I mean, wild in general, but specifically wild in Digital PR. To me it felt ‘experimental’, with new emerging trends that are set to change the course in how we work, being tried and tested by pretty much everyone in the game. It was exciting… and incredibly fast paced!
AI in Digital PR
It sounds almost obvious to say it, but AI has no doubt had a huge impact on Digital PR over the last 12 months. It’s hard to believe it’s not been shaping the way we work for longer, almost like a new colleague that’s settled in quickly - it feels like it’s been part of our working lives for years.
This time last year my predictions for 2023 and AI wasn’t even on my radar! But that just goes to show how fast this industry moves and adapts to change.
I’ll be the first to admit I was a little nervous when I started playing with ChatGPT and the likes, thinking, “OMG this thing is coming for my job”, but it’s clear to me now that that’s not going to happen any time soon. The main reason being it just can’t replicate the originality, emotion and creativity that comes from a human brain – which is pivotal when coming up with fresh and original Digital PR campaign ideas.
However, it has proved to be great in terms of driving efficiency and being a bit of an ‘assistant’ when it comes to those repetitive tasks we all loathe, as well as a great support when formulating processes and strategies.
2023 was the year to experiment with AI and discover its capabilities which means we’re now all ready to step into the new year using it more effectively. For example, my team uses it to organise data, or identify themes for ideas and campaigns based on keywords, or come up with structures for content or presentations. It’s a great tool to help you think differently, BUT I would like to emphasise that when it comes to thinking up ideas, practitioners should only use it for inspiration rather than have it come up with an entire campaign.
In this game you need original ideas, and AI can’t give you anything that is truly relevant to current news cycles or that hasn’t already been done. When used in the right way, it frees us up from mundane tasks to allow us to be more creative humans, as well as giving us more time to produce more interesting and ’out there’ campaigns.
TikTok in Digital PR
The other hot ‘thing’ over the last 12 months is the rise of TikTok being used for campaigns. Now, I know all the young'ns out there will be rolling their eyes at me and saying, “But TikTok has been awesome for ages'', which is true, but let’s face it, when it first came out it was mainly being used to make slightly odd dance routines. Whereas now it’s properly established itself as an influencer platform, a space for selling stuff, and most importantly to us, a search platform.
The reason for this is because in the last 12 months there’s been a surge of older users on the platform. In 2022, over 35s accounted for around a quarter of users, however now it’s more like a third. This makes it a much more viable space to market a broader range of brands or products – so more brands and agencies have been playing around with it recently.
In 2023, 73% of marketers used TikTok as part of their strategy, compared with 44% in the previous year. This is a huge leap and it’s noticeable in many of the Digital PR case studies I’ve seen lately.
Whether that’s because we’re using it for influencer collaborations, piggy backing off of trends, using TikTok data for campaign research or finding inspiration for ideas and beyond. TikTok is now properly embedded in our ways of working.
Where's the link?
Unfortunately, 2023 hasn’t all been about emerging technologies enhancing our work. This year has been hard when it comes to getting links and there’s definitely been a rise in affiliate links. This has been tough because I think to be a strong Digital PR it’s all about mindset and confidence in what you know and what you do – a dip in the number of links can have a massive impact on how we see or value ourselves in our work which can then potentially impact the quality of our work.
But I want to assure anyone who’s feeling that at the moment, you are most certainly not alone. It’s an industry-wide problem, but it’s not all doom and gloom because I think the outcome of this is that we will see a shift in how we work and the kind of targets we set. We are no longer just about building strong websites, we’re in the business of building strong brands, so just counting the number of links you get doesn’t actually give a full picture of the impact your work is having.
I believe this challenge that we’re currently facing is going to force us to shift our mindsets on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We all know that Digital PR has a positive impact across many areas, so it’s just about making sure you’re measuring success in the right way to really show that impact beyond the number of links.
So, what’s in store for ’24?
Well, AI and TikTok certainly aren’t going anyway, and I think 2024 will see us using them in smarter ways than ever before. As I said before with both of these innovations, people were experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t, but 2024 will see Digital PRs really get to grips with using them more regularly and much more effectively.
AI and Digital PR
With regards to AI, one of the things that I’m quite excited about is that lots of Digital PRs have been using it to create tools to use within their own agencies, but also many have been creating useful stuff and sharing it with the wider industry. I’ve seen a headline creator tool one agency released a few months ago, which is pretty decent for inspiration, and then more recently Rich Leigh shared an AI press release writing tool which I cannot wait to play with.
I don’t think there’s an agency out there that hasn’t had a sit down to think about all the jobs they least enjoy to see if they can figure out a way to get AI to do it for them. Of course, a lot of these tools will be kept in house, but I think we’re going to see loads of interesting developments over the next 12 months that will help the industry as a whole work a lot smarter.
And for those that are up for using AI but aren’t quite so tech savvy that they can build a whole tool, it will just be a case of making sure that you are savvy enough to write a decent prompt. If you’re not good at this already I suggest you make ‘writing decent AI prompts’ one of your main objectives for 2024 because this will become a role requirement at some point in the not too distant future I’m sure.
ChatGPT really can spit out a whole heap of nonsense if your prompt isn’t right. My top tip is if you’re struggling to get the result you want, ask AI what prompt you should be inputting – it might seem ridiculous but it really works!
