Only 36% of PR practitioners admit digital efforts are “very effective”

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New research shows that the Public Relations (PR) industry still seems to be struggling to remain relevant in an online world. One of the headline stats reveals that only 36% of PR practitioners admit that their digital campaign efforts are effective, with 24% claiming little to no effectiveness at all.

When surveyed about the greatest challenges expected in their industry over the next 12 months, prepare for difficult reading as a lack of investment, time, and training appear top of the list:

  • 61.9% say they expect a lack of resources or funds
  • 57.7% find it challenging to find the right measures/metrics to evaluate work results
  • 58.8% expect a lack of time to try new strategies/technologies
  • 51% say there is a challenge when it comes to internal skills and competencies

This is unchanged from 2015 as PR practitioners are forced to deal with growing workloads and expectations to produce creative campaigns without always the budget to support.

Appropriate measurement for PR programmes is an important area for me as it helps demonstrate the value of investment into digital activities. Whilst 61% of respondents say that return on investment is an important measure, 84% use follower increases as the most frequent measurement. Whilst nothing wrong with this, it does suggest that the PR industry is generally finding it difficult to deliver business results. Of course, this could also be a general symptom of social media and its challenge to be an acquisition channel without paid-for support.

The research that surveyed 2,500 PR practitioners across nine different countries was conducted by Mynewsdesk and Berghs School of Communication. Respondents work across local, regional and global PR firms across 17 different industries including media and entertainment, business services, software and internet, government, and non-profits. The results of the survey are being compiled into a three-part eBook series that is being published between December 2016 and March 2017.

Digital PR study

The first eBook boldly begins by explaining PR has an opportunity to implement digital tactics, potentially replacing traditional advertising that “… is often viewed by consumers as an imposition and an unwelcome intruder…”. A deep marketing transformation partly driven by consumer trends of streaming or recording television, paying for music services, and using AdBlocking software, provides the PR industry an opportunity to have a “revolution”.

The revolution of PR is a passionate ideal I once held when studying PR at University and practicing in entry-level roles, but today I’ve changed my mind. Looking back at my work throughout 2016 I would say only 50% of what I do could be considered traditional PR in the sense of issues management or media relations. The other half consists of digital marketing, working alongside public affairs, contributing to change and employee engagement programmes… PR cannot be an umbrella term, it’s too misinterpreted by its media relations undertones and it’s not practical for PR industry bodies to represent the entire marketing mix and management consultancy space.

Draw your own conclusions from the new research. Sign-up for the PR Revolution e-book series to discover more of the challenges, opportunities, and solutions the communications industry is facing.

 

Facebook’s stand against ad blocking

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Facebook really doesn’t want you to block ads. Who can blame them? Generally social media sites are struggling to monetise the huge amounts of web traffic visiting; if a significant proportion of people blocked advertising this could eventually make social media businesses unsustainable. Given the risk ad blocking poses to the advertising industry, Facebook had to make a stand.

We’re all waiting for Twitter to be taken over, Yahoo (despite promising) has ruined Tumblr, and everyone is still scratching their heads about Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion as their valuation doesn’t match reality.

Despite the popularity of social media and increased internet usage, finding a successful online business model seems near impossible. The rumours say that The Guardian is losing £1 million a week and only has 7 years of life left at this rate, City AM is trying another daring business model (best of luck to them), and Buzzfeed is proving profitable but needs to navigate the fact 70% of their readers digest content from third-party sites, such as social networks.

A broad view of online profitability tells us that quickly adapting to market needs and positioning your business as a facilitator tends to reap dividends. We can see how Uber achieved this by making the private taxi business more convenient by mobile app bookings and coordinating via GPS. The music industry was slow to respond; illegally sharing files through LimeWire was once the mainstream method of gaining access to digital music online. Eventually legal methods of buying music online became available, such as the launch of the iTunes store in 2003.

