Marketwire Acquires PRNN – But is This Really Social Media?

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
- Audiences
- 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

More on the subject:

Mediacaster Magazine
Strumpette
PRWeek

Connect on Twitter, Jaiku or Pownce.

Share
  • TDefren

    Hi Brian -
    I think of PRNN as interesting more due to possible SEO benefits than for any perceived gain from Social Media “optimization.” I like to think of Social Media Optimization as YATLA (yeet another three-letter acronym) for “get more involved with people online, and the linklove will come.” No press release can help with that, eh?

  • Michael Tangeman @ Media Mindshare

    Interesting post, Brian, and not least because of aspect of misconstruing of what constitutes social media — whether intentional or out of ignorance.

    In and of itself, the deal is interesting and I think speaks volumes of where the PR wires are heading at a fast pace. I also believe SEO of releases by the wires is an advance over otherwise, and I don’t think what you’re saying is meant to take anything away from the PR wires on that score. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’ve recently had wide-ranging conversations with reps from a couple of well-known PR wires and they make no pretense that SEO of releases is anything but what it is. I think they see it, and I would agree with them, as a step toward social media, within the available parameters of a news wire.

  • Shannon Whitley

    Thank you for the kind words, Brian. I think you’re absolutely right. We are seeing our share of carpetbaggers. Can’t be helped, I suppose. I’m glad you’re there to cut through the hype.

    From my experience, though, both Kevin and Marketwire have been participating in our conversations. Kevin has been active in his local Social Media Club and has provided comments through the Google Group. I’d say that his style is to build relationships through one-on-one contact, rather than through larger groups. He’s been a big supporter of my work and I’m happy that his hard work is being recognized. I think Marketwire is genuinely interested in moving forward with new media distribution. They probably sat on the SM horn a little too long in this release, but I’m sure that I’ve made the same mistake myself.

  • Adam Snider

    You know, on top of all of the issues you’ve pointed out, their website is very ugly and unprofessional looking. It certainly doesn’t make me want to do business with them.

  • David

    There is no doubt that many people are very liberally using the terms 2.0, social media, etc. They’re the main attraction at every event whether it’s a summit, conference, meetup or pool party. And, while there are a lot of companies capitalizing on the buzz words, we are trying to leverage the technology in order to help all of our clients.

    We, at PR Newswire, agree with a lot of the frustrations you are vocalizing, and feel many of them on a regular basis.

    While our Multimedia News Releases and press releases are not Social Media Press Releases by a lot of people’s standards and definitions, this is quite intentional. The news we issue for our clients should stem conversations. We enable those conversations by adding numerous bookmarking buttons, a BlogIt button, optimizing for search, etc. We help bloggers, journalists, investors and consumers track the conversation with our Technorati Search and Google Blog Search buttons.

    But the reason many don’t believe our multimedia and text news releases are not authentic social media press releases are because they don’t incite conversations directly within the news release. Again, this is quite intentional – in speaking with our clients we have learned time and again that they want these conversations to happen on their websites. And similarly, consumers want these conversations to happen on their regular web destinations. Very often, the clients that do ask us to host comments also want us to moderate them.

    It is not our business to participate in conversations initiated by our client’s news. We enable conversations. We enable sharing. You enable social media.

    Also, I think it’s worth clarifying your statement: “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?”

    Though the majority of views of press releases take place on sites like Yahoo, one million unique visitors come to our site every month.
    * To date, over 87,000 blogs have referenced a press release from our site.
    * Over 96,500 blogs have referenced a PR Newswire press release from Yahoo.
    * Almost 1,000 blogs have referenced a Multimedia News Release from one of our client’s
    Of these, how many posts that were written didn’t reference the actual release?

    Take the Trojan Evolve campaign, for example. There were two links to the url of this MNR. There were at least 460 posts referring to the news. Most probably linked to the NY Times article. Here, as in most cases, it is the actual PR work that stemmed the discussion online. Traditional media still and will always triggers a lot of these conversations.

