The Evolution of Social Media Releases

The conversation about Social Media Releases (SMRs) as well as the tools to create them continue – albeit slowly. Each time someone introduces something new, we place a new stake in the ground and reignite an important conversation.

Maggie Fox released a new Social Media service called Digital Snippits(tm). Congratulations Maggie, it’s a very polished and useful solution that will help your clients expand their options when running proactive communications campaigns. And, I’m being genuine when I say that Maggie has done a great job. She’s gets it…

The rest of this discussion is aimed at everyone who is looking to learn more about SMRs and how to improve press releases in general.

For all of those who have been part of this exhaustive process of “pushing a boulder uphill,” as Chris Heuer so appropriately put it. I think we all agree that this is a positive release and an opportunity to bring the conversation into the spotlight in order to learn from one another. It is also comparable to a variety of tools and solutions that are available today. But, I’m not here to compare everyone’s work, only to acknowledge individual achievements along with the great work contributed by others.

What we don’t need to do is overlook noteworthy contributions over the last 20 months. That way we don’t take away credit from those whose advancements have paved the way for everyone else. At the same time, most of the industry is still shaking their heads wondering what all of this means…so what are we going to do about it?

Geoff Livingston is right when he says, “Old-timers in social media need to realize that innovation and adoption will occur with or without them.”

Where I differ with him on opinion is when he continues, “They would be better served embracing these people, and making their past content easily available than kvetching about how no one researches. History means nothing when people with two years, two months or two days of social media experience are trying to create a solution that will work for their companies and paying clients.”

I do agree with embracing new ideas and those who create them. And for the most part, I think we all do…maybe to a fault. We also get dinged for creating a so-called social media love fest that sometimes eclipses the value of what the collective of great minds produces.

Regardless of money and paying clients, it is important to remember that history lessons prevent us from repeating mistakes in the future. It also eliminates celebrating the reinvention of the wheel. And, research aka “getting smarter” also serves as a foundation for legitimate evolution in a rapidly changing media landscape. We’re talking about social media here, not just about the latest shiny new object. There’s real value in the stuff that happens behind the scenes and as we’ve all learned, companies can make mistakes and customers are quick to call them on it.
There are consequences.

Why do I care?

This isn’t just about PR for the SMR.

There’s a tremendous amount of confusion out there and the community is working independently at a time when we should be working together to help people. It’s only widening the gap between the people who do get it and the people that don’t. Narrowing that gap is a personal objective for me across all forms of Social Media.

The only reason I run this blog is to spotlight the evolution in New Media, Social Media and also traditional Public Relations to bring things from the edge to the center so we can all learn and grow together.

Almost two years ago, Todd Defren released the SHIFT template in response to Tom Foremski’s call for evolution. Todd graciously offered it up as an “open source” document to help the entire PR industry do something new and at the same time, re-examine the way they write traditional press releases.

How did the PR industry respond?

- Many pushed back.

- Others defended it.

- Most just didn’t know what to do with it, and it continues today.

- Some PR and New Media agencies and consultants saw the opportunity to rebrand it as a differentiated service> This may be one of the main reasons that we don’t see many case studies available to the public as it could now be considered a competitive edge.

- A small group of people banded together to help build a community around it to help the rest of the industry get it.

I’m part of that small group which includes Chris Heuer, Shannon Whitley, Tom Foremski, Todd Defren, Shel Holtz, Todd Van Hoosear, among others. Together we founded the New Media Release Workgroup with the original charter of creating an open standard technology base for creating and distributing SMRs. The product would eventually be called the hrelease.

We looked for participation from PR practitioners, wire distribution services, geeks within the microformats community, bloggers, and reporters.

To this day, the WorkGroup moves forward under the leadership and perseverance of Shannon Whitley. Members include, Alison Minaglia, Andy Arnold, Dan Zarrella, David Weiner, David Parmet, Jason Ryan, Michael O’Connor Clarke, Paul Dyer, Paul Pritchard, Steve Kayser, Susan Watiker, Todd Van Hoosear, and me.

I’m happy to report that there are good things to come. You can also join the discussion with advice, insight, and quesitons on Social Media Releases and the hrelease format on Google.

With every new SMR discussion it’s good to go back to the beginning to unearth the case for SMRs from the archives, dust them off, and spotlight two years of invaluable discussions to set an equal foundation for everyone currently standing in the same room.

