Spreading the news in cyberspace

Perhaps no industry has changed more dramatically by the internet than the news media and by extension, public relations. The delivery of news, once disseminated through defined channels, has evolved into a frenzied stream of information that flows through Web sites, blogs and more. While traditional media- i.e., newspapers, trade publications and broadcast – will always be essential components of a successful PR plan, there are many new online tools to add to your “virtual tool belt.”

Many existing media outlets are expanding their online content, adding reporter blogs, additional articles, video and more. New media outlets (news, industry and niche blogs, micro blogging sites like Twitter, e-zines, etc.) are continuously sprouting up as are social networking Web sites like Plaxo, LinkedIn and Facebook for professionals. These online outlets present a wealth of new opportunities to not only get your company news told, but actually speak to your customer directly.

With approximately 98 percent of journalists going online daily to generate story ideas, (Middleberg/Ross) and 83 percent of consumers using search engines to find news (Pew Research Center), reaching the Web-surfing consumer has become a high priority for Fortune 500 firms and small businesses alike.

A blend of search engine marketing techniques with traditional PR tools offers an unprecedented opportunity to build your company’s image, maximize visibility and reach your target audience. Differentiating yourself from the competition and boosting your company’s search engine rankings through search engine optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of this process.

Hit your target

Online news distribution attracts readers, search engines, journalists, bloggers, Web sites and prospects. Since they are reaching your target market directly, they are in essence not press releases but news releases- because they bypass the press.

While writing optimized Web site content is an established practice, the relatively new trend is writing news releases that are searchable to allow you to reach your buyer directly. The many benefits to online PR include brand reinforcement, increased Web site traffic, improved search ranking results, lead generation and increased sales.

Steps to creating searchable news releases:

  • Build key words or phrases into headline, subject line and body copy.
  • Provide a link from a news release to a relevant page on the company Web site.
  • Send the press release through a distribution service (i.e., PRWeb, 24-7 Press Release) or wire services such as BussinessWire or PR Newswire.
  • Post comments to news groups or blogs. Make sure to put keywords in your subject line and in the posted message. Be careful to only post items to newsgroups that would genuinely benefit from your information.

In addition to news releases, various formats of news content can be optimized including online newsrooms and media kits, white paper/reports, online op-eds/letters to editors, blogs, webinars/demos and e-mail newsletters.

Needless to say, sending out one news release a year just won’t cut it. You need to engage in a consistent communications program. A good rule of thumb is distributing one news release per month. Posting your news releases in your online newsroom will further SEO results.

Monitor your reputation

In cyberspace monitoring your brand reputation is key and requires a proactive approach. What is the marketplace saying about your brand? Venues include blogs, discussion threads, forums and social networking sites. There are many free resources available to track online coverage; check out social bookmark services including diigo.com and delicious.com to achieve them as well as brand monitoring tools such as Google Alerts, blogpulse.com and icerocket.com.

Monitor optimization’s effects and measure your promotions results, including the number of leads from Google, Yahoo and other major search engines and the number of qualified prospects who join an e-mail list. Whether you are sending news and information to reporters or posting it on the Web, don’t forget to put your news through the “Who Cares?” test. Publish relevant online content that tells, not sells – blatant selling can turn off your buyer; companies need to inform, solve problems and build trusted relationships.

Stacey Cohen is president of Co-Communications, a Westchester public relations and marketing firm. Reach her at Stacey@cocommunications.com.