If you think you’re succumbing to e-mail overload, imagine how a journalist feels!
Journalists routinely get bombarded with solicited and unsolicited press announcements and news by e-mail. Also, conversations I’ve had with journalists indicate that many of them don’t have the best spam filters. The result: journalists get overloaded with e-mail and STILL manage to miss a lot of news they’d like to follow.
Webfeeds (whether RSS or Atom format) are a better solution. They present the latest information, sorted by source, in a single and fairly organized interface (the feed reader). Admittedly, journalists generally lag on adopting new technology or media so most of them aren’t using webfeeds yet. However, they’re starting to catch on which represents a unique opportunity for public relations professionals and others who wish to reach out to journalists online. If you start publishing your news by webfeed now, you’ll probably gain a significant early-mover advantage…
PRESS RELEASE FEEDS NOT YET THE NORM
Right now, countless organizations distribute press releases by e-mail. If your organization is already doing that, it wouldn’t be hard to add webfeed distribution as well. Such a feed could present either the full text of each release within the feed, or offer a headline and summary with a link to the complete version on the web. Feed items also can contain links to other kinds of content on your site and elsewhere.
As my Feedless Hall of Shame indicates, most organizations do not yet offer press releases by webfeed. However, many of these same organizations do offer e-mail lists for press releases, and amost all of them publish press releases on their own web site or via third-party online services such as PR Newswire. If your organization has already come that far with online media outreach, publishing a press release webfeed is the next, small, logical step.
IT’S PRETTY EASY
If your web site is supported by a content management system, it probably already has (or can be updated to include) the capability to generate a webfeed in one or more formats. All you need to do is specify the directory where you post your press releases and create a feed based on content additions to that directory. From there, the process would be automated: Whenever you post a new release to that directory, a corresponding item immediately gets added to the feed.
If your content management system does not have that capability (or if you don’t have a content management system), you can use a feed generator tool such as Listgarden. Or you can have a programmer create a script to generate a webfeed for you. That’s not rocket science, since a webfeed is just a specific type of XML output, not any more complicated than a dynamically generated web page.
The point is to set up an automated system to reformat and republish press release content you’ve already created. After the initial setup, this system should require no additional work. Keep it simple and it will function well.
YOU’LL HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT TO JOURNALISTS
As I mentioned earlier, right now most journalists don’t know what a webfeed is or how this new communication medium can help them in their work. When you debut your press release webfeed, you should post an announcement in your online pressroom (and distribute it via your other channels) to explain what your webfeed is and why it can help journalists.
In that announcement, I recommend linking to a simple, plain-language primer about webfeeds to help bring them up to speed. If you like, feel free to link to mine: What are webfeeds and why should you care? Whatever you do, avoid routing journalists to technical descriptions of webfeeds. That will completely turn them off. They need to understand what webfeeds do and how they can directly benefit and that’s it.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE SUCCESS
When you first introduce your press release webfeed, it’s likely that most journalists won’t care for awhile. That’s OK, just roll with it and be patient. It takes time for journalists to adapt their information-gathering habits, especially where technology is concerned. Just keep reminding them that your feed exists and how it can aid their work.
Remember: From your organization’s prespective this is a low-overhead service. It requires minimal up-front investment and little or no maintainance or ongoing resources. You can afford to wait for gradual success. And while you’re waiting, you’ll appear very forward-looking and net-savvy. Not bad!
As more journalists catch on to the value of webfeeds (and they’re starting to, especially as more news organization are starting to offer their own webfeeds), expect traffic to your feed to rise. You may start getting covered in venues that never mentioned your organization before.
Also, many PR professionals are beginning to understand the emerging importance and influence of weblogs. Bloggers adore webfeeds. If you want to reach out to bloggers but don’t yet offer a webfeed, chances are your organization appears rather backward. A webfeed is pretty much the de facto point of entry to the blogosphere.
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INDEX to this series.