Google’s guest post blacklist presents PR opportunity

Guest posting has become the latest medium to have been placed on Google’s blacklist of SEO activities.


11 Feb
by Aspectus PR

The SEO industry often finds itself in thrall to Google, and to one person in particular, its head of webspam Matt Cutts. His team effectively operates Google’s non-paid results police force. Sites deemed to have flaunted the search engine’s webmaster guidelines may face justice in the form of ranking penalties. Cutts and the Google Webmaster team produce plenty of useful videos detailing many aspects of website optimisation and, more often than not, he is answering questions from people who’ve kept on the right side of their rules.

Occasionally, however, he will tell people to stop using a specific tactic because it’s descended into the realm of what Google considers to be spam. At this point, there’s a good chance that Google will be looking to put a stop to it. Such a post appeared on Cutts’ blog in January stating:

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”

While the warning was pretty clear, he did acknowledge that guest posting as a promotional tactic had been around long before Google (and indeed the world wide web) existed. Guest editorials, opinion pieces, columns and letters to the Editor have long been a staple of the printed press.

But it is the “way to gain links” that is the salient phrase in Cutts’ statement, because it is their manipulation that most bothers Google. Put simply, a link from one website to another can count as a ‘vote of confidence’ for the content it links to, and is one of the most important of more than 200 factors used by Google’s ranking algorithm.

The issue is that both Google and web links are open to abuse, with some SEOs having spent many years looking to manipulate the use of links using a wide range of tactics to try and improve the rankings of the websites they are working for. The scale of the activity is such that Google has a page dedicated to link schemes it does not like. This page is worth paying attention to, because excessive use of these types of schemes is likely to get a website flagged and could potentially incur a ranking penalty.

While it is difficult to know Google’s exact definition of link spam, anecdotal evidence suggests that websites with large quantities of links from a small number of domains, heavily repeated anchor text links and links from irrelevant sites are those that might cross its threshold.

That said, many of these schemes have proved successful in the past, with many businesses taking the “Lance Armstrong stance” of: “If everyone else is doing it, then why not me?”

The answer is that while such schemes may work in the short term, significant penalties have been incurred by JC Penney, Interflora and, allegedly, Expedia.

Crucially, considerable time and effort is needed in recovering from these penalties.

So what does this mean for the PR industry?

While much has been made of the negative impact that the blacklisting of guest posts will have, for PR professionals there is a silver lining in that their skills should be in more demand than ever.

The objective of good quality PR is to: raise brand awareness, generate sales leads, increase website traffic or help clients penetrate new markets. In SEO terms, this activity can result in high quality links from one website to another. Rather than soliciting or even offering to explicitly pay for links, a PR campaign can create a great story that publishers are happy to link to.

Moreover, PR campaigns can help in the development and strategic placement of “marquee content” on a website, so this too can be promoted and linked to. As such, the ways in which PR can support the website optimisation process are myriad.

Google provides a succinct summary of how links should be perceived: “[They] are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

This is the mindset that needs to be adopted to ensure that the quality links required to get the best search visibility should be a by-product of great quality content and promotion, not a means to an end in themselves.


PR at the forefront of lead generation in the digital age

The convergence of media content, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and sales engagement is the new hotspot for PR. Now for the first time, PR can be used as a real driver for lead generation across all business environments and demonstrate […]


08 Jan
by Aspectus PR

The convergence of media content, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and sales engagement is the new hotspot for PR. Now for the first time, PR can be used as a real driver for lead generation across all business environments and demonstrate a clear return on investment.

Bottom line is that PR agencies have often struggled to demonstrate real value to sceptical Finance Directors. Coverage by the column inch has never really cut it as a serious form of measurement because too many questions remain unanswered. Chief among them has always been: so, when it comes down to it, as a business, what do we really get from all this coverage?

In response, PR has tended to lay dubious claim to misty areas such as brand building, profile raising and long-term attitudinal or behavioural change as essential elements of the PR value proposition. The problem has always been that, at best, PR can only really claim a partial role in any of these; and secondly, there is no reliable way of attaching any kind of measurement of its precise contribution to them.

On the other hand, mention the idea of associating an investment in PR with anything as down-to-earth and clearly measurable as generation of sales leads and agency account directors tend to go all wobbly and call for the smelling salts.

But at Aspectus PR, with our new model for integrating PR-led media content with search optimised websites and the creation of traffic to key sales engagement pages and opportunities, we are more than happy to hang our value-for-money hat on lead generation.

Our Search Integrated Communications (SINCOM) model, which is now used by more than half of Aspectus PR’s clients, is a process and method for creating a direct link between PR content and lead generation. It has been perfected over the last 12 months and we now have a substantial body of success stories and case studies.

The SINCOM process is detailed and rigorous rather than complex. It starts with an agreement on key messages: the things a client really wants to get into the ears of decision makers in their target markets. These can be quite raw; but they must be arresting, original and clear.

