Over the past few months, I've given a lot of thought to Social Media Releases. They are a great tool, but only if used correctly. In the few years that they've been out, there have been a lot of different types and styles, successes and failures, but no real agreed-upon strategy for how to use them.
I think it is time we should start thinking about how exactly to use them, and less about the actual form they should take. My recommended strategy for a course of action when including a Social Media Release in a communications campaign includes four points: Monitoring, Message, Media, and Media Relations.
1.) Monitoring: Paying attention to what is being said about your brand or organization has always been recommended as a first step. As has been said before, social media is a conversation. Just as you would wait until your turn to speak in a real-world conversation, and then say something relevant, you should do the same in an online conversation. Monitoring will help you ensure the timing, nature and relevancy of your message.
2.) Message: This is what the core of the release is. It is why you are making an announcement. It is what you are hoping your audience of bloggers and the online community will care about enough to engage with. As April Dunford recently wrote in the blog post entitled "A Skeptic's Guide To Social Media Press Releases":
"You need to answer the question "Why is this interesting right now?" What is it about your announcement that makes it important information to share right now? If you can make your news relevant to a broader audience than experts in your space, you are well on your way to spectacularness."
If you can't think of a reason why your announcement would be interesting to anyone, you're probably not going to get a lot of media attention.
3.) Media: One of the coolest things about a Social Media Release is that you can include photos, audio and video to accompany the text of the release. However, this doesn't mean that a JPEG of the CEO's head and a television commerical uploaded to YouTube constitute great multimedia content. Instead, you should think about your target audience and what might appeal to them. If it is a product launch, including images of the product in use and with a plain, white background would probably be beneficial to bloggers that might use them. Similarly, including a short video of the product in use might do wonders (but keep it short).
My thought is that a Social Media Release should provide value to the intended audience. The text portion should provide value in that it is informing them about something new. The accompanying media should either reinforce this value, or provide value on their own. One of the reasons I believe that the video CNW Group produced with Mark McKay got picked up online (here and here, for starters) is because it provided educational value by teaching people what a Social Media Release was. Similarly, April Dunford mentions in her post that she also provided a white-paper that showed other companies how they could start a green program in their organization.
4.) Media Relations: Contacting journalists has always been a part of traditional public relations, and it should continue to be a part of public relations in the blogging age. Just because the audience you are trying to reach is online and you might never see them in real life does not mean that you can simply blast them with email. In fact, a huge part of the Social Media Release is the social aspect, and the fact that it is able to connect you and your news with so many people. Research and follow blogs that are relevant to your news - just as you might have different traditional media contacts for different types of news, you will probably want to reach out to different bloggers as well.
5.) Monitoring: As with any communications plan, monitoring success and following up where necessary are an important part. In the case of a campaign involving a Social Media Release, monitoring should include not just checking to see where it got picked up and how it was used. I included Monitoring as both first and last on the list because it marks the beginning of a new communications cycle.
I hardly think that the Social Media Release is the only tool for communicators to reach an online audience, but I do think it is a good one. If you have any thoughts, suggestions or criticisms of my "4M Theory" I'd be happy to hear them.
(As with all of my posts on BlogCampaigning, this reflects my own personal thoughts and opinions. These may not necessarily be the same as those held by my employer, CNW Group).