Are you tired of Internet press releases falling flat, frustrated because they receive just a few thousand headline impressions? Are you dying for just one reporter to call and ask about your company? Maybe your business has a new CEO or adopted a highway to clean up trash, and nobody knows. You need some online PR.
Businesses have options for marketing themselves online – social media, webinars, email marketing, press releases, infographics design, the blogosphere. Still, deciding where to begin a campaign is tough.
I won’t tell you where to start, but here are 14 tips from some pros for what not to do when it comes to online public relations:
1. Stay silent
Being antisocial will never get you noticed.
Reach out to bloggers who write about your industry, said blogger Jacqueline Gikow, who writes about public relations. “Seek out thought leaders who have influence in your field, and then build a rapport with them,” she said.
Online PR is all about “who you know,” she added. “So do whatever it takes to become popular short of sullying your reputation under the bleachers during halftime.”
And don’t hesitate to jump into the discussion.
“One-way messaging in online PR and social media is always a mistake. No one cares when you retweet a good review of your product or announce your newest charitable cause. At best, you’re speaking to the converted,” said Jasmine Bina of JB Communications. “Instead use social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite or SentimentMetrics to see whose talking about your industry and then jump in the conversation with something valuable to say. If what you have to say is interesting enough, people will check you out on their own, and that’s the best and most natural path to discovery any company could hope for.”
2. Assail fans and followers with promotions
One sure way to decrease your Facebook fans and Twitter followers is bombarding them with sales pitches. People follow people, not products, according to Danielle Inez, owner of the Memphis-based diPR Agency.
“If the business comes across as detached from its supporters and solely focused on its bottom line, the supporters will learn to tune out the tweets and status messages,” Inez said.
Only strong content will engage readers.
“If you aren’t offering a message that starts a conversation or incites a reaction, you may as well be talking to cyberspace,” Inez explained.
“Hard-sell” messages interrupt online discussions, said Robert McEwen, president of Zing USA.
“The most fundamental principle to remember when devising online PR strategies is that companies are entering communities, and joining conversations within those communities,” McEwen said. “Social graces matter. No one would barge into a cocktail party conversation by asking loudly and abruptly, ‘Hey, anybody here want to buy a car?’ The intruder would be regarded as gauche and given the cold shoulder. If, on the other hand, one overhears a conversation in which the participants are discussing automotive warranties, for example, and the newcomer can add value to the conversation with fresh information, knowledge, or perspective on the same subject, his comments likely would be welcome.”
Closing a deal shouldn’t always be the top priority.
“What you must do with your content is show worth to your audiences,” said Jerry Sullivan of New Jersey-based Framework Media Strategies.
3. Lose control of social media
To protect your company’s image carefully monitor your social media marketing plan. Some say you should prevent employees from unwittingly posting embarrassing updates by banning applications like TweetDeck and Hootsuite, which integrate multiple social media streams.
Too often employees sign into their personal accounts while also tweeting and Facebooking for the company, said Sal Vilardo, owner of Prolific Studios.
“All it takes is a simple slipup and a major brand posts something about getting trashed over the weekend and sleeping with someone. While your brand may get some PR from the accident, ultimately there will be twice as much damage control that needs to be done afterwards,” Vilardo said.
4. Refuse to share
Operating an effective online PR campaign means making it easy for your messages to be shared throughout Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the Web. Businesses miss out when they don’t include easy ways for press releases, webinar invitations, newsletters and blog posts to be passed along.
“I’ve even gotten several emails from a high profile, profitable fashion company that will send screenshots of their fashion blog but neglect to hyperlink anything. The results speak for themselves: tweets at the wrong brand name, 100 people checked into a foursquare location with no mention of the brand hosting the event because they didn’t make a special location for the party and press releases with no placement impact because the reporter couldn’t access the site being promoted,” said Sarah Kunst, an online PR specialist who works with startups in New York City.
5. Disregard PR tools
There are many public relations tools available online. No matter your budget, you’ll find ways for submitting press releases, viewing editorial calendars and monitoring what is said about your business.
“The power of the press builds a brand, enhances a company’s reputation, drives traffic and accrues high-quality links,” said Dan Bischoff, director of communications and public relations for Utah-based Lendio. “But to do it right, you need the right tools.”
For submitting press releases consider Vocus, PRNewswire, PRWeb, Free Press Index, PR.com or PitchEngine.
Check out HARO, Reporter Connection, MyMediaInfo, MatchPoint or PressWiki for media contacts and editorial calendars. And for monitoring online activity related to your company try Social Mention, Viral Heat and alerts from Google and BackType.com.
“One negative comment, status or review can spread quickly and tarnish a brand,” Bischoff said. “Monitoring negative and positive things said about a brand online is crucial to public relations today.”
6. Press releases are just for journalists
Phillipa Gamse, author of the soon-to-be-published “42 Rules for a Web Presence That Wins,” said businesses do not do enough to leverage their press releases.
