A Skeptic’s Guide to Social Media Press Releases

10/23/2008

skeptic square A Skeptics Guide to Social Media Press Releases

Up until the past year, I’ve been pretty old school about press releases.  I spent years at IBM where the “newsworthyness” of releases was hyper-scrutinized and even the availability of a new product wasn’t always deemed newsworthy enough to warrant a release.  After a while I became that person who reviewed the release and wrote “What are we announcing?  Who cares?” all over it.

Wow, have things changed.  In the past year I’ve worked on a couple of spectacularly successful social media press releases.  And I don’t throw “spectacular” around lightly either.

Release 1
The first one was was an accident.  We were working on a traditional release related to a change in our corporate green policy.  The announcement was good for employees and the planet and would showcase how customers could use our products to do the same at their company.  At the last minute the roll-out of the new initiative got delayed.  The Super-Smart PR Guy (SSPRG) I work with suggested we do a social media release around our existing initiatives, which were pretty cool already but we’d never really talked about them externally.  “We can’t do that!!!  There’s no news!!!” I wailed.  Having had my knuckles rapped so many times for lack of newsworthyness had clearly traumatized me but in the end SSPRG talked me into it.  We shot some video, included some links to the info on our web site about the program and created an online “how-to” paper that described how to start a similar program at another company.  We did not use our regular wire service and instead put it out over a social media wire service.

The Hook
But wait!  That’s not all!  We didn’t have new news we did have a news hook.  We knew that the rising cost of gas prices was a topic everyone was writing about so we made sure to directly link what we were doing to that particular issue.  We also used titles, tags and keywords appropriately so that folks searching for news releated to rising gas prices would find our stuff.

The Results
My boss (ex-IBM with the same trauma) sends me a note after we drop the release saying “Please tell me this is a draft!”  Gulp.  I shouldn’t have worried.  For the next 4 weeks I did more press interviews related to that release than I’ve done in the past 2 years.  I was on national television.  I did a video for Forbes.com.  The Chicago Tribune, LA Times, The Globe and Mail all did stories with us in addition to the dozens of bloggers and online news sources who picked up the story and linked to the video.  In a word – Spectacular!

Release 2
At this point I’m a social media release convert.  I decide to do another one around a new product we were releasing.  It was too early in the development cycle to announce a release date but we wanted to let potential customers and folks interested in the space know that we had a product in the works.  We put together a new blog and included the link and feed to the blog in the release.  We shot a video interview with the product architect and had some video of the prototype of the product.  We created a flickr site and posted screen shots of the product.  Again we used a social media news service instead of our regular news wire service.

The Hook
This one required different hooks for different audiences.  For the mainstream media (and our potential customers) the hook was that travel costs were rising this was one way companies could reduce their business travel.  For the folks with an avid interest in the space the hook was that we intended to do something very different than the other players.  The strategy was clearly laid out in the release.

The Results
Again, the results were spectacular.  In the community of bloggers and online news sources focused in our product space there were dozens of articles and a lot of discussion about the product.  I was on TV twice , and the architect of the product also did national television, BusinessWeek did a podcast with our CTO on the subject, I did interviews with 4 newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, we got several inquiries from analysts, our blog was getting 100 uniques a day in the first week and we got invited to speak at a couple of conferences.  Did I mention that we didn’t even announce a release date?

The Key Takeaways:
The “Who” in “Who cares?” has changed
– It used to be that technical products were mainly discussed by technical media only.  More than ever, mainstream sources are interested in how technology is changing people’s lives.  These folks are less interested in your newest features and functions and more interested in how your product is going to change the world.

Mainstream Media surfs the web just like the rest of us – by providing keywords and tags the release is easily findable.  Providing video, photos, links, make the release easily bloggable, which in turn, make your stuff even more findable for both the mainstream media and your customers.  Getting the coverage in mainstream media raises awareness further, especially with customers who may not be very digital.

Relevance is the new “Newsworthyness” – I can’t emphasize this enough.  Just because you don’t necessarily have something new to announce, doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a news hook.  You need to answer the question “Why is this interesting right now?”  What is it about your announcement that makes it important information to share right now?  If you can make your new relevant to a broader audience than experts in your space, you are well on your way to spectacularness.

More Info:
The first-ever template of the “Social Media Press Release” from SHIFT Communications.  An oldie but still a good template for doing these sorts of releases.
Most of the newswire services now have social media options.  CNW Group has a neat social media tool you can find out about here (this is also a good example of a Social Media release itself).  The Social Media Release Blog offers a comparison of capabilities across major wire services.
Recently I came across pitchengine which I haven’t used yet but looks like a really promising tool.  It gives you a very easy tool to build and share releases, but more importantly, folks looking for news on particular topics can sign up for an RSS feed.  If everyone used this it would put an end to PR spam.  If you have used it, I would love to know what you think in the comments.

**Update** Jason Kintzler at pitchengine sent a link to his Twitter favorites which links to a load of pitchengine Twitter testimonials.

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