To win at the social game, you’ve got to know someone. And we do. Lisa Buyer, longtime PR pro, industry speaker, journalist and friend, recently published her tell-all book, “Social PR Secrets,” which is chock-full of insider tips and actionable advice. Where social media and public relations {Social PR}  meet, Lisa details how to best share our stories and listen to our customers in the social, mobile, visual and search optimized world we live in today. This advice isn’t just for PR professionals, either. Almost anyone whose job involves social outreach, customer support, web development, writing and management should get familiar with the new rules of public relations engagement.

Lisa is very generous with sharing her knowledge and experience, so I interviewed her to pick her bright mind about a few hot topics in search, social and PR.

Social PR Secrets book

Search and social are BFFs and content is still king

Q: In your book, you shared the story of your first Search Engine Strategies conference in 2006 where you heard Matt Cutts (head of Webspam at Google) speak and you realized that as a PR professional, you couldn’t ignore search’s impact on visibility. In the search world, it used to be said that “content is king” and considering how important content marketing is now, is content still king? If so, what does that really mean?

content king A: Content is king but that phrase can be a little misleading. It’s such a general term that has been overused and misunderstood. In the past, web developers would build a company’s site and then leave content and search engine optimization (SEO) to the marketing and PR folks. But if those people didn’t have enough knowledge on SEO tactics, like keyword optimization and how to craft the content so that its search-friendly, their content wouldn’t easily get found. 

The place to “be seen” is in search and in social. Your customers are there, of course. Ad most brands hope to solicit unpaid media mentions, so it makes sense to be visible where journalists begin their research: Google and social network search engines. And, social is the best place to forge authentic relationships with journalists well ahead of a breaking story that you seek coverage for. But getting found isn’t going to happen overnight. You have to know a little about how search engines work and strategize what keywords, tags and links you use in your news stories, social posts and online content.

Content creation is more relevant than ever, but there is always a lot to learn. These days, SEO pros that have the tactical knowledge should hire copywriters to build the brand’s voice and story – not just fill the pages with keywords. Thus, writers should know the best practices fundamentals of SEO, such as how to write optimized titles, descriptions and metadata. Those little snippets can be very important still. And finally, most PR and marketing pros should also educate themselves on how to write those snippets.

Takeaway: Content is still the king of search and social. Basic SEO tactics should be learned by writers, marketing and PR professionals in order to optimize content for search visibility.

socialQ: Do social PR strategies differ for big brands vs. small businesses?

A: Big brands have a lot of red tape to get through to mimic the quick-moving entrepreneurial style of smaller companies and to build authentic communities. Small brands can execute more quickly. There is a lot of room for big brands to become thought leaders more than they are now. For small businesses, there is plenty of opportunity to beat out big brands, depending on the industry, because they can be flexible.

Takeaway: Social levels the playing field for brands. Big brands need to be more agile and transparent like startups. Small businesses should be courageous and creative – you just might out-communicate your larger counterparts.

Ignore mobile at your peril

Q: Mobile is one of the most important trends of our time.  What trends are you seeing for social and mobile?

A: Since social levels the playing field, you can lose your foothold if you’re not careful. Two to three years ago, brands could wait and see what happened with Twitter or Facebook. That window of opportunity is coming to mobile designan end soon with social. With mobile, brands won’t have three years to embrace it. For example, I started writing my book almost a year ago. Mobile was huge then, but recently at PubCon, Matt Cutts reported on how mobile is growing much faster than anticipated. In PR, start with the basics, like ensuring that your website is responsive design is a good place to start. Otherwise, you’ll lose business. Period.

Takeaway: Mobile-friendly design and content should be priority #1 for brands.

Should all brands be building audiences on image-based networks? 

Q: Visual content is a major trend and brands are trying to figure out Instagram and Pinterest, but not every brand has highly visual products to share. Should every brand jump into new networks, especially visual ones?

A: Strong visuals are important for every brand now. Images and text work together to tell your story.  Even press releases should include images and you should optimize them for search, along with the text. Visuals can significantly impact engagement. In fact, in a press release, embedded images and links to videos will increase engagement by about 18% for photos and 55% for videos.

If you have resources, visual networks like Pinterest and Instagram can be great outlets to connect with your audience. Before you begin, look for brands with similar audiences to gage whether they’re getting measurable engagement. Start with some test content using researched hashtags and content. if you don’t have enough internal resources (designers, photographers, copywriters), then focus on ensuring that your blog’s sharing elements allow your audience to easily share to those networks.

How to be 33% more successful in content planning & optimizing

optimize contentQ: Creating great content takes time. How can brands optimize the content they produce?

To leverage your content, you should compile the larger story first, along with a set of images. Then, slice the story into summaries for different social channels along with a specific image for that network. 150 characters is optimal for Facebook and 90 characters for Twitter. If possible, include an image that matches the content on each network.

Make sure that each summary is optimized – use relevant hashtags and keywords for that network and your audience.

Takeaway: Don’t leave content on the table. Find engaging snippets in your bigger stories and share those to social networks, along with a relevant image.

Q:  Let’s discuss editorial calendars. How much research do you recommend for planning content?

