◆ How Social Broke PR
◆ Why PR Still Matters
◆ The Changing Media Landscape
◆ Where Did Shared Media Go?
◆ 3 Core Social Media Behaviors
◆ Why Social Media Behaviors Matter
◆ The Earned Media Hub Strategy
◆ Case Study: The Twitter IPO
◆ Get More PR and Marketing Ideas!
Life as a PR professional and traditional marketer used to be easy. In the old
days, public relations was simply a matter of taking our pitches and our
dollars to the media gatekeepers. We’d take out an advertisement in the
newspaper. We would get a radio spot, get a 30 second spot on television,
pay a million bucks for a Superbowl ad, and the gatekeepers would
guarantee us access to their audiences. After all, there weren't that many.
There was the local newspaper, the local radio station, the local television
station and the national networks. They would give us new audience. We
would convert the audience. Everything was great.
Along came the Internet, and suddenly everything started to break. Anyone
could put up a webpage. Anyone could be a publisher, be a media source. In
the beginning, it wasn't so bad— people largely relied on their traditional
media sources and saw the Internet as a fad. But the game changed forever
once social media and new media came along.
Social media encompasses things like blogging. It encompasses things like
online reviews. Social media includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+,
podcasting, WhatsApp, Candy Crush, and all the ways people communicate
in the modern world. Social media includes a variety of rich media types
such as video, audio, and interactive. Apps like Vine, Instagram, Stitcher, and
Snapchat provide a rich media experience in ways that traditional media
simply could not keep up with. Mobile devices made media creation and
consumption easier than ever, but channel disaggregation meant that
audiences moved away from stalwarts to social apps, and traditional media
companies simply lost their audiences.
Most important, social media broke traditional media models in one
fundamental way: traditional media organizations are no longer the
gatekeepers and arbiters of information or audiences. They no longer have a
monopoly on what gets seen, heard, or shared. At best, their publication of a
story validates a particular piece of information or story. At worst, they are
The reality is that everyone has access to the audience, and audience is
transient. Our CEO, Todd Defren, is famous for saying that the guy who is in
front of you at Starbucks on his phone could be vastly more inﬂuential than
the reporter at the New York Times you're trying to pitch. This guy may have
an audience of 600,00 people and when he shares something, people reshare
it, people talk about it. And he could, with one tweet, comment, or Facebook
post, ruin your business completely. Ask any hotel how powerful a simple
comment like “bedbugs” is on a travel recommendation site.
The media outlets that will survive and prosper in this arrow are the ones who
recognize that their brands are entirely about trust. People trust that when
they read something in the New York Times, it has been vetted and validated
to some degree. But that trust only goes so far; the assumption has been for
years, for decades, that a traditional media outlet owned its audience, that
their loyalty was baked in. Social media and new media have proven that
assumption is incorrect, and the traditional media outlets are paying the
B2B Magazine, a well-known business magazine is closing up shop this year,
folded into Ad Age, because the audience and subsequently the advertising
dollars dried up on them. It wasn’t that people are less interested in B2B
marketing suddenly; in fact quite the opposite is true. They simply lost their
power of being a gatekeeper of B2B news and didn't adapt fast enough.
Another famous publication, Lloyd’s List, was the oldest continuously running
newspaper on the planet. They announced at the end of 2013 that they're
going digital, bringing an end to a 279 year tradition.
Think about that for a second. This was a publication that predated electricity;
now, they are saying that they have to go digital because they cannot
maintain the cost of doing business on paper, a practice that served them well
for almost three centuries.
The American Medical Association shuttered its 55-year-old publication in
2013 due to declining revenues. Newspapers and other publications are
closing down left and right in cities around America and the world.
DowJones shuttered SmartMoney Magazine due to declining revenues. The
Washington Examiner closed up shop, as did the Boston Phoenix. The list
goes on and on.
It's not just publications that are closing up shop or having to adapt.
Journalists themselves a ﬁnding that their careers are changing rapidly; some
are leaving the ﬁeld entirely, while others are becoming brand journalists.
Corporations and brands have realized that they needs to cultivate and
nurture their own audiences, as traditional public relations efforts are
becoming less impactful due to fewer traditional outlets. Brands are
becoming the media, too.
The New York Times recently lost 13-year-veteran David Pogue to Yahoo.
Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, I think put a large bundle of money on the table
and said, “David, come write for us”. Brands are starting to recognize that
new media has completely broken the old media models, and that's as much
and opportunity as it is a threat.
In the process of breaking media, social media broke PR as we knew it.
We have to treat everyone like the media, because everyone is the media. You
are the media (or you should be). Your competitors are the media (or are in
the process of becoming the media). Your brand may ﬁnd itself, if you don’t
have a media outlet and audience of your own, in the peculiar situation of
having to pitch your competitors who do have a media outlet and audience
of their own to get coverage, and what’s the likelihood your competitor will
publish a glowing piece about you? Whether you want to be or not, you must
become a publisher.
