I was speaking at the excellent Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit earlier this week and the issue of the new/social media release came up again. It has been over two years now since my rant Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! was published and I'm constantly surprised that it remains a controversial issue.
My main point was to use the new media technologies and include them in the news release. At least put some links in it!
Several people have told me that news wires such as Businesswire charge extra for links, but, a gentleman from Busineswire that was sitting in the front row during my presentation said it was not true and that Businesswire encourages its clients to put lots of links in their releases - but they don't.
I spoke with many PR people at the event. Some said that their clients are very conservative and that's what is holding back the new/social media press release.
Since companies hire PR people for their expertise it would seem that the client should not be the one making such decisions, such as putting links into a press release.
Mark Glasser, over at PBS MediaShift this week published a long piece on this subject, it is worth reading. Here is an excerpt:
Foremski is especially worried that press releases now rank highly on search engine results or in aggregators such as Google News, and hopes that readers don’t confuse company releases with real news stories.
One of the sparks for this story was a recent email I received from a publicist for Business Wire, a wire service for press releases, who noted the newfound power of company press releases:
Business Wire has morphed into what can be called a high-speed ‘search engine news delivery service’ with newfound capabilities to aggressively shoot to the top of search engines, news sites and social media with clientele’s materials. When press releases can be coded and stuffed with multimedia to the point that they receive more traffic and linkage than the same news stories which add the nuance and interpretation, who is doing an end run around whom?
The example Business Wire gives was the recent story of AOL buying Bebo, with the Business Wire story taking top billing on the Techmeme aggregation of stories on the subject. Laura Sturaitis, senior vice president of media services & product strategy for Business Wire, told me she was spending a lot of time educating clients on new ways of optimizing press releases for search engines.
. . . IABC Takes Over New/Social Media Release Leadership
It was just over two years ago that I penned my infamous "Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die" post/rant. I wondered why the press/news release did not have any hyperlinks, did not tag/label various sections for easy information retrieval, and did not use any of the new media technologies we have at our disposal.
It quickly became a controversial subject. My headline should have read "Evolve! Press Release! Evolve! Evolve! Evolve!" But maybe it wouldn't have gotten the attention that it did.
Half the people that read the original post it said I was mistaken, the press release would never die. The other half agreed with me and set about creating a new format for the press release.
The name for the new media release is now the "social media release." I'm not keen on the name too much, as I've said before I'd prefer a more neutral term, but that's how it is being referred to.
The interesting part of all this is that the International Association of Business Communications (IABC) has assumed the responsibility of providing a leadership role in "the development of standards to govern the creation and distribution of social media releases, a format for making company news available to reporters, bloggers and the general public.."
[Please see: IABC Assumes Social Media Release Leadership Role]
We'll see how this turns out. I hate to think that my legacy to the world will be something as obvious as suggesting the use of new media technologies to reformat the news/press release but I'm glad that I'm not the only one that sees value in this approach.
However, it is still a controversial topic. There is still a lot of work to be done. And it won't be easy work. It'll be interesting to see how the IABC executes on its leadership responsibilities.
Here is the IABC announcement in old format style: IABC Assumes Social Media Release Leadership Role
And in the social media format style: IABC assumes Social Media Release leadership role
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global network of communication professionals committed to improving organizational effectiveness through strategic communication. Established in 1970, IABC serves more than 15,000 members in 70 countries and 100 chapters. For more information, visit www.iabc.com.
Evolving the news release with microformats...
When I wrote Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! nearly two years ago, it got a lot of attention and a lot of work has gone into creating a more modern news release that includes much of the media technologies that make up Internet 2.0.
Chris Heuer, Shel Holtz, Brian Solis, Todd Defren and Shannon Whitley are some of the many people that have worked hard to bring attention to new formats for a press/news release, which is sometimes called a new media release, or a social media release.
We are still far from what I described in the original post:
In most news stories, the spin or angle, is set by the journalist in the first couple of paragraphs.
Much of the rest of the news story is factual: what the CEO said, when the company was founded, where it is based, the stock price, the specs of a product, the price, etc, etc, etc...
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 tags would be things like: recent share price, founders, first quarter revenues, analyst quotes, etc...
