Search and content: What does the future hold for PRs?

Inbound PR, content marketing, PR 2.0. Whatever you call it, public relations in the Internet era has become increasingly focused on creating unique content that will dominate search engine results. But even the masters of this emerging discipline are struggling to deal with what Jeff MacGurn of search marketing agency Covario calls “the splintering of social”. With search happening more and more on social media, and younger consumers abandoning Facebook for niche networks, the challenge of creating outstanding content is tougher than ever.

According to Tom Salmon, group director of marketing at digital agency Epiphany, “we’re seeing the confusing mess of different digital silos being pulled back together. The merging of SEO, social and PR is a symptom of that shift and represents a really fundamental thing; putting the consumer back at the heart of digital marketing.”

But what does this seismic movement mean for communicators? What kind of content will dominate the future of PR?

The future of content is ...


Audio and video may be the most engaging content on the web, but the framework in which it sits is still made of words – headlines, descriptions, tags and code. No matter what kind of content is king, the throne on which it sits is still forged out of the written word. Until recently, in order to find the videos we want to watch – and to understand their context – we’ve had to write, and read, text.

But wearable technology – the market for which is predicted to exceed €4bn by 2016- is going to change all that. Search via Google Glass is 100% voice-based, and listening to results is much easier than reading them. Glass users don’t enter keywords, they ask questions – and they expect real answers, read aloud in a language they can relate to.

This means that, now more than ever, Public Relations executives should focus on writing content that captures the tone and intent of their target audience. Even if you’re “only” writing copy to support a video, the well-worn writers’ technique of reading your own words aloud is more important than ever. Moreover, PRs will have to become amatuer linguists – studying vernacular and slang, and tailoring communications to the way “real people” actually talk.


As Jeff MacGurn has proven, context is everything. He carried out a study of viral content, which showed that people’s sentiment towards a subject varies greatly depending on the context in which it is shown. One may be unmoved by an image of a mountain bike, until a caption is added to it: “My last new bike ever! I have a fatal brain tumor, and in 15 hours I have a one-way flight to Singapore. I plan to ride around the world until I can’t.”

Just as public relations executives know to measure the sentiment of coverage as well as mere column inches, those involved in digital and social media placements must shift their focus towards the context of this content. Rather than seeding assets to influencers, communicators should allow them to co-create content that is meaningful to them. Give influencers a gift that touches them, and they’ll pay it forward. And the goodwill of their audience will be mutually shared.


Reddit, the ultimate content kingmaker, is living proof of the popularity of controversial content. A staunch defender of the right to free speech, the social news and entertainment website has been criticised for the explicit content shared by many of its communities, or “subreddits” – content which is among the site’s most popular.

Reddit Insight, made using the site’s public API, shows a strong correlation between how controversial the subject matter of a subreddit is, and the level of interaction it encourages. Top controversial subreddits garner as many as 14 votes per day per visitor, and, interestingly, the most controversial posts earn an average of 10 upvotes – and eight downvotes.

Of course, communicators and their clients have more public responsibility than the average “redditor”, and should avoid real controversy at all costs. But the lesson here is clear – public relations professionals should be fearless, unafraid of making brand enemies, and committed to creating strong, even divisive, brand messaging. As Oscar Wilde, himself no stranger to controversy, once said: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Content Brands

According to marketing expert Andrew Davis, communicators should forget branded content altogether, and concentrate on creating new content brands instead. In this opt-in world, the future belongs to marketers and PRs who can harness the power of subscribers – and value long-term relationships over views, impressions and likes.

According to social media marketers Wishpond, 68 percent say they read custom content from brands they like – and 78% feel that the organisations behind the content are interested in building good relationships.

By targeting niches and exploiting content holes, communicators can build content brands that speak to consumers in their own language, in a meaningful context, that sometime court controversy – and creates value for everyone involved.

What do you think? Have we missed anything? What do you see in the future of search, content and PR ?

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