Why Social Media News Releases Aren’t a Waste of Time

This is a guest post by Adam Parker, Chief exec of RealWire in response to my last post, ‘Is the Social Media News Release a Waste of Time?

First off, a disclosure. RealWire has a vested interest in this debate given that we provide a Social Media News Release (SMNR) option within our service. However with four years’ experience of this area we also think we have some knowledge that might be of value too. On reading Paul’s post and the comments made yesterday four main issues came out for me. These were: 

  • Nomenclature
  • Format
  • Distribution
  • SEO 

Nomenclature – what’s in a name?
As I am sure many of you are aware the name ‘Social Media News Release’ was first coined by Todd Defren of SHIFT Communications five years ago. At the time I believe Todd was trying to get across the importance of the need for evolution in the format and content of PR announcements to stay relevant in an increasingly social online world.

It is worth bearing in mind though that at that time Twitter didn’t even exist, Facebook was barely a year old and YouTube was still independent. ‘Social Media’ was therefore pretty much all about bloggers and bookmarking and so was limited to a, relatively (in today’s terms), small online community that was seen as quite distinct.

Well the world has changed a lot since then and perhaps the name itself needs to change too. At RealWire we have stuck to SMNR because people have an understanding of what ‘it’ is but IMHO we should now just have ‘News Releases’ or ‘Media Releases’. The ‘Press Release’ was designed in an age where the press WAS the media, but after all how many “press releases” these days will be potentially read by someone who is not a member of the ‘press’? Surely it is just about releasing news to all relevant and interested media?

As Kerry Gaffney, who commented on Paul’s post in very grey terms :-) rightly pointed out in her post in 2008, a social media news release is ultimately “just a web page”. The issue is that creating a good web page is not the same as typing words into a Word doc (or previously on a typewriter) which is where most ‘press releases’ start. Is it rocket science? Of course not. Can companies build their own? Of course. Does it take a degree of time and money like any other asset? Yes. So the usual questions of DIY against outsourcing apply – nothing more.

Does the format itself make a story interesting? No. But does the investment of building a web page that has impact potentially lead to the creation of more interesting news releases? Perhaps – I did some analysis that raised this very question 18 months ago and by complete coincidence – honest! – I have just updated this here. These exercises showed that SMNRs distributed by RealWire achieve more coverage than ‘traditional’ releases – three times more in fact in the most recent analysis.

Distribution – do I find it or does it find me?
I was not surprised that the vast majority of recipients of pushed releases told Paul they still want them as straight text in an email with no, I repeat no, attachments (the 11% confused me too). This is because of the nature of how we work with email – the need to keep the level of data transferred down (especially in a mobile world) and make it really easy for the journalist or blogger to establish if the story is of interest.

Then as he suggested direct them to the web page that has all relevant related content. (You could go one stage further, as we do, and provide direct links to individual assets or relevant links within the body of the email as well.) As without this web page other interested parties won’t be able to find or share your story, which leads onto…

Search Engine Optimisation
Is it better that people find and link to the story on the company’s own website and that any SEO benefit goes to them? Almost certainly yes. Is that always practical and cost effective? No. For instance a lot of smaller companies (and many larger ones) will not have news to announce very frequently. Google will therefore not be visiting their site very often and so when they post news it could be a while before it shows up in search.

Of course you could improve this situation by making your site more dynamic with content updated more frequently and that’s potentially a good idea from a SEO perspective, but it’s still going to have a cost in time or money terms. At the risk of a RealWire plug here that is why for years now we have offered clients who care about retaining the ‘ownership’ of the story the ability to map releases to their own domain and even brand the CSS.

IMHO the name shouldn’t be the thing we focus on. We should just be trying to announce news via releases that take advantage of the tools the online media world gives us to tell more interesting stories to more interested people.

Push distribution should be in a form that fits a recipient’s needs. And whether companies do this themselves and/or host the content on their own sites or use third parties or service providers is a question of balancing the commercial costs and benefits. No different to deciding to use an outside PR consultant to assist with a social media project for instance :-) 

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