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Conversation curation: the new frontier in PR

Photo of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Va., courtesy of O Palsson via Flickr

As a reporter for a community newspaper many moons ago, I developed a bad habit. After a city council meeting or high school football game, I would type out all the best quotes I’d collected on my tape recorder and start plugging in relevant facts and background info between them until I had something approaching the story length I needed. I wound up with a lot of quote-heavy stories that were hard to read. People are rarely at their most articulate in the moments after an exhausting football game or town hall debate. In fact, they can be close to unintelligible.

In contrast, most press releases I read don’t suffer from this problem. Clearly and cleanly written, they usually include just a quote or two from a key leader toward the end of the release. But because they’re generally written from a single company or organization’s perspective, press releases rarely contain much debate or conflict. No matter how important the announcement, that lack of tension can be a challenge when you’re trying to attract eyeballs to a company announcement online.

While varied viewpoints make any topic more interesting, the idea of simply pointing journalists and other influencers to an unfiltered feed of tweets or blog posts about our brands and products makes many public relations pros uneasy. Over the past several years, much of the discussion about what the rise of the social Web means for professional communicators has focused on “letting go”, accepting that we don’t control the message but we can take part in online discussions. What’s been largely neglected is our opportunity to curate those conversations in a way that furthers our objectives.

At Cision, we’ve encouraged our clients to do this in small ways, such as collecting favorable tweets about their brands on a Twitter Favorites page. We also help them push their message to social sites like Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, the curatorial tools at our disposal continue to evolve.

Storify, a free tool which launched this fall at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, allows users to search and collect tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts and Flickr photos related to a particular topic and display them on a page that can be linked to from or embedded in online articles and press releases. It aims to help journalists and communicators “leverage the fact that everyone is a reporter”, says Burt Herman, a veteran Associated Press bureau chief and founder of Storify.

A news article or press release “shouldn’t be a static, dead thing”, Burt says. Instead, as the conversation about a topic, product or event evolves, we can capture it and point people toward a curated version. Brocade, a data center networking firm, recently embedded content it collected through Storify into a microsite, Ethernet Fabric. It’s important not to only collect one side of the story, however, or we’re back to square one: content with no tension. It’s becoming easier for PR pros to put the best of both sides of a conversation about their organization in a place where we can point to it from our blogs, sites and online newsrooms.

How do you curate online content for your audience?

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