The success of a social media campaign is reliant upon the networks and users themselves. Here is how to craft a press release that incorporates social interactivity.
Strapped with a small advertising budget, Blendtec's marketing director Jeff Robe, took a chance in trying to change the brand's reputation. Blendtec was largely known as a commercial manufacturer of high-end blenders for restaurants, Starbucks franchises and more. Robe created the Will It Blend? video series, hosted by company founder Tom Dickson and aimed at showing the powerful ability of Blendtec's Total Blender for home use, priced at $400.
Dickson put everything from an iPhone to hockey pucks and a toilet plunger to a World Cup vuvuzela in to the blender. Over 100 episodes and millions of YouTube views later, the Will It Blend? video series is one of the great examples of viral sharing and marketing success in the era of social media. According to the company, home sales of their blenders have increased 700% since November 2006 to August 2010. A truly viral success story, social media changed the perception of the Blendtec brand.
While not every social media campaign can be as successful as Blendtec's, it's often the way that the message or product is shared that determines its success. Advertising and public relations can be extremely effective tools when used properly, but they are, by definition, one-way forms of communications. Social media, on the other hand, is defined by the ability of both sides to converse and share information.
And despite the change in technology, the press release remains one of the best ways to get your message out. But writing a press release for social media is not like writing a traditional press release. Before digging in, however, it is important to note that social media press releases do not replace traditional releases, they complement them – much in the same way that social activities and campaigns work best in conjunction with traditional PR initiatives.
"If you think of a press release as points in time, a social media release is really an evolving continuum," says Jamie Turner, chief content officer with BKV Digital and Direct Response and co-author of How to Make Money with Social Media. "The reason for that is that even if you do a social media release that goes out and targets everyone, the nature of social media is that it moves so rapidly between people and the conversation quickly grows organically. You have to engage yourself and evolve the conversation as it's happening, rather than standing by waiting to see what the reaction is."
In this guide, we will explore what defines a social media press release, the biggest mistakes made in social media releases, and how to measure success of a social campaign via engagement and effectiveness.
How to Write a Social Media Press Release: What is a Social Media Press Release?
Regardless of whether you are writing a press release for traditional mediums or for social media, if your audience doesn't find the content informative, useful or helpful, it doesn't matter how hard you try or what the format is—you simply will not succeed.
Noted social media blogger Brian Solis wrote the definitive guide to social media releases in 2008, and his definition still stands true: "A social media release should contain everything necessary to share and discover a story in a way that is complementary to your original intent; but, the difference is, how they find it and the tools they use to share and broadcast. Social media is one big extension to the web, except it promotes voices, along with content, in a way that focuses on people and their social networks."
The advancements of the Internet and of social channels has made the traditional format of a press release less effective as journalists, press members and readers crave small chunks of succinct details that incorporate social media, linking and multimedia to make it more digestible and relevant. The quicker, easier and more creatively you can get your point or message across, the more likely it is to be picked up, shared, re-tweeted, or more. And one thing you should not overlook is the use of keywords. It will help your search engine optimization and get your point across quickly yet effectively.
"The pivotal change is that the consumer owns as much of the message of your brand as any traditional vehicle," Turner notes. "Whereas PR professionals used to target journalists to get a story placed, a social media press release is about targeting three different people: journalists, bloggers and most importantly consumers. It needs to make sense to all of them individually."
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How to Write a Social Media Press Release: Elements of a Social Media Press Release
Once you've determined that you need to write a press release incorporating social media, if you have an understanding of traditional releases, it shouldn't be hard to grasp the essential elements that need to be included. You can talk to five different PR professionals and they'll tell you differently where these elements need to fit into your release, but they need to be there in some capacity.
1. Headline: exactly as it says, focus on brevity. Get to the point and don't try to be too creative. A few keywords should get the job done.
2. Secondary headline (optional): If you have an extremely important nugget of information that you think will get users to read on, put it here. Otherwise, skip to the overview.
3. Overview: A brief summary of the release and what you're covering. This is where you will hook the reader or lose them, so keep it under two paragraphs, use keywords and put real thought into every single sentence.
4. Body: The so-called meat of the release, this should be the news. Don't scatter bias in here; just lay the facts out for what you are pitching (think about it like a journalist would, and cover the who, when what, where, why and how).
5. Facts: You need some statistical data or bullet points to back up your claim from above. This information should be easily shareable so if someone wanted to pull this right out of your release, they could.
