ Digital PR Summit

A full house of more than 300 communications pros gathered at the Grand Hyatt in New York on Oct. 5 for PR News' Digital PR Summit, which offered deep dives into a wide array of digital tactics, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, search engine optimization and more. And "tactic" was the key word at the one-day conference: As Dallas Lawrence, chief global digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller, said on the panel How to Make Twitter the Ultimate PR Platform, "Social networks are tactics, not strategies."

As Lawrence and many of the speakers made clear at the summit, being a Facebook or Twitter expert only has meaning if social networking efforts are part of a broad PR strategy and can be tied to real-world business objectives.

Maintaining "healthy" digital PR programs was also a central theme, as 25 experts and "digital doctors" (replete with lab coat and stethoscope) provided the attendees with “prescriptions” for success. The experts tackled the top digital/social communications platforms—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube—as well as up-and-comers Google+, Tumblr and Foursquare.

Engaging Content

In all the sessions, digital content and engagement strategies were important themes. In the opening session, Facebook Strategies that Produce Results, Lisa Peterson, director of communications at the American Kennel Club, advised attendees to devise a regular Facebook posting schedule and “ask audiences for their opinions on topics of interest to create conversations they care about.”

Just knowing your audiences’ behavior on Facebook is important, said Huma Gruaz, CEO and president of PR firm Alpaytac. For example, the older demographic writes longer updates and posts more often about friends and family than the younger set.

Twitter experts weighed in on how to find qualified followers for this ever-more-powerful platform. Succinct, honest content is critical, said Corinne Kovalsky, director of digital and social media at defense company Raytheon. Kovalsky goes by the 80/20 rule: “80% content that’s not about you, and 20% that’s promotional,” she said. In writing Twitter content, Kovalsky said it's important to “think like a reporter, and write tweets like headlines.”

Data Key to Leadership's Buy-In

Summit-goers got a dose of the Ivy League at lunch, as keynote presenter Perry Hewitt, chief digital officer at Harvard University, gave an overview of Harvard’s digital program. Perry said a key initial strategy was getting buy-in from university brass. “It’s important to show leadership real data and not anecdotal information,” said Perry. She also stressed that while Harvard is an established institution, institutional messages don’t cut it in today’s social environment. “They resonate much less than more personal conversations,” said Perry.

In the afternoon, the topic of identifying and monitoring influencers was front and center, as mBLAST CEO Gary Lee gave a tutorial on determining which influencers really matter. “They must have topical relevance to your market,” said Lee, adding that online popularity (Justin Bieber, for example) is not the same thing as online influence. "Influence is not a single number," said Lee. "You have to measure influence in terms of the market you’re working in. And you have to look at it over time."

Chiclets Good for Sharing

SEO, a relatively ancient yet absolutely essential digital tactic, was explored in-depth by Sally Falkow, social media strategist at Meritus Media. A critical tactic, said Falkow, is “new content creation and delivery on a regular basis,” which will help shoot Google rankings toward the top.

Also discussing social SEO, Harry Gold, CEO and managing partner at Overdrive Interactive, called chiclets (or share buttons) “the Web 2.0 glue of the social Web.” Promoting the availability of your content on the most popular social platforms is critical to capturing eyeballs—and leads—from your social content, said Gold.

E-Mail Still King for Journalists

Another panel featured three members of the media—ABC News Now's Daniel Sieberg, Home Goes Strong Blogger Leah Ingram and freelance journalist Ashley Milne-Tyte—who revealed the ways in which they use social media for story ideas and to find sources. While the panelists do use Twitter and Facebook professionally, the preferred pitch platform remains e-mail. But PR pros take note: “I receive too many attachments,” said Ingram. “Don’t assume I’ll open an attachment—make me want to read your pitch first.”

Social media has changed the way Ingram writes. “My editor is happy as long as I get the page views,” she said. Which means using the most effective keywords. “When press releases start coming to me with suggested keywords, I’ll be very happy,” said Ingram.

With the emphasis on so much on digital, Nick Panayi, director of global brand and digital marketing at CSC, probably summed up digital communications best in his talk on measurement: “Digital efforts can’t be looked at in isolation,” he said. “It’s not an island of productivity, but truly part of an ecosystem.” Meaning, digital's integration with other disciplines will lead to PR success.

The Digital PR Summit was held the day after PR News' Digital PR Awards luncheon, where winners and honorable mentions in 33 digital categories were announced. And don't miss PR News' intensive, one-day Twitter Conference, which will be held Nov. 10 in Las Vegas.