Why PR Should Treat Facebook Like a Media Property

Media Properties including Facebook

Several years ago we interviewed 65 sales people at major computer retailers (Best Buy, Fry’s, etc.) asking the key question, “What third-party sources do you depend on for information to help you in your day-to-day job?”

They could answer with as many sources as they liked. This way, we could better target the media properties that reach this audience on a behalf of a client keen to gain greater mindshare in the retail channel.

Guess which publication won?

Actually, it wasn’t a publication.

Google won. More than any single publication, Google was the source most mentioned as a third-party source that helped these salespeople in their day-to-day jobs.

Fast forwarding to today, Facebook has now evolved into a dominant force in determining the reach of media stories. Most in communications recognize by now the importance of Google in determining who reads what, but here’s a statistic that cries for PR attention. Facebook generates up to 20 percent of the traffic to news sites. Furthermore, 30 percent of U.S. adults get their news on Facebook according to a Pew study.

Pew - Use of Social Networks -Facebook

In the Facebook approach to distributing media stories, the value of the publication’s brand has little value. Instead, the value lies in the individual story. The number of algorithmic buttons that get pushed by that individual story determine whether it gets flung into 10 or 10,000 news feeds.

You can’t pitch Facebook — put the “Dear Facebook, a new startup is going to disrupt …” letter away — but PR needs to put its technical chops to work in understanding what it takes for a client to gain more than its fair share of that 20 percent traffic.

This doesn’t mean gaming the system which only delivers short-term benefits.

It means working within the system.

It means understanding the type of content that resonates with Facebook’s news algorithm.

Turning to Facebook’s help desk, here’s the official word on how the FB News Feed works.

How Facebook News Feed Works

Unfortunately, there’s not a section called, “How PR Can Increase Client Stories in the FB Feed.”

Still, even the cursory information from Facebook reminds PR to emphasize visual storytelling and content with an emotional dimension that prods an action on the part of the reader.

Unlike Google, whose news organization has a love for journalism and the news business, Facebook takes a clinical approach in which code rules. It’s revealing that the LinkedIn profile for Greg Marra, the 26-year-old who leads the programming team for the FB News Feed, never even mentions the word “news” (though blinky lights are apparently the way to his good side).

Greg Marra Product Manager at Facebook

Marra’s recent New York Times interview hammers home this point:

“We try to explicitly view ourselves as not editors,” he said. “We don’t want to have editorial judgment over the content that’s in your feed. You’ve made your friends, you’ve connected to the pages that you want to connect to and you’re the best decider for the things that you care about.”

The same NYT story goes on share how The Washington Post is scrutinizing different forms of storytelling for a given article depending on the audience, how they come to an article, type of device, etc.

Like The Washington Post, PR needs to continue evolving how it creates content to capitalize on unconventional forms of distribution like Facebook. It could be that some campaigns warrant developing content specifically to crack the FB News Feed, which calls for a deeper understanding:

  • What are the publications that perform particularly well in the Facebook News Feed?
  • Do B2B audiences depend on the FB News Feed to find stories related to their jobs?
  • What triggers beyond likes and comments elevate a story on the FB News feed?

There’s still plenty to learn in this area, but that “20 percent of media traffic” stat says it’s a worthwhile investment.



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How’s the Storytelling in the Facebook Page from North Korea’s Airline, Air Koryo?

People often assume that I’m anti-Facebook just because I’m the only human being in Silicon Valley without a Facebook page.

Not true.

For consumer companies, Facebook offers one of the easiest platforms for brand storytelling. Take that photo of a customer smiling over the company’s product/service or that video of employees raising money for a worthy cause, publish on Facebook and voila! You instantly bring out the humanity of the brand.

Which got me wondering how well this concept travels with brands in countries with “controlled” governments.

I didn’t exactly pull Air Koryo, North Korea’s airline of choice, out of a hat. BusinessInsider published a story on Air Koryo back in March, highlighting that “Air Koryo is the only airline in the world deemed bad enough to earn a 1-star rating from Skytrax.”

Naturally, I thought here’s a brand worth a deeper look.

So let’s start with the Air Koryo’s hero photo that greets its Facebook visitors:

Air Koryo’s Facebook hero photo

We’ve got a plane ascending into the sky with the logo as a backdrop. Before I judge Air Koryo too harshly for its visual storytelling, it’s worth looking at a how a couple of the better airlines handle their Facebook pages.

Singapore Airlines Hero Photo on Facebook

Singapore Airlines Hero Photo on Facebook

Virgin America Hero Photo on Facebook

Virgin America Hero Photo on Facebook

After conducting what I call LATOLATO (look at this one/look at that one) analysis, I detected a pattern: people enjoying themselves (one with the help of what appears to be an adult beverage).

