Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Storm: Social News Releases

Social news releases are taking the public relations field by storm. Just like regular thunderstorms, some people love them. They curl up, read books, and watch the clouds pour out rain. And then there are those who despise storms. They see them as dangerous and obtrusive to their daily plans. Like the storm or not, it has arrived.

Social news releases are multimedial releases that often feature things such as video clips, citations, links, blog posts, rss feeds, and more. The format most commonly used was created by a man named Todd Defren in 2006 (http://www.pr-squared.com/). This one-stop news release is loaded with information that journalists can take or leave. Regardless of how they use it, this release's multiple functions display the basic attributes of a traditional press release, plus much more. The much more is what enables so many individuals to learn from it, use it how they like, and pass it along in an easy and accurate way. Some individuals are such strong advocates for this new release format that they insist on literally killing the old, traditional format. Tom Forenski wrote a post that described just this: http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/. Forenski outlines many reasons that a pr professional should in fact put on their slicker and enjoy the rain.

So why should pr folks use this format and not the traditional format? Well, first let me say that a pr person, especially those operating around an older generation of professionals, should not eliminate the traditional format. Why not? The goal is to reach as many people as possible and that includes those who still use the format which is now considered "out of date" by so many. With that in mind, using the social news release is essential. First, most journalists are internet users. This means that they are probably technologically savvy and will utilize and appreciate this format. Next, the social news release format is viewed as less of a "spin" and more of a presentation of facts that can be used however the journalist sees fit. It aggregates a variety of components that create an overall look at both the news that is being promoted, as well as the company or organization behind the release. Finally, it creates more buzz about your company by providing numerous links to other social media that your company is utilizing. It optimizes your search engine numbers, making you easier to find by those who are "pulling" for you!

Storms are scary and sometimes if not properly prepared for, can cause some damage. So, like a storm, prepare for using a social news release. Learn how to use it and when to use it. Be ready so that when the time comes you will have your umbrella or slicker and be more than prepared to walk in the rain with the social media pros.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Join the social network party!

Social networks have evolved and it is essential that PR professionals become aware of this evolution. These networks are no longer just for kids to play games on, teenagers to observe their crush, and adults to search for old friends. Social networks, like a faucet, were merely leaking into the professional field a few years ago. Now with the water streaming full force, businesses are joining these networks everyday; thus, public relations professionals must understand how and why to use these extremely beneficial tools.

How? A good place for novices to start is http://www.commoncraft.com/. This site offers simple guides for using social networks. Another option is for professionals to look at what other companies are doing. How are those in a similar field utilizing these tools? If you work in pr for a theme park check and see what other theme parks are doing. This is not to suggest you should model just what they have done, but it is a great way to start.

Why utilize these networks? Why not? Obviously they can cost money and time; however, not to join would be like seeing a huge party outside your house with lots of free prizes and choosing to stay inside. Maybe you don't go to the social network party because you are scared. Scared of doing or saying something wrong, or simply wasting your time (or someone else's). These are all logical thoughts; however, they are all preventable.

In order to prevent "saying something wrong", I would advise companies to take social networking seriously. Never say or imply something that you would not put on a billboard or in a magazine ad. Simply be aware that this is just another form of advertising. Social networks can be used in a variety of ways. They may offer surveys, videos, RSS feeds, discussions and more. The opportunities are endless. Take for example Pizza Hut's use of facebook. Customers are now able to order pizza via facebook! With over 307,000 friends, Pizza Hut is certainly making good use of social networking.

Do not waster your time or other's time. If your company's budget is tight, then limit the amount of time you spend working on these networks. Your company may choose to hire one person to devote all their time to this endeavor. If so, make certain they are aware of the message you want to send to publics. Not doing so, may lead to inconsistency and this is the last thing pr folks want to do. A company should have a single voice and that voice is lead by the public relations specialists. It is also important to remember to be honest in social networks, encourage interaction, and participate in other groups. This creates more links to your page; thus, more face time.

