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Baby steps in Social Media News Releases

The thinking goes: the old fashioned press release, with its carefully-crafted marketing-speak, stilted quotes and page or two of text is on the way out. First, the intended audience (journalists) don’t trust the content. Second, it doesn’t fit with the multimedia format of broadcast and online news. Third, in an age of blogging and citizen journalism, there’s a wider audience out there for the raw information sans spin.

The Social Media News Release (SMNR) updates the old press notice and video news release for a social media age. Factual bullet points instead of marketingese. Embedded video and images for media outlets and bloggers to use. Social bookmarking buttons to help users to spread the word. Related documents and context to help the lazy or time-poor to put the report in context.

smnr

I think there’s a real opportunity for government press officers here: by preparing more engaging news releases, we can give stretched media organisations the raw materials they need to cover public sector stories, help set the context of our programmes and announcements, and strengthen trust in government as a source of authoritative, credible information. The example of the H1N1 swine flu materials published by the US Center for Disease Control is a rather nice one, complete with embeddable widgets.

Rather haphazardly, I’ve been trying to do the same for some of the launches I’ve worked on. Early attempts were very basic. A more recent effort (with more planning) was a bit more comprehensive. But now, I’ve got the luxury of piloting it properly, with Rhys Stacker – a former DIUS press officer and talented photographer – and Elliot Reuben at the helm.

Naively, I initially thought we could write a spec for a software tool to help us deliver SMNRs, and roll it out. It quickly became clear that actually, there are more cultural change and technical obstacles involved in preparing, creating, publishing, promoting and assessing SMNRs than I first realised. There seem to be four main challenges:

  1. Getting the right content: capturing content with the appropriate tone, quality and range
  2. Publishing it in the right format: finding a platform which presents it right, including multimedia files which others can take and reuse, and publishing it in a timely way
  3. Promoting it to the right people: identifying who might be interested (e.g. specialist bloggers) and telling them about the release
  4. Tracking its impact: assessing who is using it, how, and how it could be improved

We’re trying out PressItt, a free hosted SMNR service, which Rhys used today to collate an SMNR about our minister’s opening of a new research facility – complete with high resolution images and a podcast of the minister’s speech. To my mind, it’s an impressive effort – simply converting and publishing the various components. And it’s step forward from our first attempt, which featured video clips of the launch of DIUS’ Learning Revolution – but which took 3 days to finally edit and publish.

This is still a relatively new and untested area of digital engagement for UK government, so we’re still feeling our way through successfully completing the process itself, let alone successful outcomes from it. But to my mind, that’s exactly where we should be, hence my documenting our baby steps.

Learnings so far? Planning is everything: know what we can capture, and line up the people and gear to do it. Editing and uploading takes time. Busy press officers can’t realistically take this on as a new responsibility – it needs dedicated focus and expertise, at least for now. Promotion is tricky – tools like Social Media Library offer the promise of helping us target the right bloggers and tweeters alongside our corporate channels, but it’s too soon to tell what really works. The process is getting quicker with practice: while brands like Ford have produced impressive SMNRs, they’re focussing on big product launches, rather than the types of regular events and publications we’re currently aiming to cover in this way.

We’ll keep on trying, and seeing what works, and look forward to feedback and suggestions as we go.

16 Comments

  1. Wow, is it really three years since PR Squared published that? I remember reading it and it really knocking my socks off and influencing my thinking for a long time afterwards.
    This is a fascinating piece of work. Many large corporates, not just government, are struggling with it, and your highlighting of some of the practical barriers demonstrates that you can’t just change overnight.
    But brilliant work none the less, and lighting the way for many others. Lots of others are talking about it, not many are actually doing it.

  2. Thanks for trying out Pressitt, we are really committed to implementing user feedback and continually updating the service with new social media functionality, drop us a line if you have any thoughts or ideas that we could use to help better the SMNR service.

  3. Good stuff here; impressive. And yea, I *also* can’t believe it’s been 3 years. Actually, the anniversary is just next week. Thanks, in any case, for helping to move the ball forward.

  4. The traditional press or news release if you prefer is much valued by government press offices the world over. However this much vaunted communication tool is under threat. You need to ask the question how does a government department release news.

    Traditionally via a press release. However could not a blog entry be a form of press release. You are a busy HMA or government figure increasingly your select blog audience are the press. They take quotes direct from the blog as they would have past taken from the press release. You are asked what is your position on the Eurovision? you could reply “see my blog”. If a government official has presumed competency to publish blogs and takes responsibility for that content, in effect they bypass the traditional press office. This raises the question does government web communication weaken a press office or does it have the opportunity to renew and enhance their power?

    Can a blog ever replace the press release? perhaps not the web can affect how they are written, what they will contain and how they are delivered.

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

  5. Thanks all – it’s worth emphasising perhaps that though I’m the one writing about it here, all the real work is being done by my team.

