Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twitter can be platform for press releases that didn't make it to print

If you're a journalist, social or not, you are all too familiar with the words "write short." Those two simple words strike a chord with most writers - I mean, we have a lot to say. And people have a right to know what we have to say! Right? Of course they do - however, in the days of minimal advertising revenue and high printing costs, newspaper editors nationwide are forced to keep most stories 15 inches or less.

With that in mind, let's talk tweets. I often hear Twitter users and nonusers alike criticize the micro-blogging site for its concept of keeping tweets at 140 characters or less. The argument usually goes that if they can barely get a thought out under that restriction, what's the point? So with that length restriction, many journalists have taken the easy route on Twitter - tweeting only headlines with the stories' links behind, or a simple call-out for sources. It's fast, short, and easy.

But what if we think outside the box? What if we combine the facts that news space is lacking, Twitter is readily available, and between both mediums, hundreds if not thousands of people are still waiting for us to give them information?

Add to that the hundreds, or thousands, of press releases sitting in your newspaper's inbox, with each sender's expectation that his or her news is your priority, and they will no doubt call the newsroom by the end of next week demanding to know why it wasn't printed.

Enter a concept I have personally developed that can, as time permits, relieve some of our sorrows surrounding timely press releases and lack of newspaper space. I call it Release Tweeting.

In my job as associate editor for citizen journalism, I retype a lot of press releases. I compile brief rails and calendars and edit submitted copy on a regular basis. With restricted newspaper space, it is unrealistic to believe that I can get every single press release in the paper, even all those with a time element. It's always frustrating when I'm going through my e-mail press releases to get a few printed tomorrow, and finding an event that's happening tonight. I never got it in the paper. The person never called to complain (hooray), but this event does sound really cool. A lot of people would be interested. It's newsworthy. What do I do now?

In the days before social media and easy-to-update Web content management systems, the answer would be to throw it out. It's too late to do anything with it. But now, not only can we add the event to our organization's Web site calendars, we can get it out even more immeidately via Twitter.

The Release Tweet may not reach as many as it would in the paper - but it would reach a different dynamic that includes hundreds or thousands of readers or potential readers. All it takes is going back to the basics. In the Release Tweet, simply answer: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? And include a contact number or Web site behind the info, if you have it.

Voila. You've gotten the information out to somebody, so you can stop kicking yourself that you prioritized a longer story over more calendar items in yesterday's paper. And what's better, if the press release's sender does call you Monday morning demanding to know why his or her information didn't make it into the paper, you have a response with an anwer and some resolve: "Please understand we receive hundreds of press releases a day. I'm so sorry we could not get yours in the paper, as we agree that it is an important event, but you might be pleased to know that we did tweet it and add it to our online event calendar, so you can direct those who would like to know more to those resources."

Here's an example of two of my Release Tweets from last week on @Beacon_Readers:

Some extra Release Tweet tips that aren't exemplified above:

  • If a Release Tweet is related to a business, entertainer or organization, be sure to work that @ mention in the tweet if said subject has a Twitter account. It will likely garner a ReTweet, which can in turn bring you more followers.

  • Use hashtags as they are relevant. In the above example, a hashtag such as #AmericanIdol would have garnered more interest across the Twittersphere, again bringing in more followers and RTs.
Many social media experts strongly recommend that a business tweets about more than just its products. "Use Twitter to inform, educate and inspire action, not for blatant selling," say the experts at Lyris HQ E-mail Marketing in its 10 Twitter Tips. It's hard for a news organization to follow that advice because, well, we are an information source, period. Anything we tweet is our product - offering information is the nature of our business. And of course the obvious link to include in each tweet is one of our own.
But Release Tweeting is our chance to break away from promotional information that only brings followers back to our Web sites (which, in all respect, can get annoying to our followers). It gives followers something extra valuable that is not just related to us, which will only enhance appreciation, while saving our behinds in the process. I also see this as a way to really hone in on keeping your tweet quality high, rather than just tweeting for the sake of tweeting, which can become obvious over time.

The hardest part about Release Tweeting is narrowing down the press release to that 140 character limit. But, even at 140 characters, these tweets sure have a lot of punch.
What are other Social Journalists out there doing to take advantage of social media's accessibility? Please share in the comments below.
Happy tweeting!

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