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Your digital PR needs to account for emotions

I have been struck over the last couple of years as to how much our emotional reactions to stories have changed what happens in public relations. I have started to think that video is a special category of information, because people respond so much more strongly to video than to other forms of information.

I was first struck by this when I saw TV hosts and political candidates caught on open mikes saying things that they regretted. But video seemed to take it to a new level. Perhaps the Ray Rice incident, where the matter that was seemingly settled and done by the National Football League based on dry police reports became a national firestorm when security video was released showing the actual domestic abuse incident as it happened.

Now, the facts were not in dispute. It’s not clear what new information came out with the security video. It’s just that it grabs us emotionally when we actually see a victim struck and dragged out of an elevator–much more than when we merely read that it happened. There is something visceral about seeing it happen that drives us to outrage and action that mere words cannot do.

I thought this was just something that happens with video, but I was actually at a museum exhibit recently that showed that video is just the latest example of emotionally-charged media. The Museum of the City of New York is showing an exhibition of photos by Jacob Riis, a pioneer in using photography for activism in the late 19th century.

Riis went into slum neighborhoods and took candid photos of poor people as they actually lived at the time. He gave lectures and showed the photos to the gentry of the day, which pricked their collective conscience enough to lead the charge for better housing conditions. Regardless of whether you believe that the reforms that occurred were socialism (as criticized at the time) or a progressive improvement, the fact is that the emotional content of the photos moved people as no mere words ever had before.

Interestingly, Riis made no efforts to preserve the photos. He preserved all of his writing, which is what he thought was important. The photos were accidentally discovered after his death and are what people really consider ground-breaking in his work.

What this means is that we are living in a period where this new media of candid video is reaching emotions that the old media did not arouse. As video becomes pervasive, we might find that people are no longer convinced by testimony of eye witnesses without security video to back it up–just as prosecutors lament that juries now expect DNA evidence for many crimes.

Video might not be the last word here. We might soon be able to capture higher-quality videos from multiple angles to present holograms that let us experience the event in an even more visceral way, close-up. Who knows if the senses of smell and touch could be reproduced someday.

All of this raises the stakes on how people are persuaded. If we fail to recognize how bad behavior is being recorded in more and more emotion-inducing ways, and we continue to do written press releases and staged news conferences to explain it away, we will lose the ability to persuade. PR needs to step up–again.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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