Several weeks ago I was asked to speak to the Cleveland, Ohio chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). In all my years of traveling and speaking in different venues, this one is near the top of the list of great experiences (SBMU still holds the top spot!)
I don’t know much about public relations, but I do know SEO and Social Media. My task was to communicate the value of SEO and Social Media to this group of public relations experts. What follows is the result. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Jennifer Evans Laycock, as she worked with me on parts of this presentation. If any particular slide is valuable (or pretty), it’s probably due to her!
How Print Audience Differs From Web Audience
There is a big difference between reading things online versus offline. We often want to think that reading is reading is reading. But reading here isn’t the same as reading there. The mindset between on- and offline is vast.
Think for a second. When you grab a book, a magazine, or even a printed piece of material, what do you do? Most of us find a comfortable place to sit, have a tasty beverage within reach, and our feet kicked up on an ottoman or coffee table. We’re settling in. But, when reading online, we generally don’t get that luxury. We’re at a desk with a keyboard and a mouse, probably piles of paperwork within eye shot and our list of tasks is fighting for our attention.
Two experiences, two different mindsets. Before we dive into some of the PR specific issues, let’s look at some of the differences between print readers and online readers:
Print Readers are Purposeful
As I alluded to above, print readers tend to be more purpose-oriented. We go out of our way to make sure our setting is just right. Maybe we turn the TV off, maybe we grab a blanket to cozy up under or maybe we take our reading material outside or to the park to enjoy a bit of nice weather.
Many of us have our “reading time.” We wait until the office is quiet, the kids are in bed, or a time of day when the distractions are lower than normal. We generally set out to accomplish something. “I’m going to read 50 pages in my book.” You want to read the daily paper, or that weekly magazine before the next issue arrives. Or maybe you’ve got a pile of work papers you want to get through before going into the office tomorrow.
This is the mindset of print. It’s goal oriented. You’re going to get through this and be done with it. It’s completed. Web readers, on the other hand, think very differently.
Web Readers Have a Lack of Focus and Intent
When we read on the web, many of us are sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. While mobile devices are getting more popular, I don’t think this is doing anything to focus our reading. In fact, it may even be less focused as we’re on the mobile device only because we are doing something else at the same time. Hence the “mobile” part.
But either way, web reading on any type of computer tends to be much more haphazard. It’s not like a book or a magazine. It’s more about finding small snippets of information, quickly digesting it and moving on. Our intent is usually more about immediate interest rather anything else. We may read a blog post, scan our twitter stream, scroll through our RSS feeds, or follow some links to a piece of content that looks like new information. And sometimes doing all these things at the same time!
Ultimately, we’re not settling in to read. We’re searching or scanning and we’re reading just enough to get what we need before we move on to another task or another piece of content. And that’s where it becomes a battle for those of us that produce content. We’re struggling to get the attention of a goldfish!
Internet Readers are Highly Distractable
One of the issues with people reading the web is that it’s usually a secondary activity. There is something, or often many things, going on around them at the same time. While reading a piece of content, an important email might come in to their inbox (or an interesting piece of spam, for that matter!) Or maybe their kids are throwing a football in the house and they need to be talked to in a nice, calm, rational way. Or perhaps someone IMs them and they start up a conversation.
When I’m on my work computer, I’m distracted by four monitors. Email, tasks, IM, Twitter, facebook and who knows what else is open in front of me at any given (or more likely, all the) time. Most people don’t have that many things open in front of them, but there is still plenty of distraction happening.
When on the web, our attention spans are shorter than normal. We don’t invest time to reading web content, and we’re often doing several other things at once. This makes it ever more difficult to get the attention of our audience. Bizy, bizy, bizy!
Internet Readers are Usually Multi-Tasking
Not only are we easily distracted when reading, most web readers are doing multiple tasks at once. That IM conversation that starts up may be going on simultaneously as we are reading. Or the article content we are writing leads us to research the topic to gather some thoughts and ideas. Or maybe we’re planning a vacation and reading up on locations and things to do.
This is the nature of the web. We go read (or search) not because that’s what we’re settling down to do, but because we’re doing something else and we’re using the web to accomplish that goal. Frequently, web reading is the secondary activity to the primary activity or goal we’re working on.
And since we’re using the web to complete a primary task, we go out looking for information that helps us achieve that goal. But instead of finding a few resources, we find, well, millions of pages of content at our fingertips, all clamoring for a piece of our divided attention.
The Internet is Highly Competitive When it Comes to Content
Billions of new pages of content are being added to the internet every day! Think about every new website, blog post, product page, twitter stream, facebook profile, or Google Place that gets created, and it quickly adds up. Billions of pages! That is a lot of new competition on a day-to-day basis.
Imagine turning your TV on one day and finding a billion new channels! Try channel surfing that! But that’s what we do on the web. We surf, search, follow and “like” our way through new content on a daily basis. The competition for our attention isn’t only endless, it’s growing!
This means we have to treat web content differently than print content. We have to write for the online audience. Taking into consideration all the things above, we have to know what our goals are and write in a way that enables us to not only get our audience’s attention, but to also make sure our content fulfills our intended goals.
Three Major Considerations for Online Content
When writing content for an online audience, there are three primary things we have to consider: search, social and conversions. Content that is designed for any one of these can succeed greatly at the one, but fail spectacularly overall.
Search Engines: Is your content developed with searchers and search engines in mind? If not, then you’re losing out on a significant portion of your audience. You need to make sure your content can be found, spidered and that it uses the phrases your audience is using. More on that later in this series.
Social Media: While not all content needs to be social content, social content has the ability to reach a much bigger audience. The question becomes, how do you turn “meh” content into “yay” content that gets passed around the social sphere. We’ll look at how to build content that gets noticed as well.
Conversions: Conversions is just another way to say “goals.” But on the web, the goal is to get your reader to take some kind of action; to “convert” from a reader to a subscriber, purchaser, communicator or whatever else you need them to do. If you know what your conversion points are, you need to make sure your content does more than inform, but drives each visitor to that point of taking action.
Good content accomplishes all three of these. Not only will it be well-optimized for rankings, but it will also be content that people find valuable enough to pass around their social profiles. On top of that, it’ll convert them into customers!
In the next post, we’ll look at the goals of online PR and what you want your public relations pieces to achieve on the web.
See all posts in this series:
Part 1: Intro / How Print Audience Differs from Web Audience
Part 2: Goals of Online PR
Part 3: Background Research
Part 4a: Crafting the Story p1
Part 4b: Crafting the Story p2
Part 5: Broadcasting the Message / Conclusion
Follow me at @StoneyD and @PolePositionMkg.