NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 64 December 1, 2000
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


'Tis the Season for Cyber-Shopping
Tips for Effective Online Media
About NetAction Notes

'Tis the Season for Cyber-Shopping

Industry analysts expect a growing number of Internet users to shop online this year for holiday gifts, and for many it will be their first experience with e-commerce. To help ensure safe online holiday shopping, NetAction has prepared a comprehensive Online Buyer's Guide.

The guide includes tips on how to use the Internet to research products and vendors, advice on what to ask about customer support, shipping and delivery, and detailed information on the various ways consumers can pay for online purchases. There is also a special section with advice to parents on how children can make online purchases safely and responsibly.

With 24-hour access to stores, shopping online can be a real time- and money-saving tool for busy consumers. But if you don't know what to watch for, it can also be a scarry experience. NetAction's new guide should help to eliminate that possibility.

NetAction offers practical tips to help consumers make Internet shopping a positive experience. The guide uses plain, non-technical language to describe how cookies work, how to avoid Internet fraud and how to tell if a web site is secure for online credit card purchases. There is also advice on how to protect personal information and avoid unsolicited commercial email.

The guide is online at and can be downloaded in a variety of formats.

We recommend that Internet users who are new to online shopping print a copy and keep it near the computer.

The Online Buyer's Guide was prepared by Judi Clark and Hilarie Gardner. Clark, who serves on NetAction's Advisory Board, is president of ManyMedia, an Internet/Web Consulting firm. Gardner is the director of operations and administration for Speechwise Technologies, and has a decade of experience in San Francisco online communities, ISP's and software development companies.

We welcome questions, comments, or suggestions from readers for improving the guide. Write to .

'Tips for Effective Online Media

NetAction recently participated in a half-day conference devoted to helping nonprofit organizations make more effective use of the media. Our presentation focused on using online media, and included some practical tips to help nonprofit organizations and individual activists make effective use of Internet media opportunities.

Email is an excellent tool for communicating with media. It is a cost-effective way to quickly distribute press releases, and newsletters, and is also useful for submitting letters to the editor or opinion articles. Electronic press releases and newsletters can also be posted to your organization's Web site.

Here are some of the tips we shared with workshop participants:

Distribute email press releases in plain ascii text.
Draft your press release as you would any other email message, using an email software program, such as Eudora or Microsoft Outlook. Never send press releases as attachments to email, or attach other documents to email press releases. If you need to prepare a paper copy of the press release, copy and paste the ascii text into a word processing document (such as Microsoft Word) after the release is written in the email browser.
Keep the text brief and focused.
An electronic press release should follow the same "pyramid" format as any other press release. Start with the most important information (and remember the five "W's" -- who, what where, when and why). Use short paragraphs and keep it brief.
Write a subject line that's compelling or provocative.
Keep in mind that the subject line is the first thing reporters will see when they download your release. Never email a press release (or any other message) with a blank subject line.
Include your electronic contact information.
Remember to include your email address and Web site URL in addition to your phone and fax number, and address. Put all your contact information at the top of the press release.
Use hyper-links where appropriate.
If there is additional information available on your Web site -- such as a white paper or an event announcement -- include a hyper-link so reporters can click right to it. Online publications will often include these links in their stories, making this an effective way to direct visitors to your Web site.
Send a test message before distributing your press release.
Always send a copy of the press release to yourself or to a colleague before distributing it. Check the format to make sure there are no broken lines of text, and check for any mistyped Web URLs by testing them to make sure they work.
Avoid disclosing the recipients' email addresses.
Always type the recipients' address in the "Bcc" field of your email message header, rather than in the "To" or "Cc" field. (See NetAction's "How to Create A 'Bcc' Email List, in Notes No. 63.
Post your organization's media contact information on the home page of your Web site.
Be sure to keep the contact information up-to-date, and include information on how reporters can be added to your mailing list.
Treat email media inquiries the same as phone inquiries.
Always respond just as promptly to email media inquiries as you would to phone calls. Reporters who work for online publications are much more likely to contact you by email than by phone. If you're responsible for answering media inquiries, check your email frequently throughout the day.
Set up an online archive for your media communications.
Set aside an area of your Web site where reporters can locate past press releases. And if you publish a newsletter in electronic form, maintain an outline archive of past issues, as well.)
Post press releases only to appropriate lists, news groups, and publications.
If you plan to post your press release to any email discussion lists, news groups or online publications, make sure the topic of your release is appropriate content for the list or Web site. If your press release announces a new report on air pollution, it would not be appropriate content for a forum for race car enthusiasts, for example.
Collect email addresses from your media contacts.
If you've been distributing your press releases by fax or postal mail, ask your media contacts if you can switch to email distribution. Commercial media directories routinely include email contact information. Major newspapers frequently have separate staffs for their online versions, so you'll need to include those contacts on your list, too. There are also news services specifically for online publications that may be appropriate to add to your media list.
Limit the size of your email message window.
In many email browsers, text that is longer than the width of the message window will "wrap" to the next line. When text is set to "wrap," you don't need to hit the 'return" key at the end of every line. If the size of your message window is set for more than about 75, the automatic "wrap" may result in broken lines of text.

About NetAction Notes

NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.

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