By Sharon A.M. MacLean
You have a story about your new pet-tracking device, your mission to Africa, your latest software that saves time on social media. People need to hear about your amazing idea.
Who you gonna tell?
Certain bloggers like to say how easy it was to get coverage in traditional media. Grab some quotes, hire a photographer for professional photos, compose a media release and send it out through the wires. Newspaper and magazine editors would run the copy carte blanche and you’d have your story told.
Huh? That never happened on my watch during the 20 years I published a business magazine. Nor for my late husband, a long-time newspaper man and magazine entrepreneur.
On the other hand, we hear journalists complain that bloggers don’t subscribe to the same scrutiny of their facts, verify quotes, or back up statements with credible sources. Journalists typically work under a few layers of editorial filters before publication of their copy compared to the blogger who retains absolute control of their content.
I find that both types of correspondent want the same thing: respect for well-researched, unbiased commentary. Neither wants to be bought off. It’s called earned media and it means you might get your story covered by appreciating a writer’s skill and knowledge of a relevant topic.
In my previous life as a magazine publisher, we also turned down blatant gifts in exchange for coverage. It was even more stringent at the major media outlets. Yet, the provision of videos, books, pictures, and event invites are accepted in order to do the job. Today, bloggers typically accept early access to private betas for products, discount codes, or competitions to make available to their audience.
The key difference today for reaching out to journalist or blogger is technology and the culture of how that’s done.
Blogger outreach looks for either long-tail or A-lister. The A-lister approach will get you more attention for your initial post if you happen to grab their attention. The long tail, by the way, was coined in 2004 by Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, and pictured above. The theory of The Long Tail is that our economy moved away from mainstream products to a huge number of niche products or niches in the tail. You benefit from Google algorithms when a blogger writes on a long-tail topic that boosts your SEO rankings.
Both the blogger and the journalist are important for your story. Copyblogger offers these guidelines to which I’ve added my own comments for you to prepare a social media release.
There are three types of readers that you can optimize for:
- Regular readers
- Search engines
- Socially driven sites
Let’s look at each category.
Writing headlines for regular readers
Writing headlines for readers requires the same skill from journalists and online writers. It’s the ability to capture readers’ attention by using imaginative and clever captions. Boring or misleading headlines lose readers in every medium.
You also want to make your title as short as possible because readers don’t have a lot of patience and you have mere seconds to get their attention.
Writing captions for search engines
What’s new is that puns and plays on words have gone by the wayside. We used to have more fun writing headlines but search engines rule here. Search engines also like compelling words to gain click through—especially since Google’s algorithms have become more responsive to get the most clicks. Keep these guidelines in mind for writing good post titles as well as subsections:
- Title lengths should average between 60 and 80 characters;
- Use keywords in your title but keep it captivating;
- If possible, start with key words for readers who scan for those words.
Subtitles have always been used because it’s easer for readers to consume all the text. They’re even more important in the digital world because subheads are indexed by a search engine.
Diagonal reading, skimming, and scanning
CopyBlogger described the diagonal reader as someone “who gives the content a first pass by reading an article passively—just like one would browse a magazine, look at photographs, or watch television.”
New? Not so much– city columnists for daily newspapers and, well, for all traditional media have used these tactics forever. Many people consider skimming and scanning search techniques rather than reading strategies. As readers, we consume about 240 words per minute or skim and scan about 900 words per minute by reading these 5 sections:
- The title or headline of an article;
- The subtitles;
- Any bold, underlined, quoted, or otherwise highlighted text;
- Pictures, graphs, charts, or images of any nature;
- A summary of the article.
What font type should you use?
We experimented with fonts all the time at the magazine. When websites first emerged with regularity in the early 90s, all the hipsters moved to the sans serif font. My editor liked to keep text in a serif to help with ease of reading. She had studied font styles forever and she was right. The “story” or main body should be in serif fonts such as Times New Roman, while titles, subtitles, and captions can more easily adapt to a font like Arial. Easier to read. (In the case of this blog, I’ve reversed the format because this WP doesn’t seem to allow me a choice.)
How about font size?
I made a mistake with early automated email campaigns and blogs. We were accustomed to using a 10 to 12 point font in print but I received complaints from online readers. In general, 12-point font is a good size but I’ve moved to 14-point and also give the reader an ability to increase the size of page text.
The technical reason for this is because different operating systems display text at different resolution so no matter what size you choose, it will be difficult to enforce so that everyone sees the text in the same way. The common sense reason is that people’s eyes need as much relief as possible when reading the computer all day long. Our eyes get tired –and, I suspect, eyesight will be deteriorating at a faster rate than previous generations.
A 12-step program to creating a social media release
Here’s a list of to-dos when preparing your next social media release.
- Write a headline with 60 to 80 characters.
- Use a keyword in the headline.
- Sign up and publish royalty-free stock images that enhance your story.
- Use keywords for your lead paragraph but aim to write naturally as possible.
- Use bullet points to convey a list of facts.
- Attribute statements of fact to credible sources. Add links to any supporting information.
- Obtain approved quotes from CEOs, customers, and experts.
- Provide the URL of your media release.
- Supply embed code. Preferable hosted on your site with a branded video player.
- Offer whitepapers, charts, and graphics for the reader who wants more.
- Provide contact information with website, social signature, and telephone.
- Share this buttons make it easier to share the content.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.
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