12 Ways to DO and NOT DO a Social Media Press Release – MSF Medecins Sans Frontieres


I’m a social media strategist that blogs about social media and online communities so I find it frustrating when I am sent a PDF attachment on an email with a traditional media press release using agency created content, professional film crews employed to do the traditional campaign filming and ditto with professional musicians. The only “social” part is to please please please blog about it, tugging on For A Good Cause™ heartstrings. Oh and more spamming of social channels as broadcast sites. So, hey! Share This, Tweet This, don’t you want to save the world?  I amble ever hopeful from the microhub site to the social sites but The Facebook page and the Twitter channel are used to promote, you guessed it, more advertising and press releases.

I’ve chosen Medecins Sans Frontieres because they are the most recent perpetrators in a sea of “social media” campaign spam I see. And because this isn’t a few grassroots interns giving social media a go, but agencies that should know better.

Background to Medecins Sans Frontieres social media campaign:

Medecins Sans Frontieres is using the internet for a new humanitarian TV station that allows viewers to go behind the scenes. Sort of like Discovery Channel but only humanitarian stuff and only online. I found no social media elements other than the usual “social media is another broadcast channel” approach. I don’t have a problem with this type of TV show online – good on them – but let’s not talk about “socially integrated”  shall we? Embed functionality is hidden (tip: right click and choose embed, built into browsers now, tho only social media experts actually know this stuff :P)

The agency told me that embeds of YouTube were turned off for “very good reasons’. (see quotes below). They actually aren’t turned off.  Yet.

Do me a favour? When it fails to engage Australians, and it will, after a couple of articles in traditional media touting that social media sites like YouTube don’t work for not for profits please send people to this article?

“MSF.TV is a perfect example of the evolution that traditional public relations is making and the new space it is claiming – the delivery of cutting edge, creative digital campaigns,” said the PR Director of The Bravery. (PRETEND I CAN LINK TO A PDF EMAIL ATTACHMENT) 

Really? Or is it same stuff you usually do but on a different channel? As in “Let’s take what we would do on TV if public broadcasting let us and repeat it online.”

NOTE: I emailed and rang The Bravery, and apparently you can tweet in a question (no commenting on the hub site or YouTube) for the debate episodes a la @QandA. So some social. But then some clunkers like this:

Additionally, there are further ways we could have increased the social engagement on the site – such as through enabling comment functions directly under video content being shown. This type of social engagement requires a site functionality and a community management resource team, that unfortunately, was beyond the budget of the campaign.

YouTube sharing was disabled from the ‘News’ channel because it was decided that in the initial phases of the campaign we wanted the audience to watch content on the site channel, like a traditional TV channel and have a more immersive experience, as we continue to monitor the campaign we may reassess the share functionality.

Why clunker? Because it’s easy to monitor and measure social media across multiple channels.  Because the HTML is a copy and paste code from Facebook comments and is free, gratis, no charge. And if my clients can manage a community of  over a million members ACROSS many sites such as Facebook, Twitter, forums and blog comments with ONE part time staff member, the community manager MSF already have should actually do something besides spam pre approved status updates on social channels, no?  There’s certainly no comments or other activity happening.

I once received a press release as a hard copy printed paper wrapped around a bottle of champagne. The press release was about social media, yet had no online offering. I drank the champagne and was not in a fit state to retype the hard copy printed press release onto my blog. *hic* Win. Lose.

Sustainability strategy and communications company Republic of Everyone has joined forces with transmedia production company @radical.media, and recently launched public relations agency The  Bravery, to collaborate on a first-of-its-kind digital media platform – MSF.TV.

Why did I choose a Not for Profit as my example? Because EVERYONE has a message that is absolutely important to them, that they need to get out. If I had a dollar for every email, tweet, and Facebook inbox I received that had “vitally important” somewhere in it,  I’d buy Facebook shares. Maybe. I wish I had time to go through all the stuff that MSF PR et al have said and done – including that online conversation could put at risk the participants in their ONLINE TV SHOW (really? How?) but let’s not let this turn into a MSF beating. Let’s look at it as a global PR problem.

Problem: How Not to Use Social Media In Any Way Social

Here’s the checklist for completely missing the social point

  1. AGENCY CONCEPT Use Organisation money to pay agencies to come up with campaign instead of community
  2. AGENCY CONTENT Use Organisation money to pay professionals to create content (articles, film, music) instead of community
  3. SITE Have auto playing YouTube videos on microhub non-social site to makes sure community get into trouble at work
  4. Slap a Donate Here button on microhub
  5. LINKS Have a link out into Facebook rather than an embed to drive traffic OFF your microhub before they donate
  6. LINKS Have a link out to Twitter rather than an embed to drive traffic OFF your microhub before they complete call to action
  7. BROADCAST Ensure that Facebook and Twitter are predominantly broadcasting ads (of other Press Releases and have no engagement/comments)
  8. SPAM INFLUENCERS Because you have ZERO community activity, spam anyone and everyone on the “key influencers” lists e.g. Forbes, Klout etc.
  9. NO ONLINE RESOURCES Makes sure said spam doesn’t link to a useful social media press room but to an pretty but basically poorly set up YouTube hub that is clunky and unsocial.
  10. TARGET PRESS NOT MEMBERS Ensure that you are really targetting Press because at the end of the day, as long as there is a traditional media article, the social media campaign is successful.
  11. CHARGE A LOT Don’t use WordPress for your YouTube Press Hub because it’s free and you can’t charge the Not For Profit much for  it. Go bespoke.
  12. COMPLAIN ABOUT ADVERTISING PR OFFERING Take the money you have thrown at bespoke “social media” hubsite, AND the money you spend on traditional advertising (because you can’t use social channels properly) and then complain about how expensive it is to run a simple livestreaming YouTube campaign for only a few hundred views. Cry poor “we have a tiny budget” then explain that the money you do have is to be spent on advertising and bespoke websites.

