Naturally, we all want our products and services to enjoy an excellent reputation and increased visibility. However, many of us have been in the PR digital strategy game long enough to know that the best values don’t always rise to the top or appear on “Page One” of niche-specific online searches.
Additionally, there is so much competition and “noise” in the digital realm that cutting through the clutter requires specialized skills and near-constant monitoring. Truly effective PR now requires a digital strategy that helps businesses differentiate themselves from competitors.
Of course, individual businesses are as unique as fingerprints. There is no one-size-fits-all digital PR strategy. You can’t just download a template and start checking off all the boxes. Instead, you’ll need to do both external and internal research examining your place in today’s marketplace. After that, you’ll use that information to draw out the positive aspects of your business, specific products, and service distinctives unavailable anywhere else.
All that being true, there are still some industry-tested principles you can use as you evaluate and plan. Other businesses (of all sizes) that have significantly boosted their presence and revenue utilizing a PR digital strategy tend to follow several of the following ten practices. Tweak them as you move forward with your business model, but be slow to toss any of them aside as “not relevant” to your needs.
1. Commitment to Quality and Transparency
Anyone engaged in online PR or digital marketing will quickly agree that a worldwide audience is both a blessing and a curse. One thing everyone agrees on these days is that unsubstantiated hype quickly falls to the very bottom of the pile. Worse, making false claims online is discerned rapidly and almost always called out for some social media shaming.
You will likely generate more loyal customers by being a straight shooter and fulfilling your niche. Before doing anything else, write out your commitment to quality, integrity, and a no-hype approach. Start out under-promising and over-delivering…and stay that way. Make sure everyone you currently employ or hire embraces that fundamental commitment.
2. Clearly-Defined Objectives
Some people shorten this recommendation to “Keep your ‘why’ close by.” It’s a catchy mnemonic device and can serve as part of a helpful internal monologue as you work with others to develop your digital PR strategy. Frequently your objectives become fuzzy, and you are tempted to compromise as events unfold. That might be the right call, but you should always go back to your source document and make sure it stays updated.
Why are you seeking to build a comprehensive digital PR strategy in the first place? Are you merely trying to raise sales? Or do you hope to move one of your company superstars into a spokesperson role or that of a thought leader? In all likelihood, you will have more than one goal — most do — but you will also need to undergird every objective with actionable, measurable tools for evaluating your level of success as you move forward.
3. Target Audience Defined by Personas
Personas are fictitious amalgamations that represent large segments of your core constituency. If, for example, your product or service appeals to both young and old, you will want to build at least one character per age demographic. Before you start, limit the number of personas in your digital PR strategy to more than one but less than 10. Too few, and your message becomes too narrow over time. Too many and your creative team will struggle to stay fresh.
Personas should have names but not remain static. Over time, your products and services are likely to evolve. Likewise, the demographics of your customers are subject to change. As your digital PR strategy comes together, the personas will be helpful for messaging. Your creative team will ask questions like, “How would ‘Martha’ hear this message? What about ‘Luther’?” Having personas helps your team think outside their heads and zero in on your target audience.
4. Filtered and Prioritized List of Media Outlets and Contacts
The best digital PR strategy would be all for naught were it not for communication channels. In days long gone, the available choices were print and broadcast. Nowadays, the available options can quickly get overwhelming. Divide your choices into two primary categories, then focus on your top choices. It’s normally better to “start small and build.” In other words, pick a few priority channels and establish a good groove. After that, branch out.
- Traditional Channels: These include print, broadcast, PR professionals, publicists, events, speaking engagements, trade shows, conferences, celebrity spokespeople, and online media purchases.
- Digital Media: Increasingly powerful channels include topic-specific blogs, podcasts (both audio-only and video), social media interactions, online advertisements, virtual reality “real estate,” and other evolving digital technologies.
5. Agreed-Upon ‘Voice’ for Messaging
Audiences expect an established investment firm to “sound” different from a fast-food restaurant or energy drink. That’s just common sense. We want investment companies to speak confidently, optimistically, and authoritatively. Energy drink ads are often sassy, snappy, and filled with bright, colorful characters. Similarly, before embarking upon any PR campaign, you should decide who you are addressing and how your consistent voice will sound.
