Empowering brands and inspiring people to think differently – this is how Mary Prevost has approached her 16 years of work in the public relations industry. Nurturing meaningful relationships is key to Prevost’s success – from internal executives and colleagues to external target audiences and media. Prevost’s vast experience spans both agency and client-side work and she’s helped clients of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies to startups and non-profits.
Her specialties include both B2B and B2C strategic communication, content marketing, media relations, writing, social media planning and execution, crisis communication, brand development, event planning, and internal communications/team building.
Karen Freberg: You’ve given the analogy that you should never build a brand on rented land. What do you mean by that?
Mary Prevost: We really need to take a step back and look at what we're going to accomplish first, then it's all part of an overall strategy. The big question here, when we talk about owned and rented land, would you build a house on rented property? Well, the answer is no, you wouldn't because it's not your land. This is something that is talked about a lot in the industry and we apply it to our own marketing communications by saying, "Then why would you build a brand on rented land?"
The rented land that we consider in the industry is social media, and it's rented because algorithms are always changing, channels are coming and going and you ultimately cannot control the space. Think about if somebody decided to build their entire brand, build their organization on Google+, well Google+ no longer is in existence, and all of that work and energy and resources that you put into building your brand on Google+ has now disappeared. When the social media platform changes or disappears altogether, you lose your work.
We need to look at those owned properties and those are the things that we can control. That includes websites, blogs, print subscribers and email distribution lists. When you focus your content on these owned properties, which are the items in your marketing toolbox that you control, then you are poised to be able to deliver to your audiences in a very effective way. Then, you use your rented channels like social media to push out your own content.
KF: Can you talk more about algorithms?
MP: Algorithms are frustrating to all of us. We can't control them, but we have to find ways to work within the algorithm.
Facebook is very popular and it's also known in our industry for constant changes to its algorithm. The latest change from Facebook prioritizes close friends and the content that those close friends share. Well, how do you determine what a close friend is? It might be how much you have in contact with them or how you interact with them. It’s great when you're perusing Facebook personally on your personal time, but this is detrimental if you're managing brand Facebook page. Facebook has said that they will only make your content available to 4% of your followers unless you advertise. That's how Facebook makes its money, it's an advertising platform. If you do the math right now and look at how many followers you have on Facebook, what is 4% of that, this probably means that you're doing a lot of work for a small amount of people to potentially see your message.
There's a lot of clutter out there that you have to break through as a brand and the algorithms are making it more and more difficult, but it's another reminder that Facebook isn't free.
Another popular channel is Instagram. Instagram is owned by Facebook, so we will probably see the same thing happen on Instagram that we're seeing on Facebook. Instagram's newest algorithm is designed to ultimately maximize the time users spend on the platform. Accounts that help Instagram users stay online longer are ultimately rewarded. Instagram uses ranking signals including prioritizing content from accounts you interact with a lot. If you are regularly commenting on a certain account's posts, Instagram will recognize that and they will start to deliver those posts to you at the top of your feed. Instagram also predicts which posts are important based on your searching behavior or your previous liking.
These are the types of algorithms that brands have to work within. It's not just a matter of simply putting your post up there and assuming that your target audience is going to see it. LinkedIn has gotten into the game as well. We think, "Okay, well LinkedIn, very business to business," but they have algorithms that emphasize posts that trigger constructive dialogues. They don't want passive viral sharing; they don't want spam on LinkedIn. The theory out there is that they may even punish brands that post at the same time of day every day.
MP: Content is king. You first have to create good content and create content that people want to read. It must provide value, answer questions and keep people engaged, but then the other half of it is you must incorporate a paid media approach to your social channels and that ensures that your content will break through all of the clutter that's on social media.
KF: How do we get started in building content on our own properties?
MP: Really good content centers around the idea that you are creating value for your audience. You’ve gone through, you know who your audience is, you know what they're looking for, you've taken them through the customer journey in your planning, so you have an idea of the types of content that will create value for your audience.
Now, we need to figure out how you can share that content most effectively.
If we start with our owned properties, let's look first at the website content that you have. It comes down to creating valuable content that is authoritative and informative. It also has to be a certain length, you can't just have short content on your website or it's not going to be discoverable through SEO. It has to be keyword optimized. So, we have to apply these principles that we know about writing good content because it needs to be able to fit within all of these SEO parameters so our content will actually be picked up, but also will be valuable to our audience, so it starts with your website content.
If a blog makes sense for your audience, it's highly recommended that you take the time to create a blog. Write about common questions that you hear from the sales team or from your help desk. If you get yourself into the mind of a content creator who is truly after creating valuable content for your audience, who better to go to if this pertains to your organization, than your sales team or your help desk who are answering questions from customers every day? If they are getting asked these questions, then your potential or current customers may also be typing these questions into their Google search and when they type those questions into their Google search and you have content at the ready on your blog, which is housed on your website, you have a better chance of pulling up and your information will help answer those questions.
Integrated marketing communications is all about using all of your platforms in an integrated way. Think about what you have going on in your organization or in the industry or among your leadership team that you could also share on your blog. For example, if you have earned media, say your CEO has been published in an industry publication or a consumer in the newspaper, you can create a blog about that article and you can add a note that says the article originally appeared in whichever publication, most publications allow this type of linking and then you link to the publication website where the reader can find more information. Or you can create a completely new blog post that dives in a little deeper into the subject matter that perhaps was not covered in the article. You can also invite guest bloggers or interviews from influencers, you don't have to take on the blog writing all on your own.
KF: How influencers are an important component of social media strategies?
MP: Ninety-two percent of consumers trust recommendations from family and friends over brands, so that shows you the power of influencers. Word of mouth happens on social media. People are 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend more than they are a brand. Ultimately, people trust people over brands. By tapping into the influencers in your industries or the influencers related to your organizations or the influencers that your audience trusts, you can maximize your messages even more.
The key is you must look at influencers as collaborators. There is a difference between influencers, there are macro level influencers and there are micro level influencers. Micro level influencers have a smaller number of followers, but probably have more reach because their audiences are more engaged with them. They are all the rage because they're normal everyday people and they're known for their knowledge about something particular. It's not about the money for them, they're not getting Kim Kardashian money when they share something with their audiences. Instead, it's about whether they deem you a fit with their brand.
It’s a fantastic strategy to target influencers and really seek the right types of influencers that will make a difference with your particular audience. When I look at my own habits, I follow certain influencers on social media. I'm in the business, I know the effect of the influencers have yet there's one particular Instagrammer who I follow, and I will click through to see what she is sharing because I trust her completely. It's as though we are best friends on social media and she has no idea who I am, but I trust what she is selling me essentially. Would I trust it if it was the brand selling me that in an Instagram post? No, but I trust her recommendations, I trust her involvement with the product or the service, whatever she's talking about and I trust her over the company.
That’s the power of influencers.
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