Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I’m Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh.

Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Pay to Play: Seven Ways Social Media is Getting More Expensive

This article originally appeared on PRDaily and also on Entrepreneur.com.

For a long time, there was a perception that social media marketing was free, or at least very inexpensive. Starting a Facebook or Twitter account was free, and hiring a part-time intern to manage them didn’t cost much.

In reality, social media marketing has never been free. Sure, there aren’t usually any hard costs required to set up social media accounts, but someone is still had to create the content, engage in the conversation, monitor and manage those conversations, etc. As we’ve seen time and time again, turning over your brand’s reputation to an intern isn’t always the wisest choice. Most brands now know the real costs of social media marketing are not as great as the opportunity costs of bad social media strategy.

Fast-forward a few years, and we’re seeing more and more organizations hire entire teams to create content for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and whatever hot new social media startup launched last week. Content marketing, the creation and distribution of content to attract leads and generate sales, has become a $118.4 billion industry. According to data from DOMO and Column Five Media, every minute of every day sees over 2 million Google searches, 571 new websites, and 48 hours of new YouTube video. It’s become overwhelming.

The social media arms race benefits no one

Unfortunately, it’s only going to get more difficult as brands compete in a social media arms race. Rather than creating a slow and steady stream of high-quality content, most brands believe they’re better off creating a ton of low-quality content in the hope that one or two pieces will have real results. Yet a recent study by InboundWriter shows only 10 to 20 percent of a company’s website content drives 90 percent of its online traffic.

Meanwhile, social networks realize that brands will pay big money for access to the millions of users in their online communities, and they’re going to charge more and more for that privilege. According to a recent Advertising Age article, Facebook reports: “Content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people’s ability to consume it.”

This means the organic reach of any one particular piece of content is going to decline even more from the 16 percent rate it’s at now. Some may see it drop all the way to 2 percent.

Increasingly, to compete effectively in social media, brands realize that to play, they must pay.

To keep up with social networks’ efforts to monetize their massive online audiences, companies are allocating more resources to keep up. Simply creating valuable content and then authentically engaging with your audiences often is no longer enough, especially when you have to spend more to reach those audiences. Brands know they now must create distribution strategies for that content, sometimes at a substantial cost.

Here are seven ways brands will spend more money on social media and content marketing in 2014:

  1. Creating content. If brands wish to rise above the glut of content that’s being created, they’re going to have to improve the quality of content they create. That viral video that looks like it was shot on a family member’s smartphone was actually just a bit created by the “traditional” media.
  2. Promoting content. Expect social platforms to reward brands that spend a lot of money in ads on those platforms. It’s a vicious cycle. Paid ads and sponsored content will help drive the “organic” reach of your other content. In addition, brands with more Facebook likes are going to see a lower cost for paid distribution because paid social ads will show greater social context. If more “likes” and followers = cheaper ads, guess who’s going to start to investing in more contests, giveaways, and other tactics to reach more eyeballs and then subsequently buy more ads and sponsored content.
  3. Increasing reach. As brands acquire more and more fans, followers, and “likes,” and as these social networks get larger and larger, the cost to reach them will continue to increase. When a brand makes an investment in creating high-quality content, you can bet they’ll ensure it reaches the largest number of people.
  4. Syndicating content. Likewise, expect more dollars to go companies such as Taboola andOutbrain that specialize in placing content where it’s most likely to be discovered. In a sea of content, these companies help more people find yours.
  5. Monitoring, filtering, and analyzing conversations. Social media monitoring platforms have been around for years, but their hefty price tags often relegated them to a wish list for many organizations. However, as more people and brands create even more content, it’s going to become more difficult to identify and act on what’s relevant to you. As a result, pricey monitoring and analytics tools will be migrating from the wish list to the approved budget.
  6. Paid sponsorships. Those “influencers” you’re always trying to reach? They’re realizing their influence is in demand and that it’s not cheap. According to a recent IZEA survey, 61 percent of marketers have paid someone to mention their product, and that number is only going to rise in 2014. It’s not just celebrities and athletes, either. Everyday people are also asking for more money and more product, because they can and because brands will meet those demands.
  7. More full-time employees. As more content is created and more money is spent promoting and distributing that content, more people will be needed to create, moderate, measure, and analyze it. Demand for data scientists, SEO specialists, media buyers, and creatives will increase as brands try to optimize the money they’re investing.

If you thought the days of trying to persuade your bosses to invest in social media were over, get ready to go back, hat in hand, and ask for even more money. With bigger budgets come bigger expectations and more pressure. Are your social media, content generation, and content distribution strategies ready?

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You Become What You Measure

As we kick off 2014, we’re awash in PR trends and predictions. Here are six trends to watch in 2014. Here are 20 more. And another 10 more. But let’s look a little further ahead. And let’s start by looking at the implementation of standardized testing in our nation’s schools, the performance reviews of police officers, and the recent financial crisis.

These three seemingly incongruous industries are actually suffering from a situation that will soon face the PR industry as well. They’re all suffering from quant overshoot. It’s one of the four stages of the rise of the quants as described by Felix Salmon in his excellent “Numbed by Numbers: Why Quants Don’t Know Everything” article in January’s WIRED. In the overshoot stage, people stop thinking like people and start thinking like machines.

