10 ideas for a press release

Congratulations, you have a new grid or hosting company. And you have 200 competitors — and the numbers are only going to keep rising.

You need to find a way to get your name out there to your potential customers. There are plenty of channels you should be exploring — advertising, word of mouth, connecting to niche communities, participating in multi-grid events and promotions, using social media, posting videos, and getting listed in directories are just a few of them.

Today, I’ll talk about press releases. I’ve written before about how to write a press release. Now I’ll suggest some topics for your press releases. After all, the more positive news is out there about your company, the better, right?

Plus, I’ve got a selfish motive, as well. I’ve got to fill up the space in this blog. Readers expect to come and see news about OpenSim, and the more news I can give them, the better. Press releases allow me, and other publications, to expand our coverage at little or no additional cost. It’s a win for us, a win for you, and a win for the reader.

But not every single little thing can become a press release. I’m not going to run a story about how you added a comma to your company name. Your press release has to have news value to people who might never have heard of your company before.

1. You’re the first at something

If you are the first grid with Vivox voice, that’s big news. The first grid that makes Bullet physics work should definitely send out a release. Or the first grid to be spherical instead of flat, or the first grid set completely in empty space.

You can be the first grid that adopts Bitcoin as its in-grid currency (though I recommend against it).

You can be the first grid dedicated to vampires. The first sex grid. The first grid dedicated exclusively to historical reenactments.

A first doesn’t have to be absolute. For example, you might not be the first grid to hit 100,000 registered users, but you could be the first commercial grid to do so.

There are an infinite number of possibilities for first, but, as times goes on, all the good ones will be taken, so if you have an idea for a first, you should act on it promptly. Not every first deserves a release — nobody cares if you’re the first grid to give away free sets of Torley textures to all new users, since they’re already widely available.

2. Money talks

If you have an announcement that involves a large amount of money, people will pay attention. Did you raise a big chunk of cash with a Kickstarter? Did someone pay a lot of money to buy your company? Did your merchants cash out record-high profits this quarter?

Or did you pay some obscene amount of money for unique content for your grid? You might be tempted to keep it private — but if you paid, say, $25,000 for unique weapons and monsters for your role playing grid, folks will want to stop by and see what you got for all that money.

People are curious about what things cost, how much other people make, whether someone is making a profit or losing money. You might not want to put out a press release saying that your company lost money last quarter — but if the loss is due to massive investments in cool new technology, or unexpected growth in new accounts that required significant hardware investments — then the size of the loss could be spun as a positive.

In fact, since people love to read about other people’s problems — much, much more than they want to read about their successes — a press releases that starts out sounding like bad news will actually draw in more readers for you.

3. Name recognition

Do you have a famous designer coming to your grid? A big new hosting customer? A high-profile employee?

Write it up in a press release and get the word out. Just remember to carefully explain how exactly the designers is famous, or why the new employee has a high profile. After all, we’re talking OpenSim here, not Hollywood — your readers might not recognize the names.

On the plus side, once you put them in press releases, their name recognition will go up, and you’ll be helping build up their celebrity status. Which will make it easier for you to attract other big names to your grid or hosting company — and that, in turns, attracts everyone else.

4. In the news

If you can peg your press release to a current news story, it will draw more attention. Whether you’re holding virtual presidential debates or a virtual Olympics — or giving birth to virtual vampire babies — if a story resonates with what’s on the news, people are going to be more interested in it it than they would otherwise.

Remember when Osama bin Laden was taken down? Avatrian, a virtual worlds consulting company, recreated the compound in Second Life and got a write up in New World Notes and on CNN’s iReport.

If you know that a big news event, like an election, is going to be coming up, you can plan ahead of time to create virtual tie-ins. Or you could simply react quickly to news as it happens, to grab momentum.

Say, for example, you were planning to give away free homesteads as part of your grid’s promotional strategy this month. You’re not likely to get that announcement into the news — a lot of grid offer free promotional parcels. But if you piggy back on the recent Mars rover landing and make the plots outposts that are part of a Martian colony, that would be of more interest. Even folks not looking for homestead land might read the announcement, and learn a little bit more about your grid, simply because of the news tie-in.

5. Usefulness

If you’re offering a useful tool or service, or useful advice, that will always get reader — and editor — attention.

It doesn’t even necessarily have to be related to your service offerings. For example, you might decide to distribute an article about how to dress your avatar for business meetings, or use Google Docs for easy in-world presentations, or how to choose a good server for your private OpenSim grid. Even if none of these topics have much to do with your grid or hosting company, the fact that you’re contributing information and helping the community will reflect well on your brand and help position your company executives as experts.

Other stuff that falls into the useful category are virtual goods — presentation tools, clothing templates, texture libraries. Classes and seminars can also be very useful to the OpenSim community, as well as how-to videos and ebooks.

6. Lies, damn lies, and statistics

We love statistics. Even if they’re mostly made up, we still want to see them.

Even if you only talked to ten people about what housing types they prefer for their virtual homes, people will still want to see the results of that survey.

Virtual worlds are so new, and there is such a scarcity of information out there, that you could survey people about just about anything and put out an interesting press release about it. Even if you only survey the users on your own grid, the results could still be of general interest. For example, which features of a viewer do people use most or least? What percent of people can recognize mesh when they see it? How many people want their avatar names completely confidential — and how many would prefer Facebook logins?

What are the first freebies that new grid residents look for? How tall is the average avatar? How much is the average person willing to pay for a pair of virtual shoes?

Surveys are quick and easy to do, and you can collaborate with other grid owners to share the work — and get more respondents.

You can survey people about shopping habits, producing useful information for merchants. You can survey people about what features they’d like to see, which would be useful for developers. Or the surveys could be simply designed to be whimsical or fun.

7. Embrace the weird

There’s a saying in the new business that if a dog bites a man it’s not news — but if the man bites the dog, then you’ve got a story.

Keep an eye out for unusual things happening on your grid, or with your customers, to see if they could be the makings of a potential press release.

For example, Club One in Second Life demonstrated that people could lose weight through virtual exercise. That was pretty surprising — and the news was picked up by a lot of different publications.

8. Sin sells

Whether you’re promoting sex, gambling, or drugs or battling against them, it will draw attention when you have them in your announcement.

For example, you might put out a press release that you’re cleaning up your grid, getting rid of all the adult content to better serve your educational, corporate, and family-oriented users.

Or you might do the opposite, and double down on the adult content, declare all regions off-limits to kids and prudes, and put our warnings about all the licentious, illicit, degrading, and immoral activity that can be found throughout your grid.

You’ll be making news either way. Which direction you take depends on your grid’s positioning and target customer base, of course.

Just remember to make sure these topics get prominence in your press release — don’t bury them down at the bottom of the announcement.

9. Conflicts and horse races

There’s a reason why politics is often reduced to horse race-style coverage. It’s because people like to see clear conflicts. Who’s winning, who’s starting to pull ahead, who’s falling behind?

The Cola Wars are a great example of a made-up conflict between two soda companies that helped raise public awareness of those two brands at the expense of all others. Pizza chains will sometimes have public wars as well — whichever chain wins in the end, both gain brand recognition at the expense of the joints that stayed out of the fight.

The conflict can be something trivial, like which taste of soda people prefer, or, say, whether the like zombies or vampires better. Or the conflict can be significant, reflecting the political direction that a country will take, or how grids should approach content protection and patents.

If there’s a controversy in the news, a grid or hosting company could issue opinion columns supporting one point of view, or conduct surveys, or create promotions designed to tap into the controversy. For example, when Linden Lab raised prices for educators, a very controversial decision, several grids and hosting companies responded with special offers for educators who decided to leave Second Life.

A conflict can even be the basis of a company’s brand identity, such as Avis’ “We’re number two, so we try harder” campaign, or the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad series that pitted the two groups of users against one another.

10. Good works

Did all that talk of conflict get you down? Turn things around with some good news.

Good works offers plenty of opportunity to both help the world — and to get some good publicity. Grids can donate land to non-profits and educational institutions, hold fundraisers for charity, donate a share of their profits to good causes, or donate code to the open source community.

The good works can be timed to coincide with news events or major holidays. Or they could be ongoing efforts that help reinforce the company’s commitment to its cause year after year. The good works can be company-wide, or limited to just one or two employees or a small group of users. Or they could be multi-grid efforts that bring in large numbers of participants.

The combo strategy

You don’t have to limit your press releases to using just one of these techniques at a time. In fact, a combination of techniques can be much more powerful.

For example, if a grid holds a big charity event, with big-name attendees, in response to a disaster that’s been all over the news lately — that’s an announcement that is likely to get quite a bit of play. If the event is the first of its kind, and also raises a record amount of money, that’s even better.

Maria Korolov