What is a Social Media News Release? Why should you care?

by Francis Wooby on October 29, 2009

With the continuing explosion of new technology and changing communications, some in public relations realized that the same ol’, same ol’ press release might not be the best tool for conveying messages. Mass emailing PDF’ed releases, then sending them to languish eternally on your website’s press room page, leaves a lot to be desired as a process.

For one thing it doesn’t capitalize on online search, and the longevity this can give your story. Trapping content in a PDF, or similarly restrictive package, and burying it on a static website makes it hard to find your news and spread it around. This is contrary the very purpose of media releases. In this form, if your story is missed on its pass through the wire (Which is likely, given the countless other, possibly more compelling, stories running simultaneously.), your window of opportunity is pretty much shut. Now your release is just sitting there, waiting for an audience to come find it when thousands (millions?) of other items are actually making their way through the Web.

Another shortcoming of the standard news release is that it doesn’t accommodate the media beyond journalists, including bloggers, podcasters or direct-to-consumer communications. The channel is set up for reporters, news editors and others in that limited audience. In light of the fact that everyone online now has the power to broadcast, focusing solely on the press means you’re ignoring a huge group of people who can help your information get to where it needs to go.

And even with journalists, the traditional press release is not performing as well as it could. As the online world widens and deepens, journalists are being left with fewer resources and larger workloads. Traditional press releases do not always make it easy for them to find the actual news, which is often imprisoned in buzzwords, boasts and excessive wordage.

Now I’m not claiming that those of us in communications haven’t tried to help. FAQs, backgrounders and fact sheets are meant to quickly and directly give stand-alone pieces of information. But, with the tools now literally at our fingertips, we can do better.

Hence, the concept of a Social Media News Release.

What a social media news release is, exactly, what it looks like, and even what it is called varies depending on who you talk to. There are plenty of online resources to help you learn about different versions, and to develop your own. However, there are a few essential ideas which I think run through all models.

Untangle the facts

Social media news releases spread out the core points of your news story, handing them to your readers as building blocks, with which they construct or reinforce their own stories as best suits their needs. Instead of threading together and framing things in the narrative you want, you present the facts and allow the reporter/blogger/consumer to put them together for themselves. The social media news release gets away from corralling the audience through a contrived storyline–which often just angers and motivates them to find information elsewhere, or just drop the story altogether. Respecting their time and sparing them the spin engages resource-strapped reporters, unpaid bloggers and others looking at your content.

Tag, you’re it!

There’s no point generating information that nobody can find; especially when you’re paid to do the exact opposite! Online search is how people discover things now. Those of us who want to be found need to be drinking as much Google Juice as possible. And as I’ve already suggested, locking down your stuff into PDFs, blasting them out in emails, praying that they make it past a few spam filters, then relegating them to your website’s press room doesn’t cut it. The social media news release helps you take advantage of tags and other metadata, making your content more discoverable.

The missing links

Including links in your social media news release allows recipients to drill down into the issue, beyond your story and even to information sources other than you. This is not a bad thing, regardless of how much PR-sense is tingling. The Internet is a network of information, and your release needs to have lines of communication both coming in and going out for it to be an effective part of that network. You get what you give in the new information age. Plus, including external links only improves your credibility, and shows your news value in the context of the bigger story. And this doesn’t mean including a page of links. Placing the links at meaningful points throughout the copy itself makes them useful in enhancing your content.

Join the A/V Club

Given the ease with which video and audio can now be produced and broadcasted, there’s little reason to limit your media release to text. Including links to, or embedding downloadable audio/video files makes your information more interesting, as well as more useful. It helps those in your audience who maybe learn better through visual or audial means. Reporters and bloggers can use the interactive components for their stories. (Although, you should always brand such content with your organization’s logo or other means of identification. This way they’re not confused with the actual reporter’s/blogger’s content, which would be getting into the unethical territory, to my mind.) At the very least include a few reproducible, decent quality photos.

When you quote somebody, try quoting them

I’m not sure when or where it became standard practice in PR to make up really lame, stiff quotes on behalf of executives and other powers-that-be. Whatever the origins, I think it’s past time we stop, or at least start weaving in some actual statements here and there. Offer these real quotes as supporting material, and trust your audience to take them or leave them as they see fit. Better yet, include video and audio quotes in your social media news release.

The overall gist of the social media news release concept, I think, is for us to free our content from the confines of outdated technology/procedures (e.g. PDFs, static “Press Room” webpages, etc.), and get past the somewhat adversarial relationship with the audience whereby we push our version of things, and they struggle to parse out the facts.