This is the media landscape that public relations professionals now face: how
traditional sources for pitching are drying up, new sources are appearing all
the time, and the number of sources are exploding exponentially as the
number of media outlets explode exponentially. Social media and new media
broke the traditional public relations model. In order to thrive, we all must
adapt. Let's start looking at how.
Lest you think that the ﬁeld public relations is as dead as the traditional
media ﬁeld that spawned it, worry not. The principle and idea of public
relations still matters a great deal. I've been a B2C and a B2B and
B2Everything marketer for almost two decades now, and marketing used to
be a really easy thing. All we had to do was generate leads. That was our
primary responsibility. Let's create leads, and from there, the leads that we
created would be given to the sales team, and the sales team would go out
and sell stuff. If our company, our brand or our product was really good, we
would create evangelists, people to help us with our marketing out of their
love for the brand.
This is how marketing has worked for decades, and how it still works today.
As a marketer, I ran into a signiﬁcant problem over and over again in my
career, what I call the marketer’s dilemma. I’ve always had sales teams that
were absolutely ravenous for new leads. At my last job, the sales team
wanted leads at an absurd volume. In one year, the demand for leads went
from 1000 leads per month, to 2000 leads per month, to 3000 leads per
month in the span of one quarter! They simply needed more and more just to
grow the business, just to power the smile and dial tactics.
The problem I had as a marketer, the marketer’s dilemma, is that you can only
squeeze your existing audience so much. There are only so many qualiﬁed
leads in your existing audience to begin with, so you can market and market
and market, but if you're not growing your audience, if you don’t have new
audiences all the time, then the amount of impact that you're going to be
able to have as a marketer, as a public relations professional, as a
communicator is going to diminish over time. If you don’t get new audiences,
your effectiveness, your results, your numbers will get lower and lower and
lower, because there's no one left who hasn't heard the pitch a dozen times.
You reach the bottom of the barrel and there is nothing left.
On top of that, the whole idea of “build it and they will come” simply does
not work in an environment where new stuff, new media is appearing all the
time. Marketing channels such as organic search deliver reliable results, but
they simply cannot scale fast enough to meet demands like what I was facing.
Marketing channels like e-mail marketing are more like sales channels; you
don't ever really build signiﬁcant new audiences from e-mail so much as you
market to the existing list you already have, with some incremental growth if
you do a good job. Marketing channels like social media are excellent for
preaching to the existing choir that you already have, and they can absolutely
grow your audience if you have something worth sharing, but they can't scale
fast enough by themselves.
This poses the ultimate challenge to us as marketers: where do we get new
audiences from quickly, at scale, and in a reasonably cost-effective manner?
Finding the answer to this question is one of the reasons why I began working
at SHIFT Communications. The traditional answer for marketers was to simply
buy new audiences. Drop a whole bunch of advertising budget and hope
people pay attention.
The unfortunate reality is that most marketers can't effectively generate new
audiences, and for good reason: generating new audiences is not a marketer’s
responsibility, nor is it their area of expertise. Marketing’s responsibility is
lead generation. The responsibility for generating new audiences comes from
I often use the analogy of being a store owner trying to attract new business.
The job of media, whether it is public relations (earned) or advertising (paid),
is to tell people that the store exists, to build trust and word of mouth about
the store so that people will come visit it. Media gets people to the front door.
Marketing’s job is to open the door to the store, to invite people in, to get
them to browse and ﬁnd things of interest to them. Marketing’s job is to make
the offerings in the store appealing, to create a desire to on the products or
services being sold. Once marketing has effectively created leads, people
who are interested in buying, the job of sales is to ring the register. This
applies to all forms of industry and all sales environments, B2B or B2C. The
process of getting people to buy a pack of gum, A jet airplane, or the services
of a PR ﬁrm are not signiﬁcantly different because at the end of the day, a
human being has to buy.
This explains why marketers face so much difﬁculty in generating new
audiences. It is exceptionally difﬁcult to do all three roles effectively. If
marketing focuses solely on getting people to raise their hands and say, ”I’m
interested”, all of your scarce resources can be focused on that goal. Let
advertising and public relations handle the process of generating new
audiences through media, and let the sales team do the job of closing the
deals. When you let each specialty work to do. Its potential, two results
should drastically improve. This is why public relations still matters.
We understand that social media broke traditional media and traditional
public relations. We understand that public relations, conceptually, still
matters. What we need to understand next is how to involve our
understanding of what media is, so that we can take advantage of its power
and full potential.
Media is no longer discrete channels like television or social networks or
radio. If it were simply about channels, they would be far fewer of them
being created every day. You can't go a day without logging onto a site like
Mashable or TechCrunch and seeing hundreds of new tools appearing, new
services to try, and new publications starting up. Media is deﬁned less by the
channel it appears on and more by what we do when we consume that
channel. The three core media channels deﬁned by behavior are earned,
owned, and paid media.
Owned media is simple. It's any place you can talk about how awesome you
are. This is your corporate website, your blog, your e-mail newsletter, your
social media proﬁles, anything that you own or control. Owned media is by
far the least expensive channel to operate, and it does help grow your
audience to some degree through things like search engine optimization and
organic search trafﬁc. Owned media does not scale particularly well because
it is passive, dependent upon discovery through social and search channels.
