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1. Keep your brand out of the headline if you want engagement.

If you want readers to remain engaged in your media coverage:

  • Get into long-form articles,
  • Don’t worry about whether it is positive or neutral, and
  • Keep your brand out of the headline.

Those were the conclusions of a study by Angela Dwyer, Alison Horton, and Ebin Joby entitled “So You Got Them to Your Article, but How Do You Make Them Stay?” It’s a followup on their research from last year on article attributes.

This year they tackled the issues of reader engagement—specifically, what type of article and what elements in an article actually get more engagement. They used MEMO on 600 articles to determine the length of time readers engaged with them. Their conclusions will invalidate several assumptions that PR people have held for decades:

  • The higher the word count, the more engagement.
  • In product review articles, a neutral story generates a longer engaged time than positive.
  • In celebrity articles, if brands are absent, then people will spend more time reading.
  • The actual subject of the article has no impact on engagement.
  • Visuals increased engagement, but not very much (supporting last year’s conclusions). The same is true with influencers.

2. If you want to generate support after a disaster, don’t show victims, show aid workers.

Visuals not only get people to read more of your posts, they actually generate higher rates of public response. Sun Young Lee, Jungkyu Rhys Lim, and Duli Shi of the University of Maryland (“How Do Visuals Convey Distant Suffering? A Content Analysis of the Visual Strategies on Disaster Aid Organizations’ Social Media”) analyzed all the tweets issued by 42 disaster-aid organizations over the course of a year. They categorized 1018 tweets for different types of visuals: victims in need, disaster aid efforts, disaster impacts, disaster preparation, and victims recovered. They then analyzed details such as camera position, camera angle, age of the subject, whether a family was shown, and the facial expression of the people in the visual.

They found that the most effective visuals were those that:

  • Showed disaster aid efforts,
  • Focused on a small number of victims,
  • Didn’t mention the organization, and
  • Displayed a neutral or positive facial expression.

Among their interesting findings is that visuals of males generated greater engagement than females, and, not surprisingly, babies generated higher engagement than people of any other age.

3. People are more likely to listen if you use visuals.

Jeanine Guidri of Virginia Commonwealth University and her coauthors found similar results in their ongoing study of public health communications around the world (“When Public Health Meets Twitter: Communicating #Globalheath Issues Across the Globe”). They analyzed social media to see how often various global health authorities used Twitter and what they included in their tweets.

They also found that tweets that contained visuals generated the most engagement. And in fact, 79% of the public health tweets that they studied contained a visual, and nearly half (47%) consisted of nothing but an image. More concerning was that many of the tweets included general administrative information announcing meetings or other services that generated little engagement. Sadly more on-message tweets about priority topics like how to stay healthy and avoid health vulnerabilities were far less frequent.

4. If you want engagement and influence, being a real human helps.

There were numerous papers presented at this year’s IPRRC that dealt with how real voices are far more effective than corporate speak.

A study by Seoyeon Hong, Bokyung Kim, of Rowan University and Hyunmin Lee of Drexel University (“An Emerging Trend on Fortune 500’s Instagram: An Empirical Evidence [sic] of Using Conversational Human Voice in Corporate Instagram Posts”) examined the use of human voice in Instagram posts by Fortune 500 companies. They examined six different elements of human voice and found a direct correlation between using human voice and increasing brand engagement. The fact that only 43% used first-person narratives seems like a terrible missed opportunity. Even worse, of all those tweets only 26% treated users as real people.

The authors also found wide variation in use of human voice between different types of industries. Not surprisingly, humor was used least frequently, even though it had the most significant impact on engagement. Inviting users to participate in hashtag events had “no meaningful impact on engagement.”

On the other hand, Casey McDonald of the University of Florida (“Hearing the Organizational Human Voice”) tested the theory that a conversational human voice generates trust. The author found that actual interactivity and a presence on social media were more directly related to trust than conversational human voice.

5. If you want your video to go viral, you need to be funny.

Klive Oh and Katie Nance from Pepperdine University, decided to answer the question, “What makes a video go viral?” Their study, “Virality Illustrated, Establishing a Definition, Typology and Guidelines for ‘Going Viral’ ,”  looked at 100+ viral videos on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook. They defined virality in terms of views, time, and engagement. Not surprisingly, they found humor to be the ingredient that is most likely to cause a video to go viral. However, videos that provide value, use triggering events, and anything by a celebrity were all more likely to go viral.

6. Distrust of influencers is caused by inauthenticity, commercialization, and low-quality content.

Kevin Stoker, Adam Stoker, and Brad Rawlins suggest that the perception of authority generates influence (see “Public Relations with Authority: Using Natural Public Relations to Create Digital ‘Fire’ ”). They cited several examples of influencers and podcasters generating revenue because they spoke with authority either on Instagram or in podcasts.

In support of that theory, Miriam Hautala, Hanna Reinikainen, and Vilma Luoma-aho of Jyvaskyla University, School of Business and Economics in Finland, found lack of authenticity and commercialization to be the key causes of mistrust in influencers (see “What Causes Distrust in Social Media Influencers?”).

Another study, this one done by Linda Dam and Benjamin Burroughs of UNLV, and Karina Kim from PSU as well as Soo Kim, (“(Over)Eating with our Eyes: An Examination of Food-related YouTube Influencer Marketing and Consumer Engagement with Food Brands”) found that the more likeable a social media influencer is perceived as, the more likely they will be to increase positive attitudes towards your brand. Of note were the factors that did not increase positive attitudes towards the brand: homophily (the degree to which an influencer is someone like me), and trustworthiness.

7. Dinosaurs still dine in your corporate dining room.

If you feel that corporate culture is dragging you down, you are not alone. 40% of corporate communications professionals interviewed by Arunima Krishna, Donald K. Wright, and Raymond Kotcher at Boston University said that the demand to act with speed and agility is hindered by their corporate cultures (“Another Look at the Current State of the Public Relations Industry”).

The good news is that even those dinosaurs in top management are pressing comms departments for measurement. Nearly 8 out of 10 felt that the pressure for accountability had never been greater. ∞

Photo by Katie Paine at the 2019 IPRRC.

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