The next stage is developing these core messages into PR storylines to create platforms for all outbound media content, perhaps over a six or 12 month period. This leads on to a complete review of a client’s target keywords and the creation of a new keywords tree, starting with the top search terms and working down to longer tailed, more complex phrases at the bottom of the tree.

At this point, under the SINCOM process, we conduct a complete review of a client’s website. We focus on structure, content and how well engineered the site is for PR-driven sales engagement. Through our work in this area, we have developed a detailed knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and – more importantly – the best way of pushing new PR-driven visitors into sales engagement.

After any structural changes that are needed have been made to the client’s website, development of the PR content can begin in earnest alongside strategies for mainstream media and social media. We try and encourage clients who are inexperienced with, or nervous about, social media not to get too hung up about it. In terms of SINCOM, engagement with social media is simply a means to an end; the Google robots like it, so it helps improve search performance and drives quality traffic to the target website.

Benchmarking is important at the start of a campaign. This means looking in detail, not just at the volume of current web traffic, but analysing how long visitors stay, what pages they look at, what files they open, what videos they watch and so on. Examining and learning from these patterns of visitor behaviour are crucially important in this process.

As the campaign progresses, Google Analytics will reveal a great deal about how well it is working and what needs to be adjusted. Indeed, being flexible and prepared to change elements of the content and keywords in response to traffic data are key characteristics of SINCOM.

SINCOM is like an engine: all the component parts need to be working for it to fire properly. And since we designed and built SINCOM, we know exactly how to engineer and maintain it.

But if there is one element of SINCOM that has to be spot on for the whole thing to work, it’s the quality of the content. One of the great things about SINCOM – and indeed the crossover between the web and mainstream media – is that fantastic ideas and compelling copy are still what really count in PR.

The fact that you can get so much more value out of PR content and, using Aspectus PR’s SINCOM model, use it to drive sales in a way that has never been possible before, makes this profession more exciting and relevant today than it ever has been before.


PR and thought leadership: How to write and place a great opinion piece

Be honest now. How many of the zillions of opinion pieces that are published in the business media ad nauseam do you actually read? Not many, would be my guess. One of the problems is that most of them are […]


27 Nov
by Aspectus PR

Be honest now. How many of the zillions of opinion pieces that are published in the business media ad nauseam do you actually read? Not many, would be my guess.

One of the problems is that most of them are insufferably dull, both in terms of subject and style; and probably the only people who read some of the worst are the by-lined author, their spouses and the PR wordsmith who hacked the thing together in the first place.

Do opinion pieces actually have any real PR value at all?

The simple answer is that, in the right hands, they can and they should be effective.

Here is the Aspectus PR guide to successful opinion pieces.

Step One. Recognise at the outset that it’s much easier to place an opinion article somewhere in the media than it is to write a good one. The media like them – they are easy space fillers – and don’t always apply much rigorous judgement about their quality. But, as we’ve established, there’s little PR value in a tedious piece that nobody reads.

So start with a sound, original idea for your article. Give it a really good kick around to get it into shape before you even plan out the piece and apply some important tests. Is it going to impress your target audience? Is it going to make them want to engage with you and your company? Is it going to enhance the named author’s reputation? Is it consistent with the client’s overall message strategy?

Keep in mind that a good article should have many different applications, not just as a media piece. It should be adaptable and the basic argument or idea good enough to work as a blog, an outbound email, a Twitter post or even a text. It’s the idea that matters; the article is just one vehicle among many for getting it out there.

Step two. Let the writer do their job. A good article needs a good writer, someone who knows how people read and absorb information. The ‘author’, under whose name the piece is going to be published, should focus on the message for the piece and not get involved in the editorial process. So many opinion pieces fail because the copy is ‘improved’ by the client.

The writer understands the dynamics of a good piece: how to make it flow, how to make it easy to read and compelling.

No opinion piece should be much longer than about 1,250 words and they can be a lot shorter. We have produced some cracking articles of just 500 or 600 words. Never let the piece be longer than it needs to be.

Don’t forget to optimise the copy. Get plenty of your search target keywords into the copy. This will help your client’s Google performance and drive people to their website.

Step three. Aim to place the piece in the best, most appropriate media. Sometimes, it can be very tough going to get a piece into exactly the right media. But it is better to aim high with the article, perhaps taking a bit more time to place it than might be ideal, than to take the easy way out and dump it in some low grade trade mag that publishes more or less anything.

Good opinion pieces are often republished many times over and can have a direct impact on brand recognition and lead generation. Indifferent ones are simply not worth the effort.


Hedge funds discover the absolute value of branding

These are difficult days for hedge funds. Regulations in the form of AIFMD are forcing fund managers to think more seriously about the impact of compliance, the markets are static, and competition from other investment vehicles has never been greater. […]


22 Apr
by Aspectus PR

These are difficult days for hedge funds. Regulations in the form of AIFMD are forcing fund managers to think more seriously about the impact of compliance, the markets are static, and competition from other investment vehicles has never been greater.

