As you know, we occasionally run guest articles on the Rough House blog, so we’re delighted to be able to share this one with you, by Australian public relations expert Tracey Jones, who runs the Darwin based agency Creative Territory.
If you’ve ever played Chinese whispers, you know how easy it is for a simple message to lose its meaning.
Sending out a media release is like playing this childhood game. Very few journalists will ever replay it the way you want and the essential message can be lost as people reword and rework your beautifully crafted prose into just a few short sentences.
That’s just the name of the game in public relations, but the advent of social media has made the job even harder. Thousands of citizen journalists are now reinterpreting your media release into less than 140 characters.
A recent example was an announcement from the Northern Territory Government in Australia during Cyclone Carlos allowing non-essential public servants with child-caring responsibilities to take personal leave if they could not get alternate care arrangements for their children. Employees should check with their supervisor if they were not sure if they were regarded as “essential”.
The tweets from those spreading the word looked something like this:
Non-essential public servants urged to stay at home due to #TCcarlos
The result? Hundreds of public servants with and without children stayed at home without ever contacting their supervisor.
It’s hardly the fault of the multitudes who retweeted this message, but it is a great example of how a message can lose its full meaning very quickly.
At Creative Territory, we’ve seen hundreds of original media releases, stories and blogs get mangled as well-meaning tweeters try to make sense of what the writer was trying to say and rebroadcast it in a tiny package.
So what can PR professionals do to make it easier for others to pass their message on?
We’ve recently created the “Twittercue”– the practice of adding a set of words to the bottom of media releases that enable tweeters to pass on your message without distorting the meaning.
So if I was writing a media release for the situation above, I would add the following to the bottom of the release:
Twittercue: NTG non-essent staff who need 2 care 4 kids may take prsnl leave. Chck with supervisor #TCcarlos http://tiny.cc/3pdeaz
Some tips for writing a great Twittercue:
- Forget the flowery language – concentrate on the facts
- Use an appropriate hashtag
- Include a url pointing to the full copy of the media release
- Keep it to 120 characters in total to allow for unedited retweeting
- Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations – speak the language of your Tweeps.
Twittercue for this release: Is your media release Twitter ready? http://tiny.cc/twittercue #PR #SM #twitter