October 29, 2010
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are now intertwined with our professional and personal lives. It’s hard to believe that these platforms are only the igniting technologies — and the harbingers — of a social media revolution that can bring dialogue, collaboration and open communication to relationships among journalists, analysts and PR professionals.
Today, consumers determine the news and topics that hold their interest. They rely primarily on social network conversations — even more than RSS feeds and search engines — to filter news. According to the Web measurement firm Compete Inc., Facebook has passed Google to become the top source of traffic to major portals like Yahoo and MSN.
Progressive advancements in tools have helped PR people embrace this revolution by facilitating collaboration between communicators and journalists.
In 2009, listening platforms allowed practitioners to monitor what was being said on social media and provided insights about when and how to engage.
In 2010, some listening platforms enhanced their capabilities amid the rising noise level on the social Web. They become influencer identification systems, helping PR people shape conversations and reputations.
These influencers have been termed Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens — first by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point,” and then in this context by Augie Ray and Josh Bernoff in their 2010 Forrester Research study, “Peer Influencer Analysis.”
This year also saw the advent of social customer relations management (CRM) solutions to track interactions with influencers and aggregate an individual’s online presence into one overall profile.
What does 2011 hold?
Developing the next generation
Advancing foundation technologies is critical to developing the next generation of social media monitoring and engagement tools. These fundamental resources include:
• Massive, high-performance databases containing the ever-expanding universe of influencers and the archived content they generate
• Real-time monitoring of all online content, with automated text and sentiment analysis capabilities that give a fuller understanding of online conversations and the profiles of influencers
• Real-time measurement and analysis of social media communications
Perhaps the greatest facilitator of new capabilities is the development of the semantic Web, which further integrates and automates functions like sentiment analysis. Contextual search and natural language queries will enable people to ask relevant questions, get accurate answers in real-time and increase the productivity and intelligence of online discourse.
In addition, those who master semantic tools will become more productive and offer superior information and analysis. Influencers can build out their reputations as domain experts, and communicators can become more trusted, responsive and useful — even influential in their own right.
Leveraging new developments
For communicators, the most compelling new capabilities leverage all these developments.
The full universe of data spawns real-time dynamic information. Leading influencers discuss topics across major industries, which become visible in real-time; entity tagging engines reveal the content of all the articles or posts authored by that influencer over a period of time; a tag cloud of subjects or keywords replaces “beats.”
Sentiment analysis predicts how an influencer may cover a topic at a glance. It can do more than determine who is positive, neutral or hostile in their attitudes toward a company or its products. It also can provide insights that enable PR people to build or rebuild relationships, change perceptions and improve their sentiment scores.
By tying content and key words from press releases and other communications to actual content and influencers, you can begin to create an appropriate — even the ideal — landscape of influence for a company’s messages. This is the first step toward realizing a “virtual recommendations engine.”
These information-filtering solutions have been used on e-commerce sites for years — think Amazon’s, “If you bought X, then you might also like Y.”
In a PR context, a recommendations engine — through monitoring content, semantic Web capabilities, text analysis and sentiment analysis — can provide new insights into outreach strategies and expand the universe of new influencer contacts.
Imagine uploading a press release to your PR software platform and then letting the system do all the legwork:
• Identifying what’s been written in the past about the topic and by whom
• Revealing the influencers who have been positive, neutral or negative; how that sentiment may have changed as well as when and why
• Showing contacts most appropriate for outreach and how to reach them
• Suggesting strategies that could repair a damaged relationship
The potential insights from a recommendations engine are endless. They can lead to more effective story pitches and greater traction in sharing stories over social media.
Becoming completely digital
The basics of PR practice remain unchanged. Success lies in mapping the appropriate message to the appropriate recipient, creating a mutually beneficial dialogue and nurturing productive professional relationships.
But those relationships are becoming completely digital in nature. They will be enhanced by understanding brand or corporate reputation influencers, as well as how and why they exert influence.
The social media revolution is creating a new, digital world. Everyone is a publisher, everyone is responsible for his or her own brand, and communicating a clear and consistent story about an organization is more challenging — and exciting — than ever.