They have also had to contend with the blows dealt to their image over the last few years. Even sophisticated investors don’t trust them in the way they once did. In an era when transparency is king, hedge funds are still seen as secretive and opaque, perhaps even dated.

Plotting a way forward has not been easy. Hedge funds are slowly trying to build bridges with asset managers, pension consultants and other influencers in the funds arena, but it’s hard work. All these stakeholders have clients of their own to consider and need to make judgements about how they would feel about using a hedge fund. It’s a double or sometimes even triple sell.

Part of the problem is that hedge funds have never before had to consider the issues of brand and image. Marketing has always been about producing the standard promotional materials in an attempt to highlight the quality of their top people, their performance, and their strategy. But when was the last time hedge funds stopped to think about the type of information investors and advisers really want?

People and performance will always be important, of course, but hedge funds need to consider other parts of their brand such as their attitude, their standards of client service, and their ethics. Impending regulation means costs are going to rise, and more funds will be needed on the balance sheet just to maintain existing profit margins, let alone see them grow. In what is already a challenging fundraising environment, it is clear that a formulaic approach to marketing will no longer work. The question hedge funds need to be asking themselves is: How can we stand out from the crowd and appeal to new clients in the wider investment community?

Quality, targeted marketing content is absolutely crucial. But it will be the hedge funds that consider the bigger communications picture that will really build confidence in their brand and image, as well as their strategy. This extends beyond traditional marketing techniques and takes time to develop. Hedge funds need to get used to the idea of using design, PR, and online media to build and sustain an image that will give the investment community the confidence to engage with them.

It’s not just a question of transparency and openness. Hedge funds have a lot of image baggage to offload and demonstrating they are completely in tune with the new evolving culture within the investment community is critical. That’s not to say that performance and strategy are any less important than they have always been – it’s simply how these are communicated that require significant attention.

The US is different, of course. There are more wealthy individuals for a start but following the JOBS Act, it seems likely that hedge funds of all sizes will embrace PR, marketing and communications much more strategically. UK and European hedge funds cannot afford to be left behind. Those that take marketing and communications seriously can create an advantage, giving themselves the best possible chance of emerging strongly from these difficult times. However, not all of them will.


Top 10 Tips on Writing a B2B Technology PR Brief

When you are considering hiring a B2B Technology PR consultancy one of the first things you need to do is put together a brief. If you don’t have any previous experience of working with PR agencies this can be a daunting prospect, […]


18 Mar
by Aspectus PR

When you are considering hiring a B2B Technology PR consultancy one of the first things you need to do is put together a brief. If you don’t have any previous experience of working with PR agencies this can be a daunting prospect, especially given the number of technology PR agencies out there. The challenge of finding the right fit for your business should not be underestimated. Here are our top tips on preparing a brief that will ensure you select the best possible agency for your requirements and budget.

1) Get input from everyone at the start and agree on the objectives

It is no good asking a PR agency to show how they would raise brand awareness amongst IT managers if what your CEO wants to know is how the agency will help the company influence CIOs, or how social media will drive traffic to the corporate website. Whoever in the organisation will have the most contact with the agency is usually the best person to put the brief together. However, there will undoubtedly be others who will want to have a say. Identify who needs to have input and get everyone’s agreement on what you wish to achieve from the beginning.

2) What type of agency do you want?

If you are a B2B technology company it’s important that you focus your search on agencies that really understand your market. There are lots of different B2B agencies out there, specialising in IT, from global operators to local niche agencies who specialise in a particular technology such as security or digital marketing, to one man bands who work from home. Check out prospective agencies’ client experience so you can be sure they understand the specific areas you work in. After all, the communications challenge, media and industry issues are very different for a global telecoms operator than they are for a niche software start-up.

3) Make sure the brief covers everything important

Include your business goals, your wider marketing activities and communications. Tell them about your market, your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and where you fit in.

Explain who will be working with the agency and how they want to work with them? What are your expectations? What do you want from the relationship? Answering these questions will help give the agencies a rounded picture.

4) Consider your target audience

Who are your target audiences? If your target market is the retail sector who are you trying to reach? Is it the IT manager, the CEO or the head of procurement? If you are trying to sell network management software do you want to influence the IT administrators who use it or the CIO who might sign off the budget?

5) Be clear on the scope of your brief

What exactly do you want the agency to do – offer strategic consultancy, provide creative ideas, write press releases and case studies, or manage your social media? Don’t scrimp on important details, if you want to enter new vertical markets, which vertical markets are a focus and in which market? If the brief includes social media do you expect the agency to run and manage this or just advise on the strategy?

6) What will you manage in house?

