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Posted by: Jane

Last week, I read a posted by Barry Feldman on Social Media Today, and #8 caught my eye:

Fire. Ready. Aim.
Enormous problem: marketers think channel before strategy. Joe says "Stop thinking Facebook. Think about the problem you are solving for your customer." Establish where your customer is, what they're doing there and create your content accordingly.

This evokes a conversation I recently had with the head of a successful nonprofit. It went something like this:

Executive Director: Do you 'do' social media?

Me: Can you be more specific?

Executive Director: I mean, do you know how to Facebook? Can you help us establish a social media presence? I'm not on Facebook myself, but I know it's important.

Me: I can absolutely do those things. But the bigger questions are, 'What are your goals for social media?' and 'How will social media integrate with, and complement, your overall communications plan?'

Executive Director: Yes, I know that's ideal but we really just need more people to Like us.

It was clear he's anxious about being left behind; that if his organization isn't getting enough Facebook fans, if his marketing department isn't Tweeting, then this is somehow a reflection of the organization's effectiveness. Never mind that by all reasonable standards, he's leading a highly performing business with demonstrated annual growth; they've been getting along fine without Facebook and Twitter thus far. Perhaps this is because the majority of his clients are unlikely to be using social media themselves.

Simply, he hasn't thought about his customer(s) and what they need to learn. I also suspect — based on some references to the cost of advertising — that he's lured by the idea of "free" marketing.

The lessons of this exchange are several:

  • If you don't have a clearly articulated reason for being on social media, then it's worth taking a deep breath, sitting back, and evaluating your goals. Increasing your number of followers is a perfectly acceptable goal if you have a plan to engage those followers. For some fun inspiration in this regard, see HubSpot's 5 Awesome Examples of Engaging Social Media Campaigns.
  • Know your audience. This particular nonprofit's client base comprises many individuals with limited English-language skills. Is mono-lingual social media the best way to reach them? On the other hand, social media could be a boon for engaging volunteers and donors (presuming they speak English). It all goes back to a well defined plan—and knowing which channels are most appropriate for each audience. (Did you know that teens are defecting from Facebook? Or that urban, African American women are the most likely to use Twitter?).
  • Related: You don't need to be on every single social media platform. Tumblr, for example, commands only 6% of all internet users, most of them in the 18-29 age range (see the Pew study). If you're just starting out with social media, start small—and confine your efforts to the platforms that will most likely appeal to your customers and prospects.

What are your most pressing social media questions? What lessons would you like to share? Sound off in the comments.
Posted by: Jane

Nearly every day of my career as an in-house writer, someone would invariably burst into my office with an urgent request: "We need a press release!"

Next to "This is a great story—you should get it in the paper!" *, nothing made me stabbier than these five words. Why? Because press releases suck.

Think about it: Press releases are the most over-used, under-effective content "strategies" out there. (For a great perspective on why press releases are spam, read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson). How many times have you slapped together a hastily written announcement of a new product or service and shipped it out on the wire? How many times have you sat back with bated breath, waiting for that editor's call? And how many times did you get one?


The reasons for this are many, but they all boil down to one important tenet that should guide all of your marketing communications strategies: Who cares? Every day, editors of international trade publications and local dailies alike are inundated with press releases--all from well intentioned communicators like you who believe in the promise of what you've described. The only problem is, your press release doesn't make an editor's job easier. It doesn't rise above the noise. And the more you send, the less likely an editor will pay you any attention.

So then, how do you make editors care?

  • Develop relationships with them. I know: this takes time you don't have, and it's much easier and efficient to send a blanket email to tens or hundreds of contacts. Fact is, you'll be wasting more time writing and sending irrelevant press releases that don't get picked up, than you will in cultivating friends in the press that yield results. For ideas on building media relationships, read Abbi Whittaker's post in Ragan's PR Daily.
  • Find the latent story and then pitch it--intentionally and personally. Demonstrate you know an editor's content needs or a reporter's beat, and make their day with an idea that resonates with them. For more on making effective pitches, see Amber Mac's story in Fast Company.
  • For newsworthy events, issue a media advisory instead of a press release--and include specific information about photo and video opportunities, interviews with key personnel, and anything else specifically useful to editors and journalists. You can find lots of decent samples online with a simple Google search.

And please, whatever you do--don't post press releases on your website under "Latest News." ** They're not news. They're tooting your own horn. Audiences see right through this, and then they tune you out. Remember: If you want to be heard, teach your audience something

What's your take on press releases?

*For a delightfully snarky (and local) view on what doesn't make a great story, read Don't Ask, Not Gonna Tell in Seven Days.

**Unless you're looking to boost your SEO, in which case the jury's still out. Read more about that from someone smarter than I am here.