How PRs use search engine data to build public relations campaigns

How PRs use search engine data to build public relations campaigns

Developing a good news sense is, no doubt, a valuable skill for PRs to have. But in 2020, even the most junior practitioners can tap into Google search trends to find out people's biggest fears, hopes, dreams, where they want to go on their next holiday, or even who is the most talked about person on the planet. Right now, it's Mike Pompeo.

To find out how businesses can access search engine trends and use them to their advantage, we caught up with Laura Morelli, Head of Media for the UK, Australia and France at online digital tool-kit, SEMRush. We also asked leading PRs about how they are currently using search engine data and social media sentiment analysis to improve PR strategies.

Laura cut her teeth as a multi-platform journalist at Sky News and has freelanced for the ABC, Channel 7, and Channel 9. She was also an investigative reporter at National Indigenous Television. Laura says having access to exclusive and bespoke data insights is a game changer for content creators, both journalists and PRs.

“When people, particularly creative people, hear the word “data”, they freak out a bit. If you're not a numbers person you tend to put data at the back of your mind. But the power of online search trends in storytelling does add a whole new value to the content creation process.

“When people need answers, they turn to their search engines, which is why I believe there does need to be a massive, massive focus on using the statistics to uncover hidden stories,” Laura said.

SEMRush estimates search volume using a proprietary algorithm and processes anonymized clickstream data collected by third party providers. In other words, they collect and analyse search trends from across the globe. The data offers year-on-year trends, identifies shifts in consumer behaviour, demand and opinion. Using domain analysis, SEMRush can even see which categories specific brands budgets are being spent.

Laura points to the alarming uptick in searches for specific helplines and support groups during lock down as an example of uncovering a hidden story using the data.

“Our search statistics in the U.K showed that during lock down people were suffering from increased domestic abuse. We saw spikes in searches for terms like domestic abuse hotline. We saw traffic to the domestic abuse national website skyrocket, and the high volume of searches for questions such as “what is domestic abuse?” suggested that a large amount of these people were first-time victims.

“By uncovering these statistics and trends, we were able to raise awareness for this issue. Sky News built their investigation completely based off these stats. The report was also broadcast on BBC Panorama, which is one of the top investigative programmes,” Laura said.

SEMRush also offers social media sentiment analysis for businesses to identify popular topics and also how people feeling about particular news and events. 

“We can identify positive, negative or neutral language used in correlation to the specific hashtag or perhaps the person's handle or specific keyword you want analyzed.

“We can also use most popular hashtags, most popular emojis, and we can find the most popular authors,” Laura said.

We asked Jacqui Abbott, Managing Director at Pulse, and Soraya Calavassy, Director and Co-Founder of Neon Black, about how they use search engine data and social media sentiment analysis to build and monitor PR Campaigns.

Jacqui Abbott, Managing Director at Pulse

How do you use search engine data to develop public relations strategies?
In order to be culturally relevant in today’s world you need to understand what matters to people, and that understanding that comes directly from data and insights. 2020 has seen accelerated change in all aspects of life, so it has never been more important for brands to understand what topics, trends and products people are talking about whether in search engine data, trending topics on social platforms or other sources of sentiment, conversation and brand tracking. Power comes in using that to shape a strategy as it will ultimately allow you to more effectively leverage existing interest to your advantage.

A recent campaign our health agency, Life, did for the Lung Foundation called Search and Rescue, was built directly from search engine data. Recognising that Australians affected by lung cancer will often turn to online sources for answers to questions, the campaign content was built based on the questions that were searched for the most, so Australians could more easily find the answers they were looking for.
When, how, and why do you analyse social media sentiment in PR Campaigns?
There is a role for analysing data including social media sentiment at every stage of a campaign. During pre-planning we look at relevant data and insights relating to audiences, brands and culture to help shape our strategy. During delivery of a campaign it is about looking at feedback and engagement with the stories you are telling or content you have shared. And then post campaign it is about reviewing the impact did it drove? We use a number of platforms and tools to gather and analyse this data and it is a very big part of how we approach every campaign we do end to end.

Looking at social data linked to editorial content is another way to gauge interest and inform an approach, for example, looking at what stories are being shared, engaged with and trending can shape an interesting vernacular for brands. A recent example of this is a campaign we did with KFC for their Secret Menu. We could see a very active community were engaging with fast food content on TikTok and there were a number of key influencers driving this interest. We could also see that traditional media were using TikTok as a source for headlines. So by seeding the new Secret Menu with a series of TikTok influencers and getting them to tell the story for us, we were able to influence the outcomes of earned media. The two go hand in hand.

Has data-led PR robbed the creative process of its magic? Will every idea in the future be born out of data?
 No. We believe data grounds the creative process and helps brands understand a relevant way in, or a way to solve a consumer want or need more effectively. At the other end, data plays a key role in reviewing campaign performance so we can measure how have we shifted sentiment, driven action or taken a conversation further.

Soraya Calavassy, Director and Co-Founder at Neon Black
How do you use search engine data (search trends) to develop public relations strategies?
We’ve seen firsthand the value of using search engine data to generate solid public relations strategies for our clients. Search results are truly the pulse of the public; they give you an honest insight into what people are really thinking, feeling, and the problems they are looking to solve. It can help quantify an angle or support an argument, and even better yet, it can help create consistent newsworthy stories for clients on a monthly basis.

Rather than considering whether this release needs data, we are now asking how we can use data to support the story we are trying to sell in. In most cases, the data we receive will give us additional angles to assist our strategies, and all PRs know, you need several back up plans in case the first pitch falls flat. Often when the search data surprises us, that’s when the story will be the strongest and generate the most interest and cut-through!

When, how, and why do you analyse social media sentiment in PR Campaigns?
Social media sentiment is a real-time gauge of public opinion. From political stories, breaking news or even celebrity gossip, social media sentiment can really break down what people are talking about and how they truly feel about a person, brand or scenario. Given the fast pace of social media this analysis is excellent for reactive PR campaigns, or when there’s a trending topic that you have a client that could potentially comment on. The beauty of social media sentiment is that it not only captures what people are talking about, but what they are also not talking about.

Social media sentiment can also be used for testing the public pulse about a client after a big company change, or even used to find gaps in the market after a client’s competitor has a controversial announcement. The lead time is very short for these types of stories, with limited time to put in a request, have the data pulled, analyse it and then pitch to the media before the angle has lost its currency.

Has data-led PR robbed the creative process of its magic? Will every idea in the future be born out of data?
Absolutely not! The creative process is still vital, but data-led PR is certainly a secret ingredient to enhancing success within a creative campaign.

If anything, it has created an entirely new process within campaign and story ideation. When you put in a request for data you are testing a hypothesis. Sometimes what you received back can completely disprove your original idea and instead provides you with an even more interesting angle to use. This can be used to supplement a creative idea and make your results stretch even further.

Not every idea needs to be data born; however data can lead you to valuable insights to help you unearth a concept that will really land within your target audiences. I do believe data can actually allow you to use the facts to think even more creatively when it comes to generating big ideas or solving consumer problems. Data is about tangibility. It enables PRs to better target stories to suit certain media angles, demographics or even (with the right idea) create viral news coverage. Data is used in almost all industries to help us make more informed decisions about customer taste and preference, so why shouldn’t we be implementing a little more of this methodology into the PR creative process?

SEMRush is represented by Neon Black

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