How Effective Are Social Media Press Releases?

"One danger of social media publicity is that the methodology dictates how a press release is written."

By David P. Kowal

Press releases are becoming as much a social media tool as they are a publicity tool. But how useful are “optimized” and “social media” press releases?

In general, the role of the press release is over-rated. Press releases can still be an effective tool for publicizing breaking news, such as new product announcements, acquisitions and new hires. However, they are not effective for generating publicity in top-tier media.

Top media want exclusivity. A press release tells the reporter that your news is being shared with the world. Top reporters and editors want to be the first to announce news of significance. They generally ignore press releases, unless they get them before general distribution.

Many companies have been using optimized (aka Press Release 2.0) press releases primarily to improve Web site traffic. When wire services are used to distribute press releases, they get wide pick-up by various online sites, ranging from Yahoo Finance to Forbes.com. That increased Web visibility, with links back to your Web site, can be useful. However, such sites are cluttered with press releases that few eyeballs ever see. Check a typical wire service report and you’ll find that only a handful of people have viewed your press release.

Optimized and social media press releases are designed to take advantage of the searchability of these online sites. The optimized release should continue to generate publicity; the social media release is an end in itself and assumes that people using the right key word searches will find it. Media pick-up is irrelevant.

While we’re skeptical about the effectiveness of optimized and social media press releases, there are valid reasons for adopting many of their features:

  • Online media can produce more Web traffic.
  • Print media is folding in many cases; even the best publications are losing circulation. Online publishing is a valid alternative.
  • Competitors are likely using social media techniques – or will be soon.

Regardless, proceed with caution.

You’re Not Michael Jackson

One danger of social media publicity is that the methodology dictates how a press release is written. When, for example, a key word such as “Michael Jackson” is used frequently in a press release, it will help make the release more searchable – but it can be a turnoff for reporters, editors and other readers.

If all aspects of optimization are followed, the final release may be practically unreadable; individuals searching the right terms may find it, but they may not read it.

That said, the following social media tools are worth considering under the right circumstances:

Linked key words. Tools exist for measuring the search popularity of certain terms. Using these key words in press releases with links back to your Web site can help build traffic. One effective key word tool can be found here: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

You can also check your key words against search trends here: http://www.google.com/insights/search/#

Of course, you should keep in mind that it’s more important to attract quality viewers than it is to attract traffic. Don’t, for example, use “Michael Jackson” as a key word if the gloved one has little or nothing to do with the news you’re promoting.

Writing. As with key word pages, how we write a press release helps determine how it will show up in a search. The headline and first paragraph are especially important.

Following optimization rules can help a press release attract eyeballs, but if the release follows the rules, it may be so poorly written and redundant, no one will read it. Try to strike a balance.

Other techniques. What else can you do?

It’s important to put the press release up on your Web site before sending it out on the wire.

Using a statistic from a study in the lead paragraph can help make the release more search-friendly.

An RSS feed encourages republication of news and lets search engines know there’s fresh content on your Web site. An RSS feed would make the release much more likely to be picked up by bloggers and others who get their information via RSS feeds. Some sites, such as Technorati, aggregate information from RSS feeds.

Before considering a social media press release, ask yourself whether the time and cost involved would be better spent on other Web-based promotion, such as developing a blog, adding key word pages or otherwise tweaking your Web site.

Also determine whether your goal is to obtain publicity or to put your release on Web sites that are cluttered with other press releases. The best way to obtain publicity about your company has not changed. Pitching valid news to the right reporters may be hard work, but it will always be more effective that writing a press release that no one will read.

David P. Kowal is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.