I missed American Idol last night because I decided last minute to go to a Social Media Club of DC event. I know, 1) how will I know how Todrick Hall did and 2) serious nerd alert. If only there was a way for me to set the DVR from my iphone…oh wait, DirecTV has that. I think that’s pretty newsworthy, especially if it means not missing a minute of AI. But according Charles Miller, Director Digital Care/Social Media Strategy at DirecTV, no one in the newsroom (or popular blogosphere) thought the launch of the DirecTV iphone DVR app was anything special and they said “no thanks” to covering it.
So instead of tearing up their press release and crying about it, Miller and the PR team at DirecTV decided to leverage their social media networks to spread the word about the launch of the app instead. The promotion was done by reaching out to well-connected individuals who had relationships with DirecTV and had shown they were active, responsive and available to re-tweet. Turns out, people did think the launch was special and 200,000 of them downloaded the app from itunes within the first week. After 100,000 downloads, traditional news media took notice and finally covered the story – driving the social media conversation even more and contributing to the next 100,000 downloads.
As more and more brands begin to create and cultivate their social media networks, I think this phenomenon will be happening more frequently. Brands will be turning to their consumer base directly through social media to get the word out in addition to traditional PR approaches. The purpose of getting press coverage is to increase awareness and understanding of your product among consumers – so why not cut out the middle man (the media) and get right to business? If the product catches consumers’ interest first, it will appear more newsworthy to the media and they will cover it and the conversation will continue to grow.
But will creating online buzz first become the only way to get reporters (and now A-list bloggers) to cover your brand? I don’t think so. The news media are just looking for a good story that will appeal to their readers. Your media pitch needs some element that makes it different from the rest. Another iphone app? Great, but not that easy to craft a catchy story around. Another iphone app that has reached 100,000 downloads in less than a week because of Twitter? Pretty newsworthy in this day and age.
Social media is a cost-effective, easy way to reach consumers, and as DirecTV’s example has shown us, a great avenue for attracting traditional media coverage. But as all the experts keep saying (I am not an expert or a “guru” by any means…yet) an integrated (social media and traditional media) marketing and communication strategy is your best bet. So keep the traditional PR channels open, but why not start out with some social media outreach to get the conversation started and generate interest in your product. Journalists and bloggers are on Twitter, they’ll find you.