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How Social Broke PR
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
snag a 30-second spot on television or 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 access to new
audiences. 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 and online reviews. It 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.
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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 article. At worst, they are simply redundant.
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 talk about it. They reshare
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 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
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outlets are paying the price.
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 suddenly less interested in B2B
marketing; 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.
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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
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
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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 have to adapt. Journalists themselves are 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 need 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.
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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 an opportunity as it is
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 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:
traditional sources for pitching are drying up, new sources are appearing all the
time, and the number of sources are exploding exponentially in tandem with the
number of media outlets. 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.
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Why PR Still Matters
Lest you think that the public relations ﬁeld 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, 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 who would go out
and sell stuff. If our company 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. This is
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 1,000 leads per month, to
2,000 leads per month, to 3,000 leads per month in the span of one quarter! They
needed more and more just to grow the business and power the smile-and-dial
The problem I had as a marketer — the marketer’s dilemma — is that you can
only squeeze your audience so much. There are only so many qualiﬁed leads in
your existing audience to begin with; you can market and market, but if you're not
growing your audience or constantly ﬁnding new audiences then the amount of
impact you're going to have as a marketer or a communicator will diminish over
time. Without new audiences, your effectiveness and your results will creep 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.
On top of that, the whole idea of “build it and they will come” simply does not
work in an environment where something new appearing all the time. Marketing
channels like organic search deliver reliable results, but they can’t scale fast enough
to meet demands similar to what I was facing. Other channels like e-mail marketing
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are more like sales channels; you don't 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. 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
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 media:
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I often use the analogy of being a store owner trying to attract new business. The
job of media, whether it’s public relations (earned) or advertising (paid), is to tell
people that the store exists, to build trust and word-of-mouth so that people will
come visit. Media gets people to the front door.
Marketing’s job is to open the door to the store, invite people in and get them to
discover things of interest to them. Marketing’s job is to make the offerings in the
store appealing, to create a desire to own the products or services being sold. Once
marketing has effectively created leads, 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
This explains why marketers face so much difﬁculty in generating new
audiences. It is exceptionally difﬁcult to perform 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 its potential, two results should drastically improve. This is why
public relations still matters.
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The Changing Media Landscape
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 in
order to 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, there 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 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 any good.
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 to 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
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and trustworthy form of media because it's someone else talking about how
awesome you are. 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. A guest blog post can be just as inﬂuential as a bylined article. Every time
you garner a re-tweet, a reshare or a +1, you are earning media. Word-of-mouth
itself has gone viral and can now power your business like it never could before.
This is the new media landscape. This is the environment in which your brand
will either wither or thrive.
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Where Did Shared Media Go?
One 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 major
PR publications, and even in our past e-books, but it is true. Shared media does not
exist because shared media is intangible.
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 or a Facebook
recommendation and place that on a ﬂash drive. You can take a piece of owned
media such as your most recent newsletter, a blog post or the tweets you're sending
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
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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 or blog about your most recent advertisement (assuming that the blog
post is positive), I am giving it credibility. The endorsement may not be strong,
especially in the case of retweets or Facebook likes since they require minimal
effort; however they are still endorsements, and they are still earned media.
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3 Core Social Media Behaviors
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 network’s
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:
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Aside from the photo speciﬁc controls, there are three core options: like,
comment, share. Like allows you to vote for the post and makes note of your
interest within your own news feed. “Comment” allows you to engage in the
conversation, and “share” allows the post 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
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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, our social media efforts will be signiﬁcantly more successful and
That also means that we need to approach our social media calls to action with
more diversity in mind. Instead of merely looking to elicit likes or retweets, we
should be looking to drive all three core behaviors across all the social networks we
work on. Beyond the surface metrics of community engagement, these behaviors
also power other things. There are forms of engagement that exist outside the
clickstream, such as people discussing and recommending you among friends in
real life or at conferences and events, and people referencing you online in other
areas like 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 generating efforts.
There's one more area where these core behaviors are vital and important that is
not immediately obvious: algorithms.
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Why Social Media Behaviors Matter
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. In turn, these search
algorithms provide the ability for new audiences to ﬁnd you. Many times, new
audiences start with a search. Someone heads over to 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 -
Until recently, the profession of search engine optimization (SEO) focused on
the content. SEO experts spent years helping companies tune up their websites,
optimizing content for the right keywords and phrases. They spent countless hours
creating links and publishing a voluminous amount of stuff on the web. In the
search arms race, search engines have been increasing the complexity of their
algorithms to make it more difﬁcult for SEO experts to game the system so that
people ﬁnd what they’re really looking for.
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In the past year alone, Google has released 26 updates to its anti-spam
algorithm, Penguin, and seven updates to its fraud detection algorithm, Panda. Each
update continued to devalue the owned content that webmasters and search
experts had control over 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 ranking content.
SearchMetrics.com recently conducted a regression analysis to determine what
ranking factors correlated most strongly with top search rankings.
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Look closely at the top ranking factors. All of them are core social media
behaviors: votes, engagements, and shares. These correlate more to search rankings
than most of the activities 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 media.
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 and hoping someone 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 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 we’re both connected on Google+ and you type
in a search query like “best PR ﬁrm in New York City”, your search results will be
different than if we weren’t connected. Because I have shared and circled the
content I’ve created for SHIFT Communications, the results you get in Google will
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be more skewed in favor of SHIFT than if we weren’t connected. Our connection
changes your reality. It changes what you see in what is effectively organic search
This is an incredibly powerful tool available to your brand. If you do a good job
of cultivating inﬂuential members of your audience who have large audiences of
their own, their audiences’ search results will change based on any of your content
The algorithms are based in 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 fresh is your content? How often do you post
to social media? All other things being equal, the fresher the content, the better you
will do in search. That's why having a blog and a social media strategy with a high
frequency of distribution matters. If you publish twice a year, and you have a
competitor publishes twice a day, your competitor will eat you for lunch in search
What matters now is the types of content you publish and the diversity of that
content. Google’s QDD algorithm looks for a variety of content types. Google
wants to see local business listings. It wants you to have videos on YouTube and
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. It treats text updates, photos, videos, audio,
and engagements differently. The more 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, audio and
video tend to perform better than just straight text 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.