In my opinion, the most successful industry that has constantly adapted to the changing media landscape is gaming. The UK is currently Europe’s second largest video game market after Germany, and estimated the 6th largest globally; worth nearly £4.2bn in consumer spend in 2015. It is the only industry that has quickly adapted to different form factors such as desktop PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart watches, and smart TVs. Games consoles have become home entertainment systems, and game copyright settings have successfully locked most people into purchasing a copy each time.

So, why am I taking you on this journey of online monetisation?

Going back to the start of this post, Facebook’s stand against ad blocking; they believe online advertisements can truly be useful. Those advertisements can alert you to when a favourite band is playing nearby or to a product/service you may genuinely find useful.

What they don’t say is that the ads you don’t deem useful are still using up your mobile contract’s data allowance. Or the disruption ads have made to Facebook’s newsfeed meaning content from your friends has been given a lesser priority compared to that ad looking for sperm donors or telling you to lose weight.

Facebook have weighed in on the online advertising debate to protect their $1 billion per quarter in advertising revenue. The question is how are we going to respond as social media users? Are we willing to have companies target us with their advertising, generalising aspects of our lives and trying to find improvements?

Facebook wants you to keep your ad blocker switched off and convince you to tell the network what sort of advertisements you would prefer to see. A nice idea, but why do I want to spend my time giving Facebook a detailed picture of my life just so they can push more advertising to me?

The debate I’ve touched upon here will continue to rage, especially as the number of bot traffic online continues to rise, questioning if ad interactions are made by humans at all. Just as the PR industry has faced its struggles and criticisms over the last decade due to digital developments, the advertising industry will now need to tackle some of its upcoming challenges.

Anyway… some thoughts from me as this blog has been neglected for the past month!

The Sun scraps newspaper paywall

I wonder if Rebekah Brooks’ announcement to staff that The Sun’s paywall would be coming down on 30th November was received by cheers or worried silence. The decision by News UK was inevitable as The Sun has been losing web traffic. During the election this happened at the same time their free-to-access political site SunNation flourished. Also, their purchase of video ad company Unruly was a hint the paywall would be lowered; otherwise how could The Sun generate enough pageviews to fuel advertising revenue?

“I recently shared with you the future priorities for the company and am excited today to tell you more about our plans for the first of these: growing the Sun’s audience. This will mean setting the Sun predominantly free in the digital world from 30 November. By happy coincidence, this is also Cyber Monday, one of the best-performing days of the year for online retail.” – part of Brooks’ email to staff

Now that the paywall will be lowered The Sun will be able to benefit from higher traffic from internet search engines and social media. Both crucial components of running any sort of website. As I reported in my blog post from Social Media Week in September, leaving The Times due to its social media limited paywall was a key component in Heidi Blake’s move to Buzzfeed.

The U-turn by The Sun is an awkward reminder that whilst the importance of digital marketing is widespread in the media industry, finding a business model that delivers is still trial and error. eConsultancy tells the story behind The Sun’s decision through statistics; the estimate for lost digital revenue is eye-opening.

The Sun, predicted digital revenue

The truth is paywalls are too simplistic as revenue drivers, blocking search engines, drastically limiting social media sharing; therefore, lowering the effectiveness of online advertising. If a reader hits a paywall then they’ll visit a competitor media outlet. An already difficult situation to contend with considering BBC News’ publicly funded reporting tends to snatch 40 million unique visitors a week.

Now the wait is on… how long before The Times scraps their paywall? It seems News UK are not ruling anything out at this stage.

10 Things to Remember about the FCA’s Social Media Guidelines

The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) ‘Social media and customer communications’ guidelines published earlier this year is hardly news, but some organisations still struggle to understand how they should be handling financial promotions on social media. Guidelines are open to interpretation and as a result there are many questions that arise from the FCA’s finalised guidance.