What have I missed?

I put this on Scribd because nothing quite says social media like a press release that is an attached PDF and no link to a social media press room online. Bottom right button is VIEW IN FULL SCREEN. And you can also download it for your own printing convenience. Modern social technology, eh?

[scribd id=109302589 key=key-1l6wzqdcvwi3rq8gk38t mode=book]

*waves to journalists* have fun with that article, boys and girls.

Solutions – How to Build a Social Media Press Release

The rest is for us bloggers and twitters and social media-ites as it involves solution not problem journalism.

My tips for building a social media press room.

  1. ENGAGED in CONCEPT: Get Community engaged in developing activity – what would like they like to see. Ensure that all future documentation re-quotes their requests.
  2. CONTENT CREATION: Get Community engaged in content. If they can’t come on a film shoot – what, not even one  NFP blogger? – ask them to direct the episodes online, edit the episodes or even just critique them.
  3. ACCESSIBLE: Ensure your microhub is accessible on iPads, Androids in fact is accessible to all.
  4. EMBEDDABLE & SPREADABLE Make sure your PR microhub has embedded material with clear retweet and facebook share-ability. Have a peek at the social buttons at the top of this post which are free of charge and downloadable/copyable from Twitter and Facebook or WordPress.
  5. RIGHT LIKE Facebook has three “Like” buttons. 1.  Like the article (forward to a friend), 2.  Likes the Facebook Page (subscribe to updates) and 3. Like sends people to Facebook where they disappear under the volume of updates from friends and family. DON’T USE THE LAST ONE.
  6. TAILOR SPOKE eg YOUTUBE: If your site doesn’t add Share buttons stick with YouTube channel page. Building expensive bespoke channels off YouTube is a waste of money. Hub sites MUST add value. Embeddable widgets, retweet this, LinkedIn that, etc.
  7. NON VIDEO: Not everyone is video centric, have other material on your press room/press release.
  8. PDF EMBEDS ON SCRIBD: If you MUST use PDFs for example for downloadable ebooks, manuals, information cheat sheets and industry white papers, use Scribd.com – embeddable and foot traffic. Win Win.
  9. SOCIAL OBJECTS EMBEDDED from SHARING SITES Ditto if you want to use diagrams, statistics, and maps, use Visual.ly or similar for social infographics. Flickr for photos, Google Docs are embeddable and so on.
  10. INFLUENCERS: Build your influencer relationships before you need them. Don’t spam us when you have a Press Release. We’re not stupid and we are not journalists. Our motivations are very different and respect figures hugely in the payoff. Journalists take their cue from influencers and influencers connect with journalists via sites like Twitter. Journalists ignore PDFs (on their ancient blackberries 😛 ) as much as we bloggers do.
  11. CONTEXTUALLY RELEVANT: Make sure the blogger or pinterest-er or twitterer or even journalist can see why you sent them the press release. Personal Plea: In my case, the first thing I saw was agency created campaign, agency created content, agency created website, agency created status updates, agency created everything yet thought it was a purely social play. Colour me stupid. It was a Digital campaign on Social Media sites but apparently I was mistaken in thinking it was passing itself off in anyway Social. I blog about social media and online communities. Send me social media stuff. Send digital strategists digital stuff. They deserve it!
  12. FIND FILTER AND FORWARD. Think Discover, Distribute, Discuss. Offer social objects that can be taken to blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Stumble Upon, Reddit etc.  if you are thinking ‘bring them back to a hub site” your campaign is outmoded, archaic and heading for failure unless you chuck a LOT of advertising money at it.
Disclaimer: I teach a class on social media press rooms from time to time, we set one up in around an hour and it doesn’t cost anything more than the course fee as the software we use is free. Clients of mine have run not for profit campaigns with 80,000 signups in the first week but they were Social campaigns. Clients of mine run multi-sites (Twitter, Facebook, Forums and blogs) with a million fans with ONE part time staff member. YMMV.



  • milkbar

    Reply Reply October 11, 2012

    Hi Laurel, Curious what you think about SMR generating sites like PitchEngine and PressDoc. Or are there others you think are better?

  • Zimzala Studios

    Reply Reply November 4, 2012

    Disabling sharing of YouTube videos is… “a more immersive experience”… Found this element the most humourous. Thanks for the post.

  • Red Cloud Digital

    Reply Reply November 21, 2012

    Great read, thanks

  • Fleur Brown

    Reply Reply December 4, 2012

    great post, thanks

  • Daniel Duckworth

    Reply Reply January 5, 2013

    Thanks for such an in-depth post. Have you seen http://www.pressdoc.com ?

    It’s a site that builds online press releases geared towards social media and embeddable media.

    A downside to not allowing embeds for Youtube videos (whether they use it or not) from an SEO perspective is that other website’s can’t contribute to the SEO value of a youtube channel. Every blog post that embeds a video is addeding SEO link value to that video which means it is more likely to appear in web searches generally.

  • joey

    Reply Reply January 8, 2013

    unfortunately, was beyond the budget of the campaign.

  • Joy Toose

    Reply Reply February 5, 2013

    Wow, I’m printing this and sticking it to my wall! Spot on! The ‘what NOT to do’ reflects SO MANY conversations I have everyday. Thankyou!!

  • Allison

    Reply Reply March 18, 2013

    This has some very good points, and you obviously have a great deal of expertise, but it is dripping with sarcasm and arrogance.

  • Nicola Wright

    Reply Reply April 12, 2013

    fabulous post, I retweeted your tweet!

  • John Lamberth

    Reply Reply April 13, 2013

    You make it sound so simple but thks anyway

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