Consider what elements of the PR campaign you want to manage in-house. Take press releases for example – there is a big different between an agency having to take the brief, draft the release, manage approvals, distribute and pitch in the news to just putting the release on Businesswire for you.

7) Keep an open mind

Consider what type of agency you are looking for, but try to keep an open mind. In a similar way to hiring your next hot shot employee the decision often boils down to chemistry so don’t rule out an agency purely based on its size or past experience.

8) Have a budget in mind

Provide an indication of the budget so agencies can pitch their ideas accordingly. You will never get the best from their pitches if you leave the matter open-ended. It’s a bit like walking into an estate agents and letting them guess how much you want to spend. Be realistic, do you want the PR equivalent of a mansion or in reality can you only afford a one bedroom flat? Many agencies have a minimum budget they will work with so if your budget falls under this there is no point asking them in to pitch.

9) How do you want agencies to respond to the brief?

Be clear on the next steps. Ask your long list of agencies to demonstrate their understanding of, and experience in, your key areas before whittling them down to your short list. We recommend inviting a shortlist of three agencies in to pitch face-to-face. This gives you a chance to meet the team and ask any questions you might have. Let them know that they are down to the final three as this should ensure they put the required effort into their presentation.

10) Have a process in place to assess the agencies fairly

Work out a system for assessing the presentations. Mark each presentation against what you are looking for and prioritise each of these things appropriately e.g. capabilities and experience, quality of ideas; quality of team, enthusiasm and response to questions.

It may seem like a lot of work but nailing this part of the selection process will save a great deal of time later on. Take our advice on board and the process should be fairly painless and dare we say it enjoyable.

Tags: b2b technology pr, PR brief,

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Vendors should sell clarity, not the cloud to SMBs

The fog surrounding the cloud could yet prove a vendor’s greatest asset when targeting SMBs, writes Aspectus PR’s Head of B2B Technology, Amy Redhead The fact that small companies are still struggling to get to grips with the concept of […]


20 Feb
by Aspectus PR

The fog surrounding the cloud could yet prove a vendor’s greatest asset when targeting SMBs, writes Aspectus PR’s Head of B2B Technology, Amy Redhead

The fact that small companies are still struggling to get to grips with the concept of the cloud was confirmed recently. A survey by AVG Technologies discovered that 1 in 3 small companies in the UK and US don’t understand cloud services – a finding that seems a little surprising given that the cloud is nothing new and has been marketed heavily as the panacea to every potential business problem.

But delve a little deeper into AVG’s findings and a picture starts to emerge of the small business owner who is intrigued by the cloud, but confused and wary of it. Adoption of cloud technologies amongst large businesses has risen as they exploit the benefits of the technology and gradually overcome any fears they may have had, yet smaller businesses remain reticent. Many recognise it as a ‘nice to have’ option, but as the AVG survey found, a significant proportion (22% of UK companies) thought that cloud services were suitable only for large businesses.

The reasons for this perception become clearer when you consider the nature of SMBs. Their owners succeed through drive and focus and can’t afford to be sidetracked by investing significant amounts of time trying to understand every nuance and permutation of a new technology or the compliance issues that come with it. Nevertheless, cloud computing is all about making your business more agile, so in theory, SMBs and cloud should be a good match.

Avoiding cloud wash

From a PR perspective, the problem with the cloud is the lack of clarity in communicating both the technology and its benefits. In particular, the level of hype surrounding the cloud technologies has damaged its image by over-stating its abilities and playing down some fairly critical issues regarding security. Indeed, vendors have been accused of ‘cloud washing’ – a purposeful and sometimes deceptive attempt by a vendor to rebrand an old product or service by associating the term ‘cloud’ with it.

So vendors now find themselves in a tricky situation, where even the term ‘cloud’ has become jaded to the extent journalists and business leaders alike are considering retiring it. But while it might seem that there has never been a worse time to sell the cloud, we would argue the opposite – and that there is indeed a golden opportunity (or dare we say silver lining?) for cloud providers, provided they are willing to adopt a more strategic approach to communicating with their target audience.

For example, rather than selling the concept of ‘The Cloud,’ vendors and consultants should be selling specific solutions designed to solve specific business challenges. In other words, the cloud isn’t a quick fix to every IT ill, but it can be used in a targeted fashion to achieve tactical objectives while moving towards longer-term business transformation. This might sound simple, but actually listening to your market and responding in a clear and logical way without bamboozling your audience can be much harder than you think.

As Raj Samani, EMEA CIO of security firm McAfee, said in a recent interview with Computing, “…the real problem (with the cloud) is not security but transparency.”

Cutting through the fog

Vendors and consultants should allay fears, not cover them up. Specifically, they should be discussing the implications of legislation such as the Data Protection Act and demonstrate how they address the fact that SLAs are difficult to define and acknowledge that making the transition to the cloud is complex. Even once the technology is deployed, there can still be many bumps in the road to full integration.

