• Information in the Industrial Age: scarce, expensive, institutionally oriented, designed for consumption.
• Information in the Information Age: abundant, cheap, personally oriented, designed for participation.
The former is the way media used to be, the latter is the new media landscape, and how PR professionals cope with this media transformation affects brands and ultimately the bottom line. Even the definition of media has changed: No longer does it refer to journalists from established media companies—some which have ceased to exist, while others are down to bare-bones resources.
No, the word “media” is morphing into “influencers,” which can run the gamut—from mainstream journalists to bloggers to regular citizens, says Colin Moffett, vice president at Weber Shandwick.
GETTING YOUR STORY TOLD
As we soon head into the next decade, PR pros will be giving much thought as to who their influencers are, how best to communicate with them and how to translate that dialogue into results. Moffett, who manages the digital communications team at Washington D.C.-based Powell Tate, Weber’s public affairs arm, believes engaging key influencers in a variety of ways is how an organization will get its story told—whether from traditional coverage, via social media or a combination of both.
Much of that mix depends on who your influencers are. It can be a wide range of people—for example, from the elite media, the cultural elite and policy makers to targeted media (trade publications and bloggers), affinity groups (like mommy bloggers) and the connected public. “It’s best to start with the people who know your product, service or issue well, and care about it,” says Moffett. “The further out you get to the general public, the harder it is to connect.”
LEVERAGE YOUR MONITORING PROGRAM
The key is to listen to what people are saying about your issues, or issues that are related to yours, says Moffett. A strong monitoring program is important, because whether you’re a brand, organization or a cause, it’s good to know what the sentiment is like out there. “You may stumble on people who you didn’t know were big fans of yours,” he says.
Traditional media monitoring efforts coupled with powerful social media monitoring tools results in a 360 degree view of your influencers. And more and more, companies are integrating the two. “Whether it’s a tweet, a blog post or a Wall Street Journal article, it’s all coverage,” says Moffett.
Then, he adds, it’s a matter of ranking the influence of each of those. It’s very possible that, depending on your message, a tweet could be more impactful than a print article.
This is where good monitoring and reporting tools come into play, says David Conner, account director at San Francisco-based Access PR. “We use a mix of commercial products and homegrown tools,” he says. “We can report activities in real time and our clients can view our results on demand.”
NEW JOURNALIST LANDSCAPE
Make no mistake, the journalist is still a big part of the influencer equation for most organizations. But that landscape has dramatically changed as well. Communicating with journalists through press releases is becoming less prominent, in part because of the new tools.
Conner says social media is changing the way the agency interacts with journalists. “We regularly use Twitter and FriendFeed to connect with journalists, particularly bloggers,” he says. “We understand how the rules of engagement have changed and we’re adjusting to it.” (For more on the new journalist landscape, see “Brave New World” sidebar.)
Whether it’s a traditional or new media journalist, or a mommy blogger, do your homework on your influencers and get to know them, says Moffett. Then you can start communicating with them through the channels that they use the most. For true two-way conversation, social media is the way to go. “It’s not about dissemination, it’s the dialogue that’s important,” notes Moffett.
If you’re just wading into the social media pool, tread lightly at first, says Moffett. Develop a social media policy for employees to follow, but allow for some flexibility in the rules, because influencers use social media in different ways.
Then, once you’ve established a dialogue, make it easy for your influencers to get more information about you, via a social media newsroom. “People are stretched for time, and it’s important to have a place to go to with information already packaged and available for them to grab,” says Moffett.
CONTENT IS KING
Looking back to the Industrial Age model, in the past if you wanted to broadcast your message, you had to get it published in a newspaper. Today you can be your own media outlet, creating and disseminating your own content.
Good content is hard to generate, though, and many organizations struggle with its creation. Then again, quality content doesn’t guarantee success. “People see a cat playing a piano on YouTube, but those attention getters are few and far between,” says Moffett. If you’re trying to tell a story, be creative but also promote it.
Think of 2010 as an opportunity to develop real relationships with your influencers, whomever they may be.
“More and more people are going to define their careers in PR based upon influencer relationships they carry out over time,” says Conner. “They are that critical to success.” PRN
Colin Moffett, firstname.lastname@example.org; David Conner, email@example.com.