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A Skeptic’s 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  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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  1. Good article, thanks. April – would you say relevance equals value plus timeliness? In both your examples, it seemed like there is a ‘value’ theme, and that you benefited from timeliness.
    I think there are parallels with the creation of products – as Luke Hohmann said in a recent article – “where’s the beard?!” Products need to be designed to solve a problem.
    If a precondition of relevance is value, then is it fair to say you can’t have a successful press release for a product that doesn’t solve a valuable problem?

  2. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the comment. In my mind if the product doesn’t provide value to the customer, then it isn’t ready to be marketed. We should be past the day and age where products are thrown over the fence for marketing to publicize regardless of whether or not the product is worthless. Marketing needs to be part of the process and needs to say no if they are asked to market something where the value is not articulated or not compelling.
    So yes, value and timeliness are critical.
    Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for the key takeaways.
    I have been trying hard to get my own office and clients on to SMR. They love the new multimedia approach but they don’t see how it can get the media to “cover” the press release.
    Maybe in Asia, we need to show proven results before we can try anything new.
    Your key takeaways can also be used in traditional Press Releases too. Angle2.0 should be about relevance rather than new features.

  4. Thanks for your comment Aaron. One of the things to keep in mind is that our PR folks had relationships with all of the mainstream media folks that we got coverage with. The release gives us a reason to call but we still had to reach out to those contacts.
    I think being able to show results is really important! I would never have done the second release first. The first release gave us a low risk way to try out the format (i.e. it was not tied to a major new product like the second one was) in a slow news period. My advice is if you can find a way to do a low risk trial, try that first. Good luck!

  5. April,
    I haven’t used social media press releases but you’ve convinced me to. I simply add social elements to press releases I put out online. Most of my clients don’t have the pieces to do this – especially video.
    Unfortunately, The Social Media Release Blog looks to be defunct.
    I blogged about this too – you’ll see it in the trackbacks. Glad to find your blog as you’re in an industry I’m not as familiar with.

  6. Hi,

    Just came in here from the related links from a more recent press release article and thought I’d throw our hat into this particular ring.

    Our website allows you to contribute press releases straight into the social media space – for free. It’s moderated too, so that closing line you made about PR spam is covered, and journalists/bloggers (bloggers are important for your news reach now!) can sign up by RSS, Facebook, Twitter or email – importantly, they may subscribe by topic by RSS, so they receive only the press releases in their subject area as and when they are published to

    Feel free to drop me an email if you’d like to discuss everything we have packed into the 3.0 (private beta) version – when we release publicly (early 2012) I think will be when really exciting things start happening in the digital PR world.

    Rob Scott


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