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Here we go again, but this time the discussion is finally happening among those who can benefit from the discussion the most - the PR industry. We took the conversation offlline to convince PR to be more effective with press releases first, before they can worry about the "why, how, when, and where" related to social media releases.
I recently spoke at the New Communications Forum on the now controversial topic of the Social Media Release aka hrelease aka New Media Release as part of the panel that comprised of those most vocal about it - Todd Defren (the man behind the SMPR template), Tom Foremski (the journalist that started it all), and Chris Heuer (the social media evangelist who is bringing everyone together). Laura Sturaitis from BusinessWire and George Vazquez of PRNewswire also joined the discussion.
The goal of this panel was to deliver clarity and understanding to the critics and those generally confused about what the hell we're talking about and what we're trying to accomplish. This was, after all, one of the largest conferences dedicated to helping PR people understand new media, Social Media, and other online tools, and how to use - and not use - them in practice. And yes, this could be an entirely separate discussion.
Back to the panel.
I will start by saying that we didn't really do the best job because we left attendees with more questions than answers. We were also sidetracked into an irrelevant discussion of wire pricing and disclosure, which monopolized the discussion. (Wire services should take note: there is a genuine hate/hate relationship with you. Drop your prices!)
Let's start with the questions that were raised onsite and in the blogosphere:
What's wrong with press releases as is?
How do we make it more affordable to cross on the wire?
How do social media releases comply with Reg FD? (It shouldn't, move on.)
Where are the case studies?
Why don't we get more input from journalists on what they want?
Why does it need to be socialized?
Look, I'm of the belief that most of the PR people shouldn't even think about dabbling in the world of Social Media until they do much more than simply learn about it. In my opinion, they first need to determine what they stand for before they can even think about social media releases. But, there are some that are genuinely capable of participating.
Let's start with what a Social Media Release is not...
It's not a magic pill to cure the ills of the traditional press releases
It's not about RegFD and disclosure
It's not exclusively for journalists
It's not designed to replace a press release
It was not created as a cash cow so that PR can create new value for itself
It's not the same as a new media or multimedia release as advertised by wire services
And, here are the kickers...
It's not at all about using a template, it was never meant to be...the original was designed to help explain how/where to start
It should NEVER cross a wire
And, it's not about BULLSHIT or SPIN
Oh yeah...I just said that.
You know what it is? It's a bigger discussion about sharing official news in way that reaches people (which should include bloggers and journalists too) with the information that matters to them, in the ways that they use to digest and in turn share with others through text, links, images, video, bookmarks, tags, etc., while also giving them the ability interact with you directly or indirectly. It also helps new people find the information in different ways. All this, without the BS.
We don't need focus groups to ask journalists what they want. We already know that most reporters despise the press release - that should come as no shock to people, yet it always seems to.
My argument is that there should be multiple flavors of a (well written and targeted) press release, traditional, new media, and social. No one tool reaches everyone, nor should it. Why limit the opportunity for distributing important information and why be so foolish to believe that one message matters to all who read it?
Too many people assume that releases (whether social or traditional) are only intended for the press (or bloggers). Stats already show that consumers are reading press releases that they find through search engines as well.
This changes the landscape and definitely reinforces the notion that one press release no longer serves all. You can still send a release to journalists, and at the end of the day, if you customize your story for different markets and the people within them, then you can only increase WOMM.
If you look back to Foremski's original post, he says nothing about adding social elements, only media resources (links) and relevant information in a concise format (without being "spintastic.")
Wire services are expensive, and if you look at the very root of an SMR, I suggest that it has no place on a wire - it goes against the very premise of social media.
Wires already offer SEO advantages to traditional press releases that enable them to also reach users through search marketing in addition to journalists. I believe that SMRs can also reach people directly, but through different channels.
But, if you write a good release/s (almost as if it was the story you'd want to read in the press) with new media elements, such as integrated resource links, video, images, etc. (and lite social elements such as del.icio.us and Digg), the release would enjoy more success with journalists and readers in general and will most likely cost no more than what you do today. Plus, it will have SEO benefits.
Now, if you created a dedicated blog-like platform, for example, and distribute your information in a genuine and hype-free way, that distribution channel, by default, is already socially-enabled. It is a recognized mechanism for socializing information simply by the way it is constructed with integrated comments, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, trackbacks, tags, etc. It shouldn't look like a press release, but it should provide what's new in a conversational, informative and resourceful format.
This does require an entirely new approach, but unlike traditional releases, if written the right way, it can engage readers in a way never before possible. But first, you have to know what you're talking about and why it matters to those you're trying to reach.
Maybe I have a different vision for a social media release, but I don't see it ever targeting journalists per se, and I absolutely don't believe it belongs on the wire. But, I guarantee you this, just by thinking about what you want to say, what you should say, distilling it in a way that matters to the people who read it, and provide links, resources, and other forms of telling the story, you will have greater traction with reporters, bloggers, and customers, whether social or not.
And let's not forget that nothing replaces relationships.
Here's a bit more on the subject:
Don't Kill the Press Release, Shoot the Messenger
Forrester's Josh Bernoff recommends using your brain
When Will We Afford a Social Media Release - Kari Hanson
Social Media News Release: The Right Tool for the Job? - Kami Huyse
The social media release: the jury's still out - Joseph Thornley (Who's the jury?)
Social media release panel at the NewComm Forum - Mike Keliher
NewCommForum: The Social Media Press Release - Chip Griffin
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