What Facebook Topic Data means for the PR industry by Francesco D’Orazio, VP product at Pulsar

Over the last 15 years social media has radically changed the way PR works. It influences the way a message is broadcasted, how the results of a campaign are measured and how the strategy of a campaign is planned.

The shake up has been so deep that the traditional and safe divide between marketing, advertising and public relations has started to show a lot of cracks (if not effectively crumbled already).

The idea that an agency creates the ad, marketing focuses on the distribution of that ad and PR on getting media attention is no longer reflective of what’s happening in the current media ecosystem.  

Today, reaching the media as a proxy of the audience you’re interested in is only one of the components of a good PR strategy. PR teams now also have to focus on engaging audiences directly through the social channels.

Whilst on one hand the social platforms have given us direct access to audiences, on the other hand they’ve also put the onus of the conversation on the PR team, with a number of consequences:

  • Engaging directly with the audience means being able to sustain a longer, distributed, diversified conversation and relationship with multiple communities.
  • The audience is fragmented into many pockets as communities can now come together online.
  • The direct interactions with the audience have now multiplied and diversified so the need has grown for a more flexible, fast, adaptive, distributed ability to produce content to fuel these conversations.
  • Content has become a ubiquitous and cheap commodity, a micro-catalyst to reach pockets of the audience.
  • Managing your audience directly means working out effective distribution strategies for your assets through traditional media, owned channels, search optimisation and social channels tapping into influencers and communities.

This means the complexity of the PR job has increased. However, the constant flow of social data from the audiences we’re trying to reach promises to help reduce part of that complexity and take some of the guesswork out of the equation.

So whilst for the first 10 years of mainstream social media, say until 2010, PR was mostly using it as a broadcasting platform, in the last five years we’ve seen more firms use social listening to measure the results of the campaigns. Now a new shift is happening: PR using social listening to inform the creative and strategic planning of a campaign.

This was never an easy relationship though, mostly because of the lack of client buy in. Most PR agencies don’t have a budget for social media listening and they tend to rely on clients buying in for investment in social.

Clients have been slow in buying in because the data has been imperfect to say the least: issues with representation, lack of demographic context, messy unstructured data, unreliable and inconsistent metrics.

Now, the appearance of anonymised and aggregated Facebook topic data on the scene could make a big difference:

  • Facebook connects 1.44 billion people, a scale which makes it closer to a census than a sample covering 71% of the online population in the US and 66% in the UK.
  • Facebook has amassed possibly the most representative audience in social with 80% of its members almost evenly split across three age groups between 18 and 54 years old.
  • Facebook is the “real world” social network, making this self-reported data more accurate – so you can have more confidence than traditional market research surveys.
  • If one of the key challenges of using social data was the uncertainty about the people behind the status updates, Facebook topic data removes the issue by providing anonymous, aggregated demographic information on the audience.
  • Facebook’s data is also more structured than the data from any other social platform. This means unprecedented precision in exploring, analysing and cross-validating hypothesis across multiple audience segments.
  • Finally, because the data never leaves Facebook, all primary analysis on it is done in-house, from topic extraction to demographic profiling. This means Facebook is effectively introducing analytics standards and therefore enabling directly comparable anonymised and aggregated results across industries, brands, agencies and technology vendors for the first time in the history of the social.

Will this mean easier buy-in from clients? Will it mean that more PR firms will start budgeting for this data? It’s still too early to tell but this new data represents a significant advance in the quality of audience intelligence available in the industry. That’s why we decided to integrate anonymised, aggregated Facebook topic data into Pulsar early on. And that’s why we believe it can inform PR campaigns at multiple stages of the process, from strategic planning, to creative execution and impact measurement.

Having worked with a few PR firms on this data on Pulsar, these are the PR use cases we have found most useful so far:

Finding the right audience
Identify the audience sharing content and engaging around the brand or the subject you are campaigning about and gain a better understanding of the audience’s opinions

Finding out what your audience is talking about and how
Once you know who your audience is, you can understand what they’re engaging around and segment behaviours and interests by demographics so you can tailor your creative and distribution strategies accordingly. (What are the most resonant angles for people to discuss my automotive client and the car model they’re promoting? For instance, is it the engine performance or the design features?)

Media planning: Finding out what publications your target audience are engaging with
Find out what the most shared content is and what publications are being liked, shared and commented on the most so that you can directly tie your media outreach strategy to the actual behaviour of your target audience to maximise spend and relevance.

Media planning: map the actual audience of a publication
Most of the time you’ll have a list of media you’re planning on reaching out to. However, the audience profiles of those publications are based on heavily sampled surveys and claimed demographics profiles. With Facebook topic data you can see which demographics are actually engaging with it. Analyse all the interactions around a specific publication (article shares, comments, likes) and segment the engagement by demographics to assess whether you are reaching the right audience for your client, product and specific campaign objectives.

Creative execution: design tailored and relevant content for your target audiences
See what content is spreading faster and garnering engagement and positivity around the brand or subject you are promoting. Identify the key features of the content, do some A/B testing on multiple audience segments based on such metrics as age, gender or location, to understand which messages resonate the most with each segment of your target audience.

Measure results
Facebook offers the most structured data to measure actual results against real target audiences (for example, intent to purchase by demographics and region) not fuzzy awareness metrics against a black-box social audience.

So what does Facebook topic data mean for the PR industry? Better strategy, driven by data and actual audience behaviour. It also means better execution, in sync with the attitudes of the audience and finally results-oriented measurement to deliver a clearer ROI assessment.