Likewise, there are certain scenarios that can impact severely on the performance of cloud infrastructure, thus vendors need to prepare their customers for potential issues surrounding access rights, disaster recovery, and the importance of data portability.

According to the UK Trade and Investment Institute (UKTI), only 18% of UK SMEs currently use the cloud, but 33% are looking to invest in cloud solutions. For small businesses, the transition to the cloud is seems inevitable. But for vendors wanting to help these companies make the transition, communicating and selling clarity and knowledge will be just as critical as the cloud technology itself.


Communicating energy efficiency in the built environment: How to burn long and bright with your PR strategy

The energy efficiency market for the built environment is crowded. Anyone who’s attended Ecobuild, the world’s largest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment, would bear witness to this. The conference has almost doubled in size every year […]


13 Feb
by Aspectus PR

The energy efficiency market for the built environment is crowded. Anyone who’s attended Ecobuild, the world’s largest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment, would bear witness to this. The conference has almost doubled in size every year since 2005, which means any company working in this space must adopt an effective communications strategy if they want to be heard above the many different voices.

It is therefore critical that companies targeting the built environment map their PR and marketing messages to high level trends and policies that are unlikely to change, rather than short-term incentives or issues.

Strategic messaging must also recognise both the challenges faced by their target audience and what they need, in order ensure they can respond with clear and compelling messaging. For example, the regulatory pressures and purchasing priorities of house builders and authorities, and the types of solutions they seek.

Focus on the long term conversation

Working on communications strategies for energy efficiency companies is exciting because the subject remains such a hot topic with the mainstream press and it is vital to our long-term future. However, there are so many energy efficiency related trends that companies could offer an opinion on, that it can be distracting.

That’s why we advise companies to focus their communications plans on long-term policies, issues, or concerns, such as increased electricity demand and the rising cost of living. It can be a gamble to align communications strategy to government incentives, which may peter out or be watered down. We’ve seen this happen with initiatives such as Feed in Tariffs and it could potentially happen with The Green Deal.

Another challenge for energy efficiency firms that match communications strategies to government incentives is the potential for confusion. Propertywire quoted Kim Vernau, chief executive officer of new homes insurance provider BLP Insurance, as stating “Whilst the ultimate objective of the Green Deal is laudable there is a great sense of confusion surrounding the policy.” This is a viewpoint echoed by clients and prospects that we have spoken to.

A company could tie themselves up in knots trying to map their communications strategy to the twists and turns that UK energy policy and trends can take. It is therefore far better to focus on the hot issues that will continue to burn rather than fizzle out, such as rising energy prices and increased demand. That way, companies will ensure that their messages resonate better and stay relevant for longer.

Even though the energy mix is often in a state of flux, the need for energy efficiency will always be important, as it helps to balance increased demand for electricity and drive down energy costs.

Admittedly there will be cases where it’s not immediately clear if something will be a short-lived or long-term trend, like the change in use policy for properties, which will make it easier to convert redundant office blocks for residential use. In these cases, proceed with caution, because although it could be good news for energy efficiency companies targeting retrofits, the policy has already attracted controversy and push back from the City of London.

Know the barriers to adoption and address them

PR is a two-way mode of communication: It’s just as important to listen to the marketplace as it is to speak to it. So, while on the one hand you have clear messaging about an issue such as the rising cost of energy and how your product can help save energy in terms of heating costs, you will also need to acknowledge the barriers to adoption.

For instance, you might find that a key barrier to adoption is the concern that energy efficiency improvements may de-value a property, especially if the property(ies) are secured by a bank, in which case your communication strategy should be focused on tackling these concerns head on. So, if you are in the business of selling solar panels, we’d recommend you have long-term ROI calculations (based on maintenance costs and material longevity) and use these to address concerns.

There may also be misconceptions about your product or technology that could be resolved by conducting research or using existing findings to support your case. You could also consider speaking to valuation experts for their opinion, or using case studies that demonstrate examples where solar PV installations have increased a house’s value.

In adopting this two-pronged approach, you may also find that you need to broaden the scope of your target audience. Using the example of solar PV, there is a strong chance that your communications plan should involve influencing banks, not just property owners.

In summary, when it comes to your messaging, think long term. It’s better to have one robust message that resonates well and can weather the many different ways the policy wind may blow, than multiple messages that have a short shelf life and miss your targets.


Maximising the PR impact of your corporate blog

Ten top tips for successful B2B blogging


31 Oct
by Aspectus PR

As established bloggers, the team here at Aspectus PR is often asked by clients to help manage their corporate blogs.

A corporate blog done well offers a platform to demonstrate thought leadership, showcase your successes and share your views on current industry issues. It also provides a great opportunity to engage with both prospective and existing customers, address their particular trouble spots and offer sound advice.