6. About the Company: Very brief company bio with a link to your website, Twitter feed and Facebook fan page.
7. Multimedia links: The social aspect of the release, this should include videos on YouTube, images, RSS feeds and more. You don't want people to be driven away from your message, but you want to be seen as a useful resource.
8. Relevant links: This is a good way to promote your company and what you've done a bit more. If you have related releases, include links to them here. While this particular product might not be a fit, if you've kept someone's interest this long, they may find your other products of use.
9. Tags: Recommended sharing methods, whether via social bookmarking sites, Twitter hashtags or Facebook fan pages.
10. Contact: This may sometimes be overlooked, but don't forget to include your name, email, Twitter alias and more. If you are willing to put all of that info out there and stand behind your release, it lends it a bit more credibility.
Dig Deeper: How to Write a Press Release
How to Write a Social Media Press Release: Biggest Mistakes to Avoid
While the elements you do focus on are relatively uniform, there are also things that can quickly turn your social media release into junk mail or a one-time visit from a journalist, customer or blogger. Those mistakes include:
• The release is too focused on your company and not on the product or service you are offering. Let the user learn about your company when they want to visit your website.
• Content is full of marketing lingo rather than being conversational/shareable
• Written to appeal to a broad audience on the web as opposed to specific bloggers or consumers.
"A traditional press release focuses on a product launch or putting a product into seasonal contact, and the main purpose is to either get print coverage or blog coverage," says Michelle Olson, an account director at New York's The Lane Communications Group, where she focuses on beauty and skin care companies. "But a social campaign is not only launching a brand new product, it's launching a new social component, whether it's a website, instructional YouTube video, or something similar. Because users always want something extra now, whether that's online or at the retailer. The better your social media presence, the more apt people are to try out your product."
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How to Write a Social Media Press Release: Distribution of the Release
Distribution is obviously vital to the success of a traditional press release. There are plenty of free and paid services offered for public relations professionals, but it really depends on the reach you are looking for out of your campaign. Are you looking for local or national coverage? Do you want bloggers or traditional journalists? Do you want it to be a one-time hit or a viral campaign? These are all questions you should ask yourself before you begin distribution. In terms of social media releases, however, the process is a bit different.
"Social media releases can be effective but it's a good idea to put content into networks, where people are looking for it. But something that people don't really realize is that social media releases can't be distributed," according to Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media at PRNewswire, a paid press release distribution service. "They can be spidered by search engines, and shared - but they can't be pushed by wire services. Many multimedia-type releases just sit on the vendor site. If there's no real distribution, it's best to have this sort of great content pulling traffic to your own web site."
Since they can't be distributed by traditional means, it becomes even more imperative that your release be inherently shareable, tweetable and likeable on social channels.
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How to Write a Social Media Press Release: Measuring Engagement and Following Up After the Release
It's next to impossible to measure success of a social media press release without setting up a type of measurement, which needs to be done before you send out the release. Turner recently wrote a post on Mashable.com about How To Calculate The ROI of Your Social Media Campaign. In essence, there are three types of measurement to focus on in any social campaign, those being qualitative, quantitative and ROI. For marketing directors, they should be most focused on ROI. But for public relations professionals, it's really the other two that matter most.
"In terms of PR, you want to know not only who is sharing the information that your release provides, but how they are sharing it," Turner adds. "So in terms of quantitative, it's all about raising the number of Facebook likes, Twitter shares, and more. From a qualitative measurement perspective, it's really about what they are saying about your information. For example, are they calling your product cheap or inexpensive? From a branding perspective, those two words have a considerably different meaning, so you sometimes need to help guide the conversation."
And Turner's final point there is one of the biggest things you must do as a PR professional when writing a social media press release—engage. Just as you want your customers, journalists and bloggers to actively share the product and come back for more, the key to social is making it a two-way conversation. If someone asks a question about the campaign, respond quickly. If they want to know where they can find more information, write them a message or direct them to the company website.
"No customer wants to call a 1-800 number anymore," Olson adds. "Everyone wants to take their question and post it on the company Facebook page or tweet about it and then receive an instant response. So as a PR person, you need to make the consumer feel like a VIP in a way by giving them that personal touch. Because in a way, social media campaigns can be less expensive than traditional advertising and it can be a great alternative for smaller companies to try and compete with larger brands. But if you don't concern yourself with engagement, it can really hurt you and you could lose a customer."
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LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.