What Makes A Killer Social Media Press Release?

Last week, I received an absolutely incredible press release; a vivid, kinetic preview of an event, the ROI Summit, entitled “The Future is Here.” The ROI social media press release (SMPR) included photos, a twitter pitch, recent news, online resource links, featured Summit participants, videos, and of course…the pitch. Toby Dershowitz, of The Dershowitz Group, was kind enough to talk about how the company crafted the SMPR, best practices, how to measure the success of a SMPR, and predictions about the future of the social media press release.

What did you want to feature in the ROI social media press release?

We wanted to highlight three things:

  1. The vision of Lynn Schusterman, who has made the ROI Community her signature philanthropic project.
  2. The members of the ROI network – their ideas, their energy and idealism, and their achievements.
  3. Links that give you access to various parts of ROI’s online network.

What are the best practices in creating a social media press release?

Social media press releases are a few years old, but I have yet to see anything I’d deem best practices. What works best – and what doesn’t work at all – is rather fuzzy. SMPRs are still a work in progress.

That said, the general rule of thumb is to serve up the information, stories, and resources in a variety of appetizing ways. The standard press release, filled with useful links, serves as the spine of the SMPR. (Or, if you think like a blogger, it’s the main post, with comments at the bottom.) Sidebar layouts vary as much as blogs do: embedded videos, factoids, a Twitter pitch, resource links, Facebook buttons, and more. Contact info should obviously be in there too – and Pitchengine does a nice job of tucking those details up top, where a click initiates an elegant reveal.

But it’s hard to nail down best practices for a platform that hasn’t yet proven itself. As Mark Evans says: “In theory, I love the idea of the social media press release but in practice it hasn’t been a home run.”

Do you use a template of any kind? Do you modify it?

We used Pitchengine.com to build our SMPRs, mostly because they offered the best mix of functionality, design, and cost (free). We didn’t modify the Pitchengine template because that’s not an option. Placement of the elements is also fixed.

My guess is two things will happen soon: Platforms like Pitchengine will offer more flexibility in layout and design; and lots of people will awaken to the fact that an SMPR is just a web page, and they’ll design a template for their own websites. That provides more control – and enables you to host it on your own domain.

Is there any rule of thumb as to which elements work the best to get the attention of writers and journalists to cover a story?

Our rule of thumb for an SMPR is the same as for any press release – or, for that matter, any form of communication: have something worth saying that your audience wants to hear. To that end, I’d argue that the title and the first few lines of the release are still key. Give people a reason to keep reading… and viewing… and clicking.

The media mix also matters. Diversifying your media allows for more diversity in your media coverage, more quickly. A newspaper can lift text from the body of your SMPR, the evening news (or increasingly popular online TV) can grab and embed a video clip, a radio station can play a sound bite straight from the website, and a blogger can retweet whatever piece of information strikes her fancy.

What service do you recommend for the press release distribution? Any particular reason why you chose Pitchengine?

We chose Pitchengine for a few reasons. First, we liked the template. It was user-friendly both for us and for those to whom we’ve sent it. It was easy to upload video and photos. Essentially, It provides users access to more of the newsroom, not just the release. We’ve received great feedback so far, though I imagine some of that is the novelty (for most people). Pitchengine is also free.

Our goal is to encourage clients to host their own SMPRs as extensions of their own sites. Because that’s all they really are – web pages. Self-hosting has several benefits:

  • The SMPR will carry your own URL, which is better for SEO.
  • The template will be consistent with the rest of your site, which is better for branding.
  • You don’t make users go from (for example) an email with a traditional press release… to the Pitchengine site to view an enhanced, media-rich version (the SMPR)… to your site to access more resources. Every click you require is another hurdle which may prompt readers to go somewhere else.

Is there a way to calculate click-throughs or views of the social media elements?

Pitchengine has a page view counter. Unfortunately, it does not have individual analytics for all the various elements. Of course, if you send out the SMPR, and the videos which you host elsewhere suddenly see a spike in traffic, then it’s a safe bet that the SMPR had something to do with it.

To measure click-throughs – you could use a URL shortener such as bit.ly to measure which links are most popular (although that adds extra steps to setting up the page). As for the Twitter pitch, you can always search to see who Tweeted it. And by substituting your own URL shortener for the one Pitchengine automatically inserts, you can also track how many people found your SMPR through the Twitter pitch.

How could one measure the success of a SMPR?

I’d measure the success of an SMPR in these ways:

  1. How many people read it (or at least loaded the page)?
  2. How many click-throughs?
  3. How many retweets?
  4. But most importantly: Did the SMPR help you reach whatever strategic goal you (hopefully) established at the outset? Did you recruit more members? Raise more money? Get more exposure for our advertisers? Did you engage more people in your project?

In the end, the point is not simply to play all the SMPR’s bells & whistles. The point is to communicate more effectively, and achieve your long-term goals.

Anything else you want to add?

I’d reiterate the point I made earlier: SMPRs are very much a work in progress. And since most media on line is already “social,” they may not be called SMPRs for much longer. Companies like Pitchengine will have to evolve from their current form, mostly because their value-added – a nicely designed template hosted on their servers – will soon be easy for people to configure and host on their own.

Remember the movie called Spellbound? Not the Hitchcock film, but the 2002 documentary about the National Spelling Bee. What was impressive was the filmmaker, who used relatively inexpensive video equipment (a few cameras and a Mac workstation) to produce a feature film that went into theatrical release. And he financed it (mostly) by maxing out his credit cards.

What’s the connection to SMPRs? The tools at his – and our – disposal seem to be multiplying every day. Countless new ways to communicate… new platforms… new formats… it’s dizzying, really. But pretty cool, too.

It’s as if we’re all painters, and we’ve suddenly been given a whole new spectrum of colors. But the challenge remains the same: What are we trying to communicate? What’s worth sharing? What’s your story?

Toby Dershowitz is President of The Dershowitz Group. She is the author of two “how to” manuals dealing with the press entitled “Communicating with the Media” and “Making Your Mark on the Media” and has worked for more than 25 years in Washington on domestic and foreign policy issues. The Dershowitz Group specializes in high-end strategic communications, imaginative media and public affairs consulting, legislative strategy, crisis preparedness, policy initiatives and diplomatic event management. They are located in Washington, D.C.

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at communityorganizer20.com and regularly provides advice and commentary to our eJewish Philanthropy community.