Thanks to Gautam Ghosh for being the inspiration behind this post, by referencing the original post on Mashable! Beyond a few factors, most of the points mentioned in this post are not India-specific and apply to just about anyone looking for a career in digital PR.
India is a country where, even today, youngsters have trouble in explaining conventional public relations to their parents! It is changing, but for most people here, PR is equal to media relations.
To explain it slightly better, if I were allowed to generalize a bit, I’d use ‘reputation management’ to explain PR with better consistency. It simply means a PR professional is in charge of managing the image and reputation of his/her clients. It includes creating relevant content on behalf of the client, interacting with the clients’ stakeholders like media, target customers, eco-system partners and industry bodies, among others…and engage in active conversations with all of them, for specific objectives.
So, digital PR forms an integral part of this reputation management business, since these days, many of the stakeholders are having lively conversations online, about the clients in question.
That said, I need to explain the differences between digital PR and digital marketing. The former is a long-term activity and is ideally achieved over a period of time. The latter, however, is usually more short-term and time bound. So, naturally, there are better metrics for digital marketing and an enhanced sense of deriving ROI…over specific time, effort and money spent. Digital PR is moving needles, over a prolonged period of time.
So, how does one get into digital PR, for a career?
A basic degree in communications or English definitely helps. Even otherwise, if you have a completely unrelated degree (Chemistry? Sanskrit? Architecture? Commerce?), as long as you are able to demonstrate 2 things, you should be fine – 1. Decent spoken English and 2. More-than-decent written English, which I must add, is not just writing what you speak, in the name of English.
This helps. Big time. Being in a PR firm (and there are many, in India) helps you understand the kind of value PR adds to clients’ business and to get a ring side view of the agency-client relationship. This is nothing digital, but just helps from the perspective of how agencies operate, in general.
This IS everything. It is not the number of people who you are connected with on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter…it is who you are connected with. On Twitter, in particular, it is who follows you and RTs you that really matters. Not the other way around. How do you express yourself online? Through a blog? Through LinkedIn status updates? Through tweets? Are they being read? Do people share their feedback and comment on your opinions? Make a list…that helps showcase your relative influence while networking.
Meet-ups, tweet-ups, industry conferences…use all these (be selective, of course, based on the kind of people who land up) to build offline networks and when you are back from an event/meeting, make a list of the 5 people you met that you need to stay connected, online. Connect with them on LinkedIn and make sure you have a non-pushy way to get your blog posts/thoughts across to them from time to time.
Read, Write, Share. Repeat.
Read as much as possible about your industry – all-things-digital and all-things-PR. Know what the latest updates are in other parts of the world. They help immensely, when you meet people. So, instead of discussing the weather, you actually sound intelligent, confident and passionate about your industry.
Write as much as possible. It helps you brush up your language and even better, helps in articulating your own thoughts. Articulation is a seperate activity – realize that first. Merely having a thought in your brain is VASTLY different from articulating it in a meaningful, engaging manner with the right words. But, when you do that, you gain an audience. Online, you have a level-playing field for your content. If you get the articulation right, the only other issue is promotion of such content. That falls back into who you know and who follows you (networking, again!).
Share as much as possible. Sharing links and articles online is not a mundane, pointless task. For one, it shows the kind of topics you are interested in. Two, if you add your opinion over it, it shows how you can think contextually, on any given topic. Three, if you share the right thing to the right person, you, again, gain an audience.
Repeat. That is obvious.
Know the tools of the trade
Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. SEO. SEM. Banners. MySpace. Blogs. Comments. Search. Discussion Forums. Message Boards. Etc. When I say know the tools, I don’t mean the way to use them personally, for yourself. That is useful to you. But think about how you can make these tools useful, as appropriate, for your clients. Which tool is more relevant to which client? What can you do using those tools, for those clients? How can you showcase progress and success? Does the client need to spend money? If so, how much? How does one go about that? These are something that is assumed to be implied if you’re in the digital PR field. These days, you shouldn’t expect a separate training session on these things since most of these are both simple enough to comprehend and there is a treasure trove of free online resource to learn about them. The ‘read’ part above includes reading about tools to know them well.
Have an opinion
This is almost everything. I’m sorry to say this, but I find very, very, very few people with a point of view. I don’t care if it opposes mine, but the fact that someone has a point of view and are able to express it with confidence is a deal-clincher for me. When you have an opinion and are able to articulate the reason behind it, you leave an impression…a stamp of yourself with who you interact with. Without that opinion you are just discussing inanities.
Being creative is not an advertising-owned trait. These days everyone needs to be creative since it has become a competitive advantage. So, to produce quality content on behalf of a client, for online conversations, you need to be creative. You need to be creative enough to foresee a trajectory of the larger story you are trying to write about a client, one tweet…or one status update a time, on assorted online communities. Those posts you do online need to fit into something bigger, for the client and you should be able to explain it convincingly. Plus, of course, you have the advertising-type campaign element online that needs to be done using your creativity. Creativity is not rocket-science…to give an example, knowing what gets you maximum conversations and engagement online and producing such content consistently is creativity too! In short, creativity is the ability to hold one’s attention, with your content and the manner in which you deliver it.
This is not new to PR, but assumes greater significance, online. PR professionals ‘pitch’ stories to journalists…and in that case, they have to do the homework on selecting the right journalist, get their pitch right and convince both themselves and the journalist on the story hook. Online, you may have a unique voice and tone for yourself, on your blog, LinkedIn and Twitter, but you should be able to let go of that and think like a client. If you are handling a client that operates in the 12-18 year teen segment, even if you are 25+, you should be able to hold conversations with that age group in a meaningful way. You cannot afford to sound like yourself because you are not yourself…you are now your client. And there lies the difference. Speaking on behalf of a B2B brand? Read up on the industry and sound like how others do, in that space. Not like a 25+ PR professional. This is a trait that you learn and master gradually. It may seem uncomfortable and you would have read about ghost-tweeting, ghost-blogging etc., but trust me, there are valid reasons why clients outsource community management or tasks like blogs etc. to an agency. As long as you are able to distinguish your voice and your client brand’s voice, you would do wonderfully well.
Done all of the above? At least to some extent? Great, now consider these.
1. Search on LinkedIn and Twitter on who the key influencers in your country (our case, India) are, when it comes to digital PR. Connect with them, within context.
2. Do not pop the ‘do you have a job for me?’ question. It is like proposing to the girl based on an infatuation. Do it after a period of time where you know that the other person has been exposed to your thoughts…via blog posts, tweets or status updates.
3. Craft your elevator pitch. If you have just 30 seconds to explain why you are right for the job, what will you say? This, obviously, needs planning. Spend time on it.
Photo courtesy: Missive Maven, via Flickr.