“On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metrics rather than doing the rest of their job – just as Campbell’s law predicts.”

Salmon points to police departments that judge effectiveness on arrests and schools that focus their efforts on increasing standardized test scores as examples of the unintended consequences of yielding decision-making to quantitative data. What scared me as I read this article is that I see marketing and PR taking the exact same road. Quantitative analysis of big data is thoroughly disrupting our industry – everything we do now can be measured, analyzed and optimized. We use tools like Sysomos and Radian6 to track millions of social media posts. We use sophisticated algorithms to measure the specific level of influence people have among their friends. We use social network analysis to determine how messages flow from one person to another. We can even use cookies and web analytics to optimize the actual content that you see when you visit a site. And we’re only at the beginning. PR is going to get more and more data-driven, allowing us to become more efficient than we’ve ever been.

And that’s what scares me.

Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

PR has always been more art than science and for good reason

Just because we can measure and optimize something doesn’t always mean we should. We’re abdicating our relationships and conversations in favor of statistical models and algorithms. Data has undoubtedly made PR more efficient and effective, but I worry that we don’t know when to stop. We’ve already stopped using Twitter to actually talk with people. Instead, we analyze the length, content, and timing of them to optimize their reach and shares. I’ve already seen instances where relationship-building Tweets like “Great article @reporterX – will be sharing that one around the office!” are shunned because they won’t impact engagement numbers. We’ve resorted to sharing “inspirational quotes” not because they do anything for our brand, but because they’ll get us more likes. We ignore reporters and bloggers who don’t measure up to some arbitrary influencer score. Where does it stop? Will it stop? Can we stop? 

PR can and should serve a critical role in the integrated marketing mix. PR should be the ones who help mitigate the impact of the overshoot stage and quickly move organizations into stage four – the synthesis stage, the stage where quantitative data is married with old school subjective experience. PR professionals should be the ones who help bridge this gap, not fall victim to the same over-reliance on data that doomed our financial systems or our schools.

In 2014, let’s make a concerted effort to not be a slave to data. To not let machines and spreadsheets dictate our conversations and relationships. To remember that public relations is still more art than science. To use data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. Let’s recognize that no matter how advanced the data gets, computers and algorithms will never be able to replace actual human interaction. Hopefully, PR professionals will still be able to do that in between analyzing their graphs and spreadsheets. 

*Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

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Before You Commemorate the Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

Next week is the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. With all the hype around real-time marketing and newsjacking, community managers may find themselves compelled—by a client or colleague—to contribute to this news-driven conversation in social media.

When brands do this, it can come across as forced, at best, or offensive, at worst. The line between appropriate and inappropriate is a thin one, best evidenced by recaps of brands trying to commemorate 9/11 this year.

Real-time marketing requires a deft hand, balancing the benefits of participating in conversations your customers are having with the potential damage done by content that’s more concerned with the brand than with its audience.

More often than not, saying nothing is the best move. If you feel the need for your brand to say something about a news-driven event, head over to PRDaily to read this post written by a couple of my team members, Scott Smith (@ourmaninchicago) and Jeana Anderson (@jeanaanderson).

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Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers AND Google Happy

Social Media Week Chicago Scott SmithNick Papagiannis and I had the opportunity to kick off Social Media Week Chicago with a presentation titled “Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers, AND Google Happy” to a packed house at Morningstar in Chicago. If you missed it, we’ve created a Storify for the event hashtag and embedded the livestream and presentation below. Thank you to everyone who made it out and/or participated virtually – I’m really looking forward to continuing this conversation because content marketing has a lot of potential…if we don’t screw it up first.

Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s content marketing tips, tricks, and hacks. During Social Media Week Chicago alone, there are at least 16 sessions on the topic. But remember when content marketing consisted of publishing a blog post a week? Now, with consumers constantly bombarded with news and content via an ever-expanding array of media and social platforms, brands have been pressed into a “content arms race” that has them posting to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. every single day. They’re even using automated content creation and curation platforms to feed the beast and stay at the top of search rankings. But how much of this activity actually serves a brand’s business goals? Or truly engages consumers?

Just like the hammer in search of a nail, marketers are spending more and more of their time and energy reducing every conversation, article, and photo to a piece of data, all in an effort to maximize their ROI and deliver the most eyeballs at the lowest price. Instead of a world where brands are creating content that solves problems, adds value, or creates deeper relationships with customers, we are perilously close to a world where more simply equals better.

Here’s the thing though – we don’t have to do things this way. We have the data and the tools to scale actual conversations and relationships. We have the tools to talk with people directly now. We have the ability to precisely target only those customers who will care about the content. Content marketing gives us the opportunity to rethink marketing – let’s stop trying to game the system and optimize every piece of content and instead think about how to best optimize our relationships with our customers.

The big takeaway from our presentation is that content should be beneficial to your customer, reflective of your brand, and optimized for Google, in that order.

If you don’t want to watch the whole recording, you can check out the slides here.

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