Irrelevance – the pollution of the Online Media World?

Pollution Protecting the real world from the ravages of pollution and preserving our natural resources was once considered the preserve of environmental activists. Not anymore. Recycling, energy conservation and reducing our carbon footprint are now mainstream activities.

In the Online Media World I would suggest the equivalent to pollution is irrelevance, and the time, and money, that are wasted dealing with it (never mind the frustration caused). Unfortunately the PR industry is one of the culprits in producing this pollution; with the interesting stories it does create often getting lost in the millions of press releases produced each year, many of which are often sent to significant numbers of people for whom they are irrelevant. This means only a small proportion of these messages actually lead to someone talking about a story.

The positive response to our recent Online PR animation suggests that many (all?) people in the PR industry are aware of the importance of remembering that there are real people at the end of each of these messages. Given this, if irrelevance is polluting their environment shouldn’t we all be asking one simple question:

What have we done to improve our relevance today?

For us at RealWire this means making sure the existing things we do to improve our relevance are performed 100 per cent and looking for new ways to reduce our “irrelevance footprint” all the time. Many of these improvements and processes are based on feedback from the receivers of our news themselves. Some things are simple, the equivalent to turning the light off when you leave a room or not leaving your TV on standby, and others take more effort and investment on our part. They all have one end purpose though – to deliver greater relevance to all the receivers of our news and so reduce the amount of pollution we create.

We realise we’re far from perfect, but then how many people recycle 100 per cent of their waste in the real world? Does that mean that we shouldn’t all try and recycle more just because perfection is probably unattainable? That’s why we are always looking to improve. After all it is only through delivering relevance that the PR industry can ever hope to release the influence it desires.

I noticed today that PRNewswire have recently started to provide their content through sector specific Twitter feeds e.g. PRNTech, rather than all through one single feed. RealWire also did this a few months ago as we realised, as PRN would appear to, that people following news content would find this would significantly improve the relevance of the content to them. It’s not rocket science, nor is turning off your TV, and it won’t solve the problem of PR pollution by itself, but as with the environment a lot of small individual measures can make a big difference overall.

So hats off to PRN for also taking this step and perhaps we could all ask ourselves what have we done today to improve the environment in the Online Media World we all inhabit?

Social Media News Releases achieve double the coverage of Traditional Press Releases

Background

RealWire has been offering the Social Media News Release (SMNR) option to our clients for nearly two years now. In that time we have hosted and distributed over 200 SMNRs on behalf of a varied group of organisations including:

3i, Adobe, British Army, Cisco, Comic Relief, Cross Country Trains, Diageo, Durex, First Direct, Ford, HSBC, ITV, Macmillan Cancer Support, Nescafe, NSPCC, Peugeot, Sage, Skoda, Sony Ericsson, Symantec, Talk Talk, Toshiba, Twestival, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Some are in a narrative style, some follow the original deconstructed format.

Our video about the SMNR (from our webitpr days) has had over 12,000 views and we are currently ranked top of google.co.uk for a search for “social media news release”. Even ahead of Mr Social Media Release himself, Todd Defren. (Of course we don’t manage to repeat the trick on Google.com, but the video doesn’t do badly :-) )

So it is on this basis we feel fairly well qualified to provide some analysis on whether Social Media News Releases actually achieve better results than “traditional” press releases.

Analysis

We analysed 997 releases distributed by RealWire during the period December 2008 to May 2009 for which coverage tracking statistics had been gathered by our Proveit release evaluation service.

Of these 71 releases were Social Media News Releases.

The results are summarised below:

Total coverage includes coverage that is the republishing of the release in its entirety either by selective or non selective publishers.

It is worth noting that all of these results for both SMNRs and traditional releases compare favourably with analysis of competing distribution services suggesting that the combination of our clients, their releases and RealWire’s approach performs strongly for all types of release.

However the results above suggest that Social Media News Releases perform substantially better than traditional releases when it comes to generating editorial and blog coverage with, on average, all of the additional coverage being of this type.

So a big tick in the box for SMNRs then? All we have to do is produce all releases in this format and we will all achieve two or three times as much coverage?

Well not so fast. A simple regression analysis on the data suggests that a release just being an SMNR, as opposed to a traditional release, in itself only explains a small proportion of the variation in the performance of individual releases.

So the majority of the variation would seem to be due to other factors. There are any number of factors that could explain some degree of variation – the hook of the title, timing, number of interested parties etc. Significantly more detailed work would be needed to prove the impact of each.

But I would suggest that the most likely reason for the improvement in performance of SMNRs is that the additional investment needed to produce a SMNR means that clients are more likely to use them for the most interesting stories. It is this investment in quality that then pays dividends with the features of the SMNR allowing the user to enhance that storytelling and so produce the improved results.

Implications

Less stories. More creatively told. To the right people.

The first point may seem like a strange thing for a press release distribution company to say – “less stories”, doesn’t that mean less business? As I said earlier, the results of our own distribution actually indicate that releases we distribute for our clients are already of a relatively higher quality and/or are directed to more relevant people and hence our pickup stats compare very favourably to competing services.

However the analysis implies that the discipline of investing more in the telling of a story through a Social Media Release seems to lead senders to focus on the stories that generate the most interest editorially and from bloggers. Surely that is a good thing for all parties?

When 54% of press releases from the big wires apparently never get written about, wouldn’t focussing more on the half that are of interest be a better use of the PR industry’s resources?

Top 5 Dos and Top 5 Don’ts of Online PR?

