Giving Your Stories a Sharper (and Bigger) Reach

Scott Livingston
Scott Livingston

Storytelling plays a central role in my life at the moment. As the father of a three-year-old, stories—and weekly treks to the library—have become part of our household routine. We place a lot of emphasis on storybooks, in no small part to counterbalance the legion of movies, television shows and apps that compete for our son’s attention. In many ways, managing a child’s media diet is like managing a PR strategy. Advertisements masquerading as entertainment get flatly rejected. We shun media that receive the Parental Thumbs Down, while buying those that receive a Parental Thumbs Up.

Paid media. Earned media. Owned media. Both parents and PR professionals struggle with creating the right media mix for their audience.

NOT SO EASY

Among PR professionals, it’s a commonly held dogma that earned placement is the most effective way to engage with an audience. And rightly so. Third-party validation provides an independent stamp of approval on a message and is viewed as more trustworthy by the public.

For all the benefits that earned placement confer, its strengths are also its weakness. Securing an earned placement takes a lot of work. It’s time-consuming.

What is more, there’s no guarantee that all that effort will actually land you a story. Equally problematic, the original storyteller (that’s you, the PR professional) loses control of how the story’s told.

MORE CONSISTENCY

Enter content marketing. By blending the benefits of earned placement with the strengths of owned media, content marketing can provide a unique opportunity to engage with an audience.

Content marketing (branded journalism, sponsored stories, native advertising, whatever you want to call it) allows you, the storyteller, to control the characters, the plot, even the choice of words. And, in a world where more than 80 percent of shoppers research online before making a purchase, search has become a powerful form of earned placement.

So, how do you get to the top of the all-important search rankings? “Write good content,” the search engines tell us. The problem, of course, is that “good” is subjective and overly vague. Fortunately, for the PR professional, SEO gurus can provide clearer instructions.

Good content—content that gets to the top of search results—is content that’s original and engaging. Write something that’s useful. Write something that’s entertaining. This is content that readers share. And “sharing” is the key to the SEO kingdom.

Seven out of the top ten SEO ranking factors are based on social sharing. In other words, “good” content is so engaging—because of its utility, entertainment or information—that it gets broadly shared across social networks.

I’m not suggesting that every piece of content has to go viral. Viral hits are random and unpredictable. Our focus should be on generating consistent quality with a long shelf life, not trying to game the system by creating a series of flashes in the pan.

UNTAPPED AUDIENCES

“But hold on,” I hear some of you muttering. “I already write ‘good’ content for my blog. Why would I need content marketing?” A very fair question, and the answer has everything to do with audience.

The odds are good that your blog readership consists of your current customers, and a subset of noncustomers who’ve identified a need, initiated a search, and found you as a result of keyword matching. And that’s a very good audience to have, no doubt.

But what about the rest of the world, people who aren’t actively searching, but may have a need that they haven’t even expressed yet? Content marketing allows you to leverage content that you’re already creating by placing it in front of this larger, untapped audience.

Now, don’t be fooled; this isn’t old school “spray and pray.” Content marketing allows websites to serve different content to different visitors based on an individual’s broader search and browsing histories.

Our browsing behaviors determine what we see, allowing PR professionals to target specific individuals who are most likely to respond to a particular message.

After we began repurposing our existing owned content via content marketing channels, we discovered something very surprising.

While the trades are core to our success, our audience is also reading traditional news sites, entertainment sites, home improvement sites and a host of other channels based on their professional and personal interests.

We had been missing opportunities to engage with these people because we’d been too narrow in our thinking. Today, our greatest source of paid referrals comes from E! Online. Who’d have imagined?

Content marketing allows you to expand your audience, improve your targeting, and drive greater social sharing, all to the ultimate benefit of driving your SEO efforts.

Special shout-out to Kelsey Fox, digital coordinator, DCI, for suggesting this article.

CONTACT:

Scott Livingston is senior VP for market engagement at Cision. He can be reached at Scott.Livingston@cision.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.