Owned media is exceptionally good at helping build loyalty if your content is
The second category of media is paid media. Paid media is equally simple to
understand: it is any place that you rent to talk about how awesome you are.
You are renting someone else's audience, from things as mundane as
billboards and bus signs two things as complex as pay per click advertising.
Every time you sponsor a post, promote a tweet, or buy ad space in someone
else's newsletter, you're renting eyeballs. Paid media scales with budget in a
linear fashion; the more you pay, the more access to audience you get.
The third and ﬁnal category is earned media. Earned media is the most
valuable and trustworthy form of media because it's someone else talking
about how awesome you are, not you talking about yourself. In the old days,
in the traditional media days, earned media was simply getting placements in
newspapers, on the radio, or on that valuable daytime TV talk show. Today, it
has dramatically changed. Instead of just talking around the water cooler at
work on Monday morning, people are sharing the things that they like on
social media. Instead of just a bylined article, a guest blog post can be just as
inﬂuential. Every time you garner a re-tweet, a re-share, a +1, you are earning
media. Word-of-mouth itself has gone viral, and that in turn can power your
business like it never could have previously.
This is the new media landscape. This is the environment in which your
brand will either wither or thrive.
One seemingly glaring omission from the previous chapter on media types is
shared media. Where is it? The reality is, shared media doesn't actually exist.
This may seem like an unusual statement to make, given how prominent
shared media is in all the major PR publications, and even in our past e-
books, but it is true. Shared media does not exist because shared media is
Think about it for a second. You can take a piece of paid media in the form of
your most recent ad copy and put it on a ﬂash drive. It is a tangible object
that has intrinsic value and existence. You can take a piece of earned media
in the form of an endorsement, a blog post about you written by someone
else, a Facebook recommendation, etc. and place that on a ﬂash drive. You
can take a piece of owned media such as your most recent newsletter, your
most recent blog post, the tweets you're going to put on Twitter today, and
put that on a ﬂash drive as well.
You can't do any of that with a share. You can't put a share on a ﬂash drive;
you can't print out a share. You can print out perhaps metrics about shares, or
the existence of a share based on a report you’ve run, but the share itself is
completely intangible. So if shared media is not tangible, if shared media
does not exist, then what is it?
Ultimately, shared media is a form of behavior. It is the process by which
any piece of media becomes earned media. I can take your e-book and share
it, and now it is earned media. I could take your advertisement and share it,
and now it becomes earned media. We do this as a tradition every January
when the Super Bowl rolls around. We share advertisements and paid media,
good and bad, all the time. Other people can even reshare existing earned
media, amplifying your message even more.
Earned media is an endorsement, however weak or strong, and that is at the
heart of its power. When I reshare your Facebook post, I am implicitly
endorsing it. When I retweet you, I am implicitly validating that you said
something valuable. When I talk about, or blog about your most recent
advertisement (assuming that the blog post is positive), I am giving it
credibility. The endorsement may not be especially strong, especially in the
case of retweets or Facebook likes since they don't require a terrible amount
of effort, but they are still endorsements and they are still earned media.
As important as sharing is for the generation of earned media, it is only one of
three core behaviors that we are looking to elicit from our audiences in order
to maximize impact of our social media efforts. Take a look at any social
networks major functions offered to its users. Here's an example from Twitter:
We see the share function which is called retweet, but we also see reply and
favorite. Reply allows you to engage by joining the conversation, and favorite
allows you to save/vote for the tweet.
Here's an example from Facebook:
Aside from the photo speciﬁc controls, there are three core options: like,
comment, share. Like allows you to vote for the post and demonstrates your
like of it in your own news feed. Comment allows you to engage in the
conversation, and share allows to be transformed into earned media.
Even the much maligned social network Google+ offers very familiar options.
+1 allows you to vote for the post, the forward button allows you to share it,
and you can of course add a comment and join the conversation.
We can see from the similarities in the user interfaces that the three core
behaviors we are looking to elicit from our audiences are voting behaviors,
engagement behaviors, and sharing behaviors. As before, the media is
deﬁned not by what it is, but by what we do with it. If we can get people to
perform these behaviors, to vote, to engage, to share, our social media efforts
will be signiﬁcantly more successful and proﬁtable.
That also means that we need to approach our social media calls to action
with more diversity in mind. Instead of just looking to elicit Likes on
Facebook, or retweets on Twitter, we should be looking to elicit all three core
behavior types on all the social networks we work on. Beyond just the
surface metrics of Community engagement, these core behaviors also power
other things. There are forms of engagement that exist outside the clickstream,
such as people talking about and recommending you among friends in real
life, people talking about you at conferences and events, people even
referencing you online in other areas such as online reviews. We cannot, as
marketers, effectively track all of those interactions but it would be foolhardy
to deny that they exist or that they have some impact on our audience
There's one more area where these core behaviors are vital and important
that is not immediately obvious: algorithms.
Let's talk about social media core behaviors and algorithms. Most modern
forms of search, such as search engines powered by Google, Yahoo!, and
Facebook, have sophisticated algorithms with hundreds of ranking factors.