There is tremendous brilliance in those discussions and not embracing them is like trying to practice law without referring to past cases.

For a quick study, see “Everything you wanted to know and should know about Social Media Releases.”

The most important and consitent points that emerge are:

- Aren’t press releases dead?

- Why an SMR?

- How do you build one to look like the existing template?

- Does it need to have bullets?

- Why another release?

- Has anyone asked journalists if this is what they want?

- How do you send one out?

- Do SMRs replace traditional releases?

- How do SMRs comply with RegFD?

- What’s the difference between a traditional release, multimedia release, and a social media release?

- Should conversations be hosted or should they be encourage through individual communities?

- Could an SMR be a Web page or should it be hosted on a Social Media platform?

- Does adding RSS, embedded content, widgets, links to external social networks, images, videos, bookmarks, etc. make a release “social?”

- Where are the case studies?

These are all incredibly relevant questions to this day. So, let’s take a step back to remember how and why this started in the first place and why it isn’t going away.

Press releases are 100 years old and reporters, and now bloggers, have been complaining about their uselessness for years. Over the years, PR got caught up in buzzwords, hyperbole, spin, and caused an inability to easily build a story from them, which was supposed their intent and sole purpose all along.

SMRs aka SMPRs are not the miracle cure for the ills that plague a majority of press releases.

Todd Defren was the latest person to take the tools of today to help PR tell a story in a way that gives the media what they need so they can assemble the story their way, without having to first deconstruct, research it, and reconstruct it. There have been champions for change and improvement over the decades.

Whether it’s Social, Traditional, or Multimedia, it all starts with what you have to say and how you say it.

Instead of presenting aggregate pieces, bullets and facts, you could very well write the story you want to read. For example, I’ve experimented with SMRs which were basically “branded” blog posts that read exactly like the story we hoped to see, minus the gratuitous BS and unecessary posturing found in most traditional releases. When hosted on a blog platform, in this case, WordPress, they an inherently operating in a Social Ecosystem. They’re an extension of a company press center and each release aka post, feature embedded video demos, audio interviews and sound bytes, artwork, etc. all sourced from the various networks where we ALSO place them for additional exposure. We share them under password protection and after the embargo passes, the post appears to the public. To everyone else, it looks like just another blog article…but to those in the PR business, it’s easy to see the connection to what we talk about in a Social Media Release. Each one distributes through blog search engines and also features RSS, bookmarks, tags, trackbacks, comments, widgets, embed codes, and all other pertinent social building blocks. The press and bloggers we’ve worked with absolutely love it.

But, let’s not confuse SMRs with Social Media.

SMRs are just one of the many Social Tools available to help reach the people that matter to your business and the communities of customers wherever they engage across the Web. You need to use a variety the tools, networks, and services through the channels that reach them in the way they communicate. For more on this, read the Social Media Manifesto.

But remember, they don’t want to be pitched or marketed “at.”

SMRs are only meant to deliver information in a way that not only helps media write stories, but a bonus effect of good Press Releases, regardless of format, is that they enjoy additional exposure through search engines. Why not use it to facilitate conversations. It is a Social Media Release after all, and Social Media is defined by any tool that hosts and encourages conversations on the Web.

Again, if you can distill the essence of your story in a way that matters to the very people you’re trying to compel, then why wouldn’t you change how you do things? It could only expand your reach and help you improve blogger, media and customer relations. In the new world of PR, they are intertwined.

Social media releases, to me, expand the discussion beyond form versus function and forces us to examine why we need to explore additional options and what we can bring to the table in return.

One thing to think about in any discussion related to traditional or social media releases is that stats show that good releases ARE the central point of consumption, “conversations,” and more importantly, a catalyst for “action” courtesy of search engines.

In the tech world, numbers show as much as 51% of IT professionals discover news and information from press releases found in Google or Yahoo over trade journals. That’s pretty compelling…and it’s the activity and discussions inside the bubble that keep a level playing field in order for it to effectively influence the rest of the industry.

With stats like that, it starts to show you several things…1. Press releases are far from dead. 2. One press release doesn’t serve everyone. 3. There are now press releases for journalists and bloggers as well as story-based releases directly for customers.

And, when you break it down, as of now, there are search engines that comb through traditional HTML web sites and there are search engines that monitor blogs, wikis, and other forms of social media.