Do you think this is a good direction for communications to go in? Are their elements you would add? Take away?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Cameron October 31, 2009 at 11:18 am

All good and useful points Francis. The one unanswered question from me is after you’ve created a social media press release how do you distribute it? If it’s just going out though the same channels won’t it still get caught in the same SPAM filters and and ignored by the same editors?

I’m also not sure about the template you linked to. In that form it seems really busy and hard to follow. Suggesting bullet points for facts doesn’t really work without context or explanation. Having a “white paper” linked to the release won’t fly either as if the editor/reporter/blogger doesn’t get the story from the release, they’ll never click through for more info.

As an editor I love your exhortation to cut the buzzwords self-serving blather as much as possible. When I see a release full of blah-blah-blah, unless I know it’s important from the get go, I bin it. … Read more

Overall, a good evolution of something that is done by thousands of people each day and done well by dozens.

Megan October 31, 2009 at 11:23 am

Yes, yes, yes. It’s funny how people get so stuck on the same old crap they’ve seen a hundred times before. I especially hate lame quotes.

We’re stuck using a press-release format that was designed for fax machines. If we blew the whole thing up and started over, we would NEVER develop the sort of releases we do now. We’d speak like human beings, and we’d allow people to talk back to us. We’d acknowledge our mistakes and link to others in our industry who have inspired us.

wooby November 2, 2009 at 6:47 am

Gord,

You pose some excellent questions here.

I think that a glaring omission in my original post is that social media press releases, according to some, should be sent in addition to standard releases–like sending you an assembled puzzle instead of a picture, so you can take the pieces you want and leave the rest, while still getting the context. Again, the point is to make it easier for journalists and bloggers. Leaving them with a pile of random facts and links without an overarching explanation probably isn’t a good way of going about it.

As for the distribution, I know that Canadian News Wire offers a social media press release service, although I can’t recall the highlights of how this differs from their regular media release distribution.

This brings up the larger question, though, about how PR professionals reach out to journalists, bloggers and other media in the first place. From my perspective I see the good ones calling on us to either know and/or research the work of anyone we’re pitching to as the basic first step. At the same time, I know that a lot of (most?) “PR” folks blast out as many releases as possible, not even looking where they’re going, and hoping like hell someone picks up the story.

Thus you get inundated with an unusable gush of information.

Francis Wooby November 2, 2009 at 7:02 am

Megan,

At its essence, I think the problem with press releases is the inability of organizations (or sometimes individuals) to relinquish the “command and control” communications style. The rigid physical format of the faxed release is like a symbol and/or symptom of that thinking.

The good communicators have always been into establishing a two-way dialogue because they realized the value. Now anyone who’s worth their salt at least needs to catch up due to social media forcing the issue.

Francis Wooby November 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

From Kim via Facebook:
Have to say, Francis, I’ve been asking the same question, and while your note gives lots of ideas for “social media” releases, I have to say that in my experience of actually trying to deal with them, the reality often falls short of the ideal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on a social media release only to find a blank page — no … Read Morelinks, no info. Or I’ll open up something in CNW that’s billed as a social media release that doesn’t include a link to the actual release. As someone looking for information that I can use for news, I find social media releases remarkably unhelpful, in that they require more work from me to get to the information — I don’t mind doing the work if I know there’s something there, but to do the work and find there’s nothing I can turn into a story is another matter. They’re less straightforward and just as jargon-filled as traditional releases, the ones I’ve seen anyway. In fact, the whole idea that they’re called “social media” releases suggests to me that someone’s trying to use a buzzword to appeal to a certain audience when often it’s a traditional new release being dressed up as something cutting-edge. I generally click right past them. So as a targeted user, I’m giving them the thumbs-down.

Francis Wooby November 3, 2009 at 10:22 am

Hi Kim,

Thanks for commenting. It’s unfortunate, and woefully unsurprising, that you’ve already been encountering lots of Spam Wolves in Social Media Sheeps’ clothing.

I am disappointed, though, that the majority of what you’ve seen has been the same old hyperbole or incompetent uselessness. Honestly, I would have thought that most of those aware of and trying out social media releases would also be striving for better content, and would be savvy enough to not insert dead links.

Regardless, I’m very glad to have you, and other journalists providing honest feedback on the social media release. Without it, we can’t hope to tweak it to work better, drop it altogether, or do whatever else that should be done because it’s what is best for the audience.

Debra Jang November 10, 2009 at 9:12 pm

[COMMENT EDITED BY BLOG OWNER]

Good article – you captured the essence of the Social Media News Release. The traditional release still has its place, especially for corporate information within the regulatory framework. There are exciting possibilities for communicators to use this platform for communicating and sharing the various elements of the story in both traditional and new media. As mentioned, it becomes a network of information, giving the story some extra depth and colour.

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