“They tend to include their press releases on their websites (good), but without building in links and calls to action to the products and services that are being promoted,” Gamse said.
Because press releases contain keywords, they are often the best indexed pages on a website.
“So there are a lot of visitors who are not reporters, but are interested in the subject matter,” Gamse explained. “The press release page will be the first page of the site that they see, and if they can’t immediately find how to get what they’re looking for, they’ll leave.”
7. Have a weak pitch
Edward Yang, managing partner at Firecracker, had these three no-nos for somebody trying to convince reporters to cover a story:
- Don’t attach anything to your email pitches. Either they will end up in spam folders or editors won’t open them for fear of viruses. Cut and paste directly into the email.
- Don’t pitch to the wrong editors. Make sure the contact you’re going after is covering the right area. Individualize your pitch by targeting a specific reporter by name. Explain why your story is important for their readers.
- Sounding arrogant or threatening is a sure way to get blacklisted.
8. Limit your outreach to newspapers and magazines
Too often businesses ignore the strong potential of online PR by concentrating too much on seeing their names in print. Traditional mediums like newspapers and magazines have taken a hit as consumers turn more to the Internet.
“That is the biggest hurdle I have to face daily in my business as a PR professional,” said Tom Kidd of Pres Pak Public Relations. “In order, people take their information from TV, the Internet, radio, newspapers and magazines.”
9. Offend writers
Bloggers are important for spreading your message. No longer are traditional media outlets the only places for news. But this new breed of journalist can be touchy.
“One of the primary tasks I’ve been tasked with doing cleanup for with companies is blogger outreach and networking. Because the nature of the beast is so different … it doesn’t take much for a blogger to take offense to a poorly designed pitch,” said Jaime Palmucci, of DEBUTANTE MEDIA. “ The primary error made time and time again? Addressing a BCC list as ‘Dear Blogger.’”
Personalize your approach. Nothing will get your pitch rejected more quickly than blanketing reporters and bloggers with the same email touting why this story is right for them. Tailor the material by telling them how their readers would benefit from the article.
You may even establish yourself as a credible source in your industry by regularly emailing reporters and bloggers new and creative angles.
10. Shun social media
Clients might tell you they don’t think social media will benefit their public relations campaign. But even a modest presence on Facebook and Twitter may help with everything from SEO to managing your company’s reputation.
“Even if your Facebook page isn’t getting a whole lot of traction or attention … the more unique and fresh content there is about a company out on the Web, the more the search engines will rank that company higher in related searches for their types of products and services. For this reason alone, I find having a social networking and online blogging strategy to be crucial for B2B companies,” said Jennifer Green, a senior vice president at a mid-sized public relations firm in Dallas. “The B2B space is one of the most rapidly growing areas in social networking. I am not only seeing this with Facebook accounts, but also bloggers that are following specific business industries.”
11. Tweet recklessly
For businesses it’s challenging to create content that stands out. But don’t just throw out a bunch of stuff hoping that something will stick.
It’s easy to go overboard with social media, blogging and podcasts, said Martin Jones, managing partner at Boston-based March Communications.
“Given the sheer volume of information online, how do you produce content that stands out and actually generates visitors, sparks conversations and is shared with others? Become more strategic and deliberate in your approach,” Jones said. “Rather than tweeting 20 times a day, select a few influential people to start a conversation with. This will snowball into greater visibility far more quickly than reckless tweets that will inevitably get tuned out.”
12. Skimp on online press resources
Rather than linking journalists to wire service press releases about your business, make it easy for writers to learn about your company by having as much information as possible on your website.
“Companies should make it as easy as possible for their most important journalist contacts to get what they need with one or two clicks,” said Nora DePalma, principal of O’Reilly/DePalma in Alpharetta, Ga.
13. Diss your critics and the competition
Social media makes it easy to fire off zingers about the competition or a disgruntled customer. A word of advice: Don’t.
“It’s better to spend time and money promoting your products and services instead of tearing down your competitor,” blogger Kimberly Gauthier said.
14. Avoid spell check
Whether writing a press release or speaking to your followers on Facebook, your company will not be viewed as an industry leader unless your content is well written and free of silly mistakes.
Spelling and grammar are key. As is making sure your writing contains no exaggerations or hyperbole.
“Don’t boast without backup,” said Maria K. Todd, president and CEO of Mercury Healthcare International, Inc.
Hopefully a few of these tips work for your business next time you have sizzling content or a hot scoop. Of course the list is not complete. Please use the forum below to comment about other PR no-nos.
About the author
Past colleagues say Pat converted to the dark side when he left his 12-year career as a newspaper reporter to work in PR, but we’re glad he did. After more than a decade of dogging politicians, cops and other newsmakers, Pat’s new obsession is pitching solid stories to gain publicity for clients. As such, Pat is also our go-to guy for all things media. Plenty of his press releases have seen success in the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Miami Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune, Dallas Morning News and Boston Globe. When he’s not feeding his news addiction, Pat travels. He has visited nearly 30 countries and hopes to check off half of Africa.