And because we are dealing with tags that are attached to facts--there is no spin so there is no problem in printing the information as it is received. If we can get the tags to be finely tuned, as a publisher, I could spec out a story and assemble it automatically and then quickly edit it by hand before publishing.
Read more here...Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!
We are far from this vision but we have the technology to do this. It is because it requires a cultural change and we know that culture is always slow to change. And so we have to be patient.
In the meantime, Shannon Whitley has done some excellent work on creating those tags I mentioned, which in Geek speak are called microformats. He has been part of the hRelease Working Group and has done a stellar job in producing the basis of a standard.
Now we just need to have people start using it and refining it.
Just before the holidays, a few of us got together to do a New Media Release podcast that discusses microformats. From For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report
Content summary:The usual suspects: Chris Heuer, Shel Holtz, Tom Foremski, Brian Solis and Shannon Whitley. Shannon runs down the recently-released pre-specification working document, which needs your input. The group discusses the flurry of posts taking pro and con positions about the social media release.
You can listen to it here.
Shel provides some reference materials:
Working document referenced by Shannon Whitley.
Brian Solis from FutureWorks PR and and Todd Defren from Shift Communications have collaborated on a post called: " The Future of the Social Media Release is in Your Hands."
They have both been strong supporters of my call for a different type of press release described in my post "Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!" Mr Defren quickly came up with a template for my ideas. And over time, it began to be called a "social media release."
I have welcomed such efforts simply because it can make my life easier in assembling the information and materials I need when I'm writing stories.
Make my job easier
The whole point of my rant about the press release was that it was not suitable for use in today's online world. Put some links in it, (still, very few press releases have links), tab/label various sections so I can quickly find relevant information; give me links to relevant stories; give me a page of analyst quotes and customer quotes; provide me with links to stock price; provide links to other media formats such as podcasts and vidcasts. It is all very obvious stuff, imho.
Also, I prefer the term new media release, it is a more neutral term than "social media release."
But there is a much bigger and more worrying difference than just the name. The social media release is evolving into something much different - it seeks to bypass journalists altogether.
Mr Solis and Mr Defren write:
...search engines are an incredible catalyst for news distribution: people are finding news through Google and Yahoo and as a result have become more accepting of press releases as legitimate information resources, on a par with trusted trade journals (this has been documented by several analysts tracking the media space).
Their argument appears to be that a social media release is a good thing because readers will attribute the same trust to a social media release as to content written by trade journalists. Self-serving content will appear as if it were unbiased content.
Not a good thing
Why is this a good thing? It is clearly not.
Journalists are accorded a certain level of trust by readers because of their independence. Press releases are accorded a lower level of trust because they come from self-interested parties. Social media releases (SMRs) are taking advantage of readers mistaken perception that Google and Yahoo News carries content created by journalists.
This is not a good thing. This a questionable ethical PR practice. (I'm sure this is NOT what Mr Solis and Mr Defren are advocating, I know them both and they are extremely ethical and trustworthy. However, their post is encouraging further development of the social media release to gain even wider distribution.)
SEO for social media releases
Mr Solis and Mr Defren complain that not all search engines discover social media releases. Technorati is one of those problematic search engines. Which I would say is a good thing, that the Technorati algorithm, unlike Google and Yahoo's, recognizes the difference in the content between self-serving corporate releases and the posts of bloggers and journalists.
They offer tips and techniques to overcome such limitations for social media releases and go on to conclude:
The key to the SMR’s long-term success will be the ability to truly be social; to not only deliver the news in a snazzy new format, but also to facilitate discovery through Social Media channels, encourage sharing and spark conversations, all in a way that brings customers, journalists, bloggers, and analysts together around your story and your community.
And they issue a call to action:
How you develop and issue SMRs is ultimately up to you, and given that these are the early days, the interest level is high in making sure we get this right. We’re all in this together.
My advice is don't. I am a huge fan of the work of Mr Solis and Mr Defren. But on this issue of making social media releases that can find even wider distribution to readers by using various tricks and techniques I part company.
Our society needs high quality information and it is the job of journalists to sort through many sources and try to come up with something that reflects a truth.
