Just as communication evolves and the needs and preferences of our audience shifts, so should our practice of public relations. Publications and media outlets are navigating changing revenue models, new communication channels are opening, and more business leaders are establishing their voices in the industry.
Staying on top of your game — and ahead of competitors — means you have to keep up with the practices shaping your industry. To help, here are seven major digital PR trends to watch out for in 2016:
1. The traditional press release is no more.
The age of the standard press release is no more. Unless you’re Apple — or you have some truly groundbreaking product — you’re wasting your resources if you’re continuing to write and distribute traditional press releases to journalists and outlets to get them to cover your news. Rather than trying to gain media coverage through ineffective press releases of a time gone by, it’s critical for PR professionals and marketers to embrace new and different ways of getting news about our offerings and accomplishments to our audience members. Take advantage of social media, develop relationships with industry leaders and influencers, and incorporate quality visuals in your messages to get the attention of journalists and outlets that can help you spread your message.
2. Thought leadership will become a growing PR budget priority.
My company, Influence & Co., has provided thought leadership and executive branding to our clients for several years. As we’ve grown, we’ve also been able to see more and more public relations and communications agencies notice the benefits of these services and begin offering it to their clients as well — and for good reason. Thought leadership is a newer marketing trend where business leaders and companies position themselves as leaders in their spaces, and it serves as a great framework for related PR tactics and campaigns.
So, before leaders set out to promote their images and their companies’ messages, they need to control the original content around their brands. By focusing on thought leadership, you can surround yourself and your audience with the right kind of content — content that’s valuable, educational, and engaging. As thought leadership continues to grow in popularity (and as the base of successful PR strategies), agencies will need to adjust their budgets to allow for greater thought leadership development and execution.
3. Content amplification will become (even more) critical.
Years ago, if you could get yourself published in publications like TechCrunch or Forbes, your site would probably crash from all of the traffic. Outside of doing well on “Shark Tank,” there really aren’t as many opportunities to drive that volume of traffic to your website anymore. Sure, there are plenty of channels to promote your messaging, but you have to know how to leverage and amplify your content to get more eyes on it. And it all starts with the quality of the content you’re trying to get in front of your audience.
When you start with good content, amplifying it to your targeted audience becomes much easier, and you’ll find even more avenues for you and your team to distribute it. In addition to social media, including new content in lead generation, and nurturing events — from infographics to whitepapers and articles — the sales process, marketing newsletters, and even email signatures can get more of the right eyes on your content and amplify your message. To better organize your distribution efforts, download the content promotion template.
4. Negative brand advocates will be prevented through content.
Sometimes, people can be unreasonable and a little impulsive, and with such easy access to social media, every person has the ability to share bad experiences with his or her network. You never know who has a column at a publication you’re targeting, a massive social following you’d like to reach, or who just connected on LinkedIn with a person you’re trying to develop a relationship with. And that’s scary.
To prevent this in PR, establish processes to avoid negative experiences in the first place. That starts with training your team to handle situations and experiences effectively — before they turn into PR nightmares. Take it from Jay Baer who just released his new book, “Hug Your Haters.” It showcases why ignoring your haters can be a toxic spiral and how to solve the real issues at hand. That’s a helpful resource if your team is struggling through this process.
I’ve found that another great way to do this is through content.
We use content in our hiring process to educate and attract candidates, during new hires’ onboarding processes to introduce them to our culture and services, and throughout their time with our company to keep them up-to-date about our industry. When your team is educated and engaged, they can help facilitate better experiences with your clients, and those experiences reduce your chances of falling victim to the social ranting and negative brand advocacy of a disgruntled customer.
5. Online reputation management will be necessary.
When you pitch a story or a piece of content to a publication editor or journalist, the first thing a lot of them do is search who you are and what your company does. Because they receive hundreds of pitches each day as a result of the rise in guest contributors, they might only have a few seconds to look into you, and that search can go one of two ways: They either like what they see and follow through, or they don’t.
When someone searches you and finds solid content around your brand, your expertise, and your company, you essentially pass his or her test. Thus, your chance of acceptance to his or her publication increases. But if there isn’t much content (or if the content you do have is negative), a relationship with you isn’t worth the risk. To better manage your online reputation and get your message to the right audiences, it’s important to consistently create and publish quality content.
6. True influence will win over number of followers.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that brands and company executives are spending a significant amount of money to gain the attention of leading industry influencers with hundreds of thousands of social media followers to gain access to their networks, increase their own following, and promote their messages. And while this can mean a higher number of people in your “followers” section on your profile, it doesn’t guarantee that those people are right for you and your brand.
My company works with many influential clients who may have a few thousand followers, but they earned them naturally — not from buying them, follow-backs, or other shady ways to make it look as if they have influence — and they’ve seen great success on social. It’s ultimately better to have a slightly smaller, higher-quality network that loves your brand and content than it is to have a larger one with no engagement. Focus on developing a network and building influence among a targeted, valuable audience and social following to stay ahead in 2016.
7. Use of paid promotion and social ads will continue to rise.
With thought leadership strategies serving as such a great base for public relations efforts, we’re seeing more and more leaders produce and distribute content around their brands and expertise to fuel those PR efforts. And, although amplifying content in sales and marketing processes can help get it to the right audiences, another method of distribution is on the rise.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 content benchmark report, more than 50 percent of B2B marketing professionals use social ads and promoted posts to distribute content, and the effectiveness ratings for each of these methods have increased since last year. This means more marketers and communications professionals are turning to paid social efforts, and those efforts are seeing higher and higher returns. To keep up, communications professionals should look for new ways to invest in paid social distribution and reach new audiences.
The public relations industry has seen dramatic evolution over the years (especially in the last few). It’s an exciting time to be a communications professional, and if we want to continue evolving with our field, we have to pay attention to upcoming trends and changes in our practices.
What other trends do you think we can prepare for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and knowledge management that is used to fuel marketing efforts.