Friday, October 26, 2012

Are tweets the new press release?

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Mobile Marketer on 10/25/12.

Leave it to the wonder and mystery that is the human brain to channel ideas together and combine them into cohesive article-worthy or press release-fit logic. One hour and voilĂ ! Nine hundred and twenty-six words. It is a shame that my computer cannot achieve that independent feat of intelligence and brainstorm client copy on its own.

But, then again, maybe it should not have to. Maybe we all need to embrace Twitter and leave the press release behind?

Arty or RT
Let us face it. For an industry that prides itself on being up on tech-savvy knowhow, playfully – and, sometimes, not so playfully – chiding our distant cousins (print journalists) in their dinosaur-like ways, the press release is often our antiquated little secret.

Of course, we publish them online and they can be written, edited and read across all mobile platforms.
But when you think about it, how much have press releases changed in the course of their 106-year lifespan?

The answer is not terribly much. The basic press release is as formulaic as computer code – and often just as monotonous to this right-brainer.

An obligatory jargon-filled run-on lede sentence that tells the reader what the company has done, and what said company plans to accomplish from now through the next decade.

This is followed by a series of quotes and concludes with marginally relevant big picture data, some contact information and request for interviews.

Apart from the 1.5 line spacing we used to use – back in the day when we still snail-mailed press releases complete with stuck-on photographs – it is a formula that has not ever changed.

So it is hardly surprising that press releases, in this traditional format, have not set the mobile world on fire. And why would they?

Feeling the need for speed and connectivity
Because the reality is that the Internet – once erroneously called the “information super highway” when the 24.4 Kbps-modem Web was anything but fast and efficient – is beginning to live up to that dated moniker.

Compared to 2012, the Internet of, say, 1996, was like a gravel road fit for horse and buggy and the occasional tractor.

Enter Twitter in 2006 with its 140-character space limitations quickening its communicative back and forth and you just might have the fastest and most efficient way to disseminate a message yet.

As of June, Twitter boasted some 400 million tweets per day, marking an 18 percent increase from March and has around a half-billion users.

And it is in this ever-faster space that the press release has tried to remain relevant and itself newsworthy.

But in recent years, social media has been the mover and shaker of all sorts of news: from the 2011 Arab Spring youth-led uprising, to the Twitter-revealed death of Whitney Houston – 27 minutes before mainstream media – and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps earning top honors not only in the pool, but in the number of tweets he sent out regarding his medals.

Even President Obama got in on the act to congratulate Mr. Phelps as he tweeted back, “You’ve made your country proud.”

If this is where the world’s most Earth-shaking events are getting first light, then it is incumbent on corporate communications and public relations professionals to more completely embrace this medium.

Twitter’s immediacy, combined with its brevity is like instant movie teasers, with 140-characters replacing 140-second television and radio ads.

Add to that their nearly zero production costs, minus the need to pay a staff to generate and monitor multiple tweets across multiple clients, and you are left with an instantly adaptable medium tailor fit for the mobile world that we all inhabit.

Of course, all this Twitter trumpeting begs the question that in part inspired this piece, “Are tweets the new press release?”

Yes. And no.

Despite my press release bashing above, press releases are necessarily written in a predictable format to make it easier for journalists and others who would be interested in the information to gather it quickly and reach out to additional sources. And there is no denying that a 500-700-word release contains far more information than a barrage of tweets.

Tweet this: Press releases and tweets can and should work together
When it comes to the Twitter versus press release tiff, it is likely press releases will undergo two major
changes to keep pace and adapt.

On the one hand, they will likely get shorter and begin mimicking other forms of concise social media communications. Or at least there will be two versions: a complete release, or its lede with a hyperlink option to “expand details.”

It is also likely that they will be relegated to niche markets, and nor will they remain a PR team’s first line of communication defense.

Like the longer, more narrative-feeling second-day news story that expands on the gritty hard news details from a day-one event, press releases will become a secondary form of outreach, but nor will they end up deleted from our collective inboxes.  

At least for now, the press release hard work of crafting a lengthier message, distributing that message and making sure it gets to the right people in a timely fashion is not going anywhere – yet.

And considering the growing popularity of the phablet – tablet and smartphone hybrids – and tablets outright, mobile screen size may not prove the information processing stumbling block for which it is often chastised.

So it is back to writing client copy – Twitter for the head’s-up and press releases for the data that follows.

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Mobile Marketer on 10/25/12.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What role do launch events play in a mobile device’s success?

The following article by Chantal Tode, Associate Editor of Mobile Marketer, originally appeared on Mobile Marketer on 10/23/12.