Even the FCA states that the guidance is a “supervisory approach”, so naturally organisations tend to have plenty of questions, especially surrounding social media developments not accounted for in the guidance. Here are 10 things to remember about the FCA’s Social Media Guidelines:

  1. The guidance covers financial promotions on social media, where social media is used to invite or induce to engage people in financial activity. This only applies to promotions made ‘in the course of business’ (typically companies or staff); The guidance has not been published to prevent the use of social media, but to make sure that all social promotions are clear, fair and not misleading;
  1. The FCA has the ‘Click Through Approach’, tweets are standalone promotions and must comply separately with FCArules, as well as being clear, fair and not misleading;
  1. The requirement to be ‘fair and not misleading’ means balancing the potential benefits of a product with any relevant risks;
  1. All social promotions should be reviewed in a business to consumer context, so that non-intended recipients can still understand promotions;
  1. Content used on a social network should play to the strengths of the content opportunities available (e.g. 140 character limit on Twitter, use the image space to extend message). However, allowances need to be made for users who have disabled certain social network functions – so risk warnings should be in the tweet body and image;
  1. Each individual social promotion (a single tweet, Facebook update, etc.) must be compliant in their own right, not followed up with disclaimers later on;
  1. Social promotions must come with risk warnings, otherwise they must be purely factual in nature (e.g. “To see our range of credit cards, go to XXX”). You should never use hashtags in promotions, as they link to irrelevant information that may confuse recipients;
  1. An organisation is not held responsible for how non-invested social media users share social promotions (e.g. the general public). However, any share by an organisation does count as an official social promotion. This may limit what types of media coverage can be shared;
  1. Organisations are required to have systems in place to organise the compliance sign-off of social media and have all activities, including online engagements, logged;
  1. Any paid-for social media promotions are required to adhere to the Committee of Advertising Practice Code.

Is the future of PR in social advertising?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” – is one of the ‘inspirational’ phrases making the rounds on LinkedIn at the moment. Unlike most memes, this one may have an element of truth. Perhaps that’s why the concluding answer of my interview on Chris Norton’s PR blog made the social headlines:

“We should all be concerned about the growth of the dark web. Social networks such as Snapchat and Whatsapp are locked down and near impossible to measure, at least compared with the openness of Twitter. When Twitter starts to decline, the entire social media industry may need to revaluate how it measures its worth.”

There is no doubt that Twitter is a godsend for those of us who work in public relations due to its approach to data sharing, the very thing that ethically burned the fingers of the charity Samaritans last year. A situation I was completely uninvolved with, but sadly was still trolled online for “being part of the same digital industry”.

The journalist Charles Arthur highlighted in his Guardian article last weekend, “Yet it is Twitter that is so often cited in news stories, TV coverage and even TV adverts, as established media businesses scramble to generate engagement with a tech-savvy mass of viewers, readers and listeners. Twitter is seen as the easy way to do that…  So why is Twitter struggling financially?”

Inevitably there are a multitude of reasons; struggle to monetise through advertising, competition from other social networks, speed of evolving the service, messages being communicated publicly (e.g. how Twitter is relevant in everyday life – sign up!). What isn’t a mystery to me is why Twitter has become famous; being mentioned on the news, by global brands and celebrities. It’s primarily about data.

All the social media monitoring tools on the market get deeper insight from Twitter in comparison to other sites such as Facebook and Google+. Twitter is a social network that balances organic activities with paid-for options – unlike Facebook where really advertising is the only option to get impact due to the throttling of organic reach. This leads to Twitter achieving global fame, whilst struggling to financially futureproof its existence.

So what happens to digital activities in PR after Twitter? It’s a concern of mine. Other popular social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn are locked down, commonly referenced as ‘walled garden’ social networks. One of the inventors of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called such social sites in the past as a threat to the democratic and universal nature of the internet.

Whilst we still have time the PR industry needs to think ahead about this future possibility and start planning for a world without the data comfort blanket of Twitter. It may just be that the future of digital PR may be in social advertising.

