Author Archives: Rod Nicolson

Facebook Graph Search – what’s not to Like?

fbgsOn January 15 Facebook announced Facebook Graph Search, a search engine that uses interactions between users and content on Facebook to produce relevant search results.  Those who work with data from social media will know that the potential of Facebook’s social graph is mind-boggling. What Graph Search does is make the data in Facebook more accessible so it can used to understand customers, prospects or stakeholders better, and build relationships that are more mutually beneficial.

How Graph Search works is covered on many other blogs and in Facebook’s own announcement.  I haven’t had access to Graph Search yet, although I’ve submitted my request to be included in the beta.  Nonetheless, I’d like to speculate how PROs and marketers might use it, so here are a few searches that might be interesting for businesses with a presence on Facebook to try out:

  • What photos do people who have liked my page like?
  • What photos do people who have liked my page commented on?
  • What do people who like my company like?
  • What do people who like my competitors like?
  • What do people who like specific industry experts comment on?

How would you use these searches?  Maybe for ideas for blog posts, press releases, infographics or even product ideas?  If you’re hiring then Facebook also has potential to help you identify candidates.  Try a few of these:

  • Who has worked for Company X and Company Y?
  • Who works for Company Z and lives in my city?
  • Who went to a specific university or college and is interested in, say, PR?
  • etc.

In their announcement Facebook provides other examples of searches that include:

  • software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing
  • people who like tennis and live nearby
  • photos of my friends before 1999
  • cities visited by my family
  • Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India
  • books read by CEOs
  • friends of friends who have been to Yosemite National Park

Note that last one. It will be very interesting to see if the friends of friends search also includes the ability to search across  friends of those who like an organization’s page.

Initially Graph Search is focusing on people, photos, places, and interests, but even with just those to search on the permutations are many and varied, and finding the right questions to ask will be crucial.  (Organizing an awards ceremony and you want to make sure you provide music most people will enjoy?  Ask Graph Search what music people who like your event page listen to.)

In a stroke Facebook has multiplied the value of a Like or a comment for businesses.  Before Graph Search these might have been nice-to-haves for many, a measurable but not very tangible metric for social media campaigns.  Now they are vital signals in Facebook’s search algorithms that are likely to spawn a whole new algorithm-chasing field of Facebook Optimization (FBO?).  Of course all this speculation is entirely dependent on the quality of a user’s Like, but if you have genuine fans who genuinely follow your company then the Graph is going to pay you back many times for your best-practice social media engagement.

So how relevant is this to businesses really?  In particular B2B businesses.  Won’t all the search results be about people’s personal stuff?  And won’t people have privacy issues with marketers or others tapping in to their streams?  Isn’t this just spooky, if not outright scary?

From a privacy perspective, the lines between personal and public on Facebook are very blurry and people are understandably sensitive to perceived invasions of their privacy. This makes it all the more important for organizations to be clear on their policies regarding privacy and social media and to deal with questions on this topic as openly and honestly as possible.

It’s certainly not the only way to find out what your customers and prospects are interested in, and it should never be your only source, but Graph Search has the potential to provide a unique perspective.

Is it relevant to all organizations? Absolutely.  This has been positioned by Facebook as a beta product, so we should expect it to change, possibly radically, over the next year.  But if your organization doesn’t have a Facebook page and isn’t seeking to build relationships on Facebook, then you should seriously think about doing something about that.

Google’s Knowledge Graph Of ‘Things’

On May 16th Google announced their Knowledge Graph, a change to their search engine results pages that  is, in their words, ” a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.”

The post talks a lot about “things,” nouns, entities, and their relationships to other things, and that is at the crux of the paradigm shift that Google is making. Mixed in with the search results we get back from Google they will be providing not just other phrases that are similar to or in some way related to the phrase you searched with, they’ll be making lateral links to ‘things related to the thing you’re searching for.’

There is  already much being written by others covering what to expect in the SERPs, so I’m not going to rehash that here.  The question I have about this is, what does this mean to content creators working in PR and marketing?

If you’re in content marketing or PR, should Google’s new way of looking at the information on the web change what you do?  And how do we optimize for this?

I don’t have complete answers, but perhaps I can contribute a little insight to move us towards an answer.

Press releases have always had the potential to be good quality search engine fodder: they’re reasonably well structured; they’re a good length; they’re often written by people who can; they’re fresh; they come with images, videos, links, and…. lots and lots of THINGS.

Press releases are packed with things and, importantly, they provide strong signals for Google to understand the relationships between those things.  Here is press release issued by PR Newswire’s parent company UBM plc.