The value of blogging was highlighted recently in research by HubSpot, which found that businesses who publish a blog receive 55 per cent more traffic to their website than those that don’t. Furthermore, according to Burst Media, blogs are 63 per cent more likely to influence purchase decisions that magazines.

However, the content, tone and style you adopt will influence how effective your blog is as a PR and marketing tool. Here are our ten top tips to help you get the most out of your corporate blog:

1)  Get the content right
Informative content is a must as visitors are unlikely to return if you fail to offer them anything of value. First and foremost, you need to remember that a blog is not a sales tool! If you try to sell to someone before you’ve established their trust, you are fighting an uphill battle. Remember, readers are interested in your knowledge and expertise, so think about your audience’s pain points and how you can help to solve them. If you offer credible advice and insight, readers will stop thinking of you as a vendor and will start thinking of you as a trusted resource.

2)  Keep it short
Readers will quickly give up if they need to wade through tons of text and scroll down endlessly so try to get your point across in as few a words as possible. If you do find your blog post going over 800 words, then consider breaking it up into two parts. Subheadings, bold text and hyperlinks also help to make content more digestible.

3)  Think about the style
A business blog should obviously be professional but that doesn’t mean it has to be stuffy. Make sure you inject some personality into your posts and adopt a conversational tone. At the same time, do approach it as you would any other form of published content and ensure your blog is proofed by at least one other person to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.

4)  Invite comments and be open to criticism
Companies are often nervous about opening their blogs to comments from readers, fearing negative feedback. However, blogs are a great opportunity to get a better idea of how your organisation is perceived by the wider market and the benefits of interacting with readers far outweigh any disadvantages (besides, you are allowed to moderate all comments as they come in). Just be sure that if your blog does receive comments, that you respond appropriately, so readers know their input is valued.

5)  Promote your blog
Once you start blogging, don’t just assume people will come and find it. You need to actively promote it, so ensure the link is in an obvious place on your home page and your email signatures (it’s surprising how many firms forget to do this), and crucially, disseminate it via all of your social networking channels. Furthermore, registering your blog with sites such as Technorati and submitting posts to bookmarking sites such as Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious will make it easier for readers to find it, which brings us nicely to our next tip…

6)  Get social
Social media is one of the most effective ways of promoting your blog. Including share tools for the major sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter allows readers to quickly and easily post your content and helps drive traffic to your blog. However, it’s just as important to encourage your employees to do the same. All posts should be tweeted, published to relevant LinkedIn Groups and shared via Google+, Facebook and any other social presence you or your employees may have. Moreover, using RSS feeds will also ensure readers are notified every time you publish new content.

7)  Measure
Web analytics tools such as Google Analytics enables you to measure the traffic generated by your blog and includes a wealth of additional information such as where referrals are coming from and which posts are generating the most interest. It’s important to use this information to refine the way you blog and keep giving readers what they’re looking for.

8)  Don’t forget the headline
Headlines play a critical role in getting people to read on, so obviously they need to grab their attention. However, they are also used by search engines to identify what the post is about so make sure headlines contain keywords and are relevant to the subject of the post.

9)  A picture paints a thousand words
Interesting images such as infographics, photos and video content can all help make your blog more compelling but what many people don’t realise is that they can also be a useful SEO tool. Although search engines can’t read or interpret images, adding tags and titles to visuals can help your blog to be found (and use keywords wherever possible).

10)  Include a call to action
Again, another element often missed is that each blog post should include a ‘call to action’. This should motivate people to take the next step, whether it is to comment on the post, connect with you on Twitter, or sign-up to your newsletter. To find out more, why not drop us a line

 

Tags: Corporate blogging, PR & marketing,

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Taking the election battle to the grounds of social media

The 2008 elections in the US was heralded as the first ‘social media election’. Voters took to budding social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their electoral activities – from voicing their support for a particular […]


18 Oct
by Aspectus PR

The 2008 elections in the US was heralded as the first ‘social media election’. Voters took to budding social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their electoral activities – from voicing their support for a particular candidate or ballot measure to posting their complaints regarding the electoral process.

Now four years on and with elections less than a month away, each presidential candidate is once again intensifying their efforts to win electoral votes through some tried and tested social media channels, as well as exploring new ones. Some of these efforts have paid off by generating buzz for candidates and their respective parties, while others have backfired. Despite the mixed results, social media remains an integral part of presidential campaigns, given that just over 60 percent of 18 to 34-year-old Americans get their election information via social networks, according to research from Harris Interactive and Digitas. As further evidence of how voters have taken to social media to follow the elections, the presidential debate was one of the most tweeted events in American political history.

And it would be fair to say that businesses could learn a thing or two from the way in which the latest presidential campaigns are harnessing the power of social media in order to garner public support and influence voters.