    @Andy: thanks, will do. So far, so good.

    @Todd: thanks for stopping by. I love the PR Squared strapline, btw.

    Incidentally, it’s a testament to the new world we’re in that over the weekend, I’ve had comments from five colleagues, the people who run the software I’m talking about and the people who came up with the original concept.

  6. I think you may be onto something, and so do some of the team here, hence our launch last week of something more WordPress-based with a longer lifespan:

    http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon/

    What I’m still not sure about is the audience for SMNRs, especially for policy launches. How many bloggers/social reporters/online journalists want those kinds of assets, and are they enough? What are we adding beyond materials on more standard platforms e.g. Flickr/YouTube/Slideshare?

    And the longer term goal may, as you say, not be an SMNR at all, but a blogging policy area, or even (toying with this idea at the moment) a cross-government platform for policy deliberation to help aggregate audiences as well as make links between issues. It sounds like rationalisation, but it shouldn’t be like that – it’s more like a sort of souped-up Write To Reply which goes beyond commenting and presents the full policy package in formats which people can talk about there or elsewhere based on the assets and nuggets provided. Hmmm.

    This comment was originally posted on OUseful.Info, the blog…

  7. @lesteph “What I’m still not sure about is the audience for SMNRs, especially for policy launches. How many bloggers/social reporters/online journalists want those kinds of assets, and are they enough? What are we adding beyond materials on more standard platforms e.g. Flickr/YouTube/Slideshare?”

    What I originally started collected links for a post on social media press releases, I thought they sounded a good idea just because… But as I thought more about it, I came round more to th opinion of “yeah, and…. so what exactly?”

    Thinking about my own reuse of media, the reuse cases demonstrated by other people I subscribe to, and even some of the trad media’s online output (BBC and Guardian technology blogs, for example), it’s possible to see how we all reuse content that either we want to amplify further or comment on in some way.

    And looking at my own web stats, I can also see how much the influence links on twitter can have in terms of driving traffic to my site.

    This ‘amplification by 3rd party linking’ means that if a media release is actually in the form of a blog post, for example, then people linking to it through Twitter, delicious, facebook, or wherever, or favouriting or liking it in their feed reader will drive traffic to it. But how much traffic gets driven back to press releases, even social media ones, from links on social networks? (This is something I guess BIS might be able to report on?)

    The trad press release was fine for a news cycle that ran according to daily schedules, rather than real time, and sought to provide quotes that the media could reuse in their own copy. (My current default reminder of how this works is http://ouseful.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/playing-fair-mps-expenses-and-a-tale-of-three-media/ )

    The social media release is an updating of this to account for new media, but it may assumes that new media publishing works in a similar way to the old media? That is, it mayb mises the trick that new media publishers *want and expect* to link back to the ’source’.

    How many items in the trad media link back, as a rule, to the originating press release?

    Are social media releases designed so that they can act as link targets for posts that draw on the resources contained in them?

    Traditional press releases seem (to me) to be designed to act as a source of material that other parties can draw on freely in their own publications (and as such act as part of a PR machine for whoever produced the release). The press release itself was not intended to be a part of the story.

    But for a social media release, maybe it needs to be desgined for people to draw on and use to illustrate their own posts, *whilst at the same time acting as a target link for those 3rd party posts*?

    In a world where ‘transparency’ is coming to mean ’show us the evidence/where this came from’, the traditional press release (which was never intended to have a public audience anyway) is maybe showing its age?

    This comment was originally posted on OUseful.Info, the blog…

  8. I think you may have nailed it there. Hence blogs (a finished article, so to speak) may be a stronger proposition than the raw material, ironically in these data-oriented times.

    That’s not to say the other argument for SMNRs – providing more engaging assets for cash-strapped media and others to use elsewhere – doesn’t still stand. But then the quality and targetting of those assets needs to be really good, and the ’story’ needs to be happening elsewhere, not just via the SMNR itself.

    This comment was originally posted on OUseful.Info, the blog…

  9. Hi Aidan – I think you raise a good point. In and of itself, a fall in average time on site doesn’t necessarily mean that people are spending less time on your site because they can’t find the information they need.

    I think, however, when it’s combined with a rise in bounce rate, particularly over the same period of time both month-on-month and year-on-year, it could mean that there is a degree of disengagement which can’t be combatted with just improving existing web copy. Using a new method of delivering content can help improve this, though perhaps I should add that this itself needs measurement over a period of time.

    This comment was originally posted on Technical Faults

  10. Interesting post. I think higher education establishments are getting better at using social media.I work for a firm, that amongst other things, specialises in social media consultancy for colleges and universities. I wrote a blog post about how FEs should approach social media that may be of interest. You cna find it at http://www.netnatives.co.uk.

    This comment was originally posted on OUseful.Info, the blog…

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