Business4Better Comes to Anaheim, CA to Transform Community Involvement & Engagement

Entities in the Business4Better press release

Entities in the Business4Better press release

The release is about a new conference and exhibition that will help businesses and nonprofits work more closely together for their mutual benefit. In the release there are brands, companies, organizations, places, dates, people, quotes, logos, websites, etc. that all have relationships with one another.

From this release a search engine could learn that UBM plc is a company:

  • that is led by a person called David Levin,
  • is partnering with organizations called OneOC and City of Anaheim,
  • and that owns the Business4Better brand,
  • which is hosting an event in Anaheim CA.

And so on.  Here’s now these entities and the relationships between them might be categorized at a an abstract level that could be used by software:

Press release entity relationships

Press release entity relationships

So if I’m writing a blog post, or a product web page for my site, or a press release, does this all mean I have to do something different?  In the short term I’d say that if you’re writing good quality content that is clear and useful for your  audience, then no.  Everything you do will support Google’s attempts to understand the meaning behind your content.  In the long term all those good things you’re doing will continue to pay dividends, but new content strategies may emerge based on the G-Graph.

What about optimization? How do we optimize for the Knowledge Graph? Basically it’s too early to say.  Not every entity mentioned in every document on the Web will get a Graph, but patterns and best practices will emerge.  For now it’s a case of ‘steady as she goes’ and keep creating content your audience wants to consume and tweak it for search.  If I were to hazard a guess at the best long term strategy though, it would include content that clearly communicates the relationships between entities, and high levels of clarity consistently achieved over the long term.

Press Release Optimization in 7 Easy Steps

Rumors are rife in the search world of yet another big shake up of Google’s search algorithms, but whatever happens, one principle remains constant: great content written with a specific audience in mind is good SEO and will increase your chances of being found.  So when you take your seat at the search wheel of fortune, use the seven easy-to-follow steps to improve your press release optimization and increase the chances of your message hitting the jackpot, rather than losing your shirt on a busted flush.

1.  Use these five questions to test and focus your press release’s copy:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the press release about?
  • Where will it have the most effect?
  • When is the best time to distribute it?
  • Why should my audience care?

2.  Once your copy is almost set choose one or two keyword phrases to optimize it for. You can find lots of tips online about keyword research, but to start with just pick the most important phrases that are specifically relevant for the message.   The question “What is it about?” will tell you which these are.

3. Incorporate those phrases in your press release, but don’t repeat them over and over and over, ad infinitum.  Write naturally.  Your readers will thank you, and search engines won’t flag your content as spam. Search engines give more weight to phrases at the beginning of headlines.

4.  Use links to provide a pathway for interested readers to access more information.  Abandon all thoughts of generating keyword-rich backlinks from your press releases.  Instead, focus on delivering qualified traffic to your web site – that act will do more to help your web site’s ranking than almost anything else you can do with a press release, other than ….

5.  Add a photo.  Content that includes multimedia generates better results in terms of online views, and it’s more likely to be surfaced in search results, since you get a second chance at visibility via image search.  Images make your content more compelling.

6.  +1 the release on Google+. Google is the 800 lb gorilla of search and they show activity from people’s Google+ networks in their search results. If your audience is on Google+ your content needs to be too. If you’re not sure, +1 it anyway.

7.  Use your social network to promote your business. Tweet a link to the release using the primary phrase and share the release on Facebook.  All the major search engines value links from real people so retweets, shares and posts from influencers in your industry are important.

That’s it.  Those are my lucky 7 – I hope they are lucky for you.

If the above are old hat to you and you’re looking for more advanced tips, tricks and trends, check out the SEO posts on the blog.

If you have other tips to share post them in the comments below.  If we get enough we’ll post them all together and give you a shout-out.

 Author Rod Nicolson is PR Newswire’s VP of Global Reporting.

Storytelling Rules & Writing Better Press Releases

Everything is a story. Stories are how we make sense of the world around us, how we communicate, how we reach out and touch others. Press releases, videos, podcasts, blog posts, tweets… They’re all forms of story telling, even the driest financial statement has at its heart the story of a company’s performance. And that’s important, right? People work at that company or have invested in it, or supply it with goods or services, they depend on it in one way or another, so the story needs to told and told well.  Lastly, well told, genuine, audience-focused stories may be more important than ever: Google’s ‘Farmer’ update may have included the ability to interpret what users consider ‘valuable’ in content.  This is very new and a radical change.  If true, then the more original and well written the story, the more likely it is to rank well.

