Got up very early yesterday to take in the Vocus + Society for New Communications Research webinar on the Social Media Release.
As indicated by Jiyan in his blog post of February 26, the aim was to discuss:
- What is the social media release (SMR) and who is it for?
- Is the SMR a replacement for a traditional press release or a supplement?
- What are some challenges faced with the SMR?
- What should be the role of newswires with regard to the SMR?
- What do you see down the road for the SMR?
On the surface, listening to the discussion was a bit like watching a game of ping pong ( or table tennis if you prefer), statements and opinions bouncing back and forth about the social media release vis-a-vis, or even versus, the traditional press release.
But as with any good game of table tennis played by champions, there were some neat twists and turns, enough subtleties aired, to make the hour and half go quickly enough even though I hadn’t had a coffee, let alone breakfast.
A couple of key reference points were kind of familiar to me but I looked them up after the webinar, just to make sure I had a coherent picture for this post.
The first reference document:
Two years ago now, in February 2006, on Silicon Valley Watcher, Tom Forenski’s blog post Die, Press Release! Die, Die, Die!
Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on…
He proposed instead:
Deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful.
The second reference document:
In May 2006, Shift Communications Principal Todd Defren produced and made freely available a social media release template:
SHIFT Communications believes that journalists and bloggers are now fully adapted to using the World Wide Web for research purposes. The “Social Media Press Release” merely facilitates their research by using the latest tools (social bookmarking, RSS, etc.) to provide background data, context and on-going updates to clients’ news.
Snippets from my notes, mostly without attribution to particular panelists
What is “social”? Personal, between people, personal stories.
Most clients don’t know what RSS etc mean.
Someone was quoted as saying:
You want to be persuasive –
- to be persuasive you have to be believable
- to be believable you have to be credible
- to be credible you have to be truthful.
(I’m still trying to understand the difference between believable and credible – I appreciate there is a subtle semantic difference, but in practice…?)
Technology is secondary.
The traditional press release is not dead.
There is not one single audience.
Listen to the customers – find out what works for them.
Social media release (SMR) works for bloggers: what about other audiences?
Distinction: social media 2.0 release, engaging, participatory.
SMR a replacement or a complement?
- who are you trying to reach, and why?
- how does that audience want to be reached?
It’s the hype that’s antiquated (not the press release as such).
There is pressure for PR people, re social media, to “do it the right way” and be able to demonstrate that they have. It’s show and tell.
- The good news about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.
- The bad news about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.
Is there a “right way” to do it?
Challenges in applying PR “standards” to social media.
Lack of trust in PR people vs trust in person to person (“lack of trust” assertion did not go unchallenged).
Need a shift in intention from trying to sell to trying to help people buy.
Press releases are evolving. Press releases have the potential to communicate …SMR enhances.
There’s search engine optimization (Google etc) and there’s social media optimization (Technorati, Google Blog search)
Challenge: Google News may not index a SMR because of the bullet points.
Chris Heuer spoke here about promoting the use of microformats.
It was suggested that a summary at the front end could solve the Google dilemma.
Big challenge – distribution downstream. Old media still adhering to 1976 format.
Press release needs to be
- easy to understand
Standard for number of words has been 400; average blog post 300 words and some press releases now much longer.
Importance of contacting a journalist or blogger in advance and providing the information the way they want to receive it.
Write a story which will be compelling for the people you want to move.
It’s writing for people, not for journalists, bloggers.
Need for hard work – emphasized.
Need for relationships – reiterated.
- who is this for?
- does it matter to them?
- what relationships are there?
Then the writing can be more effective.
With cutbacks in mainstream media, fewer journalists, sub-editors, people to do research etc, a great opportunity for well-written (well-presented?) material to get through.
Don’t just put a social media wrapper around a traditional press release.
Question is how to use social media better, allowing for all the voices to be heard.
Transparency and authenticity – not claimed, but earned.
Any success stories? Metrics?
A lot of people (clients) want to get a call from a journalist (that’s their metric).
First a slight niggle. I would like to have seen more of the capacity of the webinar format used, for instance with some of the links I had to go and find for myself popped up on the screen. As it was, apart from a couple of slides, the call could have been done as a podcast and made downloadable for instant dissemination (if that was thought to be desirable).
On a more positive note, it was a good seminar for me, especially as complemented by the supplementary research I did on the SMR concept. While there where no real aha! moments for me there were useful insights.
No one really fought for a position of “the press release is dead”. The discussion as I heard it was more about market sensitivity and timing than about the comparative merits, in the abstract, of the traditional press release versus the social media release.
Left unresolved – and, for me, unclarified – was the question of whether “standards” are desirable/achievable for the social media release. Frankly, I would not even claim to understand the question, but then I’m not a professional PR person.
The recurring message, as I believe my snippet notes above illustrate, is that you need to find out how your audience wants to get its information and then serve it up appropriately.
But part of me says that some of the savvier practitioners will be working to educate the market, so to speak, by providing information in richer packages and measuring the impact of different delivery systems or formats, without ignoring or leaving behind those media outlets or ultimate audiences who want their content served up in old familiar ways.