Early lessons from the campaign trail

While it may still be a little early to analyze the effectiveness of each social media tactic that’s been employed thus far by presidential candidates on the campaign trail, here are some pointers that we’ve identified:

Experimenting with up-and-coming social media channels can have huge pay offs. In late August, President Barack Obama posted on influential link-sharing website Reddit “I am Barack Obama, President of the United States – AMA.” With that post, President Obama introduced his own Reddit thread and generated an explosion of social media chatter. As a site that has shown steady growth recently and now receives millions of page views each month, the IamA section of the site allows Reddit users to pose questions directly to prominent individuals and has increasingly attracted some big names, including Ron Paul, Larry King and most recently of course, President Obama. As such, Reddit allowed the President to participate in a Q&A session that wasn’t limited by geography and at the same time increased his social media footprint significantly.

Be aware that there will always be a risk of losing control. Social media is a great way to build support for any initiative, but it can also be a way to quickly lose control of your message. The RNC for example, purchased the hashtag  #AreYouBetterOff as a way to highlight the failure of President Obama’s economic policies. Unfortunately for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, it had the opposite effect as the unforgiving Twitterverse responded with a resounding “yes”! It is therefore important to recognize that sponsored hashtags will not always be used in the way that was envisaged.

Real-time engagement is now the norm. Social media has provided the public with a near instant means of posting feedback about a company, event or prominent figure. Because of this, real-time engagement is now expected and candidates and businesses are expected to be able to respond quickly. Remember, social media should be a two-way conversation. Monitoring feedback from social media can also provide candidates and businesses with a quick temperature read on public opinion and help them tailor their response as appropriate.

Harnessing data enables you to be more strategic. As social media has matured since the 2008 elections, presidential candidates have learned the importance of being strategic with their social media campaigns. In other words, social media is more than just connecting with more people across new channels. It means actually delivering a strategic integration that allows campaign organizers to collect data about voters to help refine campaign messages and convince voters to choose their candidates. Along these same lines, businesses are recognizing the need to exploit the large amounts of data now provided by social media for their own purposes.

There is no such thing as bad publicity. Or is there?

The age old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity is oft quoted when it comes to dealing with less than favorable stories in the media and might have held true in the days when traditional media ruled the airwaves and was the sole source of information for the majority. However, in today’s hyper-connected digital environment, social media channels have left organizations and public figures open and accountable to an unprecedented level while user-generated content has shifted how information is created and disseminated.

So what does this mean for the 2012 US presidential candidates and businesses?

Essentially, with more channels to access information, audiences are more fragmented than ever before. Consumers are no longer limited to watching their favorite TV shows during designated times dictated by networks. Today, consumers have the option to access video content from their mobile devices or their desktop computers. Consumers are also no longer passively taking in information, as they now have several channels available to them through which they can actively participate in open discussion.

And with the public now being able to readily share their experiences and opinions on a global stage, perhaps another age old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ might now be more appropriate.

No doubt we’ll see more social media triumphs and failures unfold in the run up to November 6.

Tags: social media, US elections,

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Solar PV needs more PR power in light of subsidy cuts

As governments across Europe slash subsidies for small-medium scale renewable energy generators, the industry needs to rethink its approach to communications strategy if solar PV is to continue to shine, says Kate Garratt, head of energy at Aspectus PR.


20 Sep
by Aspectus PR

When the UK Government introduced its Feed-In-Tariffs (FiTs) in April 2010, solar photovoltaic (PV) quickly became an attractive investment. Having seen the success of similar schemes in Germany, UK PV companies were quick to switch from targeting a small group of enthusiastic environmentalists with their PR and marketing campaigns, to a much wider audience of ethically-minded investors.

Indeed, with the generous FiTs on offer, investing in solar PV was seen as a ‘no-brainer’ – a message propagated throughout the mainstream media. For example, the Guardian’s Miles Brignall wrote: “If the government offered to pay you £1,000 a year for the next 25 years, in return for an up-front investment of £12,500, you’d snap it up in a second. Well, that’s pretty much the deal on offer this week… through the new Feed-in Tariffs.” [1]

However, it is now just over two years since the launch of the scheme and the UK Government has had to slash its FiTs several times in response to the unprecedented level of take up. In February this year, it was reported that adoption was five times the level originally anticipated [2], with Gregory Barker, the UK minister for energy and climate change proclaiming that “never again should we have a fixed price tariff that allows a bubble to grow and offer unduly large rewards.”

The latest cut, effective August 1st 2012, takes the new rate for solar PV installations of <4 kilowatt hours (kWh) capacity down to16p/kWh from 21p/kWh. Moreover, the tariff lifetime for solar PV will be reduced from 25 to 20 years for all new installations.

FiTs drop across Europe

The UK picture for FiTs with regards to solar PV is not isolated. Austerity measures are being introduced by governments throughout the Eurozone and the fact many have also under-estimated the level of take up of PV, as a result of unduly high FiTs, has seen a swathe of subsidy cuts taking place across the Continent.

