Lies, Damned Lies and Twitter Shopping Statistics

According to a Twitter Advertising Blog post published just prior to the start of the busy holiday shopping season, a recent study found that people who see tweets from retailers are more likely to visit retail websites and make online purchases.

In fact, both the retail-tweet-exposed and the control group in this study were observed to visit retail websites at a higher rate than general Internet users – seeming to imply that Twitter users account for more traffic to online retail than non-Twitter users.
Bar Chart of Twitter Users who Visited a Retail Industry Web Site

This could be viewed with a healthy dose of skeptisim just because the study [full PDF here] was conducted by Compete in partnership with Twitter. But, when a report on Black Friday online sales by IBM comes out saying that commerce site traffic from Twitter accounted for exactly 0.00 percent of Black Friday traffic, well then you really have to wonder.

How could the two be so far apart?

The IBM report was strictly looking at one day’s stats – a day, specifically, when most people are expected to be making in-store purchases instead of online ones. And, IBM says while the average Black Friday online shopper bought 5.6 items per order, that was actually down 40 percent from just a week earlier – indicating less-than-average online shopping on Black Friday than any other day.

For Twitter’s study, Compete used a U.S. internet panel 100 percent comprised of desktop internet users of Twitter.com. These 2,600 panelists were exposed to at least one tweet – organic or promoted – posted by a company in the retail vertical such as Apple, Amazon, Groupon, Pottery Barn and Walmart during the time period of August 1st through October 14th, 2012.

No Twitter third-party applications or mobile phone or tablet users were part of the study, which I think says something about the audience right there. It may be a leap of faith, or my personal predisposition, but I think that desktop internet users are the demographic most likely to be camping out for crazy Black Friday in-store deals instead of shopping online. There is, after all, some research to indicate that smartphone ownership tends to be especially uncommon for less-educated and less-affluent older Americans.

So, perhaps that could explain it.

What do you think? Is it as as Business Insider writes: “Twitter’s impact on ecommerce, it seems, is zero.” Or, is it just a Black Friday anomaly?

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Get To Know Generation Edge

Effective communication is always about understanding your audience. In an attempt to do that, somewhere around the early 1900s we Americans began naming groups of people based on when they were born.

For example, I’m a part of what was termed Generation X. We’re known for being individualistic, flexible and tech savvy; and, according to Kristine Simpson on the blog Running a PR life communicators “shouldn’t try and fit the GenXers in a box and assume they all want the same thing.”

After my generation came The Millenials – well-documented by the Pew Research Center – who are often called entitled, selfish, impulsive and highly indulged.

And now, The Sound Research may have won what USA Today called a “frantic race to name the next generation of American consumers” with their new video about Generation Edge:

Ian Pierpoint, global president of The Sound Research told Marketing Daily:

“Where Millennials were idealistic, Gen Edge is realistic. Things are going to have to be more grounded and more realistic. It’s going to be much harder for brands to appear to align with social causes while not really doing that much. Where Millennials were willing to talk the talk, these guys are walking the walk a bit more.”

As those of us in America prepare to celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday with family, it might be a good time to do a little field research of our own. Observe your relatives born after 1995 and see if you think The Sound Research have nailed their generation.

And, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

The Press Release: Just Walk Away PR

The press release won’t die.

When asked if it will, Wendy Artman of GroundFloor Media says, “I will always respond by saying absolutely not! When pitching reporters, more often than not they ask for a release.”

But, the press release’s audience has really become anyone on the internet. One idea to take it forward is to trade it for a blog post.

Jeremy Porter, co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a blog about public relations and journalism topics thinks, as I do, that there is little return on the investment in creating and distributing a press release. “The results tend to be pretty lackluster, even from those fancy multimedia or social news releases. There has to be a better way, and I think that way is a news blog,” he says.

I agree – with the caveat that the blog can’t just be filled with typical press release jargon.
Most Overused Jargon in Press Releases
Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

One UK brand makes no bones about using press releases on their blog, creatively titled: “Masteel Corporate Blog: Latest News, Press Releases & Announcements” But, they’re not alone. A Google search of “corporate blog press release” will turn up many that openly state their intention to post press releases on their blog.

I tend to side with people like Mindy Withrow, a content strategist at Hanson, who suggested the difference between a press release and a blog post is that the first makes an announcement while the second initiates a conversation (at least that’s the hope of those of us who do blog). A good example from Mindy of how a blog post should be different from a press release is that of a product launch. She says, “Leave the SKUs for the press release but interview the inventor on the blog about what inspired the product.”

Getting beyond the press release as blog post is a conversation Dell’s Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca and I certainly had back in the early days when we were launching Direct2Dell and it remains part of his tips for business blogging: “Provide an inside look. Content should complement, but also offer a different view than corporate website content, press releases, and other brand communications.”

