This story was sponsored by TEK Group, which makes software for online newsrooms on PRDaily

A great many journalists and consumers visit online newsrooms, studies show.

For instance, more than 98 percent of journalists insist it’s important for organizations (both large and small) to have an online newsroom, and 75 percent of social media news consumers say they visit one after reading breaking news on Twitter or Facebook.

Conclusion: An online newsroom is an essential piece of your digital communications strategy. It can save your organization time and money and can help win positive coverage in the media, build excitement around a new product, and rank higher in searches.

Here are five ways organizations are successfully using their online newsrooms:

As an information management system 

How many times a week do you receive a call or email from a journalist on deadline asking for photos, quotes from subject matter experts, links to old news releases, or media kits?

You probably get similar requests from within your organization, sending you combing your computer’s hard drive or sifting through dusty archives.

By using your online newsroom as an information management system, you can have all your company’s materials at your fingertips. Now, this won’t happen overnight, but once the hard work is done, you will be able to quickly provide all types of content to both journalists and internal partners.

The first step is to search your organization to see what kinds of content you have. Maybe you have a video library on tape that has not been digitized. Or maybe you have valuable and relevant content in your IT, research and development, or HR departments that provide a glimpse into your organization and might interest a reporter.

You could be sitting on a gold mine of relevant content. For example, the Florida Keys Online Newsroom has a vast library of photos depicting not only beautiful beaches and wildlife, but also images of bridges and roads that lead to and from popular destinations. News organizations will frequently use these photos when covering an approaching storm or discussing road/bridge closings.

Another great example is Starbucks. The company maintains a massive photo library of its products, which extend way beyond coffee. The Starbucks photo archive provides low- and high-resolution photos of T-shirts, coffee packets, pastries, print advertisements, ice cream, and teas. All content is searchable, tagged with relevant keywords, and shareable via social media.

The next step in ensuring you have a successful system: search and tagging. Once you have gathered and digitized your organization’s media materials, tag the content with descriptive keywords so anyone can quickly find what they seek in your online newsroom.

Starbucks and Florida Keys offer an archive search that enables journalists and news consumers to type in a few keywords and quickly find the content they need.

As an investor relations HQ for Web disclosure 

The idea of using an online newsroom as your headquarters for investor relations (IR) and Web disclosure has been around for several years. Only recently have many companies realized its full potential.

According to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), it is permissible to use an online newsroom as the primary vehicle for disseminating financial disclosures, filings, and other investor materials. More and more companies are doing so, but they must comply with Regulation FD disclosure requirements.

Companies such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, and IDT have used the full Web disclosure process that the SEC approved. Other organizations—including Expedia, Tellabs, BGC Partners, and Investors Real Estate Trust—are using the advisory release model, which is the first step in becoming totally reliant on Web disclosure.

The key is to create a special area of your online newsroom, or even a completely separate investor online newsroom that contains all your IR materials, including financial statements and filings. Then, companies can issue a brief (and considerably less-expensive) advisory release on a service, such as PR Newswire, advising the public where to find their financial information—namely the online newsroom.

As a communicator, you should meet with your IR and legal teams to determine whether using the advisory release model or Web disclosure model is appropriate for your organization.

At the very least, you can use your online newsroom to manage your archived IR content, including links to conference calls, earnings webcasts, executive biographies, and other financial disclosure and compliance content. This way, even if you don’t deploy the site for Web disclosure, you have created a section of your online newsroom where investors and analysts can retrieve important financial information quickly and easily.

As a crisis communications center 

It is nearly impossible to predict when a crisis is going to hit your organization—or from what angle it will come—but you should still be prepared. Using an online newsroom as a crisis communications center is an effective method to help you manage a crisis. Many organizations build a “dark site” that is unavailable to the public until a crisis strikes.

Other organizations, such as the American Red Cross, are in a constant state of reporting crises. Its online newsroom offers breaking news in the form of “disaster alerts” covering fires, weather, explosions, and other natural disasters. The online newsroom also provides disaster relief guides, media contacts, and a detailed map and search engine to find shelters. Journalists can find an archive of past relief operations, and concerned citizens have a place to make donations.

In another example from early 2000, Ford Motor Co. found itself in an unprecedented crisis involving Firestone tires. The Ford communications team had three days to prepare for the public announcement recalling potentially tens of thousands of cars and trucks.

Before the announcement hit the news wires, Ford built a crisis communications area within its online newsroom offering detailed explanations of the recall, the affected car and truck models, phone numbers, and other essential information (technical specifications, and quotes and comments from executives). Once the news broke, Ford could direct journalists and customers to the crisis-specific area of its online newsroom.

By using an online newsroom to manage content before a crisis hits and to provide a headquarters for updates and other information, companies can deploy an effective communications strategy.

As a product rollout/launch companion 

Digital communications have blurred the lines between traditional media relations and marketing. To that end, online newsrooms are a great resource for showcasing a product launch, acting as a repository for photos, videos, product press kits, quotes, events and other rollout information.

By integrating an online newsroom with social media channels, organizations are keying on online networks’ reach and immediacy—both essential to a successful launch.

Because most big product launches are planned weeks, months, even years in advance, communications teams should begin well ahead of time to organize and tag all content for the online newsroom. Some great content will come from interviews with professionals intimately involved with the launch. These subject matter experts are a great source for cogent quotes and background on the product. These insights are usually presented in the online newsroom under an “Ask the Experts” section to generate coverage and interviews.

Ford uses its online newsroom for launches at auto shows, creating social media landing pages for popular models; such pages are viewed by thousands of journalists and potential customers. Using its online newsroom as a companion to its marketing gives Ford a headquarters for photos, videos, and media kits for each model and year.

As an SEO content engine 

Most traffic to websites comes via search engine such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Web pages are crafted with care through search engine optimization (SEO). Generally, the pages with timely, relevant, and useful content are listed higher in search results, leading to more exposure and potential traffic. An online newsroom is an incredible SEO tool, because it gives an organization an outlet to publish content regularly.

Although Google constantly adjusts its search algorithm, the search engine has made it clear thatfrequent content updates are a good thing. Relevant, useful, and popular content is also a positive factor.

Clients often ask, “How much of our news archive should we keep on our online newsroom?” My answer is, “All of it.”

Why would you want to delete content from your online newsroom? Especially if the content might already include several links and may be well optimized for search engines. The more content your online newsroom has, the more valuable your site becomes for people doing research or seeking archived materials.

An abundance of search engine optimized content—with considerable cross-linking—can turn an online newsroom into an industry resource for journalists and for potential customers, partners, investors, and other constituents. Provide more content, not less.

Here are several steps to ensure your content is optimized:

• Add relevant keywords for the title and within the first few paragraphs of content;
• Include photos and videos wherever possible;
• Distribute news content on social media channels and through targeted email lists to disseminate news and prompt others to link back to your online newsroom;
• Ensure that any tweets or email you send include a link to your own online newsroom, with an eye to increasing your organization’s search engine visibility, not some newswire’s.

The many methods for bolstering SEO in your news content seem to change almost daily. You can make your online newsroom an online hub by increasing relevant content and finding ways to prompt news outlets and bloggers to link to that content.

Consider features and methods 

When building or redesigning an online newsroom, most communicators spend too much time determining which features to include, rather than exploring how best to use the online newsroom. News releases, photos, and videos are all important elements, but understanding the ways that content should be presented, optimized, shared, grouped, and distributed is essential for success.

There are many uses for an online newsroom and many ways to save time, money and generate awareness and coverage. From an IR portal for Web disclosure to an information management system that’s optimized for search, you have many options when investing in an online newsroom.