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Are tweets the new press release?

October 25, 2012

Vanessa Horwell is chief visibility officer of ThinkInk PR

Vanessa Horwell is chief visibility officer of ThinkInk PR

By Vanessa Horwell

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 voilà! 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.

Vanessa Horwell is chief visibility officer of ThinkInk, Miami Beach, FL. Reach her at

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