This doesn’t mean it simply becomes the dumping ground for anything not deemed “press release worthy.”

While PRNewswire might posit that press releases are “authoritative statements” to which blogs are more supplement, if blogs are really going to replace the press release they must become the primary means of news distribution rather than the supplement.

So where does this leave us today and where can we take it tomorrow? Here’s my two cents.

Just Because It Won’t Die, You Don’t Have to Feed It

Public relations professionals should just walk away from the press release. It’s a zombie that will only eat our brains. It doesn’t reach our intended audience and therefore provides little return on the investment in time and wire distribution services. For those that can’t go cold turkey, at least consider a “press release diet.”
Do Not Feed the Zombie
Instead of spending time killing yourself a little every day trying to get non-jargon-y content and interesting quotes through of a committee of sales, marketing and legal teams, spend that time getting to know the journalists and bloggers that are interested in what your business does. And those who aren’t, but you truly believe their readers are – which is even harder. Follow them on social media, engage in conversation without a motive, be helpful even when it isn’t going to gain column inches.

Zombies are very trendy these days, though, and there is return on a press release in regards to the creation of online content that improves SEO and provides collateral for sales teams. Therefore, the press release as a tool should move to the domain of marketing. No more arguing about whether a topic is worthy of a press release or not – if marketing wants to pay for the distribution, let them do it. PR teams can reinvest that budget into things like training on how to write for blogs, or online newsrooms, if you will, so that they become the go-to source for information.

Oh Brothers and Sisters Where Art Thou?

And now I’ve spoken my piece and I’ve counted to three. (for those who don’t get that reference)

If only it were that cut and dry. Just because this is what I believe, that doesn’t mean you won’t see my name as the contact on a release coming across the wire in the future. I’m but one person with an idea. If you agree or disagree with the idea, let me know. Perhaps we can’t change today, but we can set the stage for change tomorrow.

Zombie image via Creative Commons by patricneckman

Chart from Ragan’s PR Daily, February 2012

The Press Release: Public Relations Marketing Tool

So, to quickly recap yesterday’s post, the press release did not die, but was also not resuscitated by a new social media version. It remains an undead communication tool that its original target – journalists – has no interest in receiving via a typical wire distribution.

But, there is someone who loves the zombie press release – marketing.

Before I get into why they still desire it, I want to take a look at what has historically differentiated marketing from public relations.

Blurred Lines Between Marketing and Public Relations

Whether it has to do with writing styles or social media responsibilities, marketing and public relations have often butted heads. In some organizations, they are separate departments, while in others one falls under the other. Historically, they do have differences.

Public relations as we know it today traces its origin back Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays, although its roots go back even deeper into military propaganda. But, it is all about communicating to publics – the members of the public may or may not be potential customers of the company for which public relations professionals work. In my current public relations role, I like to describe what I do as a liaison. My company has a story they want to tell, so I build relationships with people who can hopefully help me tell it. And, those people often have their own stories to tell, so I help get them the information they need from my company to help tell it.

Marketing is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1 – a: the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market, b: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” So, the main difference is that marketing communications is intended to sell a product, while PR-led communications may or may not. The other big difference I’ve encountered working both sides is that marketing most often means spending money for placement. That could be placement in a snail mail box, an email inbox, on a web site, in a print publication, on a broadcast channel or in social media.

While the two have often clashed over lines of responsibility that occasionally blur, social media has only served to make it worse. Should PR and Marketing be lumped together? Or should they be treated as separate endeavors? That question was put to Kent State University PR professors Bill Sledzik and Dr. Bob Batchelor and their answers are well worth the six minutes to watch:

Back to the more specific topic of the press release, though, and how Marketing and PR often clash over it. While not limited in supply like Elaine’s contraception, the most common disagreement I’ve experienced centers around whether something is “press release worthy” or not. PR professionals worry that too many releases simply become noise to be ignored and that scarcity will create more interest when they do distribute one (although the journalist survey noted in yesterday’s post would seem to make that argument moot).

Marketing looks at every release as an opportunity to get the word out about their company’s products and services, and in this online-always age where news aggregator sites suck up any and all release that cross the wire, they’re right. The release is no longer restricted to a media audience that then chooses what they feel will be of interest to their readers. It’s now in almost every potential customers view when they visit their Google or Yahoo! homepage or their favorite news web site.

Enter SEO

And then there are the search engines! Now every press release must be search-engine optimized so that it will surface if someone is researching your company, product or service. That someone might be a journalist or blogger, so this becomes not only a marketing need, but also a public relations need. The smaller the company, the more important this becomes, too.

