CommonSense Blog

More on Technology’s Role in Communications in 2015

By Lionel Menchaca | Jun 25, 2015

In my earlier post on the topic, I discussed using technology to stay connected to reporters. It’s pretty common these days for brands to make communications team members responsible for producing content on social properties and company blogs. If you are in a content production role, using some level of technology during the development process will result in more informed, relevant content overall.

These days, we’re swimming in data, and it makes sense that it gets confusing for a lot of folks in Comms or Marketing. That doesn’t mean you have to become a technologist or data scientist to gain some level of insight that informs the content you develop. In my experience, it’s an iterative process. Start somewhere, and expand from there. Find a few things that work for you, that you can incorporate into a daily (or at least regular) routine. Success will lead you down more specific paths.

While there are tools to help you get a sense for the content and the influencers that are moving the needle, there’s no substitute for real analytics insights. W2O Group’s analytics chops were a big part of why I decided to join the company in the first place. Understanding what content and topic trends with free tools is a start, knowing who the topic influencers are takes some real effort. Beyond that, we identify the sources that inform the influencers. Putting that level of insight together with a solid understanding of content is where the magic happens.

In my view, the best content strategy focuses on providing balance between things that matter to your customers, things that tie your company to broader industry trends in a seamless way and the things you want to communicate as a brand. In other words, you have to earn your way in to market to your customers.

Credibility Builders

A good place to start is to look more deeply at the analytics behind the content you’ve been publishing. If you work for a big, established brand that has regular social media reporting meetings, take advantage of them. Whether someone in your company’s analytics team or an outside agency delivers the results, ask questions. If you’ve got a lot of questions, ask the presenter or team to meet separately. Many times, those reports show trend level-level items in a week, month or quarterly basis. They’ll usually also show some level of reach. Those are both useful from a directional standpoint; but in my view, it’s more helpful to dig into engagement metrics at the content level. Whether you’re responsible for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or other social properties, engagement metrics are things such as Likes, Shares, Comments or retweets. When you’re looking at these metrics, pay attention to how they are helping acheive your objectives. Once you can get to this level of detail, keep it simple: do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not.

That’s definitely true in terms of managing blog content as well. Like I mentioned in my Content Hub post, there are a handful of metrics that really matter. In my view, the two most important are 1) the # of inbound links and 2) the # of shares into social platforms. Links (especially ones that come from other sites directly to your blog post) are the lifeblood of blogs. Inbound links are the best indicator that a blog post is hitting the mark. And speaking of social shes, if more people are sharing your blog post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere, that’s validation they see value in the content itself. Data backs up that social shares continue to matter.

Beyond inbound links and social shares, I’d add time on site, # of comments and # of page views as blog traffic metrics that give you a good sense for what content’s working (or not). Working from the inside out, thinking about content from an external perspective, start with credibility builders I mentioned in the image above.

You’re probably already paying attention to things that matter to customers in terms of traditional media. In the digital realm, it’s as easy as reading comment threads on your company’s social properties (or @ replys to your company Twitter account). That’s how I found much of things that became systemic issues we needed to address on the Dell blog.  Regarding the broader trends part, when done well, adding your brand’s perspective to a broader industry trend makes your company relevant to a wider audience. Finding those trends quickly and efficiently is the hard part.

So, how can you get a better feel for what’s happening around the web? Using aggregation sites like Techmeme.com and Mediagazer.com (and the search feature they both offer), are a good place to start if you’re in the tech or media industry. Otherwise, Facebook and Twitter already offer some level of trending stories. Facebook’s Trending section tends to be consumer-oriented, but it does allow you to offer feedback on what types of stories you’re interested in seeing in your trending feed. Twitter’s Trends feature on the left hand side of your profile page offers a tailored view of what’s happening now, but much like Facebook, seems too general to be of much use in this context. Twitter recently unveiled Project Lightning curated news served real-time, but Instagram’s already rolled out its version and some feel Twitter will be playing catchup with it and Snapchat in this regard. The curated news space is heating up quickly, so there will be plenty more to come.

For now at least, here are three curated news tools I’ve used to help cut through the clutter:

  • Nuzzel – I just start using this service recently, after reading this article. In that short time, it’s become my favorite. It’s a service that surfaces the stories that your friends and connections shared most often. In other words, it delivers a curated list of headlines based on either your Twitter or Facebook contacts.
  • Newsle – This is a service LinkedIn purchased about a year ago. It surfaces stories that feature contacts in your LinkedIn network.
  • Prismatic – This one is a social news recommendation engine, but it doesn’t seem to be as closely tied to the people you follow.

And then there’s Google. They’ve been on a tear recently, starting with last week’s rollout of the redesigned Google Trends website, then launching YouTube Newswire. They followed it up this week by introducing the Google News Lab, and the related Google News Lab site. Even though Google positions all three as journalistic endeavors, I’d argue there’s usefulness for PR folks as well, specifically with Google Trends. At the very least, I think it’s worth following @GoogleTrends on Twitter.

In spending a bit of time on Google Trends, I’m impressed with the level of real-time data it makes available to anyone on the web. Beyond showing trending news and topics, it displays real-time demographic data, topic queries  and in some cases, questions users are asking related to those searches. And make no mistake, having access to real-time questions is massively valuable to brands, especially in issues management mode. I sure would have loved to have a tool like it back in my Dell days. Why? Answering those questions directly in the content your company publishes is the best way to ensure its relevance to customers and reporters.

A few quick examples:

Google Trends can show you changes in real-time in things like the 2016 Presidential race. Like this tweet where they show how Bobby Jindal’s announcement to run for President affected searches for Donald Trump, who had led earlier. Click on the image below to get to the before and after images.

Google Trends - Trump vs. Jindal

Going to the Explore section, you can enter your own topics to compare. One caveat: it only works for topics that have enough volume. Here’s a comparison between Facebook, Google and Twitter. The cool thing thing: it shows more than just a volume graph—it also allows you to see the demographic and query data for all three.

Google, Facebook and Twitter on Google Trends

But probably the best example is the U.S. Supreme Court rulings currently happening. The top section shows the most relevant articles. Those are the ones I’d read first, (and potentially link to), followed by Top Questions for the U.S. Supreme Court, plus separate top questions for U.S Supreme Court Justices and the Affordable Care Act, searches over time, search interest by state, etc. In other words, tons of real-time information. Click this link to go to the Google Trends page itself, or click the image below to see a larger version:

US Supreme Court - Google Trends

While I understand there’s a very limited and finite amount of time for Comms people to spend researching trends and news, finding some time is a worthwhile excercise in my book. There’s definitely a purpose here. I’ll blog more about that soon.