If customers are searching for information, make sure you have a social and traditional strategy in place and think about the content, context and building the social bridges that reach them. You might write for customers differently than you would for media and you should consider utilizing all forms of releases available to you. After all, one message doesn’t fit all…

Maggie’s keeping the discussion going…if anything, we should consider that “social” in the social media release implies conversation…whether hosted internally or externally. An SMR is an ideal beacon for all of those conversations and can serve as a hub for flourishing thoughts, ideas, and opportunities for customer service and also a magnifying glass into the dialog within their online communities.

At the end of the day, take from all of this what applies and matters to the people you’re trying to reach – media, bloggers, and customers. None of these options are magic bullets. You still have to do your homework and reverse engineer the distribution channels that reach journalists, bloggers and customers, nderstand what they need, and why they should listen to you, and in turn, share information within their own social networks.

Other voices on the subject:

Chris Heuer on the history of the SMR.

Shannon Whitley on Digital Snippits and PRX Builder.

Chris Heuer, Paul Gillin, Jason Falls, and Geoff Livingston on the Digital Snippits.

Geoff Livingston shares 9 points for evolving SMRs.

Make sure to read the comments in these posts. There’s great dialog there…there always is. If you agree, perhaps you’ll join me in the discussion, “The Value of Online Conversations.”

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Plaxo, or Facebook.

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  • Geoff_Livingston

    How’s that cane treating you? :P Good to see a vibrant discussion on SMRs again.

  • Brian Breslin

    Brian, couldn’t this all be solved by someone pushing out a clear and simple plugin for wordpress/typepad/blogger/movabletype that formats the post to whatever the current hRelease format is, and then we see how that takes off? Every company could then instantly start publishing in minutes their SMR. Problem is its too confusing for people, and no one has just gone out and given away a simple tool/template for it.
    using a blog post as the basis makes things really easy.

  • Jim

    Brian,

    I am sure this is all educational and even potentially interesting information. But OMG, I fell asleep somewhere between the 28th and 29th paragraph. It’s a blog, not a web novel.

    I just completed a survey today asking me which of 35 PR blogs I found most useful…35! Does anyone actually work anymore or are we all just talking about ourselves and how smart we all are in our web 2.0 universe?

    My dad used to tell me that actions speak louder than words; so please, can we all just set a good example through our work and stop writing about it? And if we MUST write, can we please be short and to the point?

  • Rebecca

    Great post on the SMR subject. For someone who’s spent the last 6 years focused on other areas of digital/interactive marketing and just recently joined the social media party; it was a great history lesson.

  • Tamera Kremer

    Brian,

    Got here through your tweet :)

    Excellent post, and I agree with many of your points. I think this is bang on:

    Some PR and New Media agencies and consultants saw the opportunity to rebrand it as a differentiated service, this may be one of the main reasons that we don’t see many case studies available to the public as it could now be considered a competitive edge.

    And I think that’s why I haven’t commented on “Digital Snippets”. Although the pdf structure is, as Maggie says, open source, the platform itself (digitalsnippets.com) is obviously being positioned as proprietary, hence the “All rights reserved” on the homepage. So is it OS or not? For me, OS is not a document that I could discern for myself just by looking at the actual SMR released for Ford and is not altogether that different from SHIFT’s template, but the code behind it. If the SMR is Creative Commons then so should the WordPress coding behind it.

    Do I think it is a bad thing to try and have an edge? Not necessarily, although I would like to find out how all those SMR’s are actually working out for Ford vs. their traditional channels, including their brand pages (which the Ford SMR’s appear to be the standard brochure copy chunked out into an SMR template).

    All in all, it’s a tad confusing, and I’m immersed in the space everyday.

    Re: your point that the SMR is just a tool… Right. ON. Technology enables and tools are tactics. Everyone, newbie or not, need to remember the “social” aspect to social media first and foremost and think strategy first and tactics second.

  • dbreakenridge

    Brian, I truly appreciate how you are able to take a topic, like the SMR, which I believe is misunderstood and make perfect sense out of it. I notice quite a bit that many professionals confuse the SMR with PR 2.0. Some think they are synonomous. Have you come across this as well? Some PR professionals are also under the impression that the SMR is a tool for journalists only, and not a direct to consumer tool.

