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Modern media relations – a content-driven approach to communications

The world has never been more connected and the ability to create and distribute content has never been so accessible. How can councils use this to their advantage and adapt their messages for new platforms, audiences and new media publications? Oli Hills, CEO of Updates Media, explains.

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Key points

  • Understand your audience, your channels and build content specific for each platform.
  • Be active and join the conversations to maximise audience engagement – don’t hide away.
  • Be open minded when working with new media publications and hyper-locals. Understand how they monetise, their content style, audience and if it’s a good fit to distribute content to local residents.

Embracing a content-driven approach

The figures around content creation and consumption are mind-blowing. According to data from July 2017, every minute of the day there are:

  • 456,000 tweets sent on Twitter
  • 4,146,600 YouTube videos watched
  • 208,333 pictures uploaded to Facebook
  • 16,000,000 text messages sent

Gone are the days of waiting until 6pm to watch news on television, or waking up early to collect the newspaper. We live in a world that has never been so connected and the ability to create and distribute content has never been so accessible.

In theory this is great news. It enables everyone to have a voice and air their opinion. In reality, everyone is fighting for eyeballs and a share of voice on the multiple different channels where content is consumed. What’s more, it means it’s more challenging to create content that is specific for each channel and audience demographic.

In order to better engage residents, you need to focus on a multi-channel approach and build an audience and content strategy for each.

Firstly, analyse your website and social media channels to understand who your current audiences are. Use social media and analytics to understand audience demographics – their age, gender, when they’re most active on social media and, importantly, what type of content they’re currently engaging with.

Once you have understood your audiences and the content that is working on each channel, focus on your strategy. Think of each channel in isolation – content designed for Twitter won’t necessarily work on Facebook, and longer form content on a website needs to be adapted for Instagram. Laziness of cross-posting content across platforms will not boost engagement. Instead, think about how, where, when and why audiences use each platform and generate content that is appropriate for each channel.

It’s a myth that quality content is hard to make, time consuming and requires the best equipment – especially when you think about what social media is all about. Content needs to be real and easily relatable. It’s more than acceptable to capture a quick video on a mobile phone and upload it.

Creating content doesn’t need to be complicated or over-engineered, it just needs to be about the right message, produced in a personal way and distributed on the relevant channels.

Getting content right is all about testing, measuring, learning and remembering what data and metrics actually matter. It is easy to get excited when a piece of content has a high number of impression, but remember it’s engagement and people interacting with your content which is the most important thing.

Councils now have the opportunity to speak directly to their residents and build a really strong two-way conversation. Video and live stream technology enables councillors to tell their residents exactly what is going on and answer challenging questions. Audiences want to see authenticity and be spoken to in a way they can understand and relate.

The great thing about video and live stream is that there is no risk of third parties mixing up councillors’ words and publishing biased content depending on their own agendas. While it may seem scary, and yes there will always be negativity in the comments, now is the time to use the comments of the residents to understand the current feelings in the local area and address concerns head on.

Social media is a great way to engage directly with your residents. It should be integrated into your every day and not an afterthought. Get on the front foot and search for content about your organisation and join the conversation. Responding to questions and concerns, rather than just hiding away, is a fantastic way to firstly understand your residents’ thoughts and feelings but also educate them about what is happening.

Traditional local news struggled in the transition from print to digital and the major impact on business models. According to Press Gazette, the net loss of local titles since 2005 is up to 228.

Clickbait is Internet content whose primary goal is “to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page”. This is a well-known phrase in online content and journalism whereby publications that monetise their websites use these types of headlines to capture attention of audiences on multiple different platforms to drive traffic to their website.

As a consequence, trust in news content seen on social media is at an all-time low because publications use these tactics to grab users’ attention, generate a click to their website and watch their revenue rise. Unfortunately though, they’re also seeing increased frustration in the readers who are turning their attention elsewhere.

While traditional media is a viable way for councils to distribute content locally, they need to be aware of such clickbait tactics to ensure the integrity of their content is maintained.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a major rise in hyper-local and community journalism. Generally, hyper-locals focus on particular postcodes or areas and cover local interest stories. Volunteers who have a sense of civic pride in their local community often run these pages and have highly engaged communities on their website and social media.

There is a great incentive for councils to build strong relationships with hyper-locals as they’re often not motivated by revenue, and are keen to distribute local interest content to their audiences. It’s a great opportunity for local councils to find out what residents are talking about when it comes to council related-issues.

Before opening a new relationship with a new local content platform, it is important to do due diligence. Look through their social media channels and website to see what they’re talking about and what engagement they are getting. Understand how they generate revenue, as if it is through their website, they may use your content in the wrong way to drive traffic. When forming a relationship, it’s good to be aware that these pages are not always regulated by IPSO or Impress, and therefore councils need to weigh up whether this is an issue or not. With regards to engaging with them, it is key to meet face to face and assess their vision and values. If a strong rapport is built it’s best to build a bespoke relationship with regards to access to information until sufficient trust is gained. At which point councils should be open to giving equivalent access as the accredited press.

Finally, once sufficient rapport and confidence is built, don’t be afraid to let them control the content as they may want to do a live stream or video on your behalf as they understand their audience better than you do.

The days of sending a press release to a few outlets are over. Content creation and distribution must always be first on the agenda for today’s local council.

Further links and reading: