Social Media News Releases: Do Them or Not?

I've just returned to the office from a whirlwind, high-exposure speaking tour (about social media, of course) of the left-coast and I must say, execs are curious about social media - especially the Social Media Release.

I've just returned to the office from a whirlwind, high-exposure speaking tour (about social media, of course) of the left-coast and I must say, execs are curious about social media - especially the Social Media Release.

I attended BlogWorld Expo, spoke at PayPerPost's PostieCon and then spoke to two groups of investor relations and public relations professionals in Denver and Phoenix. I kicked major buttocks. (Brag alert: I drew the largest crowd in the past 24 months in Phoenix and I was told that I was the best speaker in 18-24 months in Denver!)

I received a few questions before I left NY about the "new" social media release (SMR) - or social media news release - and got a bunch more while on the road and I figured it's high time I address the SMR here.

What is it?

The social media release template as we know it was introduced to the world on a grand scale by SHIFT Communications - a PR firm - in 2006 (although the SMR concept was not invented by them). Yes, last year...so it's not all that 'new'. If you'd like to see a sample, you can do so here.

As you can see, it's a lot different than a traditional release. And, in fact, the SMR was the answer to the call for the death of the traditional news release. Yes, some reporters hate traditional releases that much.

Why are SMR's better than a traditional release? What's the *real* value here?

1. For companies that want to showcase a progressive, 'forward thinking' position, it might be a good idea for them to distribute a social media release. You know, "be the brand" and all...

2. There are more 'new media' points-of-contact like Skype and instant messaging (IM) on the SMR. More points of contact means more ways for people to reach out to the company about the release. This doesn't necessarily mean more coverage, but one could argue that train of thought.

3. There are potential SEO and content popularity benefits. Not just from the content of the release itself, but also from the ability to tag and rank content on Technorati, digg and del.icio.us. Notice, I say *potential* SEO benefits. Even if the SMR uses accepted Technorati tags, that does not mean that the release itself will be indexed, but it will be contextually linked to the tag topics - which, let's be real, is certainly better than having your news release slip off into the ether never to be read again.

4. The SMR makes better use of white space and content blocks and so it fits in with how people read online - skimming rather than actually reading. It helps you to keep it simple and organize key points.

5. It allows a company to share more of their story because pictures, audio and video are integrated into the release framework - all with less clutter and verbiage.

What do tech and business reporters think of SMR's?

As a journalist, I can say it definitely makes it easier on the eyes...it feels less like a missive and more like a memo...works for me.

Other media pros could take or leave it and I recall one reporter saying that it was almost too much information.

I don't mind the additional information appearing visually...as long as I don't have to read more content, I'm good to go.

My guess is that SMR's are more appealing to tech reporters than traditional business reporters for obvious reasons - although there's an exception for every rule and I'm willing to be surprised. Traditional reporters may appreciate the legwork being done for them while tech reporters, who probably already know where to find the additional information if they need it, may see it as TMI (too much info). Who knows?

What I do know is that ever market is different. So, the traditional release might still be the best play for your company if you're in finance whereas a company in fashion, advertising or consumer products might win with the new format. Only you know (or at least you should) what amount of information works for your media contacts - and if you don't, you need to ask...NOW.

The only drawback that I can see so far is that these releases are only of use online. There's no real offline equivalent - why would there be? But, there is still very much a need for press releases to be made available offline. With that in mind, I see the SMR as a compliment NOT a replacement for traditional releases.

Who's using the SMR format?

Well, so far, Ford's on board: http://media.ford.com/products/focus08/index.html

And, so is Coca-Cola:

http://www.virtualthirst.com/virtualthirst-socialmediarelease.html

How can you try it without being married to it?

If you just want to try out the SMR without making a huge investment, try using a service like PRX Builder. It builds the SMR's for you and they even connect you with distribution on PR Newswire.

The $64K question: what's the pick-up vs. traditional releases?

I don't know about any hard and fast numbers (if you do, please share them below), but here's a link to an informative case study about the use of the SMR format. When I read this case study, it was very eye-opening.

Bottomline: Try it out, see if it works for your organization. Don't use it at the exclusion of any existing forms of media communication, but rather as a supplement. And remember, no amount of 'social media-ization' can make a news release exciting. A crappy news release is still a crappy news release.