    I’m seeing some change in the way professionals think about the SMR, but it’s a slow process! Keep explaining and hopefully it will sink in :)

  • Brian Solis

    @Geoff, good one ;)

    @Brian Breslin, I have been actually saying that exact same thing for well over a year now. Don’t be surprised if you see just that. In fact, I have a paragraph about that very thing in this post.

    @Jim, ok, you got me. That was good. Honestly, this is an important discussion and this post will most likely become a reference point for PR people now and in the future. It has to be comprehensive. PR 2.0 isn’t a machine gun blog. They’re essays designed to help people at every level. And in doing so, hopefully inspiring action. However, I do agree with your dad, spend less time talking and more time doing. This is a unique case and on the bright side, there is a paragraph about doing included, somewhere in paragraph 42…seriously though, I tabbed it so it’s easier to find.

    @Rebecca, thank you. Welcome to the party.

    @Tamera, thank you for feedback and observations. I agree, the (TM) across everything takes away from the “openness” of the community that got us to where we are today. However, Todd made it open originally and this is a competitive market. I suppose any one of us along the way could have done the same thing. But yes, exactly, the SMR is only a tool…one of an incredible array of social and traditional tools to get the job done. As you say, strategy first, tactics second.

    @dbreakenridge, I’m at a loss of words. Thank you. You’re right…I see it all the time. And, you can count on it!

  • maggiefox

    Hey Brian – thanks for pointing out all of the great references and resources available on the development of the SMPR. In our research and work into developing Digital Snippets, we found many of them invaluable (“standing on the shoulders of giants”, etc).

    To the discussion regarding open source vs. TM – we released exactly what Shift did – a template licensed under creative commons – please use it, mash it up, take what we’ve learned and make it better. That’s the point – we wanted to share what we’ve worked through.

    We’re also actually issuing SMPRs – and yes, they’re provided as a webservice that is available for a fee, and which is branded as Digital Snippets. The platform is emphatically open source – you could run along and make it yourself, should you choose to make the time investment that SMG did. But we’re in the business of selling services to our clients (not giving them away for free), as are most of the people involved in this thread, so we understandably won’t be releasing the backend code in the foreseeable future.

    Nevertheless, this has (and continues to be) a great discussion!

  • Brian Solis

    @Maggie Fox. Tis a pleasure to have you hear! I think that’s a great quote, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” I personally believe not only do we learn from each other, but we also inspire one another.

    Re: TM vs. open source, honestly, all it needs is a little PR for the PR. The (TM) “near” an open template associated with a “fee-based” service might create a perceived barrier to entry. Personally, I know you’re giving back to the community…

    I really do think you should be one of those who helps us build an online resource/library for everyone out there to learn so that new people can have a point of reference (a starting point) from which to learn and grow.

  • maggiefox

    Hey Brian – thanks for the feedback, and point taken.

    I would also love to work with you on a more open, collaborative environment that would support further SMPR development. Count us in!

  • Tamera Kremer

    @maggie – I have no issue with you building your own platform, although to others points, it’s not dissimilar from MultiVu, but semantically, it’s not “open source” as you have stated. You *built* it using open source code (wordpress), but are not sharing the code, therefore digital snips is not OS itself. It’s a small distinction, but an important one.

  • maggiefox

    @tamera – thanks for the clarification, and while of course I’ll disagree that Digital Snippets is similar to MultiVu, I also need to make a semantic point; Digital Snippets was built using open source, but the platform is not open source (i.e. code freely available).

    However, the template itself is (or as open source as a static document can be) – licensed under Creative Commons for anyone to use or mash up as they please.

    And how is it that we meet here, at Brian Solis’ place, when we’re only a few short miles from each other? Hope you’re well!

  • michelle v

    Brian,

    Good post. What are you thoughts on PRNewswire’s verion of the SMR? And do you think this is something we could really put out ourselves, or at the end of the day it’s better to pay for a service and let them do the job of distributing it per se then us taking the time to do it. I guess that’s the one area I’m still unclear on.

    Thanks

  • D Theus

    Great post. Thanks for the background. I’m following this SMR/PR discussion and think it’s the tip of the iceberg. I just posted on it here for those who are interested, and referenced this post as background: http://m-2-m.typepad.com/m2m/2008/02/social-media-pr.html

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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