Social Media is the new gold rush and traditional PR services are scrambling to stay relevant as new tools, channels, and experts are forcing a long overdue renaissance.
Nowadays, the word "social" is getting tossed around by anyone and everyone as if it was a golden adjective with huge dividends for instantly inflating personal expertise and credibility - regardless of whether or not they truly understand and practice social media. And unfortunately, it's bound to only get more polluted as opportunistic marketers realize the potential for cashing in.
On August 1st, Marketwire, a newswire service based in Los Angeles, agreed to acquire Press Release News Network (PRNN), a "social" and multimedia press release distribution and archival network.
Texas entrepreneur Kevin Dill founded PRNN in 2005.
So what's so social about PRNN?
Well, for starters, it boasts that it is the largest and most advanced social media distribution network.
The service provides exclusive press release distribution through Second Life, yet another social release generator, PRWizard, and PRStats, a tracking tool that displays how effectively search engines are indexing that release.
But wait, there's more.
All audio and podcast links included in their social media releases on the PRNN network are included in the PRNN channel on Apple iTunes. But wait, that's not all. All customers of all things "social" also received a free Social Media Press Room based on the idea originally developed by Todd Defren, also the creator of the Social Media Release template.
We're still at the beginning of all of this, and regardless of how much we say we know, we're all just learning.
However for such a "social" company, I don't remember hearing from Dill during our efforts to formalize a standard for the Social Media Release, nor seeing his participation in the New Media Release group on Google where PR people could definitely use his insight. On the other hand, Shannon Whitley, founder of PRX Builder - also a social media release creation and distribution network, has been a very positive and proactive voice in the community.
After all, this is Social Media, and building tools and networks are only a fraction of the total effort required in order to help PR people truly understand why this even matters. The rest is understanding the sociology of communities and how information is shared, why it is relevant to different people, and, most importantly, how to engage in those conversations without insulting the very people you're trying to reach.
Participation, is by all means, the new marketing and there are no magic bullets to automate the process.
The most troubling part for me about all of this however, was the following quote:
Thom Brodeur, senior vice president, global strategy & development for Marketwire, said in a "traditional" press release, "Social media has evolved beyond the basic tagging of press releases, and our clients are looking at social media optimization of their news as a means of communicating their messages globally to more places and through more channels than ever before. As pioneers in social media development and distribution, our acquisition of PRNN is a logical step in Marketwire's social media product strategy where our clients' news reaches the audiences they care most about, anywhere in the world, anytime, and in a format that social media embraces."
This is exactly why PR is synonymous with spin. Here are the flags that specifically stood out for me:
- Beyond basic tagging
- Social Media optimization of their news
- As pioneers in Social Media development and distribution
- Format that Social Media embraces
OK, with all due respect, since when is Marketwire, or any wire service for that matter, offering true Social Media Release distribution or optimization?
And to be so bold for anyone to claim that they're pioneers in the development of Social Media development and distribution is absurd. I reserve such honor for those who have actively built and cultivated the infrastructure and those tireless individuals who have championed these platforms to force a new era for improved communications.
Blogs, social bookmarking communities, microblogs, video and social networks, crowd-sourced voting and ranking sites, etc., these are the only platforms that define and enable social media - not wire services.
I have been saying for quite sometime, that just because you add links to del.icio.us, flickr, and RSS feeds, all strung together by bullets and a selection of quotes, and throw it on a wire, doesn't mean that you've created a Social Media Release.
In fact, I don't believe that the Social Media Release has any place on wire services to begin with, so the only reason they're dropping the "S" word all over the place is to capitalize on this important shift in media and to profit along the way. Which, if you think about it, completely goes against the entire undercurrent that is fueling the democratization of information and user generated content - sorry to all of my good friends at Business Wire, PR Newswire, PRWeb, and Marketwire. No offense intended.
Wire services aren't built upon social infrastructures and are better designed for SEO, traditional news distribution (which is questionable these days) and RegFD compliance rather than attempting to participate in conversations.
When it comes to Social Media, it begets an entirely new way to think about news, requiring the shift from distribution to participation.
When is the last time a press release showed up in a Technorati or Google blog search because PR was desperate for something more than basic tagging? The easy answer is that they don't, unless published on a social platform or automatically picked up by a Google Adsense spam blog.
To my knowledge, and through experience, only blogs, microblgos, and to some extent wikis, represent a true social-ready platform that are blog search engine friendly.
Let's take a step back and analyze the difference between SEO (search engine optimization) and a new concept I've been pushing BSEO (blog search engine optimization). For the time being, they are unique and require separate strategies. Yes, you can have a more than one press release, one for the traditional wire and another for a social campaign.
Traditional wire services allow PR people to dabble in search marketing, which is an art unto itself. Releases can be written and optimized in ways that align news with keyword searches in Google and Yahoo. Once they cross the wire, they show up in search engines, and from there, people can find them based on the keyword they use to search. Granted, optimized releases will always be easier to find through strategic keywords (not including searching the company name) than those that are written without SEO in mind.
BSEO is similar in principle, but the channels and the formats are different. A release that crosses a traditional or new media wire doesn't show up in a blog search engine per se. However, if placed on a social-ready platform, Social Media Releases can show up through keywords and a combination of Meta and Technorati tags.
Beware however, in the world of Social Media, people don't want to read PRESS RELEASES! They want value, conversations, and reasons why that information is important to them, so SMRs require a completely different strategy for creation and sharing.
And in the realm of Social Media, distribution channels are also social. Tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, and other networks and microblogging platforms complement traditional wire distribution services, but are specific to people, instead of wires and search engines.
Perhaps we're all getting a little ahead of ourselves. Most of the industry has yet to understand the difference between a traditional media release and a social media release, not to mention the value and basic justification of SMRs. This will be the subject of my next post.
Remember, Social Media Releases aren't the miracle cure for the ills of the press release.
To this day, press releases still suck. They're written poorly, constructed out of hyperbole and messages, showcase bullshit quotes, and are usually written for one audience. And, we should all know by now that in the world of Social Media, we are the people formerly known as the audience, thank you Jay Rosen.
Crap is still crap, whether it's a traditional release or social. So everything starts with understanding who you're trying to reach, why your news is valuable to them, and where they go for information. Customers populate a variety of different demographics, which all go to various places for their information. This is why one release and one strategy is no longer an option.
Social Media is about community, which is ultimately about people. Whereas, the PR industry (in a broader sense) is associated with deception, hype, spin, and sales, and as is in major need of an overhaul and some PR for the PR in order to change this crippling reputation.
All service providers within the PR industry need to rethink how they approach Social Media and stop selling it as the next big thing. Walk before you run. Think before you act. Social Media represents the opportunity for PR to put the "Public" back in Public Relations and shed our reputation for BS and spin. It changes the game for everyone, and most PR people and existing services, are not welcome as they exist today. Change and evolution are critical and absolutely required in order to participate.
Those who take the time to learn the new dynamics, listen to conversations before engaging, and those who practice Social Media as people instead of marketers will survive the transformation and lead the way for the rebirth of the communications industry.
Here's the social (strike that), traditional press release that was issued to announce the acquisition.
For everything you wanted to know about Social Media Releases, but were afraid to ask, please read this.
For more on Social Media and marketing, read The Future of Communications - A Manifesto for Integrating Social Media into Marketing
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