Yesterday, I blogged about the social media press release's shortcomings. Judging by the PR industry's reluctance to embrace the tool, at least some of my criticisms are shared. The buzz about the "next-generation" press release has not translated into anything more than, well, buzz.
But, my beef with the social media press release should not be confused with an endorsement of the traditional press release. I agree with journalist Tom Foremski that press releases have become largely useless. We need a new approach for distributing news that ditches corporate speak and meaningless quotes in favor of readable content.
The Audiences for a Social Media Press Release
As PR professionals experiment with refining the social media release, the first goal should be to create content that simultaneously reaches three audiences:
- The traditional media.
- Online journalists, bloggers and digital influencers.
- The general public.
In today's world, where blogger reviews and consumer opinions can have as much of an impact as mainstream media coverage, none of these stakeholder groups can be ignored. Although each is distinct, these three audiences can and should be reached with a single message conveyed in a single format.
The social media release, at least in its early iterations, is not up to this challenge. The suggested bulletpoint format is difficult to read and (despite Foremski's arguments) is not compelling for any audience. Even spin-weary journalists need some context to make sense of CEO quotes and hard facts.
Some PR firms have tried to deal with the problem by issuing a traditional press release (narrative-style but full of corporate speak) alongside each social media press release (deconstructed to a list of bulleted, dry facts). This "solution" is completely counterproductive. Firms are putting in more time (and spending more of their clients' budgets) to produce two deliverables, neither of which is readable or effective.
One Unified Social Format
Instead, organizations should share their news in a way that blends the traditional narrative format with the conversational tone of social media. Many corporations have already embraced this informal style on their blogs. For example, Southwest Airlines has earned accolades for its accessible, personality-infused Nuts About Southwest blog. The airline continues to issue traditional press releases (and indeed, may be required do so under SEC regulations), but most of that content is ultimately reproduced in a reader-friendly blog posting. The difference in the two voices - and my level of interest - is striking.
The point is that journalists, bloggers and the general public have to be interested to read a news release. Neither streamlined bulletpoints nor formal corporate narratives are adept at capturing their attention. Instead, organizations should be focusing on how to find a single voice (and format) that is capable of reaching all of its target audiences.
To do so, PR professionals need to write like a person - not an organization. Don't be afraid to show a little personality, or to use humor. Instead of thinking of a news release as an announcement, approach it like a newspaper article. Engaging copy that tells a story will resonate with all three audiences.
My firm has moved to an integrated, blog-like feed where we share both our firm news as well as insights from individual employees. Rather than writing a news release and then regurgitating it in a blog posting that people might actually read, we forego corporate speak the first time around. This model, or something like it, may be the way forward for distributing the refined social media release.
My next posting in this series will focus on how to reach the three readers important for any organization's PR campaign. (No, that isn't what the blog posting you just read is about; readers are different than audiences.) Stay tuned...
Re-Thinking the Social Media Release
Part 2 | A Better Approach to the Social Media Release: Reach Three Audiences