This morning, I came across the excellent "10 Harsh Truths about Corporate Blogging", published by Paul Boag on Smashing Magazine. I was nodding emphatically at each point, until I hit the 5th one, which jarred me in the back like a bad pothole in the road when you're daydreaming on the drive to work. Funnily enough, a year or two ago, I would have militantly agreed with Paul.
5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog
[...] a press release preforms [sic] a different role to that of corporate blog. As the name implies, a press release is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.
A blog, on the other hand, is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post, you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.
The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.
Here's why I now disagree; Bloggers are both journalists (in the broad sense of the term at least) and, one can assume, interested customers or prospects. Yet bloggers are journalists who often don't get paid to deal with PR agencies' bullshit (eg. embargoes) and don't necessarily have the research resources that a professional journalist has access to.
Realistically, a corporate blog won't be read by the vast majority of customers. Even with cool companies like Flickr, 37Signals or Twitter, what percentage of users really care about what's being said on the corporate blog? [Note: There is a difference between a corporate blog & a blog directed at the end users. On a blog solely directed at end users, press releases are unlikely to have a purpose. This post refers to corporate blogs specifically.]
The beady eyeballs who will find most relevance in a corporate blog will be:
- Existing and potential investors;
- Competitors (As Paul says, get over it!);
- Potential employees;
- Active developers & geeks who want to use your API;
- Journalists & Bloggers;
- The occasional day-to-day user.
Don't fool yourself, the majority of users will only care when the service goes down. As long as your site/ service/ product is available, they don't think about what you do as a company an awful lot.*
So why does it still matter so much? The bloggers and the passionate users give a damn. They're a key player in spreading the word about your business, and when they want to write about you, you should provide all the information you can so that they can feel smart and well informed. Yes, including that nasty old-world press release. Why? Bloggers cannot divinate information. Bloggers find themselves with only a short amount of time to write an entry and will be grateful for the stats you provide or the CEO's past startup that can be confirmed via the release's boilerplate.
So go for it, publish that press release. But wait! Don't publish it alone. Accompany it with a summary in informal tone, some context to help readers understand the relevancy of the PR push, and a bucketload of useful resources (links, images & further information).
If your press release is so officious that you're embarrassed to publish it on the blog, could it be that you need to rethink your releases altogether? Journalism is changing too, and a fresh, no-bullshit press release will most likely appeal to traditional journalists too. Why not try that for a change?
[* Here's another tip: If your livelihood is dependent on being available on the web, host your blog elsewhere so that you can still provide status updates when your service goes down.]