These search algorithms in turn power the ability for new audiences to ﬁnd
you via organic search. Many times, new audiences start with a search.
Someone over the search box on Google or Facebook and asks, “where is a
good place to eat around here?” or “searching for a coffee shop nearby”. The
answer they get determines where their business - and their dollars - go.
Until recently, the profession of search engine optimization (SEO) focused on
the stuff, the content. Search engine optimization experts spent years helping
companies tune up their websites, optimizing content for the right keywords
and phrases. They spent countless hours creating links to their websites,
publishing ever more amounts of stuff on the web. In the search arms race,
search engines have been increasing the complexity of their algorithms to
make it more and more difﬁcult for search engine optimization experts to
game the system, so that what people really wanted was what they actually
got when they searched for it.
In the past year alone, Google has released 26 updates to its anti-spam
algorithm, Penguin, and 7 updates to its fraud detection algorithm, Panda.
Each update continued to devalue the content that webmasters and search
experts had control over, the owned media, so that rankings were less subject
to manipulation. Google has said repeatedly that they value the implicit
endorsements that come from inbound links to some degree, and have started
to add social behaviors into their algorithms as another way of ﬁnding and
In a recent charge from search company SearchMetrics.com, they did an
assessment, a regression analysis to determine what ranking factors correlated
most strongly with top search rankings.
Look closely at the top ranking factors. All of them are core social media
behaviors: votes, engagements, and shares. These things correlate more to
search rankings than most of the activities that we've been doing in the past
three to ﬁve years. Search is evolving. What we do with the stuff is more
important than the stuff itself, and eliciting those core social behaviors is a
key part of our mission to deliver new audiences with our owned and earned
That's not to say that great content is irrelevant; quite the contrary is true.
Great content is what ultimately persuades people to share it. But great
content by itself is not good enough. Just throwing it out there, just publishing
and hoping someone ﬁnds it and shares it is a terrible strategy. To make an
analogy to a campﬁre, great content is the wood. A pile of wood will do you
no good unless you need a place to sit. If you're looking to get warm or to
cook some food, a pile of wood is not terribly helpful. You need to start a ﬁre,
and that comes from a spark. Likewise, great content needs to have a spark,
needs to have something to get it in front of the right people, and that comes
from core social behaviors via organic search.
Getting found these days is as much about who knows you as it is about what
you've published. For example, if you are a Google+ user and you type in a
search query like “best PR ﬁrm in New York City” and we are connected to
each other, you will get different search results. Because I have shared and
circled the content I have created for SHIFT Communications, the results you
get in Google will be different, skewed in favor of SHIFT, than if you were not
connected to me. Our connection changes your reality, it changes what you
see in what is effectively organic search retargeting.
This is an incredibly powerful tool available to your brand. If you do a good
job of cultivating inﬂuential members of your audience you have large
audiences of their own, they will change the search results of their audiences
based on what you share with them that they reshare.
The algorithms are based in this logic, design by this logic. There are three
factors by which search algorithms rank content on the web: relevance,
diversity, and timeliness. Each search engine has its own nicknames for these
factors, but they all share common ground. Google calls relevance QDR, or
Query Deserves Relevance while Facebook calls it Afﬁnity. On the content
side, Google has the nickname QDD, or Query Deserves Diversity and
Facebook calls it Weight. Google calls timeliness QDF, or Query Deserves
Freshness, while Facebook calls it Decay.
When it comes to timeliness, search engines are validating you based on the
frequency of your publication. How frequently do you publish? How fresh is
your stuff? How often do you post to social media? All other things being
equal, if you have content that is fresher, you will do better in search than if
you have content that is stale or you don’t publish updates frequently. That's
why having a blog and having a social media strategy with a high frequency
of distribution, a fast cadence, matters. If you publish twice a year, and you
have a competitor publishes twice a day, if your content is up roughly it will
quality, your competitor will eat you for lunch in search results.
The types of content, the diversity of the content you publish, matters now.
Google’s Query Deserves Diversity algorithm looks for a variety of content
types. Google wants to see local business listings. Google wants you to have
videos on YouTube. Google wants you to publish on social media platforms
(preferably their own). Google wants you to use as many of its tools as you
can, And they reward you for doing so with high search rankings. Facebook is
no different. Facebook assigns different weights in its search algorithms to
different types of content. Facebook treats text updates, photos, videos, audio,
and engagements like comments differently. The more of each of these you
can acquire, the better you will rank in their Graph Search. If you've done
any amount of social media work recently on Facebook, you've noticed that
rich media types like pictures and audio and video on Facebook tend to
perform better than just straight text shared, because they garner more of the
core behaviors of votes, engagements, and shares.
When it comes to relevance, the search algorithms want to make sure that
your stuff is as relevant as possible to what the querant was asking. A portion
of that algorithm, particularly on Facebook, is tied directly to the relevance of
you to the asker. That relevance, in turn, is measured by the number of core
social media behaviors that the querant has previously engaged with you.
