Every few years, a new reason surfaces on why PR is dead. It started when HubSpot launched inbound marketing ten+ years ago and dubbed it a PR killer. Lately, marketers have claimed that PR is dead because it can't be directly tied to revenue. Guess what? Due to the rise of dark social and new privacy laws, social media now has that same challenge. Attribution is difficult but not impossible. But more on that later.
Over the past two years, we have seen B2B companies move budgets from PR programs to paid social, particularly LinkedIn. The expectation is that you can pay to get your content in front of your target audience. That is true, but the reality is that most campaigns see mediocre results even when the content is outstanding.
The average click-through rate on LinkedIn sponsored content ads is 0.4%. That means that 99.6% of people never click.
Another misconception marketers have is that your audience regularly visits LinkedIn and relies on it to get information about companies and solutions. It is easy to make that assumption, given that most marketers and salespeople use social media daily.
Well, your audience may not be using LinkedIn regularly or at all. This would contribute to low click rates. We recently asked members of several executive teams how often they use LinkedIn, and the results were both expected and surprising. As expected, tech executives from small to mid-sized companies used LinkedIn the most - once or twice weekly. In contrast, executives from other verticals said they occasionally or seldom use social media at work. Most executives in industries outside of tech believe LinkedIn is primarily a networking platform when looking for a job. Executives from larger companies (F1000) claimed they get a weekly update on news and competitive information from their internal comms teams. Is this statistically valid information? No, this is purely anecdotal information, but it came from many sources saying the same thing. So, it is something to consider.
Forrester's 2024 Trend Report – Traditional Media is Back
The 2024 Trend Report from Forrester highlights a resurgence of news organizations as reliable sources of information backed by various supporting factors.
- There is a growing awareness of the problem of fake news and misinformation. In a world where AI-generated images, deepfakes, and faux influencers are blurring the lines between truth and falsehood, people are increasingly turning to trusted sources of information. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 62% of Americans believe that made-up news has caused a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. Forrester's report reveals that nearly 80% of online adults in the US, UK, Spain, and Italy believe social media is a breeding ground for fake news. This sentiment is echoed in metro China, where 63% of online adults share the same concern.
- Social media platforms are increasingly being seen as unreliable sources of information. A recent study by the University of Oxford found that social media platforms are responsible for spreading more fake news than traditional media outlets. This is partly because social media platforms are designed to amplify content likely to generate engagement, regardless of accuracy.
- Third, there is a growing demand for high-quality journalism. People are increasingly willing to pay for access to news from trusted sources. This is reflected in the growing popularity of subscription-based news services such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
These factors all contribute to a resurgence of trust in traditional media organizations.
The CMO Decision for 2024
If what Forrester predicts is true, CMOs that have canceled their PR programs and redirected budgets to other activities must reconsider how they deploy their budgets for 2024. A regular beat of news, editorials, bylines, speaking, and awards must be in the mix.
PR is similar to sales, although PR professionals are not selling products or services. They are selling you to the industry and are positioning you in the broader industry ecosystem. It needs to be a consistent program, building trust and gaining exposure. PR professionals focus on building or rebuilding relationships with journalists and industry influencers, getting their clients featured in reputable news outlets and reports. This helps to position their clients as credible and trusted sources of information.
PR Metrics and the Rise of Dark Social
What is dark social? Dark social refers to sharing content or brand mentions on private communication channels, such as messaging apps, email, and private groups. This includes online news and articles.
For example, a guy comes across an article featuring his old college buddy CTO Harry from Aspen Company discussing the Future of Cloud Computing. He then sends a group text to his college friends, congratulating CTO Harry. Among his college friends is CIO Sam. CIO Sam reads the article and needs what the Aspen Company offers. CIO Sam visits the Aspen Company website to learn more. At this point, the attribution would go to direct traffic. But then CIO Sam has an online chat with a sales rep, and the sales rep asks, 'How did you hear about us?' CIO Sam responds I saw an article featuring your CTO, and now the attribution goes to PR.
This type of sharing is difficult to track using traditional analytics tools, making it a challenge for marketers to measure its impact.
Sound familiar? PR has faced this challenge for years, and now social media has encountered the same roadblocks as traditional media regarding attribution metrics.
