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In an ‘information obesity[i] world, what can public relations practitioners do or say to cut through the online corporate corpulence and still add ‘meat’ with nutritional value? Two answers are that we need to ‘re-calorie-brate’ our focus and activities and add internal journalist and search engine optimization (SEO) expert calisthenics into the working skill set.

Public relations as internal journalist

[This is a guest post by public relations and communication management specialist, Judy Gombita.***]

Helping to flow stakeholders to relevant and useful pools of information about our companies or clients is definitely a worthwhile investment of resources. When monitoring what stakeholders self-select – particularly when they land on and dive into organizational reservoirs of core offerings or knowledge and expertise – opportunities exist to refine and shape the direction and current of corporate story telling (from both a mediated and disintermediated standpoint).

The sustenance and water analogies aren’t a prescriptive diet to abandon traditional PR practices; rather, think of it as adding new dimensions and value as an internal journalist and SEO pro. It’s a natural progression, as the 21st century PR regime really needs to be looking to the internet as a legitimate outlet for ‘earned media,particularly via our own ‘media’ sites. (See my interview with Ira Basen about Engineering Search: The story of the algorithm that changed the world.)

By examining subject choices and phraseology, the focus of PR pros can move from a ‘how’ to attract attention, to a ‘why’ (and about ‘what’) search perspective. And, in assuming the role of internal chronicler, the organizational narrative can then be framed and shaped accordingly.

Support from research

From a strategic PR and marketing perspective, lending credibility to these supplementary-role suggestions are two recent studies:

Top-line takeaways

What do both studies tell us? No matter what their age, increasingly people[ii] are using the internet to search for information, verified and/or analyzed by subject experts (both externally and internally) and, to a less significant extent (in terms of generations and numbers), to connect directly with organizations.

They are searching for organizational collateral beyond products and services offered. People want to determine if a business is a ‘good’ and humanized one, which can be trusted in the way it treats a variety of stakeholders (e.g. its employees – Trust Barometer, page 26).

Although companies continue to funnel resources into social media, results of the 2011 Trust Barometer suggests the self-collecting of desired information (much of it by way of search engines) remains more prevalent than the ‘two-way symmetrical communications’ (beloved by many in PR) afforded through new media channels (corporate blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc).

And yet, I see some tremendous opportunities to build on early social media efforts (partly by using search), based on the data provided.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2011 news release (January 25, 2010)

“Trust in business may have stabilized globally, but it is different and conditional, premised on what a company does and how it communicates…. Search engines rank No. 1 as the place people go first for information about a company, followed by online news sources and print/broadcast media. Traditional news, in one form or another, rank as the most trusted sources in major markets… (business magazines, radio, television, and newspapers, respectively).” Richard Edelman

Working with the Trust Barometer data

From an organizational PR perspective, following are 2011 data extracts that I see as significant in terms of areas for consideration and future focus.

Edelman Trust Barometer results summary

PR-perspective mashup: internal experts

1. From a strategic corporate perspective, what’s particularly significant in the 2011 findings is that the highest ranked (and new) trusted internal source is ‘Technical expert within the company.’ This information is important, as likely internal experts (e.g. engineering, HR or financial staff) were hitherto under-used in ongoing organizational narratives.

Suggestion: don the internal journalist’s workout gear and start sourcing internal experts and information that might be of interest to stakeholders. (Use existing ‘search’ information gleaned from corporate websites and/or social media channels to influence the nature of the experts and information used.)

2. Given how often PR practitioners make use of the head honcho as the organization’s public face, it’s encouraging to see that the CEO position has increased in perceived trust (by 19 per cent, globally) over two years, regarding credibility.

Perhaps now is the time to push for implementation of (and real commitment to) a corporate blog and/or Twitter account, with at least some of the postings (or tweets) coming from the CEO. The organization’s various ‘technical experts’ could contribute posts, too….

Corporate blogs allow for both disintermediation (i.e. a nimble platform of wholly owned real estate – versus some third-party social media sites, such as Facebook, where your organization is really a sharecropper[iii]) and the humanizing of the organization (from the top down).

