viral PR campaigns
Student/PR

What’s The Value In PR ‘Virality’?

If you work in media relations, or more specifically, link building from PR (like I do!) then the thought of a viral PR campaign is ultimately dreamy. Often, if you have a good enough idea, then a media campaign will see what I like to call the ‘snowball’ effect. That’s where you sell your idea in to a number of media publications, then once one of them picks it up – they all pick it up. Often, I’ve found, loads of publications you didn’t even contact cover it too if it’s popular enough (meaning we have to go back and reclaim the links, which is a painful story for another day). Ultimately, you get lots of media coverage and hopefully lots of backlinks too. The snowball effect in the press is something that every digital PR hopes to achieve with their campaigns.

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Please enjoy me trying to depict exactly what I’m on about

Anyway, enough rambling. What I’m trying to say, in layman’s terms, is that there’s no question as to whether ‘virality’ is a good thing in digital PR campaigns. But exactly how much value should we be placing on it?

I asked the experts.

The Issue With ROI In Viral PR Campaigns

Traditional methods of measuring the value of PR campaigns are argued to be ‘fundamentally flawed’. There’s so much conversation about them that I wrote my whole dissertation on measuring the ROI of PR. And, even after months of research, I concluded that there’s no one true way we can place enough value in what we do.

Knowing that measuring PR value is already a sticky wicket – how do we measure the impact of true virality? Do clients respond better as they can visibly see the widespread attention a campaign has generated? Or, do viral campaigns only increase the expectation and pressure to impact directly on sales and revenue?

I’ve broken down the three ways in which ‘virality’ can be valued into 3 points – and have enlisted the help of some big names in the PR industry to debate (and hopefully agree) with me. Though I’m sure I could talk about this for a very long time and raise many more than 3 discussion points, I’ve managed to whittle it down to:

  1. Backlink Impact
  2. Brand Interest
  3. Vanity Metrics

Buckle up, because this post is 1800 words long and it’s a good, hearty read. 

3 Ways We Can Value ‘Virality’ In PR

Backlink Impact

Let’s start with something I am unapologetically biased about: links. Because I work for a digital marketing agency, generating high-quality backlinks (links back to a client’s website) is at the forefront of what I do. It’s the main reason I execute the campaigns that I do.

I believe that the value of ‘virality’ can be truly measured and justified with backlinks. Links are still one of Google’s top-ranking factors. Meaning the better your link profile, the higher your Domain Authority and keyword rankings – which ultimately leads to better brand visibility.

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Therefore, the value of ‘virality’ is indisputable when it comes to links. You know that if a campaign’s been amplified and has generated loads of backlinks, that it’s gonna’ have an impact. You can measure this and you can record the number of links you’ve acquired, meaning not only is the value of ‘virality’ demonstrated in this aspect, but it can also be tracked too. Neat, right? (Hey, I mentioned I’m biased though).

Buzz Carter, Head Of Outreach at Bulldog, seemingly agrees: “In my mind ‘going viral’ basically means a piece of content being rapidly circulated on the internet, whether that be from your content marketing or social media marketing. So 99% of the time going viral will be great for your campaign & brand, especially from a links perspective, the more a piece of content you create is shared, the more organic links you are likely to pick up.”

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Buzz Carter, Head Of Outreach at Bulldog

“When it comes to finding an ROI, this all depends on how you view success; if you want great links then the best metric to track your ROI would be coverage in publications and gained backlinks tied to your campaign.”

Brand Interest

But then again, you can’t just value PR with links – otherwise, what would be the need for traditional PR?

Backlinks are great, but we also shouldn’t underestimate the value of ‘virality’ in both printed, and unlinked online media. In short, PR is all about strengthening brand awareness – one way in which this happens is through using campaigns to spread the visibility of a brand and what it does. Therefore, in this respect, going viral also has an undeniably huge impact.

Even when it may not have been your intention, your campaign ‘snowballing’ means that its reach will be tremendous. Your brand can hit demographics you might not have ever thought you could have gotten to, and it can even spread worldwide, not least nationally. And though you may not be able to measure this directly – you might be able to use metrics such as traffic uplift and search increases to notice the knock-on effect that going viral has had.

