Digital Strategy

PR and Digital

In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing tension between PR and Digital teams. I see this as part of the natural progression of the digitization of the media space, as evidenced by the brutal demise of traditional media outlets, especially the broadsheets.

The PR team used to function as the intermediary between the brand and the media, but the shift to digital has seen  those boundaries become blurred. Where they used to be able to craft the message, now they are having to give up that power as consumers co-create the “narrative” with the brand, as represented by the digital team.

Its hard to blame the PR team for not being enthused at being supplanted by this upstart team. This obviously extends to PR agencies as well, who have reacted by creating separate “digital” arms. Its a trend I picked up on during my recent sabatical, where I was approached by several agencies to take on the Digital Lead role. My conversations with them made it clear that the main objective would be to make them look like they knew what they were talking about in front of their clients.

I would have become a showpony, to be trotted out whenever the client had a digital need.

dancing show pony via
Thanks, but no thanks. (Image via

But where there is a challenge, there is also opportunity. I’ve worked with a couple of forward facing agencies and in-house teams that “get” digital. They are the best partners a digital team can have, as they understand the nuances of creating the “narrative” better than anyone else. The PR team also knows the brand, and they have the experience of dealing with people face-to-face, something digital teams are not strong at.

By embracing this change, these forward-facing PR teams can partner with the digital team to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.  They have different skills that can complement each other, and this is how the best partnerships are formed. Based on personnel chemistry, this partnership can be natural and seamless. However, as that’s something that can’t be planned for, a more formal roles and responsibility guide may be necessary:

PR Digital
Influencers Develop the in-person relationship with the Influencers. Own the influencer acquisition strategy. Monitor, amplify and engage online. Identify new potential influencers
Social Develop the content, but leaves it up the the Digital team to execute (publish and engage) Align with the corporate message, but it should by a very small percentage (<20%) of all out-going communications.
Branding Provide the brand story – ensuring that long-form content meets corporate guidelines Should be just as aware of corporate branding requirements.
Campaigns Lead the development of awareness driven campaign creative strategy and messaging Execute awareness campaign. Iterate to deliver KPIs, and develop and manage activities for lower in the funnel.
Reputation Management Manage the offline reolution of the issue. Triage process to determine whether it requires offline intervention. In which case, PR team in roped in.
Crisis Management Owns the crisis management plan. Plan should include templated, approved digital content that can be published at short notice. Usually the first to identify potential issue. Immediately activated the PR team.

This is a very simple example of how the two teams would work together. Of course, this relationship will evolve over time, and should ideally lead to the two teams merging, as and when the “big” media industry dies (one can only hope). With so much content out there, and our attention being divided by more screens, it will get harder and harder to justify shelling out money for content.  We are already starting to see a new generation of news media like, and AJ+. Not to mention the billions of blogs out there.

Finally, a word of advise for the PR agencies out there:

Please stop saying you “Do” digital.

If that means you’re just going to hire a digital guy or girl, please stop. If you want to DO digital, show the client that you “get it”. Bring them competitive digital intelligence reports generated from social listening data. Proactively tell them which influencers they should be targetting. Show them a creative concept that would work both online and offline. Add value to to the work you are already doing, instead of thinking of it as another way to bill the client.

You do that, and I will become your biggest advocate.

Digital Strategy Technology

Social Media Framework

Social media marketing is usually viewed as a tactic to drive traffic to a corporate website, but in my experience, its much, much more than that. It is about building a community of people that are passionate about your brand, and who will actively participate in the conversation about that brand, thus helping to form the “narrative” (in PR speak) about the product and services being discussed. If you’re lucky, you’ll even identify a few ‘ambassadors’ or ‘influencers’.

These individuals will will be your most vocal supporters and will speak up to defend the brand in times of crisis.  They will also help address concerns from fellow community members on a daily basis. If your brand can get to this stage, where the community is talking about you consistently, and are helping each other without your input, then that’s the clearest sign that your social media plan has succeeded.

A good social media plan has six core steps. Each step on its own won’t deliver much of an impact, but if the whole framework is done correctly, it can in my experience, lead to a thriving, happy and self-sustaining community.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”100%” img=”” alt=”social media framework” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionposition=”left”]

1.) Listening

This is usually a technology tool that allows you to track specific keywords across multiple social media channels. You start by creating a list of keywords based on products, services, competitors and languages. You input these keywords into the tool, and it will start pulling ‘mentions’ with these keywords into a dashboard. The dash board will then display metrics like volume, sentiment and buzz, but it a raw format. Your job will be to ‘cleanse’ this raw data, so that the analysis you do in the next step will be accurate. This cleansing usually means going through a portion of the raw data (20% is a good target), to verify that the automatic grading  (relevance, sentiment and influence mostly) are correct, as these would in most cases be assigned by an AI.

Some examples of social listening technology are Sysomos, Radian6, Brandtology and Digimind. These are just a few that I’ve used, and I know that there are dozens more out there.

