The Art of Generating Buzz

The power to generate "buzz" is shifting from the mass-media to citizen journalists. That doesn't mean you have no influence over what is said, merely that you will need to learn more approaches.

Public Relations Is Moving Online

It is said that traditional media still has a significant audience, but when you look at demographics, it becomes clear that their audience, like their medium, is aging. There are dramatic differences between the under-50 audience and the over-50 one.

Interesting statistic: the top fifty newspapers in the United States have a combined daily circulation of 21 million. Yahoo news alone has more than 37 million unique users per day. The top three news sources (Yahoo, AOL, and Google news) have a combined audience of 66 million.

Whether you outsource your public relations or handle in internally, it's clear that you should ensure that the Internet is not left out of the mix.

Your Online Pressroom

Before diving in on other sites, you need to make sure your company's own site is in order: people will refer to it when they see your company name elsewhere, and it needs to feed their interest. Otherwise, the impressions people form will be based on information they get from other sources.

You should have an online pressroom, a single center for information that feeds the need for information about your company, your products, your management, etc. This is especially important, as your pressroom is the only forum where you have complete control over what is said. It should also be built in a way that accommodates social media.

Specific items/qualities mentioned are:

And while this chapter suggests hosing down the visitor with lots of information, they also say "do not overload your users with too much information." Reading between the lines, they mean that there should be a large amount of data, but the portal page and navigation should be designed to hide much of it - providing users with "quick bites" on hot topics, but enabling them to find more if they want it (rather than trying to shove everything at them at once).

Finally, keep in mind that your pressroom creates a first impression: as soon as you start engaging in blogs and social media, people will begin visiting it, and if it's poor, they won't come back. Neither can you fix it later: if their experience is bad or unsatisfactory the first time, the likelihood of their clicking through in the future, after you've fixed it, is much lower (they have already learned that there is nothing of value).

The Press Release Gets an Extreme Makeover

The press release has long been used by companies to frame news stories: by providing a pre-written announcement, a company can tell the story the way it wants, and many news outlets will reprint it verbatim.

The traditional press release has gone online via newswires, which are picked up by a wide array of online news sources. However, this also means that a company has a limited ability to issue multiple versions of its press release to different outlets, to spin the story slightly differently for different readerships.

The Social Media Release

A new, experimental form or announcement is being experimented with in an attempt to accommodate the special needs (and leverage the special capabilities of) the online medium. This is not a replacement for the traditional release, just a purpose-built version.

A slightly different format is being used, which provides choppier, less structured information:

The though behind this change is that online journalists don't often pass along news verbatim (there's no point in doing so, as a press release will already be on the wires), have a variety of needs depending on what format they use (blogs, RSS feeds, newsgroup postings, etc.), and prefer to speak in their own "voice" rather than passing on another person's message.

Granted, this gives them the freedom to use small chunks of information, making it more difficult for the company to tell "the whole story' the way that they want it told - but the SMR may contain a link to a purpose-built site: a page (or section) on the company's site that is more detailed.

Search Engine Savvy

Most search engines will include news stories in search results, and have search engines designed exclusively for press releases, that individual readers use to aggregate information.

Tips for success:

Even so, it's stressed that press releases should be written for a reader first, with search engine optimization taking a back seat: getting good search placement is of less value if it directs users to a story that tells them less than they wanted.

Welcome to the Blogosphere

A quick explanation for the uninitiated: there are hundreds of thousands of blogs, with tens of millions of readers, and are even consulting by over half of journalists in their research efforts. Some of them rival the mainstream media in their reach and influence; others are read by only a small number of readers. All of them, to some degree, are people of influence who can help to spread the word.

The key to leveraging the blogosphere is networking: you have to be able to get your word out through the right blogs to be seen (and republished) by other bloggers. Primarily, do some research on your industry, and you should be able to find out who the "top" bloggers are (simply by searching for industry-specific keywords on Google, popular blogs will rise to the top). You can also search on press releases in your industry to find out which bloggers are often quoted, and press releases in the general media to see which industry-specific bloggers are often quoted in the mass media.

The negative response you can get from spamming blogs with unwanted content can do more harm than good in the long run - so you must approach them carefully. Actually visit the individual blogs and read their posts to make sure that they are appropriate for you, and will feel that you are appropriate for them. Use the "comment" feature to post comments on their blogs and engage them slowly, so that you are recognized (and welcomed) by the time you need to draw on their influence.

Depending on your industry, there may be many companies chasing few influential bloggers: we aware that some bloggers receive many media pitches each day, mostly from companies who treat them as a media outlet. Having some familiarity with them helps to get priority attention.

Transparency is a key component of making contact wit ha blogger: be clear about who you are, and keep your agenda in the open. Disguising your identity and trying to "work" them to get your side of a story told will backfire when they discover your real identity and real agenda. Bloggers are more acutely concerned about their journalistic integrity than are traditional journalists, and are less jaded to the PR "game," so you'll need to be up-front and honest with them.

You should also be aware that a relationship with the blogosphere is an ongoing thing: you can't cozy up to a blogger, use him to get a press release out, then disappear until the next time you need something from him. You'll lose his cooperation and probably draw his ire.

Because this is time-consuming, you should be selective in the number of bloggers you intend to approach: pick the right ones, and the news will spread from their blogs to other blogs.