The Rising Role of Word-of-Mouse & How PR Can Use It
Social sharing: risks, but opportunities - see how online PR agencies are turning Word-of-Mouth into Word-of-Mouse.
Think of PR as a set of concentric circles. You're at the centre, with your communications radiating outwards in a ring.
For the last decade or so, there's been a huge third ring enclosing both: the communications your audiences send to each other.
Traditional PR agencies have always dealt effectively with the first and second circles. But the outer ring is something they're still getting to grips with.
And there's a sense that an online PR agency – born on the web – would have a keener focus on how audiences interact among themselves. (Some call it "Word of Mouse", or WOM.)
Regardless of your online PR agency's parentage, what are the key issues? There are three:
The sheer size of this expanded audience. It carries risks – just one customer with a bad experience tells 25 friends about it – but also opportunities: a viral hit gets your ideas out to millions at low cost.
The explosion of channels. Every one a two-way street. Today, you've got to engage with people on their terms.
The decline of authority. When broadcast was the only channel, audiences listened quietly and were more accepting. Today, forcing your views on anyone is a surefire route to getting shot down.
So what can your online PR agency do about it? Here are some ideas.
Followers not fans: stand for something
With a billion people out there, old metrics like CPMs mean little. To get into that outer ring – to get people talking about you with enthusiasm, on the subjects you want – you need to be clear who you are.
Sometimes it's worth digging into your brand's history. Every big name started with a Big Idea.
So work out what you believe in. And don't try to be all things to all people. (Emphasise everything and you emphasise nothing.)
If you sell dog food, maybe the ideal channel isn't Poodle Weekly, but a campaign that supports a stray rehousing project. If you do consulting in Africa, maybe it's sponsoring degrees for poor kids with potential.
What would your business do if it didn't need to get paid for it? Such blue-sky thinking can reveal what you really believe in.
If the single idea driving your business is clear and strong, then it can gain a life of its own on the web.
Content at the core: free your essence
No marketing agency can deal with 1m channels individually. And "channels" aren't what they used to be. YouTube is a channel; Twitter is a channel; even Google is a channel, thanks to the way it edits and represents your content (snippets, metadata, news) in its own formats.
So Rule One is: create messages that can live in many different media. Think of your content as a core that reaches out to people in different ways.
You can control the core... but the rest is influence.
Hollywood TV shows (movies, not so much) get it right, setting the scene with character-driven stories and rolling them out across channels. YouTube might get a teaser clip; XBox Live an Easter Egg; social sites a "Which Series Character Are You?" quiz. But they're all riffs on the same core content. What audiences do with it – blogs, fan fiction, GIFs – is up to them. Let them do it.
To span a million channels, concentrate on core ideas ... not end product.
Approach a psychographic, not a demographic
A media-savvy, switched-on audience is a hard sell. But even with millions in your audience, acting like Moses on the Mount is a no-no.
Instead of casting down pronouncements from on high (how television and radio started) act as your customer's equal, by appealing to what they'd see in a trusted friend. Not a boss.
Trusted friends tell us when we smell bad, or a dress doesn't look good on us. They do it honestly, encouragingly and without an agenda. They know not just what we believe, but why we hold those views.
Trusted friends think like us. And that's the way to build a lasting relationship.
So forget ABC1s and Women 18-30; to be a trusted friend, think psychographics not demographics. Animal lovers come in all ages. Motorbike fans span all social groups. And while the demographic view of gamers thinks teenage boys, in reality most are over 30 and a third are female.
It leads to creative ideas – and today's data-driven online PR agency can help. Maybe your paint buyers are unusually interested in green issues. Perhaps your White Van Man audience is badly served by area schools. To make friends, first find out what worries them.
The last word
There's an after-effect spanning all these traits: they all help combat negativity.
When people know what you stand for, have made your ideas their own and regard you as a friend, you get more leeway when you make mistakes. Yours won't be the adversarial relationship between a bank and its customers, or a supermarket and its suppliers.
Rather, you'll be able to correct errors, regain trust, and enjoy positive chatter as a result. As long as you correct errors fast, the fan-out of a sharply-worded Tweet or a meme making fun of you can be turned positive.
The outer ring is a virtuous circle. And it's full of opportunities.
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