What do you have to control over? When it comes to all these factors, you
have complete control over timeliness. You control how often you publish
based on the resources you have available to you. You have complete control
over the different media types that you publish. You can choose whether you
want to do video, images, audio, or just straight text. Obviously, in order to
be rewarded by the diversity algorithms, you'll want to make as much diverse
content as your resources permit.
The one area you do not have complete control over is relevance. You can
suggest that people engage with you in the core behaviors that we have
identiﬁed of voting, engagement, and sharing, but you cannot make people
do it. That's why the relevance portion of the algorithm is the most difﬁcult to
tackle, and therefore the most rewarding if you get it right.
The important thing is this, as we have seen in the last year with all the
changes to these search algorithms: to have an effective long-term strategy,
we must create media and content that satisﬁes the people in our audience
and not the search algorithms. With as many changes as search engines are
making on a frequent basis, chasing after them and the short-term loopholes
that they offer is simply not worth it. Instead, behave as though the search
engine is not there. Behave as though organic word-of-mouth is the only way
to distribute your content. Create content that people would want to share,
content of that you would share if you didn't work for your company. That is
and always has been the only long-term viable strategy for content creation. It
is the only strategy that is relatively future-proof against algorithm changes yet
to be unveiled. Playing to the algorithm is incredibly difﬁcult and you can get
burned really badly.
Here is an example: about a year ago, Google said press releases shouldn’t
count towards your search rankings. Companies have been, for years, stufﬁng
press releases with links and keywords because press releases were
distributed on high-value websites. Google adapted its algorithm to be able
to detect this behavior and said in 2012, we are no longer going to allow
search ranking value to be passed from press releases. Nonetheless, search
engine optimization experts continued to publish press releases on behalf of
of brands and companies on the premise that it didn't do any harm, even if it
didn't necessarily do a lot of good. They were still getting the links out there,
and occasionally a press release would be up by another website and they
would get their inbound.
In late 2013, Google indicated that it was still seeing a lot of bad behavior on
the part of search engine optimization experts when it came to press releases
being stuffed full of garbage. They adapted their algorithm once more, and
began to penalize press releases that were stuffed with links. Instead of no
longer just being unhelpful, press releases (including old ones from years
past) could be actively harmful to a website’s search rankings. Suddenly,
brands and companies had a lot of cleanup to do. Years of trying to play to
the algorithm caught up with them in an instant.
Create content that organically elicits the social media core behaviors of
sharing, voting, and engagement. Create content that people actually want.
Jay Baer, in his excellent book Youtility, describes this as content so good, you
would pay for it as a separate product. That is the gold standard you are
looking to achieve, and the only way to truly beat the search algorithms in
All of this discussion sets the table for the question: how do you actually
achieve the results that we are looking for as relations and marketing
professionals? How do we get the core social media behaviors? How do we
create sharing that transforms our earned, owned, and paid media? We do
this by creating content that is relevant, timely, and diverse, which satisﬁes
both search algorithms and the wants of our audiences with what we call the
Earned Media Hub Strategy.
The Earned Media Hub Strategy is based on the premise that we want to
generate as much earned media, including the core social media behaviors of
voting, engaging, and sharing, as possible to grow our audience and reach
The Earned Media Hub Strategy begins with research. We research to
determine what content is going to be most appealing to people, most likely
to be shared, most likely to be talked about. We look at services like Google
Trends, Google+ Explore, trending topics on Twitter, and our own primary
research to make those determinations.
The second step is to ﬁgure out messaging. Messaging is more than just
coming up with clever taglines. Messaging is about aligning the content
you're going to create with the rules and guidelines of your brand, delicately
balancing provocative with appropriate. There are a number of very
prominent cases where someone has published something on social media
that was provocative but ultimately damaging to the brand. Search anywhere
online for “top social media fails” to see the good examples of this.
The third step is to get creative. This is more than just the design, though
design is an absolutely essential part of the process. Creative here also refers
to coming up with new angles and new ways of talking about a particular
subject or topic, something that sets you apart from the crowd. In any given
news topic, there will be things that people are parroting mindlessly, and the
reality is that you will not get the desired social behaviors if all you do is
create reruns of other peoples’ reruns.
Once you know the messaging and the creative angle, you create the
content. That's where most marketers stop. They published their content and
wait for the world ﬁnd it, or make an effort to share it on their owned media
channels and leave it at that. The Earned Media Hub Strategy extends your
content by promoting it on all three behavioral channels, earned, owned, and
The ﬁnal step in the Earned Media Hub Strategy is the hand off to marketing
of the audience and the analysis of what worked and what didn't. That
analysis can help tweak the existing promotional efforts, or it can reboot the
process entirely. The information and analytics you gain from a campaign can
form the basis for new research for a new campaign.
The Earned Media Hub Strategy can be difﬁcult to visualize in its entirety in
the abstract. Let's look at a case study from beginning to end to see how this
is implemented and executed.
In late 2013, we demonstrated the entire Earned Media Hub Strategy in order
to provide complete transparency about the process and show people that it
was both simple and effective. We chose a topic that was timely, the Twitter
IPO on November 7, 2013, and we designed a campaign using the Earned
Media Hub Strategy to elicit the core behaviors of sharing, voting, and
engagement with a goal of achieving new audience growth.
