The first press release was written in 1906 to announce something newsworthy. Over the years PR professionals developed a standard format to obtain earned media publication in newspaper, magazine, radio and TV news. Like any industry the rise of digital and social media has changed best practices in this discipline. In this article you will learn the new standards and best practices for digital and social media optimized press releases.
The traditional press release was mailed, faxed or emailed to editors and journalists consisting of:
- A Headline to grab attention of journalists and summarize the news.
- A Dateline for the release date and originating city.
- An Introduction Paragraph that provided quick answers to who, what, when, where and why.
- The Body with further explanation, details, background, and statistics.
- A Boilerplate with short about copy on the organization or company.
- The Close was a symbol that meant the release ended.
- Media Contact Information included the name, phone, email and address for the PR or media relations person.
An example of a traditional press release template is pictured below.
Today’s press releases must include more to be effective. Digital assets, quality links, headlines, and calls to action should all be designed for easy sharing on social networks and be optimized for online search. The main difference in a new digital or social media release is that it doesn’t necessarily mimic a complete news story like previous traditional releases. Instead it provides more components or raw ingredients to put together a story in any format or to be shared on various social networks.
In 2006, Shift Communications developed what they call the Social Media Press Release with the template seen below. It includes a series of bullets with quotes from senior executives and multimedia elements such as logos, photos, PDFs of key materials, links to podcasts, and an annual report or PowerPoint.
The template above is still relevant, but Shift suggests some updated features including:
- Sharing Buttons for various social channels at the top of the page right under the headline
- Multimedia that now emphasizes using short video.
- Varying Viewpoints from other perspectives that make it more social.
- A Link to an Official Press Release because some prefer the facts in one easy-to-read place for new aggregators to pick up easily.
- Twitter Conversations curated to showcase what people are saying about the news on Twitter.
An example of these new features can be seen below.
When writing IR Magazine suggests that …
Press releases now need to be optimized for SEO. Write your release around three keywords or phrases that are important to key audiences. Keywords should be included in the headline and subheads at the top and in the body of the release. Sprinkle keywords throughout the release and add hyperlinks to help people find related content and provide support. SEO optimized releases help you get ranked in news search and editors may contact you solely based on your press release being properly optimized and relevant.
Catherine Spicer of PR Newswire focuses on what is not needed. She argues that it is also time to leave behind some conventions of the traditional news release. Writing “For Immediate Release” was intended to tell journalists when the story could be published, but now when a press release goes live online, it’s assumed that it is ready for immediate use. You may also want to stop using “Embargoed until XX:XX.” With so many news sites competing to break the stories first these days, embargoes are not always honored. Closes with a “###” are outdated as well. Readers today will more likely think the pound sign is a hashtag for tweets. The press release dateline now should always include a year. Thanks to website archives and search engines, press releases are now discoverable for an indefinite amount of time.
Victoria Harres also of PR Newswire suggests:
- New releases should focus links on relevant metrics that count such as tracking online reads, social shares, and content popularity.
- Releases should be used to publicize other organization content. When something interesting is published on your blog, website or YouTube channel use a release to drive brand exposure, social shares, media pickup, and brand discovery.
- Improve SEO by answering questions. Search engines try to deliver results that answer searcher questions. So write press release headlines that highlight the questions the release answers.
- Use keywords for SEO, but use language that relates with the target or it won’t get read or shared.
- Remember that the press release today reaches much more than the press. Press release strategy should strive to reach editors and journalists, but also influencers, investors, employees and consumers.
What new press release standards and features are you practicing for digital and social media?