Personalised Brand Interactions at Scale:
What exactly is ‘conversational PR’? In short, this refers to the act of using technologies such as messenger- or chatbots and voice assistants to engage in automated, yet personalised, conversations about a brand, topic or organisation. A PR professional can easily reach out to tens of thousands of people simultaneously via conversational PR and provide the same on-brand digital experience to all these people at the same time. Well, so goes the theory.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the benefits and applications of conversational PR and discuss how communication pros can get started with conversational PR.
Conversations at scale emerge within eCommerce, Marketing and now PR
Now, you might be wondering… what’s the difference between conversational marketing, conversational commerce, and conversational PR? In short, all allow for technology-enabled, fully or semi-automated personalised interactions or transactions at scale, all with a slightly different focus and context.
Whereas conversational commerce focuses on sales transactions or customer support, conversational marketing looks to streamline any interaction between a brand and stakeholder groups, such as future customers. Conversational PR, however, focuses on automated conversations, for example, around a brand with many people at the same time whilst providing a true on-brand digital experience.
Last but not least, conversational PR revolves around marketers or PR professionals trying to generate a dialogue or create more exposure for a brand using chatbots and relevant technologies. Read on to learn about the applications of conversational PR!
Applications of conversational PR
Dialogue and information management
The most common application of conversational PR lies in dialogue and information management. Many brands use chatbots to generate one-to-one conversations with an individual within their target segments, such as consumers, and achieve that highly coveted top-of-mind awareness (TOMA). Among other things, chatbots can interact with relevant hashtags, respond to comments or direct messages and strike up conversations with a brand’s actual or potential customers.
Should a crisis or unforeseen event strike your company, you can expect to be inundated with questions from your customers or other affected parties. By using a chatbot, you can better field your customer’s inquiries and communicate with them.
Here’s an example: when a volcano in Bali started spewing ash into the air late last year, Australian airline Jetstar used their customer service chatbot to deal with customer inquiries about whether flights were disrupted. According to Jetstar, the chatbot assisted 3,000 customers in this specific incident and resolved almost three-quarters of queries instantly.
Automated Media Relations
Today, PR pros have a myriad of sophisticated tools at their fingertips – including platforms that allow to automate certain tasks within the PR workflow such as planning, executing and reporting on PR campaigns as well as monitoring and analysing campaign results. New technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), begin to take over the execution of the more mundane PR tasks with chatbots, for example, lending a supportive hand in media relations. SumoStory, for example, is a tool that comes with an algorithm matching journalists’ interests with that of organisations sending relevant content automatically out, bringing efficiencies to the pitching process.
Media Brands successfully using conversational PR
There are plenty of media brands which are using conversational PR to great success. One such example is the Wall Street Journal, which created a chatbot to allow their readers to get company information and key financial metrics, compare companies and get live stock quotes.
Then there’s National Geographic, which has a chatbot that it uses to promote its television show which chronicles the lives of notable individuals such as Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. This chatbot converses with users using the voice of the featured “Genius” – so if a user were to log on, they would be able to talk to “Einstein” or “Picasso” and ask them questions. This bot has generated exceptional results – we’re talking 6- to 8-minute conversations and an impressive 50% user re-engagement.
Potential and benefits of conversational PR
Respond to customers in a more timely manner
Customers these days have pretty short attention spans. Consider this: 53% of customers who ask a company a question on Twitter expect a response within one hour and 72% of customers who highlight a complaint to a company on Twitter expect the same.
Bearing this in mind, brands who can’t deliver will disappoint their customers and risk damaging their reputation. Those who cleverly use chatbots and other technologies to respond in a timely manner, however, will gain their customers’ trust and will probably earn more word-of-mouth referrals.
More tailor-made content
When a company interacts with their customers using chatbots or other forms of conversational PR, they’re having a two-way conversation. This allows them to understand what each individual customer is looking for, which, in turn, lets them deliver tailored content to these customers.
Without conversational PR, these brands and companies would find it tougher to identify the differences between their customers and they’d simply be serving the same information, data or content to each customer that e.g. lands on their Facebook page or website. As you might imagine, this is much less effective than personalising content.
How powerful is conversational technology today?
There are various limitations that curb the effectiveness of conversational PR. For one thing, it’s easy for chatbots to seem gimmicky or contrived. How do you get around this? One way of doing so is to program your chatbot to respond to customers using a simple and natural language. (More on this later!)
Here’s another issue: because chatbots are still relatively new, consumers don’t see a consistent level of quality from them as of yet. While a certain company’s chatbot might be a joy to converse with, another company’s bot might be too robotic and mechanical. While PR pros can’t make up for the flaws of the industry as a whole, what they can do is focus on providing a good user experience with their clients’ chatbots.
Guidelines for making conversational PR work
When experimenting with chatbots, most marketers and PR professionals will automatically turn to the Facebook messenger as a medium. That said, you should experiment with a range of platforms – if your clients are targeting a specific audience that isn’t particularly fond of Facebook, for example, they might experience more success by incorporating their chatbot directly on their website instead.
On top of that, the underlying goal of a chatbot is to connect with a user in a way that is conversational and feels natural. Bearing this in mind, drop the overly formal tone (or dramatic, flowery language) and have your chatbot communicate with your users using simple, easily understandable words.
Negative example: “Thank you for using XYZ website. What are you seeking to do today?”
Positive example: “Hello there! How may I help you today?”
The outlook of conversational PR
Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author or SpinSucks, puts it this way: “PR continues to evolve and our industry tends to be left behind when it comes to digital marketing, artificial intelligence, and even PR automation. If we don’t embrace the change—like we had to 10 years ago with social media—it won’t be AI that puts us out of jobs. It’ll be ourselves because we just haven’t kept up”. Wendy Marx – President of PR firm Marx Communications – agrees and states that “PR is long due for automation” and quotes data from the Gould & Partners survey which shows PR firms spend around two percent of revenues on technology versus five percent for other industries. Adding pressure, according to McKinsey & Company, is the expectation that 45% of paid activities across the board could be wiped out by PR automation.
However, many PR pros don’t believe that automation is a threat to them as for the lack of creative ability. Marketing communications pro Susan Cellura said: “I am preparing by building stronger relationships with clients so that they can see that artificial intelligence can’t replace creativity and strategy. In addition, showing how the human connection is extremely important in building brands and brand ambassadors, communicating and interacting with customers, etc., is another way I’m preparing.”
We agree that conversational PR will never replace traditional PR completely – after all, chatbots are also known to screw up, and when that happens, it’s the job of the PR or the marketing team to swoop in and save the day. That said, conversational PR can help a great deal for companies who want to generate more conversations with customers and expose their brand to a wider audience. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start exploring the opportunities – and downfalls – that come with conversational PR.