    PR Newswire’s products and services are designed to help agencies or corporate clients execute their communications strategies. Though we are here to counsel and do so on a daily basis, most of the things you talk about are not our core focus.

    Brian, you are 100% right that we are all getting ahead of ourselves. Many of our clients and your clients don’t have RSS enabled news rooms. All of us have to work on education together and take things step by step. What people like you, Shannon Whitley, Steve Phil and Ming, Bonin Bough, Adam Zand, Todd Defren, etc., are doing is vital and critical. We will continue to participate in these conversations and do everything we can to help the industry move forward.

    Thank you for your thoughts and for keeping us on our toes. Your posts are always very engaging and I look forward to each and every one.

    Sincerely,
    David Weiner
    Manager, Emerging Media
    PR Newswire

  • Brian Solis

    Hi Todd. I agree, I believe that wires do offer value in SEO as well as packaging new media in one stylish wrapper. And in the game of Social Media, nothing beats community participation.

    Michael, excellent comment. Yes indeed SEO is a big benefit to businesses using wires as it puts news in front of potential customers. Social media on the other hand, well, I just don’t see it.

    Shannon, thank you for the clarification. I too have personally spoken with Marketwire on many occassions and also helped counsel them on what is and isn’t social media. I have to say honestly, there are massive disconnects across the wire industry in general. I’m a big supporter of their new media strategies, but as you said, they sat on that social media horn in a way that symbolizes why PR is all about spin.

    David, PR Newswire is definitely one of the leading wire services with a very compelling set of products. In fact, I’ve noticed that PR Newswire has popped up as a leading source on Techmeme several times, which is impressive.
    Thanks for sharing these examples and your thoughts with the community.

  • tb3835

    Hey Brian,

    Good to see the industry pundits are keeping their eye on how things are progressing at Marketwire. As you might have guessed, there are some pieces of your post I find compelling, and some deserving of a response. Mostly, I am intrigued by the classification of the PR for Social Media industry as an opportunistic Gold Rush. Certainly there are those who will jump at the web traffic a lot of these social sites are seeing and try to take advantage. However, is there not still a large portion of our industry that is just trying to improve upon the way they communicate with the people who want to hear from them? Was it opportunistic of Marketwire back in 1994 when we first introduced email distribution of press releases? Or were we just developing a new standard for how PR can communicate with the people who want to hear from us? I would contend that these new social sites represent a new method of communicating that, far from being a Gold Rush, is better classified as the next “email” – a communication medium that will one day be standard. That is why Marketwire is trying to help our clients understand that medium and engage it – something that FutureWorks itself has been very successful at.

    You are correct there are no magic bullets in social media, pr, or wire distribution. However, there is such a thing as improving and making your communications more efficient. That’s what our acquisition of PRNN is all about. Just like the days before FTP or AP Satellite distribution, we are still seeking more effective ways to connect interested parties. Today, interested Bloggers and members of these social sites are without consistent methods for receiving information. Our goal is to bring together distribution mechanisms in one solution that includes web postings, RSS feeds, email distribution, distribution to the media, financial newswires, and of course, social sites. Whether our clients continue the conversation or not is up to them. Their press releases are nothing more than the “Knock, Knock” in a conversation and our job is to distribute that message to people who may be interested in asking, “Who’s There?”

    I thank you for the discussion of my attributed quote from the announcement as well. It is ironic that I was just having a conversation about David Meerman Scott’s Gobbledygook Manifesto before releasing that announcement. However, as David points out, the most important thing in PR is writing for your audience (or “Buyer” as David puts it). This announcement was not intended for social sites, it was intended for PR and Communications professionals. It was, as you pointed out, a traditional press release targeted as a one directional “just so you’re aware” to the thousands of PR and IR professionals who are interested in what’s going on at Marketwire. This is a great example of that which you so often preach – traditional press releases and social media releases or Social Bulletins, as Paul Dyer recently suggested, have their different places.

