Social Media News Releases: A (Re)Declaration of Principles

Edelman’s launch of StoryCrafter, a Social Media News Release (SMNR) builder for its clients, seemed to get a mixed reaction. In the course of the conversation, a few pundits used the opportunity to weigh-in on the SMNR concept itself, and raised some good points worthy of a response.

The most intriguing and thought-provoking bit of "snarkasm" came from the inimitable Brian Oberkirch. Brian is one of the most knowledgeable Social Media guys out there, and a damn good writer, to boot. So when a brainiac like Brian chooses to dismiss a substantial development like the SMNR (twice, even), it’s worth the time to carefully consider his objections.

"Truly solving problems of attention & connection are what PR shops will have to learn to do. Not faux microchunking of content. As it stands today, the SMNR is a bunch of tarted up message points with and Digg links added in for extra innovative flava … I suggest we focus our collective efforts on hRelease, build WordPress and MovableType plugins for hRelease [etc., etc.] … To really play in this world, we have to unbundle the information, and not just make it look unbundled."

If you net this out, Brian’s beef seems to be: "The SMNR will not be truly effective or innovative until we get serious about metadata," i.e., each "microchunk" ought to have a life of its own; ought to be discoverable and malleable. Brian’s concerned about TECHNOLOGY.

Next-up: Dee Rambeau of "Adventures in Communications." Dee asks some pertinent questions:

"Who is calling for these changes [to the traditional press release]? Are agency practitioners calling for this change? Are corporate PR types calling for this change? Are working journalists calling for this change? Are consumers calling for this change? Are the wire services calling for this change? Are the regulatory agencies calling for this change?"

Dee has a clever way of suggesting that the answer to each of these questions is "NFW." Dee is concerned about WHY.

First, to Brian: Brian, I totally agree with you. When compared to WHAT’S POSSIBLE, the SHIFT template is merely a tarted-up version of a traditional release. The value of our SMNR template, ultimately, was to kick-start the conversation about WHY and HOW these changes ought to be considered. When the Powers-That-Be (hRelease, SocialMediaClub, PRX Builder, the newswires, et al.) deploy the tech you discuss in your post, I’ll be the first to applaud (and adopt, and adapt). Meanwhile, unfortunately, I have no programming skills to help coax the tech & tools along to the next, better phase. Having admitted to being a technical dumb-ass, though, let me say this:

Yes, it’s easy to look askance at "buttonware" like, Digg, etc., but, as Phil Gomes recently said, "The current SMNR discussion is 80% about attention and 20% about conversation. Reverse it, or you’ll have bigger problems than a metadata standards quibble." Adding those "pieces of flair" to the corporate news release is Step #1 to making "news" part of a dialogue with the broader community, versus the age-old, top-down communication from the brand to the mainstream media.

In other words, I am more excited and intrigued by WHY we should evolutionize the news release, than I am by the HOW. That’s for the techies to figure out.

So, as Dee Rambeau asks, WHY should we continue to strive toward a re-engineer the press release?

Granted that corporations will continue to do their "edgework" — using their own websites, blogs, etc., to disperse news and information, but, the "official press release" is not going away anytime soon. If anything, the press release’s relevance — as a substantiated corporate source amid a swirl of dubious chatter — grows by the day. Thus we should make sure that the press release is fit for duty in the New World Order.

I turn to our original inspiration, Tom Foremski, who recently posted about why he is so jazzed about this movement:

"[T]he Social Media News Release comes with so much more than the old press release…For example: its trackability across media and blogs and Internet locations is easy and extremely valuable… [The SMNR also] will continue to exist forever, cemented into the permalink archives of the Internet. It becomes a free floating publication in its own right, with its own Google pagerank, and a Technorati following … It could also be set up to collect comments for weeks or years; it’s a live document. The collection of such information in such a manner is something that we never had a chance to consider before now…"

To sum up an earlier post, the SMNR — done right (and that has arguably not happened yet), can:

  • Democratize "Access" – ALL of the content (multimedia assets) becomes available to ANYONE who is interested, not just journalists but bloggers and consumers as well.
  • Build "Community" – We need to make it easy for anyone who views the Social Media News Release to comment on its content; re-mix its multimedia elements for use in blogs, on YouTube, and in the online versions of traditional print publications, etc. We also need to track this response and show a willingness to respond — openly, quickly and, as appropriate.
  • Ensure "Accuracy" – Corporations who are willing to "let go" of their brands also see the benefit of providing "official" versions of their logos, graphics, and other multimedia, for use and re-use by traditional and new-era pundits.
  • Embrace "Context" – Why not make the media’s (or blogger’s) job easier by proactively providing links to industry-related research and yes, even to "competitive" articles (via, for example, where you can also append your own notes about each article)?
  • Be "Findable" – Borrowing from Bhargava’s ideas for Social Media Optimization and with a hat-tip to the wire services’ increasing understanding of the importance of "search optimized" news, all I need to add here is the reminder that even the NY TIMES has considered how to run headlines that would make their content more readily "found" by the search engines. If the Gray Lady worries about Google, so should we all.

Ye Olde-Style Press Release is not well-suited to these objectives. Do we NEED all this stuff today? No. Do we NEED all this frou-frou "conversation" to occur around each and every release? No. But, is the world changing? Are more consumers powered-up to make their voices heard on the Web? Yes! Should we as marketers find ways to encourage, embrace and account for this revolutionary up-ending of traditional media relationships? Hell, yea.

SHIFT’s template (and the hard work that goes on now at SocialMediaClub, Edelman, the wire services, etc.) are merely babysteps in the right direction.

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Posted on: December 11, 2006 at 1:39 pm By Todd Defren
3 Responses to “Social Media News Releases: A (Re)Declaration of Principles”


  • Ike says:

    Todd — if you want this to be more than just lipstick on the pig, you need to separate the bacon from the hocks from the ham from the feet.

    Each of the elements of a release (talking points, quotes, stills, preview vids that link to NewsMarket, charts) needs to have a separate RSS feed. You can tag all of the elements of a project with an identifier that glues them together.

    By separating the parts, you can let reporters pick and choose the elements they care about. Now, if they aren’t savvy enough for that, YOU step in with the tech solution.

    It might be a Pageflakes-style interface on your site, that remembers the individual reporter’s preferences and layout.

    It might be a desktop application that does the same thing — free to download.

    This concept is still fetal — don’t let anyone pitch it out because it looks more chicken than human.

  • Todd Defren says:

    I don’t disagree, Shel: the conversation about the SMNR is not at all intended to REPLACE the need for our industry to re-think its role and strategies. The SMNR is just one tool, of many, to engage with all stakeholders.

  • shel israel says:

    I have to come down on Brian’s side. The issue is not to put new lipstick on the dead chicken that is a press release. The issue is for PR to find a new way of joining conversations that are relevant to the people their clients consider relevant.

Show some social media love would ya?

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