- Underestimated Organic Reach: Dark social can account for a significant portion of online sharing activity, up to 84%, according to some estimates. This means that marketers may be underestimating the reach of their organic content and the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
- Inaccurate Attribution: Traditional analytics tools often attribute traffic to the last-clicked source, which can overlook the role of dark social in influencing consumer behavior. This can lead to inaccurate attribution and misguided marketing decisions.
- Limited Insights: Without comprehensive data on dark social interactions, marketers lack insights into customer engagement and brand sentiment. This can make it difficult to optimize marketing strategies and improve customer experiences.
Capturing Dark Social Attribution
Dark social attribution is not about precise measurements but understanding how your brand is perceived and discussed in private channels. You can employ several strategies to gain insights into dark social's impact on your business.
- Encourage self-reporting: Ask your customers directly how they heard about your brand or product. This can be done through surveys, follow-up emails, or casual conversations with customer service representatives. We recommend that our clients have their sales reps ask prospects directly during the first live conversation, "How did you hear about us?" and record it in your CRM. You would be surprised how many people will tell you they saw an article you wrote or a press release online. You only need two or three deal conversions from those sources, and your PR program is paid for.
- Add How Did You Hear About Us on all TOF forms: Create a drop-down menu on all TOF forms and make it a required field. The drop-down should include articles, press releases, content on LinkedIn, search engines, Friends, Peers, etc.
- Analyze social sharing data: While dark social encompasses private sharing, there's still valuable information to be gleaned from public social media interactions. Track the number of shares, mentions, and referrals from various platforms. This can help you identify influential individuals or communities actively promoting your brand.
- Monitor referral traffic: Keep an eye on website traffic from referral links. These links can be embedded in emails, social media posts, or even personal websites. By analyzing referral patterns, you can identify sources of traffic that might otherwise be categorized as dark social.
- Monitor Direct Traffic: Direct traffic is an indicator of brand awareness. Someone needs to have heard about you to type in your URL and directly go to your website. We tend to see an increase when companies widely distribute press releases or articles in high-profile industry media outlets.
- Utilize UTM parameters: UTM parameters are codes that can be appended to URLs to track their origin. While not foolproof, UTM parameters can provide some insight into website traffic sources, including dark social channels.
- Conduct customer research: Employ qualitative research methods, such as interviews and focus groups, to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and the role of dark social in their decision-making process. This can reveal hidden motivations and preferences that quantitative data may not capture.
- Engage in industry communities: Participate in relevant industry forums, online groups, and social media communities. By engaging with potential customers and influencers, you can gain valuable insights into their discussions and identify opportunities to increase your brand's visibility.
- Track brand mentions: Use social listening tools to track online mentions of your brand, even if they don't include direct links to your website. This can provide clues about how your brand is being discussed and identify potential dark social channels.
- Monitor customer feedback: Align your customer success and marketing teams. Pay attention to customer feedback and reviews, both online and offline. This can reveal hidden pain points or areas for improvement that may be influencing dark social conversations.
- Track offline events: If you participate in industry events, conferences, or trade shows, track the number of leads or sales generated, which can help you gauge the impact of offline interactions and dark social conversations.
Dark social sharing can also have positive implications for traditional media. By sharing content privately, users are often more selective and engaged, leading to a more authentic and trusted form of content consumption. This benefits traditional media outlets that produce high-quality, credible content.
So, Is Traditional Media Making a Comeback?
We believe Forrester may be right about this prediction. In this world of AI-generated images, deepfakes, and faux human influencers, together with social media's crumbling reputation, prospects and customers are looking for a trusted source of information.
However, there will be two different viewpoints based on marketing philosophy. If companies are focused on demand gen and brand awareness, then yes, PR and traditional media will be in their marketing mix. These companies are playing the long game and are working to establish a long-term brand.
For companies solely focused on lead gen (capturing prospects already looking for a solution), it is doubtful that they will embrace traditional media. These companies tend to have more of a short-term, transactional focus. It tends to be an internal cultural issue depending on where the company is in its life cycle, its health, and the executive team's focus and beliefs.
From our experience over the past 22 years, start-and-stop programs don't work. Clients with a steady stream of news, bylines, editorial mentions, customer stories, and awards become thought leaders. They create a "surround-sound" effect that drives momentum in their industry. They incorporate PR into every campaign with messaging and use social media and email to amplify their PR content as part of their overall marketing program, including PR as part of their overall event strategy to drive more people to their booth for face-to-face conversations.
And ultimately, isn't that what you want? Connection in your industry, momentum, and prospects that want to speak with you?