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Having a personal online presence is blast. Say it’s a couple of thousand (give or take) who knows who I am and what I stand for. Put them all on a big square and I think anyone would marvel on how many real people of flesh and blood this truly is. I wouldn’t go so [...]

by JERRY SILFWER aka Doctor Spin
Expert in corporate communications and online persuasion

Having a personal online presence is blast. Say it’s a couple of thousand (give or take) who knows who I am and what I stand for. Put them all on a big square and I think anyone would marvel on how many real people of flesh and blood this truly is. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these people are my fans, but since I’ve stayed the course and shown character over the years, at least this means that my opinion matters in some of the circles that matters most to me.

Most companies are greedy in that way. For them, a couple of thousand people is nothing. For some reason, and I guess this stems from lack of understanding, they’d rather have weak ties to millions than strong ties to thousands. This is strange in many ways, because a brand can do so much more real stuff with 1,500 die hard fans than they could possibly do with 2,000,000 casual bypassers.

This of course, is the basic logic behind community management. If you can’t cater to those select few, those with very high demands and explicit individual motivations, it becomes a waste of resources to try to be whatever you want to be in the eyes of the many. It’s like traditional PR pitching; you can’t convey anything to the masses unless you manage to get a highly involved and motivated journalist to see the point of running the story.

And this is of course true for any content strategy as well. Getting 2,000,000 views on Youtube is great and all, but that sort of viral spread isn’t really a strategy to begin with. Any day of the week, I’d rather advice a brand to cater to their community instead. If your brand is lucky enough to be blessed with 1,500 die hard fans, give them what they need instead. That should be the basis of any good content strategy.

Because if you can’t get one person to share or interact, you will not succeed with getting 2,000,000 people to do it. If you start today, make sure to get one person to love your brand and your marketing efforts won’t have gone to waste, rather than trying to get a heck of a lot of page views. This seems to be the basics of the new media logic; to help your ambassadors in their quest to become heroes in their own social networks.

The media consumption is increasing, but the way information finds us is nothing less than a groundbreaking shift.

PR has been sort 99 percent content strategy, content creation, and content push. But today, you’d better allocate your PR investments more wisely. At least 50 percent of the PR investment should be allocated to managing your community, i.e. those who actively seek you out for whatever reason.

These 50 percent should be put into monitoring, data mining, and analysis as well as loyalty rewards, community service and online human presence. Because this will actually help your brand to save money and, if the intelligence is put to good use early in the processes of your business – it will help you make money. Or stated in a less corporate manner – every good relationship requires that you put as much energy into listening as into talking.

And when you do talk, please don’t talk only about yourself. It makes your brand less appealing for those who might be interested in a deeper relationship. Out of your tweets, blog posts, or Facebook Page update, as a rule of thumb, try to make sure that four of every five messages is boosting your community instead of being just your same old corporate messages. It will strengthen your brand immensely – and it will make your content more appealing.

As a positive side-effect, your focus on community management will actually take some strain away from your content strategy. Because producing and pushing content is costly, and if you can systematically highlight content produced elsewhere, you can focus on the process of curating in a way that benefits your business objectives, rather than spending your resources on the process of creating even more media.

A lot of self-proclaimed experts gets this wrong, constantly. They want companies to produce spectacular (expensive) content, because that’s what they themselves are trying to sell to them. My advice is quite the opposite. If you have a PR budget, spend it on those who deserve it first – your die hard fans. When you then master the art of monitoring and managing your community, then and only then you’ll be ready, only then you’ll have the strategic foundation you need to get things moving outside those circles.

But let’s say you allocated your PR resources. You spend 50 percent of your budget on monitoring, analytics, and directing attention back to the public that deserves it. You’re in the blessed state of engaged co-creating. Well, companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple are actually so good at finding out what their fans want, so they don’t really have to do so much talking themselves.

Because make no mistake about it. These companies might not be answering your tweets all the time – if ever! – but they sure as hell are listening. And here’s the thing – they actually put the data to good use. Modern companies can no longer ignore what their die hard fans is telling them at an early stage and that is why the PR feedback loop needs to reach far into the organizational processes.

photo © 2009 digitalbob8 | more info (via: Wylio)

And this is why conversation never will be king. A good listener will always outsmart a good conversationalist. (And yes, you can be a good conversationalist without having the content of character to match.) We want our beloved brands to do things for us and that’s what we care about first and foremost. We like it when they listen to our needs and swiftly adapt to them. If the brand haven’t gotten this down, no amount of Twitter conversations with corporate representatives will then do the brand any long-term good.

