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10 Online PR Lessons From the Huge Success of Phonebloks

Ken McGaffin
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Phonebloks LabelYou start with an idea, create an explainer video, spend a minimum amount of money, and 8 weeks later you've got more than 17 million YouTube views, thousands of quality links, 900,000 registered supporters and coverage in many of the world's leading media. And to cap it all, one of the world's top cell phone companies, Motorola contacts you to explore a partnership.

That's the story of Dave Hakkens and his concept Phonebloks – not yet a finished product. It's a story that has much to teach SEO professionals about online public relations.

The key element to Phoneblok's success was a video that went viral. This is where Phonebloks really scored: their storytelling was superb in this introductory video:

The video talks about people and ideas – it doesn't go into huge technical detail about the product – which perhaps surprisingly doesn't yet exist.

Hakkens didn't sit down and plan everything that happened, but his experience has some great lessons in online PR. Here are 10.

1. You Can Build Links Really Quickly

Phonebloks was only launched on September 2013 yet the site has attracted a large number of quality inbound links. Here's the report from MajesticSEO.com:

IMG 2-phonebloks-majestic seo

That means attracting more than 2,000 referring domains from a standing start – and many of them from high authority sites.

Phonebloks didn't approach these sites individually but created a story that resonated with them – and that meant they wanted to link.

Brief Lesson: Investing your efforts in creating a story can bring fantastic links that couldn't be won in any other way.

2. You Can Get Huge Media Coverage for a Small Enterprise

Phoneblok has attracted media coverage from some of the largest and most popular media outlets in the world - yet it is only a two-person enterprise. Proof that even the smallest of businesses can attract top quality media – so long as your story is newsworthy.

Here's coverage on CNN: "Phonebloks: The smartphone for the rest of your life".

Phonebloks on CNN

And here are links to a couple of other articles from the BBC, " Phonebloks: The phone you can build like Lego", and from Adweek, "The iPhone Is Nice, but Could This Blocky, Utopian Rival Be the Best Phone in the World?" – there are many more examples.

Brief Lesson: Large media outlets are interested in hearing news, even from the smallest companies.

3. An Idea Isn't Enough, You've Got to Tell the Story Well

So what really created this success?

Yes, it was a great idea but a great idea on its own isn't enough. That idea has to grab people's attention, resonate with them and inspire them to action.

Videos like this can be easily created using inexpensive software provided by Sparkol – fantastic story telling tool and very easy to use.

Brief Lesson: Low-cost video software can produce stunning results – develop your video skills.

4. Creating an Event Gives You Multiple Additional Opportunities

Phoneblok created a social media event – a single day, October 29, when they wanted to make a huge impact using a service called Thunderclap.

Thunderclap

Thunderclap provides a way to focus support on a single day. You encourage people to sign up in support: and then if you reach sufficient numbers, Thunderclap will send out a Facebook post or a Tweet from all your supporters, creating a wave of attention.

At the time of writing, Phonebloks had amassed over 900,000 supporters with a collective social reach of 382 million.

And one day after the thunderclap, Google News showed more than 19,000 results for [phonebloks]:

Phonebloks Google News

The focus on a single pre-determined event creates multiple waves of online PR and link building opportunities.

The first wave is the launch of the idea and build up to the event: the second wave is during the event and final wave is after the event – telling people what happened and what to do next.

This is a classic public relations technique that can readily be applied to link building.

Brief Lesson: When you create an event, you create waves for link building – before, during, and after the event.

5. The Community You Create is a Tangible Asset

Phonebloks didn't focus on creating links. They focused on recruiting a vast number of supporters for their concept. It was the community that they created in just 8 weeks that helped attract media coverage and thousands of quality links.

Brief Lesson: Don't just focus on links. Focus on building an online community.

6. You Can Get Links From Multiple Market Sectors

Powerful stories attract links from all sorts of sectors – some of which might not be immediately obvious.

By launching a campaign like this, the market sectors that are interested in your product will reveal themselves. Analyzing which market sectors link to you can give you niche ideas you might not have recognized initially.

Here's just a selection of market sectors that linked to Phonebloks:

  • Business at Forbes.com
  • Design at Campsite-studio.com
  • Green living at Treehugger.com
  • Viral video at ViralVideos.com
  • Education at TheTeacherList.ca
  • Moms at MomBloggerBuzz.com
  • Academia at Institute for The Future
  • Science at PopSci.com
  • Gadgets at DudeIWantThat.com
  • And people called Kate at Kate-Book.com

Brief Lesson: Don't just look for the obvious opportunities – identify multiple sectors that are relevant to your website.

7. You Will Get Criticism – Don't Worry About it

This is a disruptive technology and so is sure to attract criticism and controversy as in this article at Popular Science that says, "But there's good reason to think the whole idea will fall apart faster than a Lego castle in the path of a toddler."

Phonebloks on Popular Science

But such criticism stimulates debate and discussion – and encourages the story to spread even further.

Brief Lesson: Criticism is a positive sign that your idea can generate discussion and sharing.

8. You Can be a Little Shaky on Detail

Being on top of the detail is important in public relations – it doesn't make great copy if you give uncertain answers. But you can get away with it when you've got such an innovative idea, the products not yet made and it's not certain the exact direction things will take.

But that doesn't stop founder Dave Hakkens giving a great interview to Forbes – even if he's not quite sure of his answers on occasions. Perhaps, this is a good example of "agile" public relations.

Brief Lesson: Your story doesn't have to be perfect – the journalist usually wants to make you look good and so can be forgiving.

9. Be Open to Partnerships

Neither links nor rankings are the ultimate goal. They're important, but much more important are the partnership opportunities as reported in this article, "Motorola Unveils DIY Smartphone Project With Phonebloks".

Phonebloks-Motorola

Brief Lesson: Don't just look for links, look for the potential partnerships your campaigns open up.

10. Your Press Kit Doesn't Have to be Fantastic

What Phonebloks triggered with just two people was exceptional but of course it wasn't perfect. The press kit provided to the media was rudimentary at best.

Brief lesson: Press kits are useful if you have the time to create them but a poor one is unlikely to hold back a great story.

Summary

Eight weeks isn't a long time. In just eight weeks, Phonebloks attracted more than 900,000 supporters and it was this online community that made them so attractive to Motorola.

As described in Lesson 4, an event opens up three waves of opportunity – before, during, and after. Phonebloks has now gone through the first two of these stages. It will be interesting to see what further lessons we can gain from the third.


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