So what makes a good story?  And if stories are so universal, is there anything we can take from millennia of story telling to help us improve the stories we write, improve engagement and optimize for higher search ranking?

Fans of Star Wars, ancient mythology and certain novelists will be familiar with the name Joseph Campbell.  Campbell was an academic interested in the common threads running through all of the great myths.  In the late 1940s he published The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he lays out the theory that the great myths from all cultures and regions of the world share a similar structure, which Campbell called the monomyth.

Campbell summarizes the monomyth thus: A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

I stated that “everything is a story.” If so, then could we create better, more effective press releases, marketing campaigns, blog posts or tweets by applying Campbell’s theories?  I think so, and here’s my attempt to map Campbell to the the humble press release.

The first hurdle is that we’re not writing fiction…  So unless it is actually about a specific individual, who is to be our hero?

I’d say that the hero is our reader, and that we are the ones offering the hero a journey and the eventual boon to take back to his/her village (bear with me here…).  We like well told stories, but we really love the ones we can identify with.  If a press release can plant the image of ourselves using that product, attending that event, buying that stock, it’s been a story well told…  So, if my assertion holds any water, then the first rule of the Campbell school of press release ‘literature’ is

Rule 1.  Know your audience.

This enables us to write the right story, set our hero a challenge he or she will accept and guide them to fulfillment.

So our hero is considering the challenge (they are reading our press release after all), but is not yet committed.  The prize has been identified (status, material wealth, some other boon), but… in all good stories there will be challenges to face, one-eyed ogres to slay, armies of orcs or Sith lords to fight.  How can you help your hero overcome their natural hesitation at embarking on such a hazardous journey?

Campbell identifies helpers or companions in the great myths that provide the hero with materiel, knowledge or other gifts that will eventually be used in the decisive battle in which the prize will be won.  Skywalker had Obi Wan, Frodo had Sam, your hero has…. yes, you!  Arm your hero with all the information and resources required to complete the tasks required to earn their prize.

Information, case studies, video, images, downloads, links, contact details, a map; all are the equivalents of light sabres, The Force or invisibility cloaks in your story. So the second rule of Fight Club, er, sorry, wrong story… the second rule of mythic press release writing is

Rule 2. Give your audience what they need to achieve their goal.

And so, travel-stained and weary, but wiser and richer, your hero sets off on the journey home, carrying the prize he battled hard for.  And in this, my young padewan, is the final lesson of today’s story.  For the hero is returning to the village from whence he or she came, and the boon they have been granted is no boon at all if it is kept secret.  It must be shared to realize it’s full value.  What does this mean for our press release?  We must give them the tools to share it with friends and colleagues on social networks or media or email or whatever their own social poison is.  Follow the third rule and you set up your story for success.

Rule 3.  Help your audience tell the world about your story.

I’ll end with two quotes, one from a PR practitioner who knows more about this business than I ever will and the last from Joseph Campbell himself.

Rohit Bhargava is SVP, Global Strategy & Marketing at Ogilvy. He was kind enough to talk at PR Newswire’s global sales conference in January 2011 and he was the one who got me thinking.  In a discussion full of insight he said “People buy stories,” and if we make our stories simple then more people will buy them.

Lastly, Joseph Campbell, “What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

There are many, many guides to writing great press releases out there.  I hope mine has added a little value.  How about you? What are your rules for good writing?  Let me know.

Author Rod Nicolson is PR Newswire’s VP of user experience design & workflow.

Image courtesy of Flickr user jmv.

Jenkins! Is it the year of mobile PR yet??

The Web is awash with statistics and predictions about the rise and rise of mobile usage, mobile operating systems, network operators, on-deck vs. off-deck, apps, app stores, open vs. closed, devices, demographics, technographics, smart phone penetration, data plan trends, carrier revenues, app store market share and many other data points.  Mary Meeker’s latest Web 2.0 Summit presentation is certain to be circulating the boardrooms of the world and as soon as her deck hit the web middle managers were girding their loins for the inevitable C-suite query, “How’s our mobile strategy going, Jenkins?”