Apple is expected to launch the so-called iPad mini today at what will likely be a well-orchestrated event showcasing how the product impacts consumers’ lives. The company is the acknowledged expert at using such events to drum up excitement for its products although other manufacturers are increasingly copying the strategy.

Apple has nearly perfected the launch event, using them to drive anticipation and keep its name and the product in the news for months. More recently, the strategy has been adopted by Amazon, Samsung, Google, Nokia and Microsoft, among others, who are looking to drive product sales but have not yet perfected the strategy.

“Apple has been doing these events for many years – they were kind of a hallmark under Steve Jobs, who was a true impresario of these product introductions as theater,” said Noah Elkin, principal analyst at eMarketer, New York.

“Others have studied at the feet of the master and have begun to put on events of a similar caliber,” he said.

“The ones that we’ve seen in the past year from Amazon and Microsoft clearly read from a similar script in terms of how the product is being introduced, what the focus of the event has been and the similar cast of characters that appears at these events.”

The mobile experience
Apple’s events are successful for a variety of reasons, including that they focus on the mobile experience over the technology itself and they help build a feeling of community around the Apple brand.

The attraction of these events for manufacturers is that they can garner a lot of attention from analysts, the media and consumers and, hopefully, help drive sales.

For example, Samsung launched the Galaxy Note last year at the IFA in Berlin last year and sold 5 million units between the start of Q4 2011 and Q1 2012.

 Amazon held a launch event for the Kindle Fire HD in September

When well-executed, these events can play a key role in the success of a new product launch.
Some of the key characteristics of Apple’s events that can serve manufacturers well is dedicating a good amount of time to showing product details – more than is possible at a trade show – and bringing in guest speakers.

A key focus for Apple’s launch events is to focus on how a device will improve a consumer’s life over product specs.

“Other manufacturers are trying to follow Apple’s lead because they see how effective it is,” Mr. Elkin said. “Amazon at its recent Kindle Fire event listed relevant specs but really tried to emphasize its ecosystem of content, which is its key competitive advantage in the marketplace and probably the element that is most relevant and compelling for a consumer audience.”

Getting it right
Manufacturers are also following Apple’s lead when it comes to the script for these events and bringing on stage various members of the team who have been involved in some aspect of product development, who each have their own role in the event and who work well together.

For a successful launch event, it is also crucial to insure the presentation media are working perfectly and in sync.

“These things make for a great launch event – which not only garners attention for the product, it also boost the reputation of that company by making it look competent and efficient,” said Vanessa Horwell, chief visibility officer of ThinkInk PR, Miami Beach, FL. 

“Today’s tech bloggers and media are ruthless when it comes to imperfection or flaws,” she said. “Mobile companies should know this and must be prepared to deal with a media ‘assault’ if the launch of their product is premature.”

While manufacturers can reap many benefits from a big launch event, there are also some potential pitfalls.

For example, technical glitches during an event can undermine a brand’s attempt to present itself as a technology expert.

Companies can also run into trouble when they make claims that are not true.

For example, at an event in early September, Nokia showcased photos and a video that it said were captured by the brand-new Lumia 920 using its PureView camera.

However, bloggers quickly discovered that the video and photos were shot with other equipment. As a result, Nokia found itself forced to apologize and launch an internal probe to address the mishap.

“It is very difficult to conceal anything in today’s day and age,” eMarketer’s Mr. Elkin said. “Reporters and bloggers are going to turn the device inside out and are going to investigate every single claim about its superiority.

“In the case of Nokia, the images that were posted, which turned out not to have been shot with that particular smartphone camera, forced it to make an embarrassing retraction,” he said.

Maps mishap
In other cases, a feature talked up at launch event simply may not live up to expectations.

For example, at the recent launch event for the iPhone 5, Apple talked up its new Apple Maps, which is replacing Google Maps. When Apple Maps’ performance did not meet expectations, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an apology.

“The one potential danger is that when you do one of these big launch events is that because you are bringing a lot of attention to your brand and the product, it sets the expectations of the audience at a very high level,” Mr. Elkin said. “If in the case the product fails to live up to expectations created at the launch event, it can put the brand in a very difficult position.”

Despite, the potential pitfalls, these launch events are likely to continue to proliferate because they can help a company make its executives seem more approachable.

The danger is to make sure the product represents a big enough advancement to warrant its own special event.

“It’s not easy or cheap to perfectly juggle all these elements and getting them to fall in the right place at the right time,” ThinkInk’s Ms. Horwell said. “Any part of this process going awry hurts the reputation of both product and company.

“And, of course, a company must make sure everything every function of the product – a complex process when you’re dealing with tech gadgets that have a thousand and one features – is absolutely ready for market,” she said.

The following article by Chantal Tode, Associate Editor of Mobile Marketer, originally appeared on Mobile Marketer on 10/23/12.