Germany has by far been the most successful adopter of PV with its FiT scheme, with the country now boasting a cumulative installed capacity of 24.7 gigawatts (GW) [3] – the largest in the world. Despite the fact Germany now reduces the rate of its FiT tariff every six months, the rate of PV adoption has remained high because falling production prices have meant that the level of up-front investment required has also fallen significantly. The resulting over capacity has led to further legislation being proposed, which will limit new FiT-supported installations to a maximum 1 GW per year and accelerate the frequency of subsidy cuts to a monthly basis. In addition, subsidies for some types of renewable energy facilities will be phased out completely by 2017 [4].

A little further south, the Spanish Government passed a decree in February 2012 to temporarily suspend subsidies for all new wind, solar, co-generation or waste incineration plants, for which it has received applications for a total of 500 megawatts of new capacity [5]. The measure is expected to save the Government at least €160 million this year alone.

Meanwhile, the Greek Government has openly admitted that it cannot afford to maintain its renewable energy subsidies at their current rates. The FiT for PV was recently slashed by 12.5 per cent to €292.08 per MWh and the Government now plans to lower the tariff every six months.

It’s not just solar PV that is struggling to provide the same return on investment, as other renewable energy sources are also seeing cuts in subsidies. In the UK, the Government made an unexpected cut to its FiT for small-scale wind (<1.5 kW capacity), from 35.8p to 21.0p, at the same time reducing the tariffs for <1.5 to <15 kW capacity and >15-<100 Kw to 21.0 p – from 28.0p and 25.4p respectively. These reductions come into effect from October 2012.

The result of these cuts has sparked a media backlash, with some predicting the end of solar PV [6]. The reality, however, is that some solar PV technologies and other renewable energy systems can still provide a respectable ROI without the support of subsidies, which is why industry players urgently need to re-examine their communications and marketing strategies.

The bigger picture

Up until recently, PR and marketing campaigns have focused on the financial returns provided by small-medium scale solar technology and have done an exceptional job in raising the profile of renewables in the media [7]. However, with the Government’s original objective of using FiTs to boost adoption arguably achieved, marketers must now explore other angles.

One solution is for companies to better communicate the role that solar PV will play in the future energy mix. With aggressive targets to cut carbon emissions by over 80 per cent by 2050, the EU’s Energy Roadmap is heavily reliant on decarbonising the power sector. Such a target can only be achieved with a substantial increase in renewable resources and the level of installed small-medium scale solar will be vital in achieving the EU target of renewables being 75 per cent of gross energy consumed by 2050 [8].

It’s also important for marketers and PR agencies to promote the fact that ROI for solar PV installations is achievable outside of subsidies. With the prices of silicone plummeting from a high of $475 in 2008 to a low of $24.27 per kilogram in April 2012 [9], the outright investment cost for solar PV is shrinking, making the payback period without subsidies significantly shorter and thus the overall business case much more attractive. In addition, small-mid scale solar contributes to grid management by acting as a source of distributed generation – a strong proof point for the industry.

Emerging from the shadows

Having achieved so much in just a few years, it is essential that the small-medium scale solar PV industry takes action now to ensure it emerges from the long shadow cast by the recent subsidy cuts and negative press.

Equipped with two compelling, yet lesser known messages, there are three important steps solar PV firms should be taking from a PR and marketing perspective to broaden and refresh their campaigns:

-       Review existing strategies: If your PR and marketing efforts are still focused on the benefits of FiTs, it’s time to change – and time is of the essence. By recognising the types of challenges being faced both externally and within your organisation and brainstorming ideas as a group, you should be able to identify several angles on which to base new campaigns. Bringing in external assistance at this stage could also be helpful, giving a fresh perspective and ensuring you can quickly establish a new strategy and provide a rapid response to news and events as they break.

-       Key in to future trends: Campaigns take time to plan and implement, so the ability to spot potential future trends is invaluable from a PR and marketing perspective. Government news agendas can be a particularly valuable source. For example, when launching a consultation on Government strategy for decarbonising heating in March this year, the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey spoke of the need to cut emissions from the way we generate heat and said that many communities are already switching to solar thermal. It would therefore be fairly safe to surmise more Government support for activity in this space and position the benefits of your product portfolio accordingly.

-       Become famous for your thinking: The GW of installed capacity across Europe nearly doubled in 2011 and the solar PV market is becoming crowded [10]. This means more players will be vying for media airtime, with many talking about the key issues – e.g. investment security, skills shortages, and the effects of EU and individual government policies. If you can delve into these a little further, find a fresh angle and communicate your thoughts clearly and concisely through multiple channels, you stand a much better change of obtaining a thought-leadership position.

 


[10] http://files.epia.org/files/Global-Market-Outlook-2016.pdf

Tags: PR, Solar PV,

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