How to Write a Social Media Press Release

Company Announcement

It’s incredibly hard to get a social media community interested in a press release, and it’s not because they hate hearing about what your company is up to, it’s just that they hate the way you’re telling the story. Consider some of the approaches the average press release takes.

1. [company/brand name] announces [product/service name]

This press release is boring and will be considered spammy because it simply uses hyperbole to shamelessly promote a company’s product or service.

2. [company/brand name] announces [financial news]

This press release announces that a company is merging with another, has gotten additional funding, etc. And doesn’t really add any value to the experience of the end user (unless you’re announcing something like the Google acquisition of You Tube)

3. [company/brand name] plans [action]

This press release announces that a company plans to do something, i.e. ‘medical company plans to combat disease’. While we’re all for combating disease most social media users would appreciate it if you did it a little more quietly or make it more relevant.

4. [company/brand name] achieves [accomplishment]

This press release just pats its sponsor on the back by boasting what the company has achieved. Sure, we’re happy that you’ve signed up your 100,000th user, but what do you want us to do about it?

Why Regular Press Releases Fail in Social Media

Here are the 3 main reasons why a press release would normally have zero chance of success in social media:

1. They have the wrong singular focus, which is on the company issuing the release.

2. They are full of marketing-speak that inherently engenders mistrust in the eyes of the social media audience.

3. They don’t have a specific audience in mind, and are written broadly and presented blandly.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to want to promote your company, because after all, we all have to make a living. But the social-web audience doesn’t like blatant sales and marketing speak.

How to Make it Work

If you look at Brian’s article from last week, How to Get 6,312 Subscribers to Your Business Blog in One Day, it’s not designed as a press release (nor was it paid for by anyone). Regardless, it accomplishes most of the functions of a good press release.

When I asked Brian about it, he said when he writes press releases, that’s the way he does it. It should be presented as a story that has value to readers first, because if it happens to be picked up by a journalist, you’ve just made his job easier by presenting an angle. That said, Brian told me he rarely bothers with press releases, because if done well, a well-written case study can do better in social media in terms of both exposure and SEO benefits.

Brian’s article worked. It got over 900 Diggs, and made Delicious Popular while attracting 30,000 unique visitors from outside the regular Copyblogger readership. The reason it worked is because it wasn’t directly trying to promote him or his client. Rather this “alternative” press release announces a service and an accomplishment but (this is important) then goes on to create value by explaining what techniques were used to create that success, why these techniques work, and how the audience can replicate the results.

Strategies Used in the Alternative Press Release

The article follows all the advice Brian gives related to strong blogging: a sure-fire headline structure, a strong opening that uses an anecdote that paints a relatable picture, and content that utilizes all the laws of persuasive blogging. But what I found brilliant was that the post is completely social media optimized.

1. The headline is optimized for all three kinds of readers.

2. The post is perfect for diagonal readers.

3. The text formatting is attractive, unlike the bland press releases everywhere else.

4. It’s to the point. There are no words wasted.

5. It creates value by including a step-by-step methodology for others to follow.

This is an excellent example of how putting readers first can provide big rewards in social media, as opposed to spending $200 to issue a press release that no one reads. Find a way to deliver value to people beyond your company news, and more people will take an interest in what you’re doing.

About the Author: Get more social media analysis from Muhammad Saleem over at his blog.

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Comments

  1. I think the most overlooked is creating value to the users. People think that everyone cares as much about their new products as they do.

  2. Good points, Mu. The qualities you’ve listed will indeed make any PR material more palatable for a social media audience.

    But even then, it’s still 50% of the whole game plan, particularly when you are talking about social voting sites or sites where users have editorial power over content relevancy and prominence.

    The other 50% is distribution. Brian had a great article but its quite apparent that its success on Digg was largely due to it being submitted by a certain power user. :)

  3. Morten K. Holst :

    Stop calling it a ‘press release’ and you’re half way there.

  4. @Maki,

    This is the 50% of the game plan that matters the most. If you can get the content right (i.e. ‘social media palatable’), the distributors will come on their own.

    Furthermore, had the content not been done right, it wouldn’t have mattered who submitted the post. Maybe it could’ve gotten to the front-page on account of the submitter’s strength, but it would’ve instantly been buried from there.

    • I totally agree with this. You have to have the content right or its not going to be accepted and published. There’s a pretty strict formula for what will get a journalists attention and time, and most people don’t know how to do it, especially the first time they try or even the 10th. You have to know everything from how to write it right, to how to submit it right, and the right place to submit it too! If you do one of those things wrong, the whole time you spent on it (which can be quite a long time, I’m sure we all know) is totally wasted.

  5. Stop calling it a ‘press release’ and you’re half way there.

    Morten, you are definitely right about that. :) But I think using the old terminology to show how things have evolved might be necessary for some of the “old guard” to get new ideas.

  6. That’s true Brian. When talking (and learning) about it using the term ‘Social Media Press Release’ is paramount; makes the whole concept a lot easier to grasp.

