July 08, 2009
/ by Heidi Sullivan
PR is becoming more and more about creating content than pushing content than ever before. PR people are writing and recording in higher volume and in more formats – it’s not just about the email pitch or press release anymore.
To help us all navigate this shift, I’m kicking off a new blog series, Content Creators, that helps PR people understand the ins-and-outs of creating great content by interviewing leaders in our industry on a particular aspect of content creation. Look for future posts on internal communications, multimedia content, the social media release and more.
Jason Falls of Doe-Anderson & Social Media Explorer
To get us started, however, I’m excited to feature an interview with Jason Falls on creating social content. Jason is Vice President of Interactive and Online Communications at Doe-Anderson, on of the country’s oldest and most accomplished brand-building agencies. Jason’s blog, Social Media Explorer, is one of the most popular social media and PR blogs. So, without further ado, here are some of Jason’s thoughts and insights on social content:
Heidi: How do you define social content?
Jason: Social content is anything with pass-along value. Is it something you would share with a friend or family member that might also be interested in the subject? If it’s a funny video — enough so that you would send it to a friend — that’s social content. If it’s an important congressional issue that you believe in and can support and would share with someone else to get behind, that’s social content. In it’s simplest form, it’s anything you would talk about. Online, it’s anything you would pass along.
Heidi: Tell us about the Here’s to the Stuff Inside campaign from Jim Beam. (How the idea was formed, what types of content you produced, how you publicized, etc.)
Jason: The Stuff Inside campaign came out of the brand’s desire to celebrate the genuine character of people or groups who exemplify those similar traits the brand possesses. What was great about the effort from a social content and capital standpoint is that we chose six people or groups to literally uplift and help out with the weight of the brand … and THEY really produced the content.
We had Russ Abbott, a phenomenal tattoo artist in Georgia who isn’t as well known as the big city artists because he chooses to stay true to his family and himself and live in his hometown. There was Mark Murman, a fantastic photographer who took unpaid leave from his internship to photograph club bands because it was his passion. The comedy troop Summer of Tears was a subject of the effort because some of their members turned down big film and TV offers so the group could stay together. All the stories in the group — even Operation Homefront was a subject — were genuine and true to themselves, their principles and their belief system. Beam wanted to celebrate them, give them a hand in getting noticed and elevate their content. All we had to do is give them a place to show it off. You can still see a lot of it on http://thestuffinside.com.
Heidi: Do you have any other examples of how PR pros have effectively put out social content?
Jason: Look at what Geoff Livingston is doing with CRT/Tanaka. What he and the then Livingston Communications did with Network Solutions is a text book case study. They took a brand with 20% or so positive mentions online and moved the needle to well over 60% positive mentions online by giving. They offer online users valuable information about how to use the Internet effectively, all from — not brought to you buy or sponsored by — but from Network Solutions.
The trick, though, is not in PR pros putting out social content for their clients, but working with their clients to learn how to produce the social content themselves. I don’t care how deeply I know a brand, I’m less credible than someone who works for the company. Jason Falls can blog for Kraft Singles all he wants, but the brand manager or community relations person for Kraft is going to be much more credible. In those terms, it’s important for PR people to understand their role may very well be to educate, advise and coach rather than do.
Heidi: What’s different about content produced for the social web and traditional press releases and articles? Jason: Other than the fact it’s interesting? (Kidding.) The biggest core difference is that the writing is real, honest and transparent. It’s not a sales job or an exercise in spin. The online consumer calls B.S. better than anyone. Actually, the off-line consumer does, too, but newspapers and magazines that use PR releases and features as editorial content don’t care about their audiences enough to know what they buy and what they don’t. Consumers have been calling B.S. on PR cud for years. Only now, the Internet offers that honest feedback directly from the consumer more readily, so we’re subjected to the feedback. I haven’t read a press release in years that wasn’t a sales job. The public is smarter than we give them credit for. Thus, our writing has to change to be more fair and balanced or it’ll just get glanced over like it always has been.
Heidi: Why do I need to produce social content?
Jason: Producing social content produces social capital. The more you give of your expertise through online content, the more trusted you become as a resource. The more trust you build, the more influence you have. The more influence you have the more you can drive people to calls to action. If you don’t produce social content, you’re just another company yelling irrelevant stuff at people who don’t want to hear it. Give them something worth sharing, talking about and coming back for and you’ll build some loyal followers who are happy to tell others about you.
Heidi: Do you have any best practices for PR people who are writing/producing for the social web?
Jason: Stop spinning and selling and start writing and talking to people the way human beings talk to other human beings. No one likes corporate speak. Do this: Read your copy back to yourself and then ask yourself, “Does that sound like a honest statement said by someone with an actual personality?” If not, rewrite it.
Put yourself in the mindset of your potential customer. Now ask yourself, “What can this company give me that I can’t get elsewhere?” That’s where you’ll find your social capital. If what you’ve produced isn’t exciting to two or three of your friends who know nothing about the company or brand, it won’t be exciting to anyone else online. Start over.
Heidi: How do you see PR changing because of social media?
Jason: Public relations is finally becoming about relating to the public again. The media is being taken out of the middle for the most part. With the low barrier to entry for self-publishing online, whether it be video, audio or text/print, everyone is the media now. I’m not saying journalism is dead, but public relations folks don’t have to use the media to translate their message anymore. It requires us to think of niche targeting and using smaller communities of audiences as our targets instead of large clumps of mass media consumers, but the messages now go straight to real people, not the ones with pancake makeup and 11 p.m. deadlines.
What successess/failures have you had when working with social content?
This post is part of the Future of Earned Media series.
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