I was invited by Jeff Mascott (of the public affairs agency the Adfero Group) to listen in on his seminar last week on The Art of Creating a Social Media Press Release. Here’s a quick rundown based on my notes, that I thought might interest you.
First, a little history: in February 2006, this “Die, press release, die, die, die!” blog post by Tom Formeski is generally agreed to be the first to lay out what elements a social media release should have. “Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on… Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists. This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.”
His recommendations: a social media release should contain a brief description, a page of quotes usable by journalists, and lots of links to relevant info.
The first template version of the SMPR included placeholders for contact info, headline, bullet news facts, RSS feed to a delicious page for tagged links, multimedia, preapproved quotes, tags. Allowed for commenting at end.
There ensued a heated debate among PR execs. Mascott was part of this debate and had issues with this template. In his view…
- this version of the SMR misses a key audience: the general public – because bullets are unreadable for non-journalists.
- bullets foster cynicism about the press [what doesn’t?
- technical issues were discovered when it came to syndication (bullets are hard to put in emails, don’t format properly)
- the SMPR is an oxymoron, because it’s not really social.
In 2008 an updated template is developed. But there are still problems with it, because it’s still really just a press release with more web-friendly features – even when you factor in the creation of sites like Pitchengine.com which are there to help organizations socialize and target their press releases.
[Here’s a completely random but quite nice example I came across from the Goethe Institute.]
Mascott believes there is a better approach (nicely echoed in this CopyBlogger post by Brian Clark):
Now everyone has the same technology to create, publish and distribute content. So for an organization’s “news” to stand out, it needs to:
- reach 3 audiences: traditional media, online media bloggers/digital influencers, and the general public.
- be understandable to 3 kinds of readers: humans, search engines, and social networking sites.
A better SMR has 4 elements:
- good headlines – write for 3 audiences / 3 readers (human readers first). Use subtitles (helps SEO). Short and to the point. Keywords up front if possible. Think to yourself, if it appeared on Facebook, would I click it?
- body copy – 3 audiences / 3 readers – tell a story. No bullets, no PR or marketing speak. Write like a person. Write like an article, not an announcement. Write for diagonal readers (lots of scanning, 10 second readers – headlines / section titles / bold / links / pictures/ graphs / summaries). Use humor.
- additional content elements- related content, multimedia, links to related articles, social media sharing, easy to email/print, moderated comments.
- technical considerations – search engine ready, RSS ready, sharing ready.
Hmmm. Sounds good to me, but…
My conclusion here? I hope you’ve reached it too as you’re reading this. What do all of these elements remind you of?
Of course! Blog posts. (Jeff agrees, of course.) Find a way to write like a blogger. Start with a blog platform. Find your voice.
My view? You don’t need a PR agency (especially one that does not get the social web). You need a blog. (Don’t have one? Contact us and we’ll help you set one up. One of our favorite things to do in the whole world.)
Here’s the new reality: If your “news” is cool or important enough that when you post it on your blog, your community shares it, and tweets it, and talks about it, then the trade journalists who cover your industry will notice. And if it’s big enough, and awesome enough, you might even get some national press out of it. Don’t waste money trying to pimp out your boring old press releases to your mailing list of journalists who put them straight into their digital trash bins. Don’t waste money paying some bandwagon-riding PR agency to add a bunch of widgets to your now lipstick-wearing pig while still using old methods to try and beg old media to notice. And definitely don’t bother just tweeting links to your crappy old-style press releases and wonder why nobody clicks.
Instead, concentrate on growing your community so that when you have good stuff to share, you reach your stakeholders directly and they spread the word. Do this right and the news will find you.