By Mary-Louise Clews on 2 March 2017
How can PRs help media create compelling social content?
If you, like me, did your training back when email was the exciting new way to communicate, you may have watched the rise of socially inspired reporting with a degree of…scepticism, shall we say.
Surely three-deck headlines won’t last, you used to think to yourself back in 2010, the words of your first chief-sub berating your overly-verbose copy ringing in your ears.
However, while it remains true that the component parts that make a narrative engine hum and roar remains the same, the truth is, the way audiences engage with information socially has fundamentally changed the way journalists prioritise and edit stories and related content.
So how can PRs tailor their clients’ content to help journalists and editors develop stories that work socially? I attended a journalism.co.uk workshop with the respected former Guardian head of social and communities Laura Oliver to find out. Here are the three top-tips I will be putting into practice straight away:
The headline has changed forever
While traditional headlines still exist, reporters and editors of all shapes and sizes are under pressure to create story titles that drive quality engagement on social media. This is not about clickbait to drive any old traffic. As with everything else media companies do, it’s about an intimate understanding of how their target audiences behave within a particular channel, and ensuring the way they present their content connects with and enhances the experience they are seeking. This stuff really matters. On social channels there is no place to hide. Engagement with content posted is there for all to see.
Similarly, good PR practice has always been about having an in-depth understanding of your target audiences and the type of content journalists need to engage with those audiences. Social channels were once treated as another channel to pump out stories designed for print or TV. Not anymore. Audiences want different experiences depending where they are, so while the substance remains constant, the style is different. For instance, it has been found that 80 per cent of people have the volume muted when using social channels. The simple addition of subtitles to video clips suddenly makes videos much more compelling.
Channel 4 News has led way in subtitled, edited news reports for social channels.
Start with social currency
Creating content that will help journalists connect with their audiences socially, starts with understanding what motivates social media users to engage. Social content is different. Editors and producers are relying on the audience, the Tweeters, the Facebook users, to amplify their content. There is a new layer of advocacy, beyond the traditional third party advocacy of the journalist and their media title, that needs to be won by PRs.
So a PR’s job in 2017 extends beyond just persuading a reporter and their editor of the value of a story – they also need to be sure it will drive active engagement with their target audiences socially. This means understanding what motivates people to share content – what gives it social currency and value – within different channels.
Watch social channels for reactive opportunities
When a big story breaks and is receiving a lot of similar coverage, reporters and editors will, as ever, be searching for a fresh, distinctive angle and way into a story that suits their readership or sets their story apart. Social media channels have become a potential source of inspiration. So good PRs and press officers will be watching for these opportunities too.
Without giving away too much of Oliver’s ‘behind the scenes’ chat, she talked about a BBC story that took a piece of Trump related news that was receiving blanket coverage. The journalists found a very different way into the story that tapped into a social conversation. The reporter noticed that people from a certain profession were talking about what this story meant for them and was able to join in, creating a fresh story that drew in social comments and engaged with a strong section of their audience.
Eagle-eyed PRs who are looking for business coverage opportunities in particular need to adapt, if they aren’t already, to spotting creative, reactive ways on social media into stories that could benefit their client and sector.
The bottom line is understanding how to curate content for social audiences in an authentic and engaging way is becoming an ever more fundamental string to the PR bow.