Companies and their PR firms create self-serving materials. And if those materials, under the disguise of social media releases, fool readers into thinking these are the same as if written by journalists-- it does not make the world a better place.
Similarly, if those self-serving materials find wider distribution than news stories written by journalists because of sophisticated tricks and techniques--it does not make the world a better place.
Let's go back to the concept of a new media release: the release of relevant content in formats that make the job of a journalist easier. Readers can still discover the original materials that the journalists use to write their stories and thus companies will still be able to present their side of the story.
Brian Solis replies:
Tom, well said, and honestly, I think we all agree here.
Perhaps we weren't clear enough in our post and for that, we will have to update it.
This isn't a call to action for people to take garbage to new levels of distribution and reach.
It all starts with thinking about what you want to say and figure out why it's important to those you want to reach.
A crappy press release is still a crappy press release regardless of multimedia or social bling.
Our intention is the furthest thing from offering tips and tricks to manipulate people.
Writing the news in a way that's helpful, informative, and relative is a critical starting point for any release to be successful now and in the future.
The reason for this post is to remind people that tricking out press releases for the sake of tapping into a trend doesn't do anyone any good.
Garbage in, garbage out.
Press releases, for better or worse, ARE already showing up in search engines as a natural part of the wire distribution process. It's just a "benefit" for the $1,000 fee you pay.
According to Outsell, Inc. over 51% of IT professionals are reporting that they get their news from press releases in Yahoo and Google news over trade journals.
It's a fact that is changing the game for PR, and it's not only being driven by journalists, but customers too.
What it really represents is an opportunity, dictated by necessity, to do things better.
As we talked about last week, PR won't change until it has to.
Our post simply explains the differences between multimedia and social media versus the packages that you, as pr pros, are buying and what/where it gets you.
Tom, there are vendors now that are selling social media release packages that aren't full social. So, we're calling attention to the building blocks and the channels to help people understand the entire game and to guide them how to tell a better story without adjectives.
As you say, "...the release of relevant content in formats that make the job of a journalist easier. Readers can still discover the original materials that the journalists use to write their stories and thus companies will still be able to present their side of the story."
This is a call to action for PR people to stop and think about the entire process and take the challenge for improvement, whether multimedia or social.
What we all agree on is that we have a responsibility to you and to our customers that we need to finally take seriously. And, in order to build/continue relationships, we have to provide information in way that works for the different groups of people that want info, without the usual b.s. or spintastic hype.
Thanks Brian I certainly agree with you on these issues and I'm glad we can both point to the dangers in moving the social press release beyond its charter. There are many people in the PR industry that love the fact that they can capitalize on flaws in the search engines to move corporate messages into the mainstream.
[I recently received an email from a reader in reference to my infamous post: "Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!"]
By Harry Zane
I am retired from a career that began in journalism, turned to PR, then to marketing, and finally to consulting. And I agree wholeheartedly with what you said in your column. However, I am astonished that in 2007, PR is still slogging lower and lower into a press-release and press-conference tactical miasma.
I think the media, despite their constant carping about their dislike of press releases, are largely responsible. Many years ago, while working at a major university, I can recall a meeting of journalists and educational PR pros when the biggest complaint was that we PR folks sent out too many press releases. So we cut back, and the first complaints came only weeks later – from reporters, who couldn't understand why we were pitching stories without sending them "press releases."
I recall as well some 25 years ago working at a then major technology firm in Massachusetts when I had to fight endlessly with my peers and executives to keep the self-absorbed, self-unaware nonsense out of press releases. My "reward" was praise from the editor of the biggest industry trade journal. He really liked my releases because, as he said, they were brief and contained "no bullshit."
I took little comfort from his attaboys, however, since he ran unedited the competition's endless column inches of yammering right next to, or well above and ahead of, mine (the longer copy, rather than concise content, better fit his need for lead story layouts), creating the impression to casual readers (most trade journal readers are) that the competition had more to say than my company. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with the puffery-spouting peers and execs I'd just vanquished, either.
The reason, of course, for his actions are entirely explicable. His was a labor-intensive business, and he needed the free copy. Such is the fate of all media today: copy, no matter how untrue, uninformative, or unbecoming the author, trumps solid content.