2.) Analysis

This part quite manual, and its a good idea to have a set process in place to deal with the number crunching that will hopefully deliver some actionable insights. You can do things like word clouds, influence analysis, and trend identification to help you generate insights about your customers, the competition (especially useful when presenting to management), your products and opportunities. These insights are what you use to create a recommendation list that you would use in the day-to-day community management as well as the long term content development.

For analysis, you can use the aforementioned listening tools to do some of the work, but Excel will always be your best friend.

3.) Content

You have a choice: to do it in-house or delegate it to an agency. Either way, the content strategy should address the problems or issues identified in the previous step. Brief the team working on it, and include the insights so that they know what they need to address. Also consider seasonal events for a more holistic view, all of which then go into a central editorial calendar. This should be managed consistently, and updated as soon as new content becomes available.

You can build the calendar in whatever format you prefer. Some publishing (social management) tools have calendars built in, so that’s an option too, as its provides a smooth transition to the next step.

4.) Publishing

Another step that’s best done through a tool, especially if managing multiple social properties and there’s a geographically dispersed team. This tool will allow you to:

  • schedule content to be published (posts)
  • specify how that content gets posted (targeted vs broad)
  • approval workflows
  • blacklisting functions (for risk remediation)
  • tracking

Some good examples of such tools are Sprinklr, Hootsuite, Buffer (what I use for my own social channels) and SproutSocial.


5.) Conversations

Using the same tool as step 4, this is where the main magic happens. There should be a community manager who does the initial triage based on  predetermined rules of engagement. The best example I’ve seen is this one from David Armano:

[aesop_image imgwidth=”100%” img=”” alt=”social media framework” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”David Armano – Social Engagement” captionposition=”left”]

The tool should have built in workflow to enable the community manager to ‘send’ the case (if required) to the relevant authority for resolution. This can be someone in customer service, or marketing, or even sales.

Community management is an art. There are canned responses, but you will be found out quickly by the community, and it will appear unauthentic and forced. You want a real person to respond through your social channels, not a robot. A real person can tell the difference between sarcasm and a real need for help. This will be a human-only job, until the Turing test gets beaten. If that happens, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than social media!


Its not all rosy though. The community manager will be exposed to the vilest humans on the planet, but you will need to be able to filter that out and focus on helping people. A little bit of altruism wouldn’t hurt, for someone in this position. Humor is also crucial. And above all else, patience!

6.) Reporting

The most mundane of processes, but probably the most crucial, as without sharing the results of the preceding 5 steps to management, they probably won’t give you the budget to do any of it! Usually start by looking back (the listening data), what are the current topics being discussed, and what issues will be addressed next. Its also a good idea to tie this back to ROI, so if your tracking has been set up correctly, you should be able to show how much social traffic led to leads and then on to sales.

I usually dump this into a PowerPoint and send it on to the powers that be.


So, that’s it. My 1,000 word guide to getting a social media plan in motion. This approach is 100% organic, and doesn’t take into account paid social. I’ll address that in a further post. Follow these steps, and you should find yourself being the closest link between the company and its customers – and that’s always a great place to be! Let me know in the comments if you think there is anything I’ve missed.

Peace out!

Digital Strategy

Digital Marketing vs Digital

I’ve been in a couple of discussions recently that have made it clear that we need to differentiate between digital and digital marketing. According to Wikipedia,

Digital marketing is an umbrella term for the targeted, measurable, and interactive marketing of products or services using digital technologies to reach consumers. The key objective is to promote brands through various forms of digital media.

The key terms here are “products and services”. We’re at a point now that customers are not choosing based on specs (most likely due to parity), but basing their decisions on how they feel about brands. That feeling comes from many places – retail, direct sales, customer service, and even digital. It has never been more important to focus on the brand building component of marketing – and we’re seeing some of the more innovative brands making that jump.

It’s the End of ‘Marketing’ As We Know It at Procter & Gamble

Digital marketing has to evolve beyond marketing, and it has to support every department within a company. By supporting the wider organisation, it can consollidate assets and functional responsibilities, enjoy efficiencies of scale, and give the customer once consistent view of the company.  I cannot stress how important consistency is to the customer – it reminds me of how I am still getting seven different edms from a particular tech provider, in multiple languages, even though they have all my profile details.

Here’s how I see the end-to-end ecosystem from the perspective of a company.

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As you can see, the digital team should be the interface through which the company engages with the customer on the digital channels. To do this, Digital has to look beyong marketing metrics. It needs to start considering things like sentiment and buzz. It needs to create content that makes people feel – not just publishing it because you can.

To do this, Digital must also demonstrate impact for each part of the business. It must convince management that the reputation of the company is more important than it has ever been, and that the company’s narrative is created in real-time by conversations they are not even aware of. That’s the hardest part to communicate – but that’s where data comes in. A good listening tool, and the analytical skills to transform that data into insights, will have more of an impact than fifty case studies ever will.

To be continued….