While having one of those “news release worthy” discussions not too long ago, someone made the case for a release for SEO purposes, and I countered with a question about Google’s Penguin update and its penalties for duplicate content. Wouldn’t a press release on the wire that shows up on hundreds of web sites word-for-word actually work against us under the update?

It turns out, as best I could find, the answer is no. (My attempt at playing an SEO card thus reminding me the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) Even though BusinessWire came out with a “Penguin-proof Your Press Release” webinar, Google itself explains that:

“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

Since Google knows that news aggregator sites have a legitimate purpose to pulling in press releases, they’re not going to be seen as using the duplicate content to deceive the search engine. So, press releases can remain a way to create that content that is ever more important for marketing today.

Thus, a release becomes yet another piece of marketing collateral. It’s something that sales representatives can point customers to, although whether or not it still carries third-party validation in their eyes when it shows up on MarketWatch or not is another debate for another post.

Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

But, if the goal of marketing professionals is to create content through press releases, increase SEO and give sales teams collateral, why not simply turn to blogging and keep that wire distribution noise to a lower level?

This past summer, I compared two announcements my group made near the same time – one as a press release and one as a blog post. In my opinion, they were about equal on the “press release worthy” scale. What I found was that the press release garnered four unique articles, while the blog post received nine unique placements. Granted three of the nine were in the UK, where there was additional outreach via a “media alert” email to key media, but still, a blog post was obviously just as – if not more – effective than a press release.

But, is it good for a blog to be the equivalent of a press release? I’ll save that for the next post, along with my final thoughts on the subject of the press release.

The Press Release: Zombie Apocalypse Proof

Has it already been six years since Tom Foremski’s “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” rant made such noise? And yet, the press release is still not dead. Perhaps it has moved to the realm of the undead.

And while zombies are quite popular these days, the press release is still not without its haters. I, myself, don’t exactly hate it, but I have come to ponder if public relations professionals should just walk away from it.

Why continue to argue with marketing professionals who look at a press release as collateral for the sales teams or simply additional online content to raise search engine rankings? Why beat our head against that wall trying to explain that it should only be used to announce actual news?

The Age of the Social Media Press Release

After Tom’s blog post suggesting the old-style formula release be replaced with a new media age version that had special sections and would “tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful,” there was a valiant effort to resuscitate the press release for new media outlets.

Social Media Press Release Template - Shift Media

A lot of effort went into discussing how to make the content of a press release more interactive and compelling. Todd Defren and the good folks at Shift created a template for it. And Chris Heuer, founder of the Social Media Club tried to bring a larger community together to build on that template. New businesses like Pitch Engine were founded and all the old wire distribution services were eventually forced to incorporate new elements to keep up with the competition.

Did this usher in a new era?

Ian Capstick checked in on the progress of this movement four years later in a post for the MediaShift blog and said “It seems there’s still work to be done in making the social media release a new standard in public relations.”.

Yes, a lot of work, I’d say. And the larger the organization, the harder it is to produce. As an example, someone on the product team might be responsible for photography and video creation. Someone in a marketing team could be producing videos, too, along with other campaign assets. This could include social media elements like a blog post, or there could be a separate social media team that is creating those, as well as Facebook elements. Or, the PR lead could even be writing a blog post and tweeting about it. And who’s in charge of getting the product photos on Google+ and Pinterest?

All that to say that creating a social media press release in a large organization is the proverbial cat herding exercise. It’s a lot of effort to create a press release with the type of multi-media and multi-social network elements Foremski wanted and I’m not convinced it’s worth it. Capstick spoke with one PR agency president for his 2010 post who said, “I don’t think the news release is dead. It’s still a useful communications tool. But that’s what it is: A device that helps tell a story”

What Journalists Really Want

So it tells a story, but to whom? The main audience that public relations people generally try to reach is the media – be that the traditional mainstream variety or the influential blogger variety. And press releases sent on the wire are not reaching that public. At least not with any effect.

For the past six years PWR has surveyed journalists to learn about their news release preferences and in both 2011 and 2012 results, most respondents told them they “never” get releases via wire service. Their preferred method to receive information is that old workhorse email.

PWR Journalist Survey Results

As best I can tell, this is primarily a survey of American journalists, but even as some of the percentages might change around the globe, I’d be surprised – based on conversations with my global colleagues – if wire service overtook the lead in any of them.

But, there is still one group that seems to find getting a press release out via wire distribution very important – the marketing professional. My next post will take a look at another undead topic – that of public relations vs. marketing.

Note: While I currently sit in a public relations role, I have worked on the marketing side of this aisle, too; so while I’m writing this post with my PR hat on, I do understand what it’s like to wear the marketing hat, as well.