How’s your mobile strategy going?  Because, after years of hearing that this year is the year of mobile, this coming year probably will be.  Using Meeker’s mobile slides as a guide (full deck on Scribd here, the YouTube video is here ), here’s why:

  1. Slide 8: Apple iPhone + iTouch + iPad Ramp
    We have known for a while that take up of the mobile web is out pacing other adoption curves; there was a similar slide in her 2009 presentation, so there’s no excuse for not knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is fast moving train and we’d better get on or get out of the way.
  2. Slide 9: Mobile Operating Systems
    The statistics on the growth of Android vs. iOS have been repeated ad nauseum, but their competition will accelerate the market for mobile apps and that is creating exciting opportunities for engaging customers and audiences in very focused and personal ways.
  3. Slide 10: Smartphone > PC Shipments Within 2 Years
    This is starting to get interesting… The number of smartphone shipments are projected to surpass PCs in 2012.  And it’s a sure thing that smartphones are going to get smarter. But will the networks be able to keep up with the demand for data?  U.S. carriers are shifting away from flat-rate data plans as they need consistency in their margins to invest in the infrastructure to keep up with our data usage.  In Japan, however, flat-rate data plans have been a key driver for mobile internet take-up, so…
  4. Slide 11: Japan Social Networking Trends Show How Quickly Mobile Can Overtake Desktop Internet Access
    Mobithinking.com have some interesting analysis on Japan and other mobile markets and it’s clear that not all the elements that contributed to such a huge take-up of the mobile internet in Japan are present elsewhere.   Taken in combination with other trends on mobile usage, however, it is abundantly clear that consumer usage  of the mobile Web via apps or mobile sites is growing, will be enormous, and has a strong social component.

All of which is nice, but what does it mean for PR?

In terms of media relations, unless you’re working in technology, it seems there is a limited take up among journalists in use of mobile to consume PR-related content.  A PR Week / CC Group survey bears out our own research among users of PR Newswire for Journalists (PRNJ) that they tend to prefer desktop tools to mobile ones when it comes to reviewing PR material.  But this is changing.  The surge in social network usage via mobile is impacting how everyone interacts with phones, and over half the media (both new and ‘old’) who access PRNJ or PRNewswire.com own a smart phone and over a third would consider accessing these sites via mobile phone.

There is also a growing body of research that journalists  look for story ideas and research using blogs and social media sites.  So ensuring your content is posted to the social Web gets your content where they’ll find it (and helps build links back to your site).

For direct-to-consumer/customer/shareholder/stakeholder communications the take-up varies by demographic and industry, but the trend is the same across the world: mobile usage up and it’s driven by social use cases.  The key for us here is understanding our audience and how they want to engage.  What is exciting for PR and marketing professionals is the nature of the engagement if we get it right.

At least one of my mobile devices (I’m afraid I have four) is within my reach 24 hours a day.  Mobile alerts I have set up reach me immediately.  Apps that I love I return to again and again and again.  I have freely handed over my contact details and personal details in return for offers and promotions (‘spam’ in any other context) that match my preferences.  Now I’m not conceited enough to believe I’m in any way unique.  Slightly more nerdy than most maybe, but not unique, and there is evidence that if you are able to give your audience something of value and create a relationship in such a personal space, you will create high degrees of engagement and ROI.  Here are two examples, one B2B and one B2C,  of what I mean:

  • If you were at PRSA in Washington D.C. this year you can’t have missed PR Newswire’s PRNGame, where delegates could scan QR codes with their phones to earn points, learn about PR Newswire and have some fun.  The game generated a huge amount of buzz at the conference and sparked hundreds of conversations between delegates and PR Newswire people manning our booth.
  • InsightExpress presented a Powermat case study at the IAB Mobile Marketplacein New York this summer.  The campaign used Booyah’s geo-based game MyTown to allow users to interact with Powermat products and enter a sweepstake when they checked in to stores selling Powermat wireless chargers.  According to Joy Liuzzo of InsightExpress the campaign  produced results three times greater than traditional ad campaigns and outperformed all norms for aided awareness, ad awareness and intent to purchase.

I acknowledge that on the face of it both my examples have more to do with marketing than PR, but all the people who engaged with PR Newswire and Powermat are influencers whose opinions are valued to varying degrees by their peers, and  mobile is very, very social.  Creating personal, positive experiences with these individuals will have an affect that lasts beyond the measurement of short term ROI.

So do you have a mobile strategy?  And should it really be categorized as ‘mobile?’  Personally I’m looking forward to the day when ‘mobile’ is as ubiquitous and noteworthy as wallpaper.  And that the mobile strategy of my fictional, middle-management ‘Jenkins’ is not mobile, not strategy, but a regular part of his day job that earns him happy customers and the warm glow of appreciation from the C-suite.  Well, one can dream…

Authored by Rod Nicolson, VP User Experience Design & Workflow, PR Newswire

Image created by djme via Flickr Creative Commons