It’s prudent to implement disintermediated social media platforms prior to an unforeseen crisis or even before monitoring efforts unearth information searches from stakeholders that use negative terminology. Both potential circumstances should move the ‘do-we-need-a-blog?’ debate onto the critical-priority list, with lightening speed.

3. Although trust in the ‘Regular employee’ rose two per cent, overall the rank-and-file descended to the bottom of the ‘trust’ (or ‘interest’) heap. This undercuts declarations by social media gurus who believe the focus of organizational digital channels should be on ‘regular’ employees.

Rather than rejecting participation in corporate social media channels entirely, involve employees in figuring out what information and stories might be of the greatest interest and through which channels, particularly in regards to age preferences (as per the Pew Internet ‘Generations Online’ research).

Being platform-SEO savvy

As discussed, increasingly the success of organizations being heard or seen in the important online sphere, is dependent upon SEO earned media, whether it be through online news sources (i.e. mediated ‘pick-up’ of your organization’s stories or spokespeople, products or events) or via your corporate real estate (i.e. disintermediated corporate information and narratives).

Note that external journalists use search engines to find the same corporate stories perceived to be of interest (‘Why should this matter to me?’ and ‘How does this impact on our readers/viewers/listeners and what would they find of use and interest?’). Don that same (internal) journalist perspective during the ‘research’ and ‘subject-expert sourcing’ stages, in addition to the actual writing (for website, blog or Twitter) or telling (podcast or video) phases.

Original and valued information, whether on your corporate website (‘11 per cent trusted’), blog or other social media channels, can serve as resources to a traditional journalist researching a story. Third-party endorsement of corporate information (‘earned media’) and online (news) links only adds to your SEO clout.

Global PR thought leadership

Case studies of digital communication

Check out PR Conversations interviews with:

  • Tom Murphy, of Microsoft, who focuses on the company’s CSR narrative
  • Mike Spear*, of Genome Alberta – learn about the GenOmics site, a highly customized Facebook page that serves as a 24-hour science newsroom, collecting stories from around the world and laying them out like a digital magazine
  • Andrew Arnold*, of LEGO, who makes use of social media, both for education purposes and to discover ‘brand champion’ communities around the world
  • Avril Benoît*, of MSF Canada, who branches out the international NGO’s work onto a variety of platforms, whilst fiercely protecting a correct and sensitive portrayal of both its medical volunteers and the countries and victims served
  • James Topham, of War Child Canada, who partners with musicians and pushes the boundaries of social media ‘games’ and depictions in the NGO’s fight for attention.

Is it a coincidence that three* out of five of these remarkably nutritious, fat-free ‘storytelling’ PR practitioners are former journalists? All five appear to have ‘worked up’ a pretty good handle on SEO, too.

***With more than 20 years of experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning non-profit sectors (employment, board member or committee), Toronto-based Judy Gombita is an accomplished, internationally well-networked and creative public relations and communication management specialist. In-depth experience includes initiating, planning, budgeting and maintaining integrated communication programs. Her skill set includes resource development, relationship building and reputation management. She values collaborative working environments, where strategy and ingenuity are valued. Judy can be networked with through the PR Conversations blog she co-edits, her LinkedIn profile or on Twitter @jgombita.

[This post is included, with many other posts, in a free strategic PR report that can be downloaded from this blog by email subscribing to it. The report – Public relations 2011: insights ideas issues – features professional practice-adding value from 10 global PR leaders (and me).]

Thank you to quality graphic design consultant, Pennington & Co, for its assistance with graphic elements of this post – CP.

[i] Hat tip to Ben Cotton for coining ‘information obesity’.

[ii] Edelman Trust Barometer: 5,075 informed publics in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64) in 23 countries.

[iii]‘Sharecropper’ analogy courtesy of Valeria Maltoni, a prolific and articulate blogger who champions the necessity for ‘business transformation.’