Third Part in the EOP trilogy: paid social

I’m not sure we’ve saved the best for last when it comes to our three-part discussion of the Earned-Owned-Paid public relations paradigm – and if you missed our first two installments on Earned and Owned you can find them here – but the Paid leg of the stool is to my mind where the most magic happens. Let’s explain how to wave the magic wand.

A long time ago – I dunno, maybe back in the 2010s – social media had an exciting, inbred element called virality. It was like an elixir poured from a bottle: post something of interest, and it would move across Facebook like a flame to a match. The more interesting, the more incendiary. Social media campaigns could thrive on the dint of creative force. Ice bucket challenge, anyone?

Ah, the good old days.

Today, virality largely comes at a cost, and that cost is in the form of Paid Social Media – the third leg of the paradigm. What determines who sees what and when are the tiny wizards in your computer who conjure up the algorithms, i.e. the formulas that dictate the flow of content.

The magic of Paid Social is in its targeting capabilities. Looking for soccer moms in their 40s who are college educated and live in a household with income of at least $150,000? No problem, just dial it up, and the algorithm shoots your content into the social media news feeds of those folks. After all, these platforms know all about you, mostly because you’ve told them, either directly or indirectly through your surfing/clicking/buying history. All the digital channels have the same level of sophistication – you just need to decide which one – e.g. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X (Twitter) – is most likely to be populated by your target audiences.

With this kind of targeting sophistication, I often wonder why more advertising dollars aren’t spent on Paid Social as opposed to more traditional media outlets. For example, why take out a billboard when 75% of the people driving by may find no relevance in what it is promoting?

Using Paid Social strategically

The targeting functionality is one efficient benefit of a Paid Social campaign, but it also can be harnessed to meet certain marketing objectives. If you just want to raise your visibility among target audiences, that might be one goal, and you would adjust your approach accordingly. On the other hand, if you may be more interested driving traffic to a particular website in the expectation that visitors would take certain actions (e.g. request more information, get added to an email mailing list or even buy something), you have to adjust the knobs of the algorithm – along with budgetary adjustments – to give yourself the best chance of meeting your goals.

Using Paid Social also gives us a chance to measure success, metrics that for many years were elusive to the lowly PR practitioner.

You can have a successful campaign with just Earned media. You can find success with just a Content program. But to drive home the best results, don’t forget to carve out some budget – which is not a lot comparatively speaking – for the “P” part of your EOP strategy.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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