Don’t get me wrong, answering back when addressed is common courtesy and applies to any social context, wether you’re a brand or a person, but it’s not the place to start. Having good PR with your community starts with listening – and continuously do so! – to what they want and then giving it to them, simple as that. It’s only when you have big ears and a solid product or service that “PR by talking back” will do you any good.

So, if the brand is listening and adapting swiftly, where to go then? Where to go when your community management is working as it should? Now it’s time to talk content strategy.

Personally, when it comes to this blog, I haven’t really gotten that far yet. I write too long posts and I always go out of my way to end all discussions before they even start by exhausting the subject at hand. All content is merely experimental and rarely adapted to what search engines like. I seldom produce content that is easy to share. I’m basically never any fun. I only produce text, never any video, sound, or art.

My content strategy definitely  needs an extreme makeover, but let this go to show how important community management is. I’m very proud of my small but powerful community. I’m starting to know them really well. I know their names, I know what they think. I even know where most of them are and what they are doing right now. I know that some of them won’t agree to everything I write, but when they don’t agree, at least I anticipated it.

And most important of all, I know I’ve earned their respect, the same way they’ve earned mine.

And this is also why I bother to write long posts like this from time to time. I know that it’ll probably cost me a few subscriptions, as people think it’s too in-depth relative to what they are interested in and that’s fine – this would be a pretty strange world if everyone felt as passionate as I do about PR. But I know for sure that some of my truest readers will get through it, and they will respect and appreciate my understanding of where PR needs to be – today.

Because I’m writing for them, those select few. Because I know from experience, that these people, after evaluating my thoughts and after working or talking (or drinking?) with me themselves, will then recommend me in their networks. Otherwise I’d rather shift my focus from blogging to instead pitching myself as a talking head to the mainstream media, stating only the obvious sound bites to those who are maybe somewhat interested on merely a basic level.

Still, a content strategy is important – even if it isn’t the first step. There’s no contradiction between community management, content strategy/creation or doing outreach to key publics. When it comes to my own digital presence, I just haven’t gotten around to the last two steps yet.

On content strategy, I’ve found that packaging is becoming increasingly important. Recurring themes and concepts seems to be highly appreciated amongst digital publics, and it’s this element of familiarity that builds audiences – not singular viral shots. I’ve enjoyed quite a few viral marketing stunts myself, but I’m not returning to them just because they got lucky, and I’m sure as hell ain’t buying their products or services on basis of them entertaining me for a couple of minutes.

For the sake of argument, I suggest we specifically discuss video for content strategy. Video is becoming increasingly strong as far as digital content is concerned, but this is at the same time an area in which more brands could do better.

If we take lesson from the young and social web companies, we can see that they’re constantly using video content to communicate with their community, i.e. the people that actively seek them out, either via search, curating, or syndication. When for instance Google releases a new feature, you’ll be sure to find that they explain this new feature in an easy to understand video tutorial. This transforms the corporate message into a service rather than a pitch.

These videos need not consist of expensive marketing stunt material or elaborate production schemes. It’s about telling the potential consumer what they came there to find out and to do it in the shortest amount of time possible. This is a beautiful logic; you make sure to save people’s time rather than trying to steal their attention away from other things. This is really good PR!

Also, as far as digital video content is concerned, when it comes to search, curating, and syndication, it’s way more strategic to produce ten not-so-expensive instructional and fact-based videos on the web for people to find themselves, rather than putting the same amount of resources into a single video “one-shot” attempt.

This line of thinking will of course call the need for how content is created in-house. So many brands are putting so much energy into a text-based press release process and reading a corporate press release is often quite exhausting. Even an intelligent and highly literate person often needs to read it twice before understanding what the big deal is – if there’s such a thing in it. Using video more often to explain might sound expensive, but producing tons of press releases that aren’t communicating very well is in a way expensive, too.

So as far as content strategy and creation goes, start preparing your organisations for the video revolution to enter your doorstep. If done wrong, it’s still expensive, but the same went for building web sites before WordPress or Joomla, or maybe creating Facebook tabs before BuddyPress or TigerLily? Remember, there’s a lot of bloggers out there who produces compelling video content today without having those big budgets.

If they can do it, so can you.

I guess that I, as a final point, need to owe up when it comes to my personal content strategy – and video content in particular. So let me leave that to those of you who were interested enough to get this far. I would love for you to help me find an efficient way to produce video content, preferably without having to be in front of the camera myself. I’m looking for guidance on narrative video software, which would help me to quickly produce moving infographics with voice-over technology.

For me, that would be a killer-app and, if it works for me, chances are it will work for a whole lots of other people! Any suggestions or ideas on how to do this?

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Author:

Jerry Silfwer is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.

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