When I worked for competitor of infidelity website Ashley Madison

She dripped of sin, blonde hair waving behind her as she headed for the meeting room. The adulterous heiress; marketing manager for a dating website that specialises in infidelity. I sat opposite her, as a student on work experience, and found it difficult to believe that this young woman could be considered ethically responsible for tempting men and women across the country to cheat on their partners. How could she be so happy? Seem so content with life? As a PR student one of the main questions asked by lecturers in class was, “Would you work for an oil company?” I knew in that meeting room that this blonde lady was my oil company, the oil company of breaking relationships, dismantling love, for profit.

Then there was me, contractually obliged to give her advice that would tempt even more men and women to give up on love. The agency I was gaining experience at was measuring the results of their campaigns well. In the last month we had driven 5,000 new user registrations to the debaucherous site – just how many relationship breakdowns did that account for? To me they were just numbers. That was my shield to hide me from the ugly ethical truth. Today I would be more vocal, protest and refuse to work on the account – at the time I was on paid work experience. I suppose it was a utilitarian argument; the greatest good was furthering my career.

I would also tell myself that surely the dating site couldn’t be held completely accountable for a relationship breakup? Something in a couple’s personal life must have happened first. That register button is just a button, no voodoo, click or leave it. Now that I’m 25 years old and surrounded by friends who have made the leap to marriage my view is less laissez-faire.

To some the internet is just a ‘hive mind’ of opinions. Others see the internet as a valuable collective resource that could enhance humanity. I believe in both of those things to an extent, but mostly the internet is data. When running digital marketing campaigns, I see ones and zeroes, behaviour flow paths that are typical of certain website structures. Psychology and code dictate 90% of online behaviours. The trick to running a successful social media campaign is knowing the data you’re analysing are real people.

If you want to help somebody cheat on their partner, make sure you are serving advertisements on the correct pornographic websites. Keep showing these images and videos multiple times to tempt a click. Contextualise social media updates to appear next to the correct arousing accounts. Redirect people without their input to registration pages. Let people use false identities and validate them using payment details. It’s the dark side of the internet and it will never go away.

That’s until a website becomes too big and a community gets unruly. It’s highly likely that one of the hackers who infiltrated the online cheating site Ashley Madison worked for the company; at least that’s what The Guardian is saying. They are holding the company to intellectual data ransom due to a disagreement with a line in their policy. Having what I would call an ‘informed ethical judgement’, having worked for a competitor of Ashley Madison, I hope the data does get leaked. It’s this side of the internet that only ruins the value of our lives and makes me doubt the internet can be a force of good in the world.

Google Analytics adds Cohort Analysis (Beta)

Google has released cohort analysis as an option on the Google Analytics dashboard. It allows you to breakdown an overall visitor number into different groups (known as cohorts), and then analyse visitor behaviour based upon common experiences visitors may have had. For example, you may want to compare how users who visited your website from an email campaign compared with those who had visited from Twitter Ads.

It’s a form of analysis I first came across in my past role as a Multinational Account Manager at Microsoft – online advertising analysis is generally way ahead of digital PR measurement.

Google Analytics’ cohort analysis is still in beta version and therefore it is extremely basic. As of writing this post you are able to select from a number of segments (existing metrics on Google Analytics such as device or traffic type), but the rest of the options are a little bit… simple.

  • Cohort type: Can only view how visitors to a website behaved after a certain date
  • Cohort size: Can only be by day, week or month (so a general overview)
  • Metric: Choose a Google Analytics metric that you want to measure
  • Date: Choose the date range

Despite some limitations, cohort analysis can still provide some interesting results. For example, the below screenshots show how the duration times vary between mobile users and desktop and tablet users.

Cohort Analysis, Google Analytics, visit duration

 

I’m sure this new feature, whilst only basic at the moment, will provide valuable feedback about client campaigns.

Facebook is a misleading advertising network that promotes an out-dated approach to social media

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to recommend Facebook as part of a social media strategy. Here’s why.

