Stop talking to me about ‘launch’

OopsThis still happens. Some big content production – often a video, but also a text report or research piece – is ready to go and the powers-that-be want to make a big splash with it to ensure it gets the attention it so richly deserves. So they start planning a ‘launch’. And then they say that no one is allowed to see, read or smell the thing before then.

The big day comes. The switch is flipped. Only some people still see an under construction sign, a 404 page, or the endless spinning ‘wait for it’ cursor. Those tasked with getting the timing exactly right lose months off their lives from elevated stress, fielding phone calls of “I can’t see it and it’s 11:01” or “It’s already live and the press conference doesn’t start for another 30 seconds!”

Lucky visitors get through but see a big thing with no comments, two digit view counts, while hearing no buzz, reading no reactions elsewhere.

There’s a brief surge of page views, video views or whatever from event, but it’s quickly overtaken and quickly consigned to the series of lessons in the category “See? The internets are useless to us.”

Those of us who’ve been railing at this approach to getting attention for your latest oeuvre slide an ‘I told you so,’ into the debrief meeting before schlumping back to our cages.

Embargoed launches are a hold-over from the pre-internet era. Communications and PR people have always hated them but the tyranny of the old-school media scoop required us to go along with it. If one outlet got a hold of the announcement early, none of the others would cover it because it wasn’t news any more and or they’d look like the lesser competitor. We had to be seen to be treating all media outlets fairly.

So no one got a sneak peak.

I wouldn’t say the internet has completely obliterated the concept of ‘news cycle’. But it certainly bears no resemblance to what it was before the internet or even ten years ago, when commercial media mentions were a huge part of building an internet audience for your video, report, online action or what have you.

Now that what happens on the internet is news, that relationship is inverted. And so the concept of ’embargo’ is no longer merely a cute anachronism. It’s the kiss of death.

Time was when your visitors looked to commercial media sites for authentication or legitimacy of your content. Now reporters are increasingly looking at view counts, Facebook mentions and Twitter trends to determine whether or not ‘people’ care about your issue when determining whether or not to write about it.

So when they go to your freshly ‘launched’ site, complete with glitches, 404s, and/or zero video views, they move on because it appears no one cares about this, or your story climbs down one notch in the ‘news value’ rating because there’s no ‘Twitter storm over [issue X]’ headline to be written.

My reader is at this very moment formulating the question “okay smarty pants, what am I supposed to do?’

May I introduce the concept of “soft launch”.

Your content (video, report, website, application) goes live when it’s ready. You use your email list to seed the URL to people you consider supportive influencers.

You tell them they’re getting a sneak peak. That warm fuzzy insider feeling they get encourages them to actually view your content. They offer feedback. Some of which might be really helpful. “It doesn’t work on MSIE 10,” or “You know that word means ‘heap of parrot droppings’ in Tagalog.” If I fuck up, I want to do it among friends. I don’t know about you.

They bump up your view counts. They swell your petition signature list.

Then you expand the notifications to your ‘public list’ including journalists and your adversaries. They see a campaign underway. With support and momentum. You have a media line: “well, since we launched we’ve had nearly 1,000 people visiting every day” or the like.

You send another email to your supporters. You tell them the content they previewed is now public. You report on any successes you’ve had – blocked on Twitter by Tony Clement. Coverage on PowerPlay or whatever. You ask them to share it among their friends in return.

They do so because they’re backing a winner. And you confided in them. You build your audience. More view counts. More mentions. More signatures. Next up, total victory