Tiktok and Digital PR
Then going back to TikTok, I think Digital PRs will continue to use it and get bolder with it and make it an integral part of their campaign strategy. In 2023 we saw a few people using it really well and setting the bar high, showing the rest of us its potential for creating different kinds of campaigns. However, there’s still a lot of people in the industry that aren’t quite so confident with it.
I think 2024 will also see everyone in the industry get far more familiar with the opportunities that TikTok can provide. They need to because of how consumers use the platform as a search tool and because Google will continue to give more emphasis in their search results to social and video content.
Video, UGC and Digital PR
And that kind of leads me on nicely to the main things I think people should have on their radars in 2024. I believe that in EVERY brainstorming session Digital PRs must be asking “how can this campaign work on video” or “how can this idea be amplified via user generated content”.
To quickly touch on video content, this is important because how this format is ever more appearing in search results. On top of that, you’re also creating something that can be transferred on to places like TikTok which will give every day social media users the opportunity to respond with their own content. You will be enabling organic user generated content (UGC). As well as this, Digital PRs should be working with influencers and bloggers to brief them on their campaigns and asking them to go off and create content on their behalf.
UGC is going to play a huge part in Digital PR because:
When Google launches Perspectives in the UK, this is the kind of stuff people are going to look for and find in their search results
It opens up so many additional avenues to reach your target audience
UGC helps build trust in a brand which will help increase conversions and influence purchasing decisions
Digital PRs need to remember: people trust people, they like to buy from people.
Also, consumers don’t like being overtly sold to BY BIG BRANDS, or ‘talked at’ or told what to do. Historically brands have tried to sell them things on TV or online by saying “use our product and you’ll be cool/sexy/smart.”
But of course they would say that, they’re trying to sell you’re their sh*t! Whereas your semi reputable blogger or TikTok influencer is mostly only going to endorse brands they believe in – of course many get paid for it, and consumers get that - but it feels like a more authentic endorsement. There’s a great synergy between UGC and Digital PR – both are about showing experience, expertise, authority, trust - it’s a perfect partnership.
And the fact is journalists have been crying out for this kind of stuff for years, they love to include the opinions of real people in their stories. Traditionally we’ve always provided that with commentary or case studies, however, now they can go straight to source on places like TikTok to find their own case studies.
For that reason, we need to be on top of ensuring our campaigns are resulting in stuff that people genuinely want to talk about in online communities. Create campaigns that people can and want to discuss, add to or enhance.
When you create a buzz about something on social media, it gives your campaigns an extra angle as the process will end up looking something a little like this:
Digital PRs will roll out a campaign to journalists as they standardly would and aim to achieve coverage in this first phase
Then you would partner up with influencers to help promote the campaign through UGC
This alone will give you another angle for journalists where you can pitch headlines like “Everyone on TikTok is talking about this thing” – giving you another opportunity to earn further links and coverage!
KPIs and Digital PR
Finally, I want to end on some advice for Digital PRs for 2024. There are three prominent issues we’re seeing at the moment:
Fewer dofollow links
More affiliate links
More syndicated links
I’ve previously discussed what we’re seeing in terms of the link ‘drought’ and affiliate ‘flood’, but let’s talk about syndications for a minute. These will also be on the rise given so many journalists are being made redundant, and fewer journalists writing stories means more duplicated content. So, for all of the reasons above, I think all agencies are going to have to revisit how they measure success.
Now feels like the right time to do that anyway because the way I see it is that Digital PR has properly shifted in nature from what it was. It used to be that people building links purely for SEO found that creating campaigns and news stories for journalists was a better method - and let’s face it, a more fun method than guest blogging on link reclamation - as a result we have the birth of Digital PR.
However, now it’s kind of flipped on it’s head, where we are in effect PRs that focus on online coverage which happens to have an impact on SEO as well as building brand awareness. Because of this we shouldn’t just be using SEO metrics as KPIs, we all need to be looking at longer term metrics that help build brands.
So, although, yes, we still want those lovely juicy links, on the other hand, what we do also impacts brand awareness and consideration.
Brand mentions are as important to Google and consumers - they’re a great result as long as you’re making it clear to your client upfront the impact this can have in terms of strengthening your site and helping move consumers along the customer funnel and actually inspire them to visit your site. It’s rare for someone to see a product and buy it instantly, brands need to build trust and they can only do that through raising awareness and Digital PR plays a massive role in that.
I don’t think just counting the number of links was ever a good measure of success anyway – it’s about the quality of links and coverage and the other metrics that contributes to strengthening a site and brand.
I’ve been banging the drum for coverage scoring for years but I honestly think it’s going to be vital in 2024.
We at Honchō have our own Link and Coverage Scoring Tool which looks at things like relevancy of publication, their DA, country of origin and about 10 other metrics.
Our KPIs look at that total score, alongside other stuff that also matters to SEO and building brand awareness, like social mentions, traffic, share of search, keyword rankings and all that kind of jazz.
So I just want to really make the point that brand mentions aren’t lost on consumers OR Google so don’t get too hung up on your link numbers and make sure 2024 is the year that you’re setting the right KPIs.