Affirming this argument is Carrie Rose, Director & Co-Founder of Rise At Seven (and one of my biggest digital PR inspirations). Who also argues that we can demonstrate value from going viral that extends far further than simply generating links: “Most SEO’s KPI themselves on links and that’s it. How many links did we achieve, under what DA and the % of follow and no follow?”

“Not only are most digital marketers asking “so how many sales is that?”, we can no longer rely on these metrics. Although digital PR and link acquisition is not aimed to directly drive conversions (it’s an indirect approach to improving organic visibility), SO many publications are no following all links as a set standard across their domain including Daily Mail, Mirror, Daily Star to mention a few. So we need to think about other metrics to report back to our client.”

“Creating content that goes viral has this whole other level of data that we can report on – and get our client excited about. Most people create content which targets an already existing audience or customer base, to get links that are relevant. Which is great and exactly what a site needs to drive authority within their sector. But viral content reaches a wider audience, putting your brand in front of the eyes of potential new customers who have never visited your site before. We can track the audience we are reaching, and those that engaged over and over can be retargeted with ads or content that’s useful to them. Something which traditional PR cannot do. If done well, going viral can drive organic visits to the website/content on-site in the thousands. Something which paid marketers and advertisers pay £100,000s for every month. We can achieve this for free.”

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Carrie Rose, Director & Co-Founder of Rise At Seven

“The only downside to going viral is the amount of spam and low-quality links you may receive as a result of it. Because that’s how the internet works – content spreads, duplication is likely to occur and scraping too. SEO teams would disavow anything that’s harmful and Google knows to no longer count anything that’s low level.”

“When it comes to the added value going viral adds to our clients themselves, one thing we have to remember is our clients are human. And every single human wants to go viral at least once in their lives. It’s something to go home and tell our partners, children or friends in the pub about. Especially those that don’t get SEO. Because they certainly do get the concept of virality.”

“We all set KPIs each month such as the number of links we aim to achieve with our content and PR efforts but if we can provide something extra on top of those KPIs such as “getting our clients excited by going viral” that’s more valuable than any other metric. Clients, audiences and people remember campaigns that spread. They remember how the campaign made them feel whether that’s emotional, amused, shocked, or disgusted. Which is why John Lewis Christmas ad’s work particularly well. People want to feel sad.”

“It helps you build a brand, not just links. It helps you build a message, and not just a higher DA. It helps you build an engaged audience and following, not just a quick view and bounce. When we take a step back and look at what we are doing, we realise we are disturbing content online to get a share of an audience’s attention. But instead, why aren’t we creating a community to get 100% of an audience’s attention instead of just a share.”

And also Laura, Director of Jellybean Agency, notes how she uses methods such as Analytics to demonstrate the direct impact that a viral campaign or social share (such as a tweet) has had on a client: “We measure vitality in a few ways but the most important for a conversion aspect is through Google Analytics. You can see through Referrals in Google Analytics how much revenue/enquiries you’ve generated per source including social channels. Admittedly, you can’t tie it to a specific tweet [or campaign] but you can use previous data to understand how valuable of a source twitter and other social channels are and how it’s increased through vitality. When you can it’s ideal to use a URL with parameters (google have a handy tool to help you build one). That way you can track traffic that uses that URL specifically in Google Analytics. There’s no question of the value of that coverage then!”

Vanity Metrics

And last but not least, I don’t think anybody would argue against the vanity bonus from campaigns that go viral. Though you can’t measure vanity nor place a solid value on it – it is always a nice bonus for brands who know that their name has been spread far and wide. If a news story is being talked about in abundance, or if a tweet has racked up the RTs then that can spread the name of a brand to pretty much every corner of the globe. If you’re a small business or even an SME, this can make the world of difference.

Buzz also argues that you can value ‘virality’ with vanity, too: “If you’re not focused on links I think being viral is more about vanity than results, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s always a plus to be seen by millions of people, but then you have the same issues you’d have if you just put up a billboard, lots of people will see it, but you’ll have no idea what customers it generates or how it impacts people’s thoughts on your brand.”

What do you think? If you have anything to add on the value of ‘virality’ in PR, please please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter – I’m always cool for a chat. 

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