The hub & spoke methodology of digital communication is incredibly important to public relations and marketing communication because it is, strategically and tactically, a fundamental means of understanding, reaching, engaging with and influencing target audiences, as well as generating and leveraging ‘free’ viral ‘explosions’ of organisational messaging across the internet.
A hub is your digital centre, often where you are directing most of your traffic to and, in effect, where the core of the content that drives your digital activity exists.
Strategic public relations decisions: hub & spoke
These days, dialogue, interaction, thought leadership for differentiation and inbound marketing are what characterise effective communication and are closer to best practice PR than the alternatives – and this is most expeditiously facilitated by social media – underlining the importance of the approach taken to hub & spoke.
An effective online presence, backed up by a proactive, issues management-driven communication strategy, is of course important because it helps facilitate and/or deliver:
- excellent organisational reputation
- dialogue and best-possible relationships between organisations and stakeholders
- mutual learning, understanding and empathising between an organisation and its stakeholders
- an organisation and its stakeholders evolving their behaviour to become more in sync with each other
Making the hub & spoke set of decisions is, strategically, very important because when you make this decision you are deciding:
- which piece of your online real estate you primarily want to direct your stakeholders to
- how you prefer to engage with your stakeholders (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc all have different engagement ‘methodologies’)
- what sort of content you are going to utilise in your platforms (which will in turn be partially driven by the platforms you choose to utilise).
Hub & spoke for PR communication – which ones!?
The main hub options are website, blog (which can be designed to look like a website) and Facebook – but could it be Twitter or YouTube for some organisations? Or even Pinterest? (Actually, I’ll think you’ll find it already is…)
The list of potential spoke options is pretty much endless, but among the top contenders are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest.
Some say blogs are being superseded by Facebook. Don’t get fooled by this:
- three blogging websites – Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr – combined for 80 million unique visitors, reaching more than 1 in 4 active online users in the U.S. during October 2011. Blogger was 2nd only to Facebook.
I think that a blog is a far better platform for thought leadership; Facebook is better suited for content curation and as a conversational platform, with curation itself being virtually made for Twitter, though a platform like LinkedIn is excellent as well…all depends on your target audiences and communication program.
Most marketers active in this space seem to espouse that Facebook is best for product and service promotions, contests and more ephemeral communication than a blog.
The website is great for corporate information, but hard work to have a dialogue based on its content there, whilst the nature of a blog allows for a greater degree of viral sharing, it’s generally updated more frequently than websites which search engines like and, hence, it facilitates excellent awareness raising and reputation enhancement.
There is definitely a place for having a Facebook page as the hub for some organisations, but due to its SEO power and dynamic flexibility, I think there is often a strong argument for many organisations having the blog as the hub and all else, including the corporate website, as spokes.
Social media is database marketing
The emergence of social media is another reason for PR to get its head around the possibilities of database marketing. Yes, in polite society it isn’t done to call social media ‘database marketing’. This is because, classically speaking, social media is about sharing for the good of all.
(Of course, it’s somewhat ironic to be talking about ‘classic’ or ‘purist’ approaches to the sometimes compromised or slumming – and certainly new kid on the block – nature of social media, but every topic has its shining knights of protectionism.
I believe there are plenty of good reasons to keep some of the good vibes aesthetic to social media as if it is bastardised too much by commercial imperatives it will have no value for organisations and will be limited to being a product promotion medium – and its dialogic and SEO and findability and reputation building dimensions will be profoundly compromised.
A further potential impact of completely commercialising social media is that the practice of inbound marketing will have a great deal of its power castrated. And the same goes for thought leadership, which is the basis of much inbound marketing.
Blogs and Facebook, because they can build subscriber and fan bases (polite words for a database) are another reason why they are sidelining the corporate website to some degree and I think they must play a key role in nearly every organisational communication strategy.
Bear in mind the cold, hard reality that to get on an organisational database means the stakeholder is, to some degree at least, subscribing to what the organisation itself stands for – its brand, its positioning, its reputation.
Surely, Blanche, you’d be crazy not to leverage this subscription and buy-in to build stronger stakeholder relationships!
What is the best approach to take to hub & spoke? Have you made the blog the hub and moved the organisational website to being a spoke? Do you consider a ‘subscribe’ or a ‘Like’ or a ‘Follow’ to a social media platform amounting to voluntarily going onto a database? Do you expect to get customised communication after putting yourself on this database?
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