    I would, however, like to apologize if it came across as too assuming when I referred to Marketwire as a “…pioneer in social media development and distribution.” I most certainly did not intend to take anything away from yourself or the many others who have made significant contributions in that regard… The truth is Marketwire only develops new solutions because people like you create a demand for them! What my statement did mean, however, is that Marketwire has made a name for itself by being nimble, innovative, and developing best of breed products for the web. We are in an industry with few competitors, but among those select few I stand by my words that Marketwire is indeed a pioneer.

    There is a lot to discuss from this Blog post Brian, but I will wrap up my Comment with just a brief response to a quote you put great emphasis on. That is the statement that “… in the world of Social Media, people don’t want to read PRESS RELEASES!” While I understand the meaning of your words, I would have to argue that yes, they most certainly do. As David Weiner so clearly outlined above, there are tens of thousands of Bloggers and people involved in these social sites who are reading our press releases. Would they PREFER the content in a more no-nonsense format, spin-free and rich with relevant links? Absolutely. However, at this point the best we can do is to educate our clients on how to communicate in these new forums while making the necessary tools available to them. Transitioning from the traditional world of PR into the social world is going to take time for a lot of people.

    In the meantime, I do hope that once our integration with PRNN’s platform is complete, you will check out how well you think our distribution has or has not improved. Maybe even revisit this conversation then with either a recap of its quality, or an I told you so if there is still work to be done 

    Best,

    Thom Brodeur
    Senior Vice President, Global Strategy & Development, Marketwire

  • Brian Solis

    Thom, first let me say that simply by taking the time to comment here says a lot. After all, participation is marketing.

    Make no mistake, Social Media is the new gold rush in marketing and everyone is integrating it into their own PR and branding. At the end of the day, there are simply many opportunistic marketers that realize that they can sell new, more expensive services by aligning with all things social.

    With that said, it makes it all the more important for experts to help others rise above the noise and parity to actually improve PR.

    I’m a fan of Marketwire and issued the first true’ish social media release on your service. Your team worked with me to hand code it so that it would cross with many initial social elements. I still reference that in the “greatest hits” section of my blog.

    Yes, you’re right. This is all about improving communications and increasing efficiency. It also is about taking a step back and realizing that there are different tools for different tasks. A traditional release and a social media release can co-exist, they can even cross at the same time. It’s their platform, targets, and content (and methodology) that are different.

    And in the world of Social Media, terms like audience and buyer are disingenuous. We’re trying to reach people through social tools whereas press releases, we’re trying to reach press, analysts, and also buyers – and for the most part, a well written press release will get good traction using wire distribution.

    I think you’re right with the statement, “…in the world of Social Media, people don’t want to read PRESS RELEASES!”

    I should amend that to read, they’re don’t want to read press releases as the majority are written today. Having to and wanting to are two different things. Yes bloggers, and people, read them, but they have to sort through so much bs to find the real value that it’s really a daunting process. In fact, it was a blogger who publicly complained about releases, calling for their bloody death, that started the entire movement for social media releases.

    Thom, I appreciated your comments and thoughts here. Cheers!

  • http://www.usome.com

    In the meantime, I do hope that once our integration with PRNN’s platform is complete, you will check out how well you think our distribution has or has not improved. Maybe even revisit this conversation then with either a recap of its quality, or an I told you so if there is still work to be done

  • littleblackduck

    As someone who once-upon-a-time worked at a newswire, I can say with absolute confidence that people do read and link to press releases – bloggers, member of the public, etc. All the major wires receive a very high volume of internet traffic. Some people like seeing original press releases as ‘coming from the horses mouth’.
    At the same time, the majority of people still do get their news from ‘traditional media’ sources so it would be very unwise to treat them as irrelevant. It’s a learning curve for everyone involved; and a very interesting one at that.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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