In September 2012 Facebook announced that they were making changes to the way content appeared in peoples’ newsfeeds. This involved limiting the organic reach of posts from Facebook Pages (when posts are published without advertising). Following this change, global brands reported a staggering 40% drop in reach.

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Facebook did this for two reasons:

  • As a business they need to make money, and the primary way for them to do this is through advertising. If a Facebook Page could reach all their fans without paying, then there would be little need for businesses to advertise. By Facebook drastically limiting organic reach, organisations are more likely to use advertising to give their page a boost.
  • There is too much content being published on Facebook and, because of this, the social network has had to filter what appears in peoples’ newsfeeds. All of the posts you publish are in competition with other pages on Facebook so that your fans aren’t overwhelmed by content.

Both of these reasons were confirmed earlier this year when it was announced that Facebook users only see 20% of the content that is published by friends and pages.

The only way to change this is, unfortunately, is by advertising on Facebook. This means that Facebook Pages can reach more of their existing fan base and present content to other targeted users. However, this does begin to question whether Facebook can accurately be called a social network anymore; isn’t it more of a social advertising network?

The rebellion has started…

Eat24 – A BREAKUP LETTER TO FACEBOOK FROM EAT24

“It makes us think all you care about is money. Why should we have to wade through a dozen promoted posts about how to lose belly fat (are you trying to tell us something?) and requests for Candy Crush (NO! Just no.) and suggesting we like our arch nemesis’ page (seriously, WTF) before we can finally find the perfect Doge meme, It really seems like you’ve lost your way and have become nothing more than an ad platform.”

Copyblogger – Why Copyblogger Is Killing Its Facebook Page

“Have you ever stared at something, knowing you’re doing everything right, but it still won’t … freaking … work? That’s how Copyblogger has felt about its Facebook page for quite some time. As of today, the page has 38,000 “fans,” but Copyblogger’s presence on Facebook has not been beneficial for the brand or its audience.”

The point about Facebook is this: their algorithm changes and focus on advertising is causing much anxiety in the business community. It is quite simply becoming too expensive to be on Facebook. Especially as the content you painstakingly create may only organically reach a small percentage of your fan base.

I’ve worked with companies in the past who have literally spent hundreds of thousands of sterling on managing a global presence on Facebook. But WHY? There is nothing to verify users who ‘like’ a page, other than what Facebook’s own Insight measurement dashboard shows. Even then, these profiles are private, the owned property of Facebook. In a sense, you’re not really buying a fan but instead renting them; due to their lack of information (I’m personally convinced many are bots) and that you’re unable to export any of their individual data (such as email addresses).

As Facebook owns all of the data, the only way for them to sell to companies is by promoting the idea that social media metrics are the main purpose behind an online campaign. A dated idea in a world where the real value of social media is attained through the data – driving real-world conversions. Who cares if your page got 4,000 more followers this month? This shouldn’t be the aim – drive sales, bookings, downloads, etc… ANYTHING!

It’s interesting to note that in Facebook Advertising’s promotional copy, case studies are referenced claiming such results. Although in reality, I’ve never met an organisation that can claim such a successful experience with Facebook.

It isn’t just the big organisations that should question their use of Facebook. It’s the little ones too.

Last week I met with a small business owner who needed some social media advice. In exchange for a couple of ales, she revealed that she was primarily putting all her effort into her Facebook Page. However, our discussion was about improving the ranking of her website on Google. In the kindest way possible, I had to explain that it might be time to refocus efforts on SEO related activities. After explaining the costs needed to drive a successful Facebook Page – she whole-heartedly agreed.

She saw that Facebook was misleading her, enticing her with promises of sales that would realistically never meet the cost of her investment into buying fans. The social media metrics were not the end goal for her business; it’s sales.

For this reason Facebook is a misleading advertising network that promotes an out-dated approach to social media; that your business will thrive if you buy fans. Even worse, it is misleading companies into spending thousands of pounds on attracting fans to their pages, which they will never organically be able to reach.

This is why I find it difficult promoting Facebook in a social media strategy. There are better methods.