  7. This is the 50% of the game plan that matters the most. If you can get the content right (i.e. ’social media palatable’), the distributors will come on their own.

    @MU

    I do get what you mean but I’ll retain my skepticism. I have seen too many great articles left alone with no altruistic ‘distributors’ picking them up to believe otherwise.

    The ‘Content is King’ mantra has been beaten to death. It’s totally overrated. How many times have you seen a Digg user with a weak profile submit an article..only to get one or two diggs?

    A few days later, a power user will dupe the article and get frontpaged for it. Happens all the time. Distribution via key influencers is important for social media.

  8. Maki, the interesting thing is when a Digg “power-user” submits my stuff, it takes 3 times as many Diggs to hit the home page (if at all, even with over 100 Diggs). The right content with a regular or semi-power user can tip much sooner, and has on several occasions.

    Content *is* king, because promoting crap doesn’t work very well. But as you say, even great content will go unnoticed without promotion, which I’ve said here repeatedly. And that’s certainly not something you yourself just figured out yesterday. :)

  9. @Maki
    Content is beyond any doubt king, simply because being picked up at Digg doesn’t carry any value if your content sucks. Actually, one might argue that it would hurt you (and/or your brand).

  10. @Brian

    I don’t have any doubt that quality content (or bait) is of great importance. I do stress that very often on Dosh Dosh.. as you have done so remarkably well on Copyblogger. :)

    I guess I’m just saying that its a 50/50 split when it comes to any complete media marketing strategy. Mu wrote a great article and he mentioned in the comments that content was the “50% that matters the most”….while I think its more of an even split.

    I used to work in a PR firm and often wrote up traditional press releases and pitched them to newspapers and magazines. I had to send cold emails or cold call publications and the success rate was often low across the board.. unless you had an earth shattering story that was 110% relevant to their audience.

    It’s much easier if you are on good terms with an individual within the media who you can directly pitch the story to…even better when he or she has influence. The success rate just goes up when you have all these elements together.

    Social media is no different, although it does appear to be more democratic or free-for-all because of editorial decentralization.

  11. I just now came upon your blog. Can I link to it in our “Copywriting” section of our blogroll?

  12. I’m never one to be great at grammar, but is there a typo in this line:

    its just that they hate they way

    I’m assuming the second “they” should be “the”. I know I hate when I have typos on my site so I just wanted to throw it out. If it’s right, my apologies. It is late and my mind is half asleep.

    Glad to be a sponsor! :-)

  13. Thanks Muhammad for an excellent post.

    The first rule of press releases is finding a hook. The usual boring company press releases have no hook in them.

    I do agree with Maki – content and distribution go hand-in-hand.

  14. Thanks for the catch Ron (there were two typos in that line)… Due to traveling yesterday I wasn’t able to look at Muhammad’s article that closely, and it slipped. My apologies.

  15. Muhammad: Thank you for the blueprint on not only writing great press releases- I’m going to follow this for an upcoming sales letter for a green steel company.

    Thanks a ton!

  16. This is an example of reinventing the old world to legitimize your perspective of the new world.

    What you are describing as press releases, are actually examples of badly written press releases. Releases like these don’t work anywhere – have never worked anywhere.

    They are written by amateurs who do not know how to write press releases.

    A good release, whether written for traditional media or social media, needs to involve the reader and not be an empty puff for the company or organization it is promoting.

    What you are giving us here is not some incredible new insight made possible by the advent of social media, but some basic rules on how to write effective press releases.

    Web 2.0 is a powerful concept in its own right. It doesn’t need to be spun in this way.

  17. I agree with you Milton, to the extent that most press releases are badly written. So why do so many PR “professionals” write such dreadful press releases? Why is my inbox littered daily with crap like the examples Mu offers?

    Methinks you overestimate the current state of press releases, Milton. I don’t know if you get barraged with them all the time, but if you did, you wouldn’t see anything about this article as “spin.” This is not reinventing the old world, it’s describing the sad state of the current one.

    But don’t take my word for it… go to any of the online PR news services and take a look.

    Please leave a url next time if you wish to continue discussing this issue, so we can evaluate your own skill and credentials. Thanks!

  18. Brian

    I am a retired print journalist and therefore have no URL to offer you. I am merely an interested observer of the media in all its many forms.

    If an old-timer like me is not allowed to take part in a discussion like this because he lacks the necessary cyber presence, then the brave new world of social media must be a very excluding kind of place.

    The point I am trying to make is that the principles of good press release writing apply to all kind of media, and always have done.

    Muhammad seemed to be implying that a new kind of approach to press release writing was needed for social media and then proceeded to describe principles that are as old as the hills.

    The fact that many people do not follow these principles, does not alter the fact that they have been around for many years and taught in reputable PR and journalism colleges for many years.

    In other words something very old is being presented here as if it is something amazingly new. The implication being that all this is being driven by the advent of social media, when in fact it is being driven – as it always has been – by the need to follow good professional PR and journalistic practice.