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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
The one area you do not have complete control over is relevance. You can
suggest that people engage with you in the core behaviors we’ve 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.
With all the changes search algorithms have seen in the past year, the most
important thing is to create media and content that satisﬁes the people in our
audience and not the search algorithms. Behave as if the search engine is not there
and though word-of-mouth is the only way to distribute your content. Create
content that people would want to share — content 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 toward 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
in 2012, they announced that they were no longer going to allow search ranking
value to be passed from releases. Nonetheless, SEO experts continued to publish
press releases on behalf of 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 posted by another website, and
they would get their inbound link.
In late 2013, Google indicated that it was still seeing a lot of bad behavior from
SEO experts when it came to loading press releases with garbage. They adapted
their algorithm once more and began to penalize press releases that were stuffed
with links. Instead 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.
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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 should look to
achieve, and the only way to truly beat the search algorithms in the long run.
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The Earned Media Hub Strategy
All of this discussion sets the table for the question: how do you actually achieve
the results that we are looking for as PR 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. We look at services like
Google Trends, Google+ Explore, trending topics on Twitter, and our own primary
research to make those determinations.
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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 design (though design is
an absolutely essential part of the process). Creative also refers to coming up with
new angles and ways of talking about a particular subject or topic to set 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 paid.
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.
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Case Study: The Twitter IPO
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?
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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
going to be a blog post versus something more ambitious like an infographic or
video, we settled on a budget of $500. 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. Your web analytics will tell you when the best
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days and times are for each channel. From there, we put together a distribution
strategy to reach as many of our audience members as possible on the channels of
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 any one 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)
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 29
After doing our research, we knew what channels we were going to approach, what
budget we had to work with, and what we could and could not say based on our
values. It was time to get creative.
We ask ourselves, what hasn't already been talked about when it came to the
Twitter IPO? What would the general public or investors be interested in? The
answer was a question in itself: what where the longer-term growth prospects of
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
needs validation against the rules that have been set down.
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. What they’re hiring for now is
what they will be rolling out in 6 -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
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 30
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 now and where it thought it still had growth opportunities.
Twelve 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,
database administration jobs and 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
Just before the IPO, Twitter was hiring aggressively for Android developers,
which indicates that they are looking to beef 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, indicating
they were able to make the hires they needed. If you know the market well as an
investor, you would likely agree that a mobile-ﬁrst strategy is a solid one for Twitter
to pursue. This would give you some level of reassurance that your investment was
In terms of job openings, the second area we noted a signiﬁcant amount of
growth in just before the IPO 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 and perhaps trying to attract additional
investment from the region. Again, if you believe that the Middle East is an area that
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 31
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 content.
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. As you create content, you
should be learning something new that you did not know before. After all, as the
subject matter expert 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’re
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 3L test on a separate index card and hand it to all of
your marketing and public relations staff to validate any content they are going to
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 on our own personal proﬁles when it came out. 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
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 32
During the promotion period, we made sure to send out a newsletter
prominently featuring the blog post to reach our 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 featured it in native, non-paid advertisements on
our own properties.
One of the secrets of content distribution across 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 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 a public record of interest in what we were
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 HelpAReporter.com.
Because it was a fresh, unique angle, we received positive feedback from reporters;
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.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 33
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 on the same day or close to it. 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 Earned Media Hub Strategy is paid media. We looked at how to
promote our content on our owned media sites as well as the earned media
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 34
endorsements we had already garnered to extend the life of the attention we were
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.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 35
We approach LinkedIn with a different strategy, since LinkedIn advertisements
are typically exceptionally expensive for standard pay per click marketing. Rather
than target the general public or the subset of marketing and PR professionals, we
opted to target 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 on your brand, especially with the Google
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 36
Display Network. What many don’t know about AdWords is that you don't need to
spend a fortune in order to beneﬁt from them. We set up a campaign to target
people who were searching for the Twitter IPO in the news or reading about it 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. 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 telling different stories and sharing different
messages. If your ad agency isn't talking to your PR agency, then they can’t
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 during the 2013 Super
Bowl. Though much analysis has been done of the campaign, the root of the
success was that both Oreo and its agency were sitting next to each other during
the game. The approval process was immediate, and no inter-organizational politics
prohibited fast reaction. That lack of friction is what will make the Earned Media
Hub Strategy work for you.
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 social media core behaviors and the objective
goal is new audience acquired that can then participate in our marketing in a more
substantial way further down the funnel.
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.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 37
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
When it came to Facebook, we reached 62,800 new people, and got 203 of
them to read our post.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 38
Even with a very narrow scope, we got our LinkedIn post in front of 17,500
other people, including engagement from a prominent ﬁnancial industry reporter.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 39
3,500 people saw our Twitter IPO blog post on Google AdWords, and 30 of
them stopped by to read it.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 40
By far the most important metric is new audience acquisition. That's what PR
and earned media is 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 success:
We were able to add almost 500 subscribers during the campaign time within
the month of November, 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.
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 41
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 that is 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 linger out there unloved! Use the Earned Media Hub Strategy to get in front
of the right 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, we will serve both our
audiences and the search engines well. 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 creating stuff for the sake of
creating stuff and you don't have a plan for proactively putting it in front of
audiences, 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
Penn / HOW SOCIAL BROKE PR / 42
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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