The process began with research. We needed to know what was being done
already. In an investigation of all the existing stories about the IPO, most of
the angles being taken were about the raw numbers of Twitter. How many
active users were there? What was the best guess at a P/E ratio? What would
be the initial share price? Which bank or banks would be managing the
offering? What was the total valuation of Twitter?
We knew that focusing on the wrong numbers was just going to be reruns of
other peoples’ reruns, and certainly nothing that would get the kind of course
social media behaviors that we were looking for. Our research gave us the
guidelines, the knowledge of what not to do.
The second part of the process is messaging. We need to determine what
channels we would pursue, what budgets we would work with, and how we
would craft message to be consistent with our values. Since the piece of
content was ultimately just going to be a blog post and nothing more
ambitious like an infographic, a video, or a full product launch, we settled on
a budget of $500 total. We would leverage our owned media channels, reach
out to our “friendlies” for earned media, and rely mainly on sponsored posts
and pay per click advertising for paid media.
For our owned media properties, we looked at our existing web analytics to
determine when we were receiving the most attention to any given property,
from social media proﬁles to our blog. Looking your own web analytics and
it will tell you when the best days and times are for each channel. From that,
we put together a distribution strategy to reach as many of our audience
members as possible on the channels of their choice.
The most important part of the messaging process was the application of our
core values. These are the values that we, as an organization, apply to
everything we do. They set up the rules under which we operate, and
evaluate the appropriateness of content we create. Our seven core values are:
creative, connected, dedicated, smart, honorable, positive, and ballsy. Our
rule is that if a piece of content does not positively hit at least three of the
values, or if it negatively hits anyone of the values (meaning that it violates
the value), we do not publish. This helps us avert preventable PR crises.
One of our strongest recommendations for all forms of content marketing and
public relations is that you take the time to write out a list of your own
corporate core values and what they mean in a format that you can use as a
checklist to validate your content. Write down the rules that you stand for and
put them on a little business card or index card so that you can hand it to
everyone in the organization from the CEO to the intern when they are
posting on social media either on behalf of the company or on their own.
(ours are on our mouse pads)
We had done our research, and we knew what channels were going to
approach, what budget we had, and what we could and could not say based
on our values and the research we’d done. It was time to get creative.
We ask ourselves, what would be of value that hasn't already been talked
about when it came to the Twitter IPO? What would the general public, what
would investors be interested in? The answer was, what where the longer-
term growth prospects of this potential investments they were looking to get
involved with? We decided it was time to do a bit of digging, which illustrates
that the Earned Media Hub Strategy is iterative. An idea can come up in the
Creative phase that needs more research, or an idea can come up in the
Creative phase that needs validation against the rules that have been set
One of the things we did was to go to Twitter’s website and look at the job
listings. If you want to get a sense of where a company is going, there is no
better way than to look at what they are hiring for now, because what they
are hiring for now is what they will be rolling out in 6 to 12 months once
they have a new staff members up to speed. We took it a step further and
looked in the Wayback Machine to see where Twitter was 3, 6, and 12
months prior to the IPO based on what jobs they had available during those
dates. What positions were new? What positions got ﬁlled? The answers to
those questions would give us an indicator of where Twitter was on solid
ground, and where it thought it still had a lot of growth opportunities.
12 months ago, Twitter was trying to solve a lot of infrastructure problems
based on the job openings that they had available. There were a lot of big
data jobs, a lot of database administration jobs, a lot of programming jobs
that revolved around processing and speed of execution. Those jobs
disappeared about six months ago, which indicates that their infrastructure
itself is on a relatively ﬁrm ground. Six months ago, Twitter was trying to get
its IOS offerings to be more robust as evidenced by the sheer number IOS
engineering jobs that were available. They were able to hire for those
relatively quickly, because they disappeared three months later.
Just before the IPO, Twitter was hiring aggressively for Android developers,
which indicates that they are looking to beef up and ﬁrm up their Android
mobile application offering. As of the writing of this e-book, Twitter is rolling
out aggressive numbers updates to both their IOS and Android applications
on a regular basis, so clearly they were able to make the hires they need. If
you know the market well as an investor, you would likely agree that a
mobile-ﬁrst strategy is a sound one for Twitter to pursue. This would give you
some level of reassurance that your investment was sound.
The second area we noted a signiﬁcant amount of growth in just before the
IPO in terms of job openings was for natural language processing in the
Arabic language. This indicates that they are going to the Middle East, trying
to ﬁgure how to be a news source in the Middle East, perhaps trying to attract
additional investment from the Middle East. Again, if you believe that the
Middle East is an area that is right for disruption by social media, then this
would provide additional reassurance that Twitter’s strategy was on track.
We had the research, we had the messaging, and we had the creative ideas. It
was time to create the content. When it comes to content creation, in
addition to our core values, we have what is called the 3L rule of good
Great content should do one or more of three things:
Great content should make you laugh. If, in the process of creating content or
in the process of evaluating the ﬁnal product content you are laughing, then
the content is entertaining and good.
