Guest blog post by David Bowen, web effectiveness consultant and director of Bowen Craggs & Co.
How well do companies serve journalists online? Judging by the study our company does for the Financial Times, the answer is ‘not very well’.
The FT Bowen Craggs Index, which has been running for five years, looks in detail at how 75 of the biggest companies in the world perform on their websites and across social media. One of the metrics we use is ‘serving the media’, and it consistently underscores measures that look at investor relations, recruitment and the like. This year it got an average of 17 out of 32, against 21 for investors. If the biggest companies in the world are doing this badly, it doesn’t look good for the broader corporate world.
We look at sites though the eyes of users – for the media metric, we interview journalists to find what they want , and add our own knowledge (I was a journalist for many years). There are obviously great differences, depending on the media and the individuals, but here are some generalisations:
- They do not want to be spoonfed with ready made stories. What they do want is leads to write their own, and also background that they can build in.
- They are sceptics – or they should be. They are not inclined to believe anything a company tells them, and they have a sharp nose for spin.
- They tend to be impatient. Their inclination is often to pick up the phone rather than trawl a site. Companies can make themselves unpopular by failing to make press contacts easy to find. But if they make the site easy enough to use, they can stop people reaching for the phone.
- One other thing we look at is the image library. Media organisations (not necessarily journalists) expect to be able to download pictures from the web.
With these in mind here are some thoughts, with evidence from the FT index:
1. Journos use more than the press section
Don’t assume that journalists will use only your press section – they will look across the whole site. But remember that they will not use it for preference – first stop is (or should be) Google, social media, and other places where the dirt might be lurking.
2. Archive is key
Provide a really usable archive of press releases – it is remarkable how many companies make them difficult to search or browse. In the Index, Nestlé and Roche stand out by getting these basics right.
3. Make it easy to search, filter, and follow
Don’t be mean with the news release archive: journalists often need to check facts about things that happened several years ago. If you want to see all-singing, all-dancing archive, look at Siemens.com (which also came top of the index overall). Journalists can search it, filter it by product, market segment or date or – most unusually – choose which businesses they want to follow. To provide this service, Siemens has had to aggregate releases from across the sprawling empire into one database. As so often, it’s the back end work that has made the big difference.
4. Provide easily-printable factsheets and background material
Part of being in a hurry is that journalists are often rushing to meetings. They want to be able to brief themselves while sitting in a taxi or on a train. Either put this material in the press section, or make sure it can be easily found from it. PDF is best, but ‘print this page’ options are also helpful (they can be used on every page – for example for product information where a PDF would not make sense). Good example: Chevron.com – look at its Media Resources in the News section.
5. Twitter is a good resource
Twitter has become a key source of leads for journalists. If you have your own feed, you may be able to get some of the keener ones (for example specialists) to sign up – mix press release feeds with pointers to engaging features. More likely they will set up a search to look for the subject they are researching. Word posts carefully to make them most visible, using hash tags if appropriate. A nice example of a company Twitter feed (not from the Index) is Airbus (twitter.com/airbus).
6. Make it easy for journalists to find contacts
Make it easy for journalists to find contact numbers (not just email addresses).
It depends on your contact management approach, but if you have fragmented businesses, provide an easy-to-use database. Again Siemens is exemplary.
7. Get the tone right in all your content
Journalists will react if they feel they are being fed a line – keep marketing people away from the production of serious copy. Ideally use a journalist (there are all sorts of reasons for employing a professional editor on your site; this is one of them).
8. Get your image library right
Picture editors do not want the same photos as everybody else, they want a variety of formats, and they need to know what the usage rights are. Gazprom is unusual in providing a variety of formal and informal shorts of Alexey Miller, the chairman. A remarkable number of companies do not provide an image library at all – almost a quarter of the companies in the Index, including most of the Chinese companies but also a slew of banks – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Santander, Westpac and more. Why? If you do not provide images yourselves, media organisations will surely go to your rivals or to a library. As baffling is Google’s recent decision to restrict downloadable photos to low resolution images.
9. Consider using Flickr to complement your own site library
This is a growing trend in Index companies such as Nestlé and Novartis. It has several practical advantages and is fashionably part of ‘the cloud’. Oddly, some companies do not link the Flickr feed from the main library, but from a subsidiary site: General Electric from its GE Reports microsite, and BNP Paribas from its For a Changing World Blog. Silo mentalities here.
10. How far should you use social media in your news provision?
There is great discussion about this on this site, but I will add my two cents’ worth. The companies that have best managed to create a real community of journalists – connected by a battery of social media channels – are in IT.
Cisco stands out with its ‘The Network’ microsite. Why? I think it’s because IT journalists are almost by definition experts themselves: they can discuss issues on a level with people within the company. Apart from a few super-specialists, that isn’t true of people who follow, say, pharmaceuticals or aerospace – or of course more general journalists.
Some final thoughts…
You may wonder why I am taking only about ‘traditional’ journalists. Surely we are all – Tweeters, bloggers, Facebookers – journalists now? Well no – journalism is still a skill that needs training, and ‘real’ journalists are supposed to rigorously check facts as far as they can (I’m not getting into phone hacking here). More pragmatically, very few press officers will treat social media writers on a level with the mainstream. Will that change? Probably – but only as those writers adopt the same behaviour as the mainstream. So, I think, my 10 points will stay more or less intact.