Online media rooms provide many lessons in leveraging the value of econtent. This is the one place on any type of organization's site where marketers and communicators act like publishers to create valuable and original content that reaches all of their constituents.
While the online media room (sometimes called a "press room" or "press page") is the part of an organization's website that is created specifically for journalists, most corporate communications professionals fail miserably at using these pages most effectively. Why? Because all kinds of people visit online media rooms, not just journalists! It is well-known that potential customers snoop for scoops by checking out media pages, and current customers, partners, investors, suppliers, and employees all visit these pages in order to keep up with what's new.
Why is that? Based on casual research I've done—I often speak with people who are responsible for their organization's online media room about visitor statistics—I'm convinced that when people want to know what's current about an organization, they go to an online media room. In other words, people expect it to be the real-time publishing arm of a corporation, nonprofit, or government agency.
It is too bad that the vast majority of marketers don't make use of this amazing resource. Most online media rooms were designed for a handful of journalists rather than the tens of thousands of other people who visit those pages. Sure, this part of a site is called a "media room" and an important group of readers are journalists. But it has morphed into prime real estate for marketing because site visitors expect the main pages of a website to update infrequently, while these same visitors expect the news releases and media-targeted pages on a site to reveal the very latest info.
Forward-thinking organizations do something that I recommend but that many traditional PR people think is nuts: Design the online media room for buyers. By building one that targets buyers, smart marketers will enhance those pages as a powerful marketing tool while at the same time making a better media site for journalists. I've reviewed hundreds of online media rooms, and the best ones are built with buyers in mind. When a media room appeals to buyers by providing content about how products help solve customer problems and use customer examples, it is more valuable to journalists. This approach may sound a bit radical, but believe me, it works.
An added benefit for marketers is that the online media room is also a terrific search engine marketing tool. When news releases are posted on a site, search engine crawlers find the content, index it, and rank it based on words, phrases, and other factors. Because news-release pages update more often than any other part of a typical organization's website, search engine algorithms (tuned to pay attention to pages that update frequently) tend to rank news release pages among the highest, driving traffic there first.
Designing an online media room as a tool to reach both buyers and journalists (as well as employees, partners, analysts, and other readers) requires marketers to think like publishers. The pages should be organized based on criteria like customers served, vertical market focus, or other factors important to buyers, not on the egocentric perspective of the company product line. Or worse yet, simply a reverse chronological list of press releases. Just like a publisher, smart marketers also include multimedia content and create background information that helps journalists write stories and buyers understand the organization.
The online media room as an important marketing tool hasn't gone unnoticed as an opportunity for vendors. Companies have developed specialized content-management applications for them, such as the one offered by The Fuel Team (www.drivetheweb.com) or the MediaRoom product from PR Newswire (www.mediaroom.com). These tools let marketers control a corner of the organization's website, allowing easy updates using simple tools so they won't need to request help from anyone in the IT department.
As online media rooms become more important for organizations of all kinds, sites must be designed so people can find these pages directly from the home page. Recently, I was poking around for ideas for this column and went to the newly designed Microsoft home page. To make a long story short, it took me 20 clicks to find the Microsoft pressroom. That's unacceptable. The Microsoft site redesign may work for all sorts of constituents, but getting users to the information they need is the first step towards maximizing the power of econtent.