PR people won't stop creating press releases because PR people, be they consultants, or employees will not stop serving the pleasure of their benighted bosses and clients; most media will continue to take content anywhere they can find it for little or no cost; and reader expectations for something better will continue to spiral downward with the whole sorry mess.
You are obviously a dedicated journalist with healthy amounts of skepticism and ambition. Your idea is sensible, laudable, and intelligent, but I don't see it happening. Ever.
But the date doesn't really matter. I've noticed that happen with some of my other posts. Search engines will kick them back into view and others will reference them and they live again in the mediasphere.
It's interesting to watch what I call the trajectory of ideas. Sometimes I will write something I think is significant and 2 people will tell me they thought it was important. Yet I can write the same piece a year, sometimes two years later or more, and 20, or 200 people will pick it up and discuss it.
That's a totally understandable phenomenon because more people now understand the ideas and conversations that emanate from Silicon Valley about the changing nature of media and its changing mediums. With simple technologies such as RSS we can now create totally new forms of media, and totally new ways to distribute and generate media.
- - -
Ross Dawson's Trends in the Living Networks: Deconstructing the press release: how tagging will change journalistic workflow
Brian Solis: Future of the Press Release - Acceptance
Technorati Tags: puppy
[This is from my comments section - from Kevin Murphy US Editor at Computerwire on the subject of the Social Media Press Release which I described in a late night post called Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!
Kevin Murphy asks:
Two innocent questions:
1) Tom -- when was the last time you wrote anything what was based on a press release? 2003? You've moved far far beyond PR now, surely. How will these new types of press release make your job easier?
2) PR people -- are you consulting with working journalists/bloggers while developing these new social media releases? Which journalists/bloggers? What are they saying? What is it they need that regular press releases don't provide?
Kevin, as usual you pinpoint the crux of the matter.
You are asking the right question here, what do I know about press releases? I get pre-briefed all the time, there is usually no need for press releases!
However, the truth is that we all refer to them in the course of our research and background checking. One late night when I wanted to go to bed but I still had a bunch of stuff I needed to check, verify, and quote, I had to look up company news releases and they were useless in addressing my needs.
I realized that there was a huge expense of human energy producing a product that was useless to me. Why not suggest a format that that could save me a click or three, hopefully much more.
Yes, this could be seen as a selfish project. But I know that if it makes me a little bit more productive, you and others will be able to save a few clicks too.
Have I tried working with any of these social media releases? Have they been tested by journalists?
Yes, I've worked with a few, and they have saved me some time. And I know they'll get better at making my job easier.
I also have anecdotal evidence of journalists that have been motivated to provide positive feedback to PR people about receiving press releases in a social media-like format.
Knowing other journalists I have to say that such feedback is rare and therefore has to be treated as significant.
The Social Media News Release is an obvious step in the right direction, it is an obvious application of our Internet technologies. What hasn't been noted is that the Social Media News Release comes with so much more than the old press release.
For example: it's trackability across media and blogs and Internet locations is easy and extremely valuable.
Another aspect of the the Social Media News Release is that it will continue to exist forever, cemented into the permalink archives of the Internet. It becomes a free floating publication in its own right with its own Google pagerank, and a Technorati following.
It could also be set up to collect comments for weeks or years, it's a live document. The collection of such information in such a manner is something that we never had a chance to consider before now.
We can go further, I have several ideas for new types of media entities I'd like to explore.
While lots of people talk about Web 2.0 and some have even tried to define Web 3.0 (blatantly obvious attempts to gain immortal Wikipedia juice, imho ;-) surely, we are barely at Internet 0.2?!
On the subject of the Internet, I am of a Bachman-Turner Overdrive opinion.
I've had a tremendous amount of interest in my proposal to change the press/news release into something more useful. Yes, there was a tremendous amount of pushback on my Die! Press Release Die! Die! Die! moderate proposal, but there was also a tremendous amount of support.
Yes, I should have used a less inflammatory headline. However, I wanted to make the point that the press/news release is antiquated and a tremendous waste of valuable human labor. Why not put that work towