It must have been 1995 or so when my friend Charles Pizzo was on a train somewhere. Neither of our memories are able to retrieve the precise route of that train, but we do remember that Charles got off at a stop to use a pay phone to check in with his office.
At the time, he and his colleague were the principals of P.R. PR, and Charles was representing Bayou Steel in a labor situation. Bayou Steel had just filed some kind of legal proceeding. Charles's admin told him a reporter was looking for a copy of the filing to be delivered to him by courier. Charles had a copy with him and wouldn't be able to send it until he'd arrived at his destination.
He did inform the reporter, however, that the court was making a PDF version of the document available on the Internet for download.
Later, the reporter called back to let Charles know how blown away he was that a legal document could be posted online for such simple retrieval.
Recalling that moment today, Charles says, "It doesn't sound so special now, but back then, it was a wow moment for all parties involved. We were just uncovering the availability of content online in real time. Faxes and couriers still ruled the day. Delays were the norm. News at the speed of the net was in its pioneer days."
Soon after, companies began establishing special sections of their website just for the reporters who covered the company. Called newsrooms, pressrooms, media centers and a few other names, they proliferated quickly. (I helped CIGNA develop its first newsroom around 1997.)
And then they stagnated.
Studies appeared from companies like Middleberg Public Relations and Brodeur & Partners that gave reporters and editors a voice in what they wanted from newsrooms. What companies should have taken from these lists is a fundamental truth about technology. People don't use technology because it's cool. They use it because it lets them do something they couldn't do before. The reporter looking for a legal document wasn't wowed by the fact that a PDF is a PDF, but rather because it allowed him to start reporting on the document immediately rather than wait until Charles could courier a copy to him.
Making your news easy to report should lead every company with an online newsroom transition to a social media newsroom. It's not that social media is so hip and cool that companies should succumb to its allure. It's that the social dimensions that infuse social media newsrooms make them more relevant and usable to those who report and analyze news. The more coverage of your company's news, the better.
Social media newsrooms take a variety of shapes and forms. There are no rules, no hard-and-fast templates you have to follow. Instead, focus your efforts on just a few overarching principles:
- Include your social content-Your latest blog posts, tweets and other social content should be available from your newsroom. For examples, see Cisco Systems, BASF or Hitachi Data Systems.
- Make it sharable-The easier it is for people to share your assets, the more likely it is your assets will get shared. The Electrolux newsroom features sharing options for every story and every release (as shown below). You can also make your assets sharable by adding embed codes, easily done by using file sharing sites like YouTube, SlideShare and Scribd to archive sharable versions of your material.
- Let conversations happen-Commenting should be enabled on every press release and other content. Reading an interesting comment thread is often the inspiration people need to let others know about your company's content.
- Make it navigable-Tag clouds, useful search engines, clear categories (like on the Cisco Systems site) and other techniques can make it easy for reporters, editors, bloggers and others to find the material they're looking for.
- Make it easy for people to connect with you-Unbelievably, some companies don't even include phone numbers in online press releases. You should include a variety of contact methods, accommodating the means by which people connect, from email and Skype to the phone and Facebook.
- Make it easy for people to stay connected-RSS feeds, email updates, SMS subscriptions and other options should allow people to opt in to get your news delivered to them.
Look at examples of how other companies are implementing social media newsrooms-you'll see a broad range of approaches, formats and elements from which you can choose-and develop a solution that helps make your news more two-way and more sharable. Someday soon, perhaps, if enough companies take the steps to make their newsrooms more useful in the real-time world,l we can drop the "social media;" there will be no need to distinguish between them and we can just call them all newsrooms again.