Great content should make you learn something. In the process of creating
content or in the process of reading the ﬁnal product, you should be learning
something new that you did not know before. After all, as the subject matter
expert that you presumably are in your industry or niche, if you are not
learning something, your audience certainly is not.
Great content should make you love it. If your content is truly great, you are
probably talking about it to your friends, family, signiﬁcant other, and pets
unsolicited, perhaps even in your sleep. You love it that much.
If your content doesn't meet at least one of these three conditions, chances
are it's bad. Don't publish it. It will not get shared, it will not get voted upon,
and it certainly will not be engaged with. It will simply wither in obscurity.
We recommend that you put the three else test, this little summary, on a
separate business card and handed to all of your marketing and public
relations staff to validate any content they are going to put out.
As we were putting together the Twitter IPO blog post, we checked ourselves.
Did we laugh? No. Did we learn something? Absolutely! We learned a ton
about what was driving Twitter and what their hiring needs were. Did we love
it? Enough that we talked about it and shit on our own personal proﬁles when
it came out, so yes. We passed two of the three rules in the 3L test.
We had a trafﬁc blog post that was published. The world should beat a path
to our door, right? Not quite. We had to help it by engaging our media.
The easy win, the low hanging fruit, is our own media properties, and that's
where we started. Since it was already a blog post, there was not much point
in publishing an additional blog post about it, but we did set up a social
media distribution strategy for our owned media properties to prominently
feature it over a few days before the IPO, based on the information we found
during our research and messaging phases.
That wasn't just our only owned media channels, of course. During the
promotion period, we made sure to send out a newsletter prominently
featuring the blog post to reach our newsletter subscribers. Your e-mail list is
one of the best tools available for reaching your existing audience and
encouraging them to engage in the core social media behaviors. It is, without
question, one of the best owned media properties you have, so make sure it is
part of any content distribution strategy for owned media. We also placed a
promotional headline on the front page of our website, and features it in
native, non-paid advertisements on our own properties.
One of the secrets of content distribution for owned media channels is that
efforts should be nearly synchronous; the ideal is to push as hard as possible
on all of your channels all at once so that audience members see the featured
content in as many places as possible. Bear in mind that people consume
information at highly diverse, distributed locations. Someone following you
on Twitter may not read your e-mail newsletter. Someone who is a fan of your
page on Facebook may not pay any attention to you on LinkedIn. Hit all of
your own media channels at once to be sure to attract as much attention as
possible at the same time, then reap the value of the synergy of people
sharing all at the same time.
The ﬂag was planted for owned media. The next step was to get some earned
When it comes to earned media, it is absolutely essential to understand the
audience that you already have. Who in your audience is a fan? Who is a
Superfan? Who are the people who are sympathetic to your brand and would
be willing to vote, engage, or share relevant news? Knowing who these
people are well in advance of the campaign will make launching an earned
media initiative much easier. From our past experience and a prior analysis of
our social media following, we were able to reach out to inﬂuencers
sympathetic to our brand and share with them the news about the Twitter IPO
blog post. Many of them agreed to share it, as it was of interest to them as
well. This created an existing record a sharing, a public record of interest in
what we were talking about.
Once we covered the easy outreach, it was time to step up our game.
Because we had chosen a topic that was timely, many reporters were looking
for additional angles in the Twitter IPO story. We proactively and reactively
pitched our Twitter IPO blog post to the media, using our contact lists as well
as the free service from Vocus, HelpAReporter.com. Because it was a new,
unique angle, we received greater than average interest in our pitches; almost
immediately, we got a hit in Digiday, a prominent online marketing
publication. Because of the timeliness of the topic, the hit was nearly
synchronous with our owned media efforts.
If you are working with a PR agency or you have a great in-house team, make
sure that your content is provided to your media contacts as soon as possible,
so that those stories can hit at least on the same day, if not the same period of
time. Obviously, if you have a terriﬁc relationship with a particularly
inﬂuential outlet that you can grant an exclusive to, rearrange the rest of your
publication schedule for owned and paid media to coincide with the massive
earned media hit.
The third leg of the stool of the Earned Media Hub Strategy is paid media. We
looked at how to promote the content we had created on our owned media
sites as well as the earned media endorsements we had already garnered to
extend the life of the attention we were getting.
The ﬁrst stop and the most logical starting place was Twitter. After all, the
entire story was about the Twitter IPO. We took out Promoted Tweet
advertisements that featured tweets about the blog post for a total of $200, on
the premise that Twitter users would want to talk about their social network of
choice, targeting people who were also talking about the Twitter IPO, as well
the retweets we had earned from our earned media outreach.
We looked to other social networks like Facebook, where we took out a
promoted post for $100 to promote the article. Rather than simply target our
existing audience (the most common use case for promoted posts) we opted
for expanded demographic targeting, promoting the posts to other marketing,
public relations, and social media professionals.
We approach LinkedIn with a different strategy, since LinkedIn advertisements
typically are exceptionally expensive for standard pay-per-click marketing.