A: Editorial calendars are great guides but shouldn’t be set in stone. Develop your content calendar with a blend of topics guided by historical data (analytics), keyword and trend research and then leaving room for breaking news. Also, listen to your community.  Do surveys and ask questions. Analyze your most popular content (Was it the voice? Topic? Style? Visuals?) and try to duplicate that for future success. Your social and site analytics should tell you what people responded to.

collaborate on editorial calendarsQ: Thank you for the Tracky shout-out with regard to collaboration! As you mentioned, sharing your goals with others increase your chances of success by 33%, so collaborating with your team and contributors is a very important step.

A: Yes, and by sharing your editorial calendar somewhere, on your blog, or to your community, you give your audience a heads up on what to expect. You can then more easily source information from your audience.

Takeaway: Creating and collaborating on an editorial calendar can increase the likelihood that you’ll follow through by at least 33%. To plan content, look to your community, your site and social analytics, trending topics and leave room to comment on breaking news.

Why it’s a great time to be in social and PR

Q: A lot has changed since 2000 when your coworker asked: “Have you tried Google?” What’s your favorite aspect of being a social PR pro today?

build relationshipsA: From the journalistic side, the immediacy is exciting. We all have more of an opportunity to create, be part of and watch stories compared to the sluggish way that communication used to take place. It’s so much easier to find sources and generate ideas in real-time with social media. From a PR standpoint, you get immediate feedback when a story publishes. Plus, you can communicate in real-time with reporters, like giving a journalist a quick shout-out on Twitter when you appreciate their story. That kind of open environment makes for better relationship-building opportunities both personally and professionally.

Takeaway: Social media’s open environment makes it so much easier to build relationships personally and professionally with your customers, journalists and brands.

Advice for socially challenged brands – just show up

Q: You talk about how today’s version of the press release isn’t always published by the brand, but rather the audience – whether it’s a new product line or Instagram photos from an invite-only event. What are some encouraging words of wisdom to brands that need to initiate conversations and join their audience on platforms that they’re not familiar with? Where should they start?

show up on social mediaA:  Showing up is important! Brands need to understand that if your marketing team is being led by someone whose experience is mostly pre-digital, you’ll need to hire talent that lives and breathes social. Find experienced community-oriented digital marketers to lead the way – the right combination of youth and experience. The right candidates will makes themselves and the brand accountable for social ROI.

I’m an advocate of how social and PR work together so that Senior Marketers can understand the symbiotic relationship, SEOs can understand how valuable public relations can be and how it affects the bottom line. In my view, we can work together and collaborate into making something (that is, your brand) AWESOME, rather than everyone doing their own thing.

Takeaway: Social PR can have a significant impact on the bottom line and social is where the consumers are. Hire youthful yet experienced community managers that thrive on interactions and analytics. Show up!

Above all, be authentic and personable

Q: I love the social PR tips in chapter 8 – the art and science of social publishing. There is a lot to think about when posting a simple 100 character tweet. What’s the most important thing to remember when communicating to your audience?

be authenticA: When it comes down to it, the simplest way to connect is to provide authentic, meaningful content.  How to do this depends on your brand and culture personality. Give your brand some leeway. Then, think about where your community will be most often. Adapt your brand’s personality into authentic genuine communication on each network. Everything else will fall into place.

Takeaway: Be authentic first, give your brand leeway on social media and be adaptable. Then, learn more about the technical aspects of social measurement once you’ve connected with your audience.

Q: The 18-minute social PR day is an absolute gem. When we’re digitally connected to everyone at all times, its easy to let “all the things” engulf us. Do you find that data overwhelm is a problem for PR, marketing and community pros? 

A: Focus on measuring just what matters. Quantity is going away. It’s the quality of your connections and what’s happening on your site/blog/networks that is important.

Don’t worry yourself with too many analytics platforms, just delve into Google Analytics first. That will give you great objective overview. Gather your benchmark data, then build from there. If you’re a newb, there are plenty of videos on YouTube from Google and others on how to use the tool.

Gauge whether you are getting more conversions, more conversations, higher quality traffic (longer site visits, deeper engagement), etc. Then build upon that.

quality of connectionsTakeaway: it’s the quality of your connections that’s important. Focus on what matters and measure whether your social PR strategy is improving the quality of interactions at your website and social networks.

Q: Your PR wisdom chapter is gold. You and I share an admiration for Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness” and many of his philosophies. What viewpoint from your book do you want to leave us with?

A: “Be passionate, tell personal stories and be real.” If you’re not real, and instead are deceitful, the simplest things – e.g. emails that could be revealed that show different motivations than what you’re promoting – will get out eventually and show your true colors. You’ll lose credibility and it takes a lot to earn that trust back. So make it easier for yourself and your brand - always be authentic!

be passionate, tell personal stories, be real

(Illustration above and in the book by Lauren Litwinka of Deep Cereal)

About Lisa Buyer

Lisa BuyerLisa Buyer is a speaker, journalist, and educator on the trending topic of public relations and how it is influenced by social media and search engine optimization. She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism with more than 20 years experience as a public relations agency owner. Lisa's experience blends the traditional fundamentals of public relations, corporate communications and branding with today's influence of digital media.

Lisa is also an editor for Social #PR Chat covering trends in Social PR, Mobile PR, Brand PR and SEO PR, a columnist with Search Engine Watch and a regular speaker at PubCon, SES, and part of the @ClickZ faculty, most recently becoming an instructor of the University of San Francisco’s online Advanced Social Media certificate program.