A version of this blog post first appeared on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog. Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

It’s no secret that content is the cornerstone of today’s communications campaigns. Interesting content fuels social media discussion, provides important fodder for search engines, and it’s an integral part of automated and inbound marketing campaigns.

Public Relations departments and agencies are prodigious creators of content, and much of that content is in the form of press releases.

Many press releases issued today appear to be pretty traditional in terms of formatting and goals. In reality, today’s information environment offers more opportunity for PR pros to reach audiences and influence outcomes. To do so, however, we need to rethink the press release. Simply put, I think it’s time for us to expect more from our press releases in terms of audience reached and outcomes delivered.

Audience

Traditional media—and their new media audiences. Attention in a newsroom is still the ultimate goal for most campaigns featuring press releases. However, it’s important to remember that journalists at all different types of media outlets are now charged with creating content for blogs, podcasts, and videos; and also for feeding the social media engines that power today’s audience engagement. Instead of thinking about targeting a journalist as you craft your message, think about his or her audience (and what would be interesting to them) instead.

Emerging media. Even if your news item never sees the light of day in a print publication, don’t dismiss the power of the digital realm. Socially connected influencers are not to be ignored. One simple tweet from the right person can amplify your organization’s message  among a specific group of people who are more likely to be interested in (and act upon) your message than the rest of the social media world.

Direct to constituents. Of course, one thing we have to think about is that brands can now connect directly with audiences. So, as we write press releases, we need to think in terms of creating content that will resonate with our current and potential customers. And, of course, communicators also need to pay close attention to building the channels in social networks that enable this type of close communication with constituents.

Outcomes

Media pick-up…and re-tweets? For many people and brands that issue press releases, media pick-up is still the gold standard of desired outcomes. But given how people consume information today, it’s worthwhile to think long and hard about re-defining what “media pick-up” means to your organization. What about that influential tweet mentioned a few paragraphs ago, and the spate of re-tweets it spawned? What about the enthusiast blogger with a fast-growing following who is a fan of your brand? As you plan to measure pick-up, think in terms of total influence, and don’t leave any exposure on the table.

Measurable objectives

One of the exciting things about today’s communication environment for PR professionals is that we’re finally able to make direct linkages between the messages we produce and real business outcomes.  Instead of staggering into the head honcho’s office with armloads of clip books, we can now point to web analytics that show traffic to a web page, downloads of a white paper, or the number of lead forms submitted. However, you can’t have this happy experience if you don’t embed measurable calls to action into your press releases.

Social buzz and conversation – measured and benchmarked: “Buzz” isn’t an outcome we should really be talking about in a serious way.  In my opinion, there is a difference between “chatter” and “conversation.” Sure, it’s nice when a press release you issue is tweeted and shared and liked and pinned – but (hopefully) its social life doesn’t end there. To get a handle of the impact of your messages in the social sphere, keep tabs on (and benchmark regularly) the key statistics that illustrate the real effect your messages are having in social channels, including:

  • Pay attention to engagement. Are people clicking “follow” next to your brand’s handle on Twitter and then tuning you out? Or is your brand developing some real traction with the audience? Simply tracking the number of friends, fans and followers isn’t enough. Instead, pay attention to the number of times your content is shared, the amount of traffic coming to your website from social networks and the share of conversation your brand enjoys. Sure, these numbers should increase as your fan base does. However, keeping an eye on the ratios of fans to actions, for example, can give you real insight into how efficiently your organization is communicating.
  • Improvement in search engine ranking. Social signals are now among the most important ranking factors for search engines. If you generate authentic conversation in social channels, chances are good that search engines will notice, and will vault the talked-about content to the top of the search engine results page. And that’s good for business.

If it feels like this article took a turn into the domain of digital marketing, well, that’s because it did. A brand’s communications – irrespective of which department actually deployed the content – ends up working together online. To get the most out of the content public relations departments are creating, they need to take a page from their marketing colleagues’ playbooks, and apply those tactics to press releases.

 

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