Utilizing social networks such as facebook, myspace, and twitter can be challenging, yet rewarding. At the end of the day, I am certain you will be glad you joined the networking party (it beats staying in!).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Counting Chickens

A feed or really simple syndication (RSS), carries a message such as text-based blog entries, audio files, and news.These feeds often result from items that are updated regularly and have subscribers. These feeds are commonly full text in addition to some metadata.
The most obvious benefits to these feeds is that they are free of charge (for the most part, for now), quick and automatic. The fact that this medium is free is highly important. I think about garage sales. Do you ever recall going to a yard sale and there was that big bag on it that said "FREE"? I do. This is like an RSS feed in that we all see it, we are surprised by it, and intrigued; yet, if we take it we usually only like the stuff in the bag for a few days before we realize it is mostly junk. I say all this in both a positive and negative way. It is free (yay!). It is free (all this is mine?) . In addition to being monetarily free, an RSS is quick and somewhat hassle free for the organizations that use them. This means a number of things for those organizations. First, there is very little concern over "will the message go out in time?". Through an RSS, information is sent immediately upon update; thus, outside of the IT individual, no real time is spent in the delivering process. Next, this quickness fits in with the fast paced world that we live in. With everyone always in a hurry, this feed enables those on the go users to get the information they want. Which brings me to my next point.

RSS feeds enable users to get exactly what they want. We live in a country where we choose what type of drink we want, what color we want our hair to be, and what career we want to have. Now, with RSS feeds, we can choose what news we want to read. Although, we've always chosen what news we read, now we get to read ONLY what we find interesting. There is little or no wading through the unwanted stuff (making the assumption the subscriber subscribes only to the info. they want). This is beneficial in that it matches our interests specifically; however, it may create an unvaried makeup. Consider this: if a person continually gets the same information, from the same (hopefully unbiased, but lets be realistic, probably not) source, they may never be exposed to something different from what they believe. From a cognitive dissonance standpoint, this is a comfort, but consider all those times we change our views ( we are undoubtedly fickle). RSS feeds could potentially inhibit new viewpoints in an already very divided and stubborn society. Let's take a look at the other threat that results from that "more of the same" concept.

I think about when I subscribe to a magazine. At first, I am so excited everytime I open the mailbox. However, after about the 5th month or so, that magazine is not so intriguing. The articles begin looking the same and my time is precious, so I sometimes just toss that fun little mag to the side. So I wonder? Do RSS feeds, after time, get tossed to the side? That is, do people really read all those notifications every single time? Here's the issue. Organizations have no way of knowing; therefore, I feel this is the biggest weakness of a feed. When a medium is producing results, yet there is no way to measure them, companies risk counting their chickens before they are hatched.

RSS feeds are free, quick, and automatic; however, those that receive them may become bored or even suffer from information overload. With no precise manner to measure their readership, organizations must be careful not to assume a feed is truly carrying and delivering the message.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Blogging: A fickle, yet fun and fiercely entertaining feature that many companies are utilizing. So why do "many" utilize this social media, while some choose to remain "sitting in the dark?" I can't help but recall that I was one of those in that dark room up until about three weeks ago. So what draws people or organizations to these ever-changing diaries? Is it the real-life reenactment or its trendy nature? Is it the personal touch it contributes to a tall dark skyscraper? Or the blue eyes it adds to the face of the CEO? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do have an opinion. So, the question remains. To blog or not to blog?

The latter, of course. BLOG! After taking in B.J. Ochman's controversial article, "10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn't Blog", I was still not persuaded that a blog is detrimental to a company. First, Ochman claims that a blog is "guaranteed" to join all the other blogs that people do not read. My immediate thought is "I can tell your glass is half empty." With so many popular blogs, there is always that chance a company's blog could succeed. Ochman goes on to say that blogs require constant reading; thus, they take up too much time. I say read on! Most professionals read something, and to me that something is probably enough to create a blog per week from. Ochman then writes that blogs are not cheap, nor are they a "quick fix". Although I agree with her there, I must point out that blogs are sweeping the nation and the world. It is similiar to the question that many organizations faced years ago. Should we build a website for our customers/publics? This was not extremely cheap, nor was it a quick fix; however, it is easy to see now that making information accessible via a website is essential! There are millions of websites, but that is certainly no reason not to create one. Putting information out there is the best way to reach out to those who may want to reach back. Finally, Ochman says that you must work to drive individuals to your blog. Although this can be a hassle, I still think "So what?" All good mediums require work and even though results aren't immediate, they are still very real.

Blogs can be used in unique ways. I recently saw a show on HGTV entitled "Blog Cabin". This blog was created for viewers to build their own log cabin by blogging about the features they desired in the layout of a log cabin home. The producers developed a final product based off the blog, and created a show about building this "Blog Cabin". How inventive! Even though like Ochman said, this was not cheap, it was seemingly effective and fun! It "pulled" viewers in because they had a part in it.

Blogging, although time consuming and sometimes costly, is an new, helpful way companies and individuals can relate to their friends/publics. I believe there are more pros than cons in blogging, so I'll say it: "Blog on!".