Suppose your digital PR strategy team consists of multiple players. In that case, it’s easy enough to 1) have one team member go off script or 2) create a bottleneck, i.e., one person who oversees every message. Since neither of those outcomes is desirable, it will pay dividends to construct a style sheet spelling out how your messages ought to sound to the average person.
6. Content Production and Delivery Calendar
Today, there is no shortage of calendaring apps and other tools businesses can use to get started developing a PR production strategy. Many are free! The one to go with is the one that works for every member of your PR team. Of course, you don’t want every employee using a different tool, so you’ll have to draw the line somewhere. For many businesses — large and small — what seems to make sense is a centralized online tool everyone can view and update.
For the visual thinkers in your midst, it might make sense to set up a large video screen in a central location that updates frequently and informs passersby throughout the day. Whatever delivery channels work best for your company, it’s vital that your message is planned, produced to a deadline, and doesn’t stall out for lack of conveyed clarity or “missed memos.”
7. Content That Differentiates
Why should anyone choose your business over your competitors? In today’s media landscape, differentiation reigns supreme. Companies of all stripes are increasingly showcasing their businesses in light of what is unique about their products or services. You know that there are features of your business that are not offered elsewhere. Now make sure your PR digital strategy conveys these points accurately (and repeatedly).
One way to “cheat sheet” your way into content that differentiates is to comprehensively study the messaging offered by the competition. The last thing you want to do is parrot someone else’s PR. The point instead is to analyze your competitors and ask yourself what you can offer that they cannot. Personalized service? Discount pricing? Proprietary content unavailable anywhere else? Differentiation should be a consistent drumbeat backing up all your messages.
8. Feedback Channels and Benchmarks
No one launches a PR digital strategy on a lark. Businesspeople need to see results in clear, measurable outcomes. Your preferred outcome will vary depending on your niche — increased sales, a boost in followers, local market penetration, whatever — but the loftiest goals need to establish benchmarks for performance.
How will you determine your return on investment (ROI)? For any PR endeavor, you will want more than anecdotal evidence and positive feedback from your friends and family. Choose variables that are both measurable and actionable. Establish your baseline and desired goals for improvement, and plug in that data at regular intervals. To help you determine your goals, perhaps the most critical exercise is formulating pointed questions you want answered at the end of any digital marketing. Examples might include the following.
- Is there any noticeable bump in gross monthly sales? How much?
- What is the week-ending number of social media channel followers?
- Do website analytics show any change? Up or down, and by how much?
- How many requests for speaking engagements this quarter?
9. Resources Allocated for Ongoing Engagement
More than one company has launched a well-planned PR digital strategy only to find that they had to hire additional staff in a hurry. Of course, no one likes to hire under the gun. In our digital age, one of the most helpful staffing strategies is to employ a stable of utility players, i.e., employees who can pivot from answering one need to another without breaking a sweat.
When you move into the digital realm, there is always the possibility that your PR efforts will be successful beyond what you had planned. True, this is a terrific problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Consumers today expect and demand a high level of personalized attention. Providing that level of care and concern presupposes that your business has the people in place to provide a warm, welcoming human presence that backs up your customer care claims.
10. Roadmap for Future Scaling
When you finally unleash your digital PR strategy on the world, your goals might be modest, and that’s fine. However, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that you have at least a rough draft of what it might look like to scale your business upward. This could be as simple as adding stock to your warehouse or as involved as constructing a franchising plan.
Many businesspeople daydream about their content going viral and their sales going through the roof. However, many others simply want to increase foot traffic in one local store and call it good. As you prepare to penetrate deeper — at whatever scale — be aware that the response could underwhelm despite your best efforts. However, the opposite is true, too. Be ready for either outcome by setting aside time to tweak your digital PR strategy regularly and simultaneously keeping a plan for scaling up handy.