The Public Relations Long Tail


Lots of folks ask me if I think social media will replace traditional media. No one knows the future, but I doubt it. We’re likely looking at an integrated environment where both traditional and new media have value. Taking a play off of Chris Andersen’s Long Tail, this chart plots the effectiveness or the weight of various earned media tactics in the current environment.

Red hits have the most impact, while the long tail (yellow) still makes up half the marketplace. We’ll define the marketplace as word of mouth power.

Needless to say, this is subjective and various earned media forms have disparate degrees of weight. General classification is the best we can do without the correct measurement tools using a real world full on case-study with all types of earned media opportunities. Further, this assumes PR owns social media within a company. As we know, social media is often divided amongst the larger marketing department.

Ping Pong

Another issue with this chart is that it seeks to isolate individual tools and their weight. In reality — given today’s fractured media environment — one hit in any of these areas can trigger successive hits in others. When a word of mouth campaign has actual substance it usually cascades. Smart PR and social media practitioners understand this.

For example, my client FortiusOne received significant blog hits in the magic middle last fall (both Solis and Huyse introduced me to this theory). When pointed to this significant traction, the Washington Post took notice and wrote them up. Then ABC, Information Week and a new host of bloggers saw the Washington Post story and covered FortiusOne. And then speaking engagements and secondary trade press coverage ensued.

In Chapter Four of Now Is Gone, we talk about this “ping pong match” between traditional and new media outlets. From the draft material last June:

One great way to promote your new media initiative remains traditional media, who often use well-respected blogs as sources or even the subject of stories… [Social media attention] drives information into the spotlight forcing traditional media to pay attention – or look like they’ve missed the news, and most importantly the conversation. Blogs [can be] a more effective way of reaching and inspiring traditional media to react than most PR professionals and wire services combined.

1410036236_a2f2d35a5d Ping pong matches demonstrate that weighting one tool by its actual total community and eyeball impact fails. As Seth Godin says in Meatball Sundae (see Buzz Bin review), it doesn’t matter if the socially generated earned media only gets one percent of the hoped for attention if it’s the right one percent (Image credit: Ping Pong Persi by Mas-Luka)

Order Classification

Brief definitions on the order classification from top to bottom:

  • Top tier media: Think WSJ, NY Times, BusinessWeek, Good Morning America. This should be obvious.
  • Major awards, speeches: Keynotes at major conferences, shows, significant awards (Forbes 50 best places to work), etc.
  • Top trades, national radio, regional newspapers: Should be self evident.
  • Top tier blogs: Have essentially become as powerful as the trade press, and in some cases more so.
  • Trade press: The singles for any blue chip PR program. You need some of the extra base hits to get power, but these hits are essential.
  • Local speaking opps, awards, etc.: Can also include industry wide panels at conferences in this classification
  • Magic Middle: At the base of power and the beginning of the long tail, this is where a lot of tremendous work can be done.
  • Organic Social Media: Corporate social media and blogging initiatives (if executed well).
  • Analyst relations: Forrester, Gartner et al.
  • Social Network Referrals: Can be humongous but more often than not,just an event. Usually fueled by the Magic Middle.
  • SEO enabled press releases, lower blog hits: The heart of the PR long tail. Note how little value press releases are given in my weighting.
  • Email spamming reporters and bloggers: Why is this here as a tool? Because people are still doing it in spite of the high risk and low reward! They can’t give up the 1% return. See Eric Eggertson on the topic.

Some practitioners will want to adjust my placement or add tools to the basic Livingston set. To make your own chart, download the long tail at Entrepreneurs Journey and Photoshop away. ;)