No such dynamic in the Air Koryo photo.

In fact, the concept of visual storytelling appears elusive to Air Koryo as the same theme plays out in its FB posts, though I did discover a recent photo that depicts real people:

Air Koryo FB page photo

Unfortunately, the caption for the photo again makes the plane the hero (the Tupolev Tu-204-300 P-632 is a looker):

  • “Air Koryo’s Tupolev Tu-204-300 P-632 pictured deboarding its passengers after a 2100hrs arrival from Shanghai Pudong Airport as JS552.”

Deeper in the FB timeline, we learn things like:

  • “Currently Air Koryo’s active Ilyushin Il-62M, P-881 has had a change of tail livery and a repaint of its fuselage. The new flag tail icon brings the tally to 3 different tail logos ordained on the North Korean Il-62s.

Can you imagine? Three different tail logos.

I think we can agree that this is not brand storytelling at its best.

As the final step in evaluation the Air Koryo Facebook page, I captured the company overview:

Air Koryo Korean Airways (formerly Chosŏn Minhang (조선민항 | Корё Ханггонг), short form Air Koryo) is the state-owned national flag carrier airline of North Korea, headquartered in Sunan-guyŏk, Pyongyang. It operates international services and charter flights. It is based at Sunan International Airport in Sunan, a suburb in north Pyongyang.

The Head Office of Air Koryo is located in the Sunan district, Pyongyang, and it has offices in Beijing, Shenyang, Macau, Bangkok, Berlin, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, Moscow, as well as sales agencies in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei.

Fleet includes-

5 – Antonov An-24R and An-24RV aircraft
5 – Mil Mi-17D Helicopters
2 – Ilyushin Il-18D and Il-18V aircraft
2 – Tupolev Tu-134B-2 aircraft
2 – Tupolev Tu-154B and Tu-154B-2 aircraft
4 – Ilyushin Il-62M aircraft
1 – Tupolev Tu-204-300
1 – Tupolev Tu-204-100
1 – Antonov An-148-100B
3 – Ilyushin Il-76MD aircraft

Nothing wrong with providing key facts like where you fly. On the other hand, showcasing your fleet as “made in Russia” doesn’t seem like a brand-building moment.

I’m debating whether this should become an ongoing series. I could review the storytelling in a Facebook page for an airline in a communist country each month.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye out for that RFP to manage Air Koryo’s Facebook page.

We like assignments with plenty of upside.

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It’s Not an SEO’s Job to Create Content

Search Engine Watch blasted out this headline and accompanying post last week.

It’s yet another piece of evidence for why we’re (and public relations) in a better position than SEO consultancies to implement organic search campaigns.

As discussed before, the SEO consulting industry sprung out of Google’s license to print money which goes by the acronym PPC (pay per click). Paid search puts a premium on technical acuity and clever messages, not narratives that prompt the reader to say “Check this out!”

Organic search has always been more of an afterthought for the SEO consultancies. And when they did have to futz with the organic side, it turned out that their technical approach could game the system.

But that’s no longer the case as content takes on increasing importance in what Google serves up when folks insert a word or phrase or question in the trusty Google box.

Demise of Technical Gamesmanship - organic search

Which brings me back to the Search Engine Watch piece and some vignettes worth highlighting:

- Creating content is freakin’ hard. Successful content doesn’t happen by accident – a lot of hard work, creativity, and planning goes into effective content marketing. 

Any time you can slip in a “Freakin’ hard,” you automatically lift to the narrative. There’s some irony in there somewhere.

- Moreover, the skills necessary for content creation aren’t naturally found within an SEO. Some SEOs may have those skills, but they traditionally aren’t there.

True. On the other hand, need to sync your washing machine with the air conditioning, look up your local SEO.

- Content creation takes time — time that SEOs typically do not have. If we were to focus all our time on content creation, it wouldn’t leave much time to do actual optimization work.

Now this is deep. I think what he’s saying is “the journey is the reward.” That works when you’re backpacking across the Czech Republic, but not so much when the client expects increased traffic from organic search.

- Let’s be honest, SEO as an industry hasn’t always been portrayed in the most flattering light to the general public …

Right. Buying from link farms in Bangalore and Krasnoyarsk aren’t exactly brand-building moments.

- SEO has its own merit and value, and it is not dependent on content.

I’m lost. Not dependent on content? That’s like saying a stand-up comedian is not dependent on humor.

By repeating the Search Engine Watch headline in this post, I have doomed my post to a subservient position in future searches.

And don’t say I should optimize the hell — I can play the cuss game too — out of the content.

It won’t work.


