January 09, 2009
Case Study

PR Interview: Become a Social Media Release Convert: 8 Steps

SUMMARY: A business development director produced her department’s first social media release (SMR) last summer and came away from the experience as an ‘SMR convert’. Her ‘news’ received coverage like never before – first from bloggers and then from traditional media, such as The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes.com, and Canadian television. Here are 8 steps to emulate her conversion.
Contact Information

April Dunford
Director of Business Development
195 The West Mall
Toronto, Ontario M9C5K1


Dunford had an “old school” attitude about press releases when she came to Nortel. She spent years in marketing for a large corporation that followed strict rules about distributing a news release only when there was actual hard news to report.

So, Dunford was skeptical about sending out a social media release (SMR) with less than a hard news angle. But she overcame her skepticism after an announcement in a more traditional press release came up empty.

Here is how Dunford overcame her reluctance to use a social media release for her department even though Nortel had done SMRs in the past.


Dunford took 8 steps to put together her department’s first SMR:

Step #1. Find out what reporters write about

Dunford’s team knew that Nortel’s media contacts were interested in writing about how corporate policies were changing in response to high gas prices.

“My PR folks have their set of contacts that they’re constantly in touch with,” says Dunford. “That they’re pitching stories to – so they know what these folks are interested in. They know what they want to write about. They get calls from them saying, ‘Hey, do you have anything that relates to this?’”

A social media release doesn’t replace good PR, she says. Good PR is necessary for a social media release to work.

Step #2. Try an SMR first with a minor news announcement

Nortel didn’t have any new product or news relating to gasoline prices. But it did offer existing products that allowed employees to work from home, which provided one alternative to dealing with higher gas prices.

Dunford’s team created and distribued a SMR titled: “Breaking the Pajama Stereotype: Responding to Soaring Fuel Prices, Nortel Provides Primer on Telework.”
(See “useful links” for the news release.)

“We had a great corporate policy around working at home,” Dunford says. “We had never really talked about that to the media before.”

Step #3. Become the subject matter expert for the SMR

Dunford was a ‘teleworker’ for her company, so she used her experience to add context to the SMR. She used quotes in the release to talk about her experience working from home.

Step #4. Incorporate key words for SEO

The team put keywords in the body, titles, and tags of the release to optimize it for the search engines. They also did some thinking around where the release linked to and whether those sites could be optimized with the same keywords and titles to improve search engine results.

“We purposely put keywords in there like ‘rising gas prices’ because we knew that was the story hook,” says Dunford.

Step #5. Provide a primer (or guide, worksheet, how-to document, checklist)

The release focused on saving money by working from home. So, Dunford’s team created a primer on how companies could put a work-from-home program into practice.

The document was hosted on Nortel’s website and linked to in the body of the release.

Step #6. Incorporate video

Nortel produces video to communicate with their employees. Dunford used that capability to add video to the SMR.

“We actually brought the video crew to my house,” says Dunford. “They interviewed me about working at home and about how Nortel’s technology helped me do that.”

The video ran for 4 minutes and 13 seconds. They posted the video on YouTube and embedded it into the SMR.

(Note: A main difference between a SMR and a traditional news release is its ability to include multimedia elements, such as video. See past Sherpa articles in the “useful links” section for a primer on SMRs.)

Step #7. Provide plenty of links

The team provided links to pages that explained the products discussed in the release. They also linked to the video on YouTube to boost SEO.

Step #8. Distribute on a social media newswire

Dunford’s team used a newswire that caters specifically to SMRs to distribute the release. She said her team found one that provided additional SEO at a lower cost than many traditional PR wires charge for distribution alone.

Dunford’s first SMR “totally hit a nerve with the press folks out there, who had a thirst to write about this stuff at this particular time,” Dunford says. It was, by far, the most successful release distributed during its time frame.

“We did get some action based solely off of search engine optimization on the release,” she says. “It turns out there are a lot of bloggers writing about their experience of working from home or advocating working from home, so we got picked up by them.”

Those posts linked back to the SMR, which improved its SEO and made it more searchable for traditional journalists. After being reported on by bloggers, the release was covered in the traditional press.

“The tail on this thing was very long – unlike a normal press release where you put the press release out and you generally have all the press release activity in a week, then you’re done.”

Three months after the SMR’s launch, Dunford says, she was still getting calls and doing press-related things.

Dunford ended up doing more TV interviews than she ever has in her life because of the video elements in the release, she says. “Video is so powerful … It helps people imagine what this would look like on TV and how a person would act on TV.”

As a result of her first SMR, Dunford was interviewed by:
-Forbes.com Video Network
-CTV (Canada’s largest private broadcaster)

Other results:
-Chicago Tribune – three-paragraph mention about Nortel’s work-from-home program
-BusinessWeek – a few quotes about reducing corporate travel
-Los Angeles Times – a few quotes for a story relating to high gas prices
-The Globe and Mail – several mentions

The success of Dunford’s first SMR pushed her to put together a second SMR for the launch of a blog about a new product. The blog included plenty of content about the product.

As with the first SMR, Dunford’s team created a video to imbed in the release. It ran 2 minutes and 45 seconds. The subject matter expert for the video was the product’s chief architect. The video also included some screenshots of the product – a next generation communications tool. Dunford’s team also set up a Flickr site with those screenshots.

As a result of the second SMR, Dunford and the chief architect were interviewed for:
-CP24 (Toronto’s 24-hour breaking news site)

Other results:
-BusinessWeek – a podcast with Nortel’s CTO
-The Globe and Mail – several mentions

Ultimately, the second SMR led to mentions in 132 articles with an estimated 6.7 million media impressions.

Useful links related to this article

How to Create and Distribute a Social Media Release:

First SMR by Dunford for Nortel:

Second SMR by Dunford for Nortel:

Example of a traditional Nortel release (from around the same time the SMR’s were released):

Forbes.com video from the first SMR:

BusinessWeek podcast from second SMR:

CTV news spot from the second SMR:

Dunford’s blog post on the topic:

PR-Squared-related blog post on the topic:





The Globe and Mail:


Los Angeles Times:

Chicago Tribune:

Forbes.com Video Network:


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