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7 Deadly Sins of Online Newsrooms

In all the excitement about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites, it’s easy to overlook a staple of public relations: the online newsroom.

Visit the “press page” for many high-tech companies and you’re bound to find more than a few that are decidedly low tech — which might not be a problem if the information that was displayed was actually useful. Unfortunately, many newsrooms compound their problems by failing to recognize they have several audiences, each with distinctive needs.

Journalists, analysts, bloggers, industry influencers, prospective customers, search engines and even employees have real needs that often go unmet.

Here are seven ways online newsrooms fail to serve their organizations, industry influencers, and prospective clients:

  1. Hiding your contact information. Press releases should contain contact information such as a phone number and email address. While most do, some are missing even the basics. The newsroom itself needs an easy way for anyone, but especially reporters, to find who should be called for which kind of stories. Don’t hide who should be contacted, and always include multiple methods of being reached.
  2. Using PDFs for press releases. Back in the days before the Web, PR agencies often held envelope stuffing parties where printed news releases were prepared for mailing. The releases themselves were usually composed in Microsoft Word. Many companies and even a few agencies still write and format releases in Microsoft Word using ancient conventions, and then save the document as is into Adobe’s PDF format. The files are then uploaded with titles and datelines to the newsroom. While Google can index pages with PDFs, the search giant and its competitors much prefer properly formatted HTML to divine the most important headlines, keywords, and quotations. Some PDFs are formatted so poorly that text can’t be copied cleanly, meaning reporters and other interested parties have to retype the messages. Don’t make their jobs harder. Use Web standards to post the news.
  3. Neglecting your hyperlinks. Another holdover of the pre-Web era is static text. The Web works because of standards and links. Press release content copied and pasted straight from word processing files usually lacks the proper markup and hyperlinks that give readers instant access to more and useful data about the news. If they’re included at all, links often appear at the end of a release in the “About” sections for each company mentioned. However, search engines often only index the first 400 words of a page, meaning even those links won’t get noticed. Make sure each release (on your website as well as posted on a wire service) has at least one relevant link (and not to the release itself) within the first three paragraphs. If you’re driving a campaign, make sure the release links to a specific landing page that you measure. And always type out the link after the anchor text — such as this: Sterling Communications (http://sterlingpr.com) — to ensure wire services or news outlets that copy text wholesale have the link if HTML is stripped out.
  4. Ignoring your keyword phrases. Organizations that advertise online will have a list of keyword phrases they pay to market. Those keywords should be in the headlines, body copy, and meta data for each release as well as the newsroom itself. Usually, that’s not the case. Traditionally, earned, paid, and owned media (managed by PR, marketing, and web teams, respectively) have operated separately from each other. This lack of synchronization dilutes the potency of the message. There’s both an art and a science to optimizing pages for search engines, to be sure, but the basics of SEO also help readers and writers scan and use your content. Something as simple as including a keyword phrase in anchor text will help people and machines make the most of your message.
  5. Skimping on your multimedia. Some online newsrooms tack on a half dozen or more sharing links to each press release. It’s nice to streamline the process of linking to the release, but much more important are the actual pieces of media you include. A press release without supporting multimedia is missing opportunities to be found, shared, and used. Search engines index the explanatory information called meta data included with each image, video and audio file posted online — but only if the files are posted and the data is included. Quoting the CEO? Include a head shot. Releasing a new version? Include a screen shot. Striving to explain a difficult concept? Include an explanatory video. Desperate to add some personality to a topic? Include a podcast. Most bloggers, analysts and reporters are being asked to submit their posts, reports, or stories with visual aids to improve comprehension, add interest, and boost search engine results. Don’t assume they have the time or talent to find the exact right media files. Give them what they need with each announcement.
  6. Forgetting your press kits. Search for your company’s logo on Google. See a nice big version of your image in the top results? No? Then your press kit needs to work harder. Think your company’s CEO is a “thought leader?” You’ll need some background information proving it. Press kits should provide reporters, analysts and bloggers — as well as investors, customers and even employees — with enough data in one place to explain to others (in words, pictures, sounds and video) the company, its leaders, and the work everyone does. Press kits don’t have to be slick brochures, but they do have to include information that can be read and reused quickly.
  7. Displaying anti-social behavior. Social media isn’t social if people aren’t sharing it. Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and LinkedIn questions won’t do your organization much good if people aren’t reading, liking, or answering them. Many webmasters are fearful of embedding the feeds from your organization’s social media accounts in your newsroom. Why? The conversations might be off topic, the tone might be negative, or the audiences simply missing in action. Making the most of social media is a post for another time, but know that engaging audiences in meaningful ways is the job of your PR, marketing and web teams. Visitors to your newsroom aren’t coming there by chance. They’re looking for real information and real people. Give them what they want. Help them spread your message.

Kawika Holbrook is Sterling Communications’s creative director. Follow him on Twitter @kawika or email him at kholbrook@sterlingpr.com.

 

Leave a Comment (4)

  1. Good post, Kawika. I would like to practice more of what we preach!

  2. Enjoyed the article.
    After several years of providing online newsrooms, I’ve learned that one of the quicker ways to irritate an online newsroom visitor is to forget to provide a Search Module.
    If it’s a journalist on deadline and they have to wade through years of release archives and other content, you’ll lose them quickly.
    Hope that helps.
    Ibrey Woodall
    VP Web Communications Services
    Business Wire
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/ibreywoodall

    Ibrey Woodall  |   |  Reply
  3. Ibrey, great point. More journalists are using mobile devices to search for background information on the go, and a well-designed mobile site can help.
    Lisa, I’m the cobbler in this case, and I know our kids need new shoes. I’m eager for Sterling’s own newsroom to showcase many of the best practices indicated here — as well as the hosted newsrooms of Businesswire, PR Newswire, and some of our other partners.

    Kawika  |   |  Reply
  4. Great tips Kawika. All musts for every organization large and small. Two other points I would add. The first is related to your points #2, #3 and #4 – and that is: make sure your newsroom overall is searchable and crawlable by search engine spiders and ideally make sure your press release URLs actually contain keywords (those you’ve researched), not just nonsensical code or queries.
    And the final point is – perhaps the biggest: keep your site up to date. If a journalist, blogger, influencer, or anyone visits your newsroom and the most recent update is from 3 months ago, they’ll be gone in about 5 seconds and probably not return. At hosted online newsroom provider, iPressroom http://ipressroom.com (disclosure, I am the CEO), we recommend clients utilize what we call F.A.R.E. content practices: Frequent, Authentic, Relevant and Engaging.
    So, to take your online communications to the next level: avoid these 7 deadly sins, and updated your newsroom frequently with authentic, relevant and engaging content.