    Don’t get me wrong. Muhammad’s article is very interesting and makes plenty of valid points, but in this one respect I feel it is misleading.

    Kind regards

    Milton

  19. Milton, I hear you, and of course you’re welcome here.

    It’s just hard to deal with critical anonymous comments when you have no idea who the person is or what they do.

    Many of the people who read this site have perhaps never written a press release. That, combined with the fact that so many so-called professionals are still largely terrible at writing press releases lends credence to the approach Mu took. He blogs for two Technorati Top 100 blogs in addition to being a top Digg user, so he sees more crap press releases than most.

    For the novice and the many, many bad PR writers out there, there’s nothing misleading about this at all. To someone like you who has seen higher quality stuff, I would simply ask for your understanding and patience, and to realize that instead of labeling something “misleading,” you might simply realize that maybe this post was not aimed at someone of your experience and skill level.

    It’s funny, but I see more negative comments from journalists than any other group. They find social media fascinating, and yet can’t seem to grasp that this means normal people without any training are the ones creating media.

    Those of us who are trying to help these people be more effective are not ignorant of what you learned in journalism school or in the newsroom. We’re just starting from scratch and telling people what works in this environment, because we all make our living online. I don’t think a history of public relations is what people want. They want what works, and that’s what this article addresses.

    Thanks for your comments.

  20. Brian

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments.

    Now you have explained the context I can understand what Mu was trying to do and why he adopted that approach.

    I appreciate that what sounded misleading to me, may be lost on someone who has no experience of working as a journalist or PR person.

    Kind regards

    Milton

  21. Yup. You’re right, writing web copy and especially press releases is more than just hyping about your latest products and/or company achievements.

    What these people need to understand is that they need to put themselves in their potential customers’ shoes.

    And next time, they’ll start to write better ads, web copy and press releases.

    Regards,
    Codrut Turcanu.
    “Succeeding Against All Odds!”

  22. Great tips. In the Czech Republic I have not seen social media PR yes.

  23. Duct tape marketing blog has a nice press release tool, i’ve used

  24. Your points seem good, until I realized that to fully understand I had to follow loads of links. The 5 strategies aren’t just succinct, they’re incomplete until one figures out what you’re tallking about.

    You lost me. But I imagine your technique gets all sorts of fan and cranks up your statistics about how many pages and what-not people view.

  25. hi muhammad, that’s a good post on social media pr. writing a good release is one thing, but distributing it is another. since there are so many press release services out there, i tried to provide a list that should help us to choose the pr service that is suited best to us. it’s available at: http://www.bestpressreleasesites.com. Looking forward to your comments. which online pr services do you use if i may ask?

  26. Thanks for your valuable post about SMR

  27. I wrote a press release once for my real life nursing business. The business website got tons of traffic because of this release and on a few occasions, our agency’s listing made it to the top of search engine results for those looking for our type services.

    It’s a great idea!

  28. Your summary of Brian’s success with the press release is of extreme value to us, the readers!
    1.describing the techniques Brian’s client used for increased business success
    2. the reason why these techniques worked.
    3. empowering the reader to take these tips and make them work in their own businesses.
    All of this done in a narrative style, that captures the readers attention and “vote”.
    Also interesting point, to write to a specific audience, rather that trying to engage the entire populace and draw few in to read the article.

  29. What you are giving us here is not some incredible new insight made possible by the advent of social media, but some basic rules on how to write effective press releases.

  30. This is an excellent article, however I think the “boring” SMPR is sometimes needed. What if you are launching a product website and want to write a press release about it? This is going to be boring by nature.

  31. Great post Muhammed. I hope lots of people will read it. Over the last few months my blog has grown and now seems to attract attention from people who want….. attention. So these complete strangers email me saying they’ve got a new book or a new website they think my readers would be interested in and whoops, I accidentally delete them on purpose making an exception to my rule of replying to all emails! Yes, I hope they read your post. I will tweet about it to send them in the right direction:)

    OK, off to check out Brian’s post again now.

    I’d love to know how you got to ask Brian a question?! He hasn’t noticed me even though I’ve guest posted here and sing the praises of Thesis to all and sundry! Maybe you can write a post about how to get a busy top blogger to talk to you:) Lol.

    I’ll check out your site too:)

  32. Oh yes, Milton and Brian – re all this discussion about press releases not changing with the advent of social media I think part of the problem is that there are even more people trying to get attention in this way so you have to be super canny and imaginative to make your press release stand out from the crowd.

    Fortunately it seems that not everyone reads copyblogger so that gives those of us who do the edge:)

  33. Annabel, I’ve noticed you. ;)

    This post was written almost 3 years ago — Muhammad was one of the first people to write for Copyblogger when I opened the blog up to other contributors, so we talked a lot. But I still answer questions when people ask.

  34. I am new at blogging and have read quite a few of your blogs. There is a wealth of information. I find that I have improved my blogging because of the info I have gotten from reading your blogs.
    Thanks.

  35. What you are giving us here is not some incredible new insight made possible by the advent of social media, but some basic rules on how to write effective press releases.