A Special Post to Help PR Agency Professionals Decode 11 Client Phrases

Cipher Machine- de-coding your clients as a PR agency

Cryptology, the science of coding and decoding messages, doesn’t appear in the mass communications syllabus at universities.

And PR consultancies don’t invest in cryptology equipment like the handy “Lorenz SZ.42 Cipher Machine” pictured above (it’s a beauty).

Yet, how PR professionals on the front lines interpret a certain client phrase can make or break an account.

No need to run out to Office Depot to check out the fall lineup of cryptology machines. As a service to the profession and advancing the client-agency relationship, we’ve captured client phrases that consistently find their way to PR agencies and what they really mean.

1. Client Phrase

“We need to pump some life into the news release.”


 “When did a news release become literature? Put that adjective shaker to work.”

 2. Client Phrase

“How’s the media outreach going for the upcoming announcement?”


 “The CEO pinged the CMO who just pinged me. Give me one journalist we can count on to write a story.”

 3. Client Phrase

“Even though the budget starts out low, you’ll grow with us.”


“I was lucky to finagle these dollars out of the founders who view PR as a cost center.”

 4. Client Phrase

 “That’s not on brand.”


“That idea scares the bejesus out of us.”

5. Client Phrase

“Our CEO doesn’t expect to be on the cover of Fortune.”


 “The CEO expects to be on the cover of Fortune.”

6. Client Phrase

 “It’s natural for a new CMO to evaluate all marketing spends.”


 “I suggest you start preparing for an agency review.”

7. Client Phrase

“Rut roh. You need to be available 24 X 7 starting now!”


“Carl Icahn just tweeted about our company.”

Carl Icahn - PR agency client communication

8. Client Phrase

 “Brad finds staying on message can be a challenge.”


“If you think the media training helped Brad, think again.”

9. Client Phrase

 “Is the article available in the hardcopy?”


“Our senior execs still perceive online coverage as a fleeting fad.”

10. Client Phrase

 “I’m thinking we take a pass on producing name badges for the press conference.”


“Too many ‘no shows’ doesn’t look good for either of us.”

11. Client Phrase

“Let’s try pitching the bloggers in this vertical.”


 “I know there’s no news value, but somehow, some way we need to produce coverage.”

Consider this list as a starting point.

If you have additions, by all means jump in.


Every Online Interaction with Your Readers Can Be a Brand-building Moment

You may be a company in the bowels of B2B.

The content may involve something as mundane as an email signoff or, in the case that I’m about to highlight, subscribing to a blog.

Every online touch point offers the chance for storytelling and making an impression that builds your brand. Keep in mind that my definition of storytelling in business does not mean building out a story arc with a protagonist, bad stuff and redemption. Just having fun with language can qualify as business storytelling.

The humble subscription to a blog makes for a good Exhibit A. While I’m using an example from Alcatel-Lucent, the reality is that over 90 percent of companies take the same path with their blog subscriptions.

When you click to subscribe to a Alcatel-Lucent blog subscription, you get this:

company blog subscriptions - storytelling

The content is perfectly fine, again taking the same approach that virtually every other company takes.

Which means even a slight deviation from the status quo can stand out like the following:

  • Well done! You’re close. Enter your email address and click ENTER.

Next, an email arrives with the confirmation link:

company blog subscriptions storytelling

An example of what fresh language might look like for the confirmation email:

  • Please take .00234 of a second to click on the link below to confirm your subscription.

After confirming the subscription, a profile page surfaces offering yet another opportunity to bring fresh language to the fore.

company blog subscriptions storytelling

Once the profile page is squared away, a final screen shot closes the loop.

Counting the blog promo, the process delivers five touch points with the reader, each one providing an opportunity to show the reader that there are human beings with a sense of levity on the other side of the interaction.

ALU Blog Subscription Flow Chart

Look, a prospect isn’t going to buy your product or service because subscribing to your blog stands out.

Instead, it’s about capitalizing on every interaction with the prospect no matter how seemingly inconsequential because in aggregate, they do make a difference.

Years ago Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote about ordering a product from a company called Moosejaw.com. The package came with the following note:

“If you are actually reading this note you should be super happy. First, you have received your order, reading is fun and getting something in the mail (even if you bought it yourself) has got to make the day better. Second, I put your order together all by myself.”

Here’s the punch line from Costolo:

“That’s a fun note to read. I like Moosejaw more because of that note. Is it silly? Sure, it’s a silly note. Why does the note make me like Moosejaw more? People like it when companies have personalities.”

That’s another way of putting it.

Show your personality in every interaction.

Side note: For more on this topic, I wrote a post on how we applied storytelling techniques to our own blog subscription

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