Master Class: How can social media be used to extend the reach of a press release?

This month's panel addresses social media and press releases.

Tom Becktold
VP of marketing, Business Wire

Andy Keith
Digital strategy manager, Weber Shandwick

Paolina Milana
VP of marketing, Marketwire

Michael Pranikoff
Director of emerging media, PR Newswire

Scott Van Sickle
Account director, The Hoffman Agency

Tom Becktold, VP of marketing, Business Wire
Press releases should be written so that they are search engine optimized for the terms and keywords your audiences use in their discussions and searches. Placed on an optimized platform and widely distributed to information portals, your release will help audiences find your news. 
The compelling content, including bulleted highlights, photos and multimedia, and hyperlinks to background information, along with easy sharing features for social media sites, bookmarking sites, and blogs, enable social media participants to share and engage in conversations about your news. Your thoughtful interaction in social media forums – including alerting your Twitter followers to the availability of your news and making it available on your Facebook fan page and public profile – gives you an opportunity to reference your press releases as appropriate to spur further dialogue on issues important to both you and your targeted groups. 
In this way, social media expands a press release's reach by exposing it to a large audience that might not have seen it otherwise. And because this audience is often looking for news in a specific category (health, tech, political, sports, entertainment, etc.), they are more likely to be interested in your news, hold conversations about it, and share it with other interested consumers.
Social media provides opportunities for a press release to engage target audiences in the online communities they frequent the most, without depending on media coverage.

A well-written release is still the most critical element for success in engaging reporters, consumers, or thought leaders. Social media encourages this engagement by making it easy for readers to find, share, and comment on the stories they find most interesting.

Andy Keith, digital strategy manager, Weber Shandwick
Social media is essentially an evolved form of old-fashioned word of mouth – after all, “news” is what people are discussing with friends, family, and coworkers. Because the social Web makes it possible for virtually anyone to take on the role of publisher, pundit, or critic, it allows for that discussion to be amplified many times over as news moves through the network and is linked, blogged, and commented upon. Keeping this dynamic in mind, there are two ways to extend the reach of a news release using social media.

The first is to package news in a Web-friendly format, such as a social media release, which incorporates video and images, as well as keywords, tags, and links that facilitate search visibility and sharing across multiple networks and social bookmarking sites. You want the release to be easily discovered, reused, embedded, shared, and linked, not only by media outlets, but also by countless bloggers, citizen journalists, and everyday people who share news with their friends and followers across multiple sites, forums, and networks.
The second is to leverage relationships online. The value of having ongoing, trusted relationships with bloggers and other key online influencers can't be overstated. The social Web prizes authenticity: a blogger may reach a niche audience relative to a media outlet, but may be a trusted source because he or she is authentically a doctor, sports fan, musician, investor, law professor, movie buff, political pundit, environmentalist, or mom. That blogger's readership will likely be more enthusiastic about their specific topic than the public at large, and more inclined to link news and posts on their other networks. To establish those trusted relationships, regularly read the bloggers who matter in your space, participate in comments sections, provide information, and be a resource for others.

Paolina Milana, VP of marketing, Marketwire
Social media promises business communicators a fertile new world of consumers, businesspeople, and journalists full of passion and commitment to their issues. These people can make or break brands. Blogs, social communities, and online forums present untapped opportunities for press releases. Proceed with caution, though: Communicating in this world requires a new mindset.
Social media is a peer-to-peer landscape where credibility and honesty from “someone like me” trump corporate-marketing speak. Steer clear of traditional “top-down” b-to-b and b-to-c thinking. Do your homework to learn what people are saying about your brand, product, service, executives, industry, and competitors, including their words and tone. Be sure to track issues and trends. Google Blog Search, IceRocket, Technorati, Nielsen BuzzMetrics' Blog Pulse and My Yahoo are free tools to help you find bloggers and monitor online buzz.
Once you understand your target social media landscape, there are certain things to keep in mind when drafting your social media press release.
Be sure to include key words and phrases that your audience uses, making sure they are in the headline and first paragraph so they appear in search engine results pages.
Keep your content rich and substantive, incorporating the conversational themes of your target social communities. Look to avoid empty promotional verbiage.
Include live links to relevant supportive information, and also categorize content, using bullets and short phrases for key points so people can easily find and forward it.
Fill quotes with useful information and make it easy for people to contact key company spokespersons.
Incorporating video, images, and audio is also helpful, as multimedia is great for journalists and bloggers who want to create visibility for their own sites.
In all, press releases are great vehicles to carry your messages to social media – as long as you “play by the rules.”

Michael Pranikoff, director of emerging media, PR Newswire
By incorporating tools such as video sharing, search optimization, and social media tagging, you can extend the life and reach of a press release in a multitude of ways creating a multifunctional, multidimensional communications hub. This has transformed the release into an action-oriented message-delivery platform that enables organizations to connect and engage directly with consumers, the media, bloggers, investors, partners, and other stakeholders, creating a cycle of communication that links and feeds on itself.
Grassroots, word-of-mouth techniques are an extremely effective means of generating interest in something and social media tools embedded within press releases have a similar effect.  The viral impact of allowing audiences to share relevant information with their own network of people, whether on Digg, Delicious, Facebook, Twitter, or even in their own blogs, extends the reach of an organization's message to audiences who share common interests and who are most likely to act upon the information. Many times these are audiences the organization may not have been able to identify on their own.
Over the years, professional communicators have primarily used press releases to “push” information out. However, the heart of social media rests in an individual's ability to “pull” content that is germane to his or her interests, and spread the information to others who share the same passions.
The press release is an ever-evolving tool in the professional communicator's arsenal. Online distribution, and now social media, have redefined the reach and effectiveness of press releases. Capitalizing on social media tools and abilities adds another dimension to your overall communications plan.

Scott Van Sickle, account director, The Hoffman Agency
In so many ways, social media and press releases illustrate how the PR world is being totally transformed. Social media represent the disruptive, chaotic, interactive model that terrifies corporate communicators the world over. Press releases symbolize the traditional, controlled approach to announcing news – and frankly controlled PR is dying.
Social media can extend the reach of press releases when they address mainstream issues. So which announcements qualify? The best ones tell great stories that spur viral growth in the blogosphere, on Twitter, and in online forums and communities. Boring stories and jargon-filled press releases simply don't work.
Next, social media is fundamentally about engagement, an ongoing conversation. At The Hoffman Agency, we often provide influential bloggers with “snack news,” including sneak previews, graphics and valuable information. We use this approach to connect with VIP contacts to share forthcoming news and insights that we may not share with anyone else.
Finally, key influencers – whether in the blogosphere, Twitter, or other social media channels – need a way to tell their unique story. When PR pros fail to understand these concepts, we see high-profile bloggers rant.
To provide bloggers and others with information and graphics, we recommend developing a microsite to help manage news. Headlines and URLs often highlight hot issues, not company or product information. In addition, the site provides bloggers and other influencers with a wide range of elements – from video, graphics, and easy–to- reference information – that they can use any way they need to tell their unique story.
Microsites are not worthwhile for every announcement. Yet when the announcement tells a compelling story – and addresses key social issues – the microsite can enhance press releases and generate strong viral coverage. 

The takeaway:

• Optimizing press releases for keywords and phrases can help increase pickup

• Including multimedia and live links within press releases can help to extend visibility

• Releases should include mechanisms to easily share information

• Ongoing outreach and relationships with bloggers and online communities is
necessary to help increase possible coverage of a release

• Microsites can offer an alternative method to present information found in a press release in a way that is more accessible to bloggers and other influencers

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