I tried to pull together a short list of dos and don’ts of Online PR this week for a newsletter I was writing and throught I would share them here as well. It was aimed at an SME audience but I think the messages are relevant in general as well. I am expecting that people will have different views on what should make the top five in each case, so lets see these as starters for ten! :-)

Top 5 Online PR things you should do  

- listen
- be authentic
- give
- respond
- stay in the conversation

Top 5 Online PR things you shouldn’t do  

- forget online visibility
- spam
- be irrelevant
- treat as a channel
- ignore

Dos  

Listen

If you do nothing else you should do this. The online media world offers a fantastic opportunity to listen to what people think about your industry, your business and your competition. Using the various sites and tools that are available will give you a wealth of information that would cost huge amounts in market research fees to have discovered in the “real” world.

This information will help you to understand the communities and influencers who are relevant to you and what topics they are interested in.

Be authentic  

Just because you are in an online environment don’t forget that this world is still made up of people not computers. People like authenticity. They like people who are genuine about themselves and in an online PR context this means being transparent about who you are and why you are approaching or engaging with a particular person or community.

If you start a blog where you will be covering topics that are sometimes self promotional in nature then be clear about this with your readers. If you comment on a blog post where you have a professional axe to grind ensure your potential bias is clear to the blogger and their community (unless you are confident they know you so well as to not need such clarity).

Give  

Like your Mum and Dad probably taught you “it is better to give than to receive” and online this is still the case. Don’t go into a relationship with an individual or community online with an agenda or an expectation of something. Would you respond well to such an approach? Try and understand their needs and then give them something of value. This could still be of a commercial nature e.g. a travel business might provide details of special offers before these were given to the general public, but more often it will be less direct – some relevant guidance perhaps.

These no strings “gifts” will help to build the relationship and then hopefully that other well used phrase about giving will occur – “what goes around, comes around”.

Respond  

Having listened to what people are saying online and possibly given something of value it is important to respond to their questions or concerns. Again, as in life in the “real” world, most people would think it rude if someone ignored or blanked them, particularly if they actually instigated the conversation.

This is potentially a challenge for organisations with large communities who want to talk to or about them. This is when you need to have a clear structure within the organisation as to who is going to field what questions and enter what conversations. For instance in may be appropriate for queries of a more customer service nature – “I have a problem with X” – to be responded to by someone from your customer service department rather than a PR or marketing person. Or at least direct them towards this more appropriate channel.

Stay in the conversation

Having responded and established a dialogue with communities don’t stop talking. This is a mistake a lot of people can make online. You do great work listening and understanding who is interested in similar things to you and your business, you engage them potentially through giving something of value and then respond to their initial interest.

Then you stop. You disappear from the online world. People visit your twitter feed but you have stopped tweeting. Their RSS reader never shows a new post from your blog. Where have you gone they wonder? At best they accept your sudden lack of interest and move on. At worst they feel slighted by your lack of investment in sustaining the relationship and make their feelings known!

Don’ts  

Forget visibility

The “dark side” so to speak of the transparency and durability of the online media world is that everything, and I mean everything, you say can end up online. It has become very common now for people to Tweet live while listening to a presentation for instance. You may not have considered the risk that what you said to that particular room could end up being relayed to 1.5bn internet users if they choose to find it, but it can.

Clearly the content you actually do produce and upload yourself, comments you make on blogs and tweets that you update will definitely be there for all to see. Don’t make the same mistake as these people and forget that online everyone is listening.

Spam

A fundamental temptation of the Internet is the ability to send a message to a huge list of recipients at the click of a button. In the days when “snail mail” or faxes were the only options the cost of paper, envelopes, stamps, phone calls and ink, never mind the time to produce them, meant that there was a price to be paid for spamming people.

With emails the price is paid by the recipient in the lost time through checking, and almost certainly deleting emails they didn’t want. Think carefully before pressing send – “have I earned the right to send this person an email?” At RealWire we take this very seriously and spend a lot of time researching and contacting sites to try and ensure we don’t fall foul of this. As we are human, we slip up occasionally, be we strive to improve all of the time as we know that permission is a fundamental part of any PR strategy.

Be irrelevant

This is very closely linked to spam. Effectively I will very quickly lose any permission I may enjoy to send people messages if I send them irrelevant content. A key reason for choosing “Top 5s” for these articles was the response to my previous newsletter which suggested that articles of this nature were more relevant to you the reader. Well I try and practice what I preach hence my response this month or I risk those readers who found the previous Top 5 article interesting choosing to “mute” me.

At RealWire we say that it is only through delivering relevance you can ever hope to achieve influence. Clearly the corollary will mean you achieve nothing.

Treat as a “channel”

I sometimes hear people talking about online as a “channel” i.e. print, broadcast and online channels. I understand why it is thought of in this way but for me this misses a fundamental point about the online media. The reason I refer to it as “the Online Media World” is because that is what it is – a virtual equivalent of the real world.

People are publishing, like they do in newspapers, on websites, or broadcasting on sites such as You Tube or even BBC’s IPlayer, but they are also giving opinions, sharing stories, commenting and generally talking about things that interest them. Just like we do in the real world. Because the online world is populated by people as well just connected via telecommunications providers and ISPs. This means that everything you think about doing offline in PR terms you need to think about online.

Ignore

Last, but definitely not least, the one thing you must not do is ignore the online world. For two key commercial reasons.

Firstly because people will talk about you whether you engage or not and if you don’t engage you can’t tell your side of the story.

And second because at least some, if not all, of your competition will engage online and with 1.5bn people to talk to that could turn into a pretty hefty competitive advantage.