Rather than target the general public or the subset of marketing and PR
professionals you might be interested in our post, we opted to target just the
journalists who were covering the Twitter IPO to encourage them to share our
post, which helped us contain our costs to $100.
Our last paid advertisement platform was Google AdWords. AdWords is
particularly good at getting eyeballs onto your brand, Especially with the
Google Display Network. What is not well-known about ad words is that you
don't need to spend a fortune in order to get some beneﬁt out of it. We set up
a campaign to target people who were searching for the Twitter IPO in the
news, or reading about the Twitter IPO on popular ﬁnancial investment sites
with a $100 ad budget.
With these advertisements, we fulﬁlled the Earned Media Hub Strategy.
Before we reveal our results, one of the most important things to be aware of
is how this strategy breaks. The Earned Media Hub Strategy works
exceptionally well when paid, earned, and owned media are coordinated,
are synchronous. The Earned Media Hub Strategy breaks down rapidly and
spectacularly when organizational silos and internal politics keep the
channels separate and invisible to each other. If your PR agency, for example,
is not talking to your marketing department, then your earned media and
your owned media are likely to be telling different stories and sharing
different messages. If your ad agency isn't talking to your PR agency, then at
best they cannot maximize your ad dollars to tell the same story; at worst,
they are working at odds with you and could be creating a PR disaster.
One of the greatest earned social media successes in recent times is the story
of the Oreo campaign, Dunk in the Dark, which occurred at the 2013 Super
Bowl. Though much analysis has been done of the campaign and its success,
the root of the success was that the stakeholders of both Oreo and its agency
were sitting next to each other at the game. The approval process was
immediate, and no interorganizational politics prohibited fast reaction. That
lack of friction is what will make the Earned Media Hub Strategy work for
So how did we do?
Now that we have detailed the process from beginning to end, let's take a
look at the results. Bear in mind, the key performance indicators we are
looking for are audience participation in the three core behaviors of social
media, and the objective goal is new audience acquired, audience that can
then participate in our marketing in a more substantial way further down the
Did we get voting behavior? Did we get engagement? Did people share? On
Twitter, we hit 150 retweets almost immediately from our earned media
outreach to our friendly inﬂuencers.
In addition to the 150 retweets achieved through earned media, we also
reached 73,000 new people to our paid campaign, of which 991 came to
read our post.
When it came to Facebook, we reached 62,800 new people, and got 203 of
them to read our post.
Even with a very narrow scope, we got our LinkedIn post engaged by a
prominent ﬁnancial industry reporter, as well as in front of 17,500 other
3500 people saw our Twitter IPO blog post on Google ad words, and 30 of
them stopped by to read it.
By far the most important metric is new audience acquisition. That's what PR
and earned media are supposed to generate. Did we get any new audience
out of all of these efforts? One look at the number of subscribers to our e-mail
newsletter from this campaign tells us everything we need to know about its
We were able to add almost 500 subscribers within the month of November
during the campaign time, a marked increase or our normal e-mail
subscription rate. People saw the post in the media and in their social
networks, came to the website, read it, and signed up for our newsletter. The
Earned Media Hub Strategy delivered.
Our testing of the Earned Media Hub Strategy gave us 3 core takeaways that
we want to share with you.
First and foremost, using the Earned Media Hub Strategy will help extend the
life of your content. Assuming that you have good content, assuming that you
have content worth sharing, take the time and a reasonable budget,
combined with our strategy, to make the content work harder for you. In this
particular case study, we spent a grand total of only $500. When you work
out the numbers, that's basically one dollar per new subscriber to our mailing
list. If you have any experience in the B2B marketing world, you know that
$1/cost per acquisition is exceptionally low. Don't let your content just linger
out there unloved! Use the Earned Media Hub Strategy to get in front of the
right audiences, new audiences, In order to grow your business.
The second major take away is that search, social media, traditional media,
and public relations are converging rapidly. We see that search is
incorporating social signals to some degree in search algorithms, and if we
follow the rules for creating content that encourages the three core social
behaviors of voting, engaging, and sharing, we will serve both our audiences
and the search engines well and be amply rewarded. Plan accordingly! Build
voting, engagement, and sharing into your content marketing plans from the
very beginning as opposed to being an afterthought.
Finally and most importantly, recognize that the stuff – content – and what
people do with it are equally important. Leave the mindset of “Content is
King” behind. Content is only part of the equation. If you're just creating stuff
for the sake of creating stuff and you don't have a plan for putting that stuff in
front of audiences in a proactive way, you will be expending a lot of
resources for meager returns.
We hope this detailed walk-through of the Earned Media Hub Strategy has
given you some ideas for your own content distribution strategy and for how
to leverage the power of earned, owned, and paid media to build new
audiences for growing your business.
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we’re happy to help. Engage our services for your marketing and earned
media needs and we’ll show you how your company and brand can shine,
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About SHIFT Communications
SHIFT is an integrated communications agency with ofﬁces in Boston, NYC
and San Francisco, composed of over 100 creative, smart, and sassy
brainiacs. We help ﬁnd, build, and convert the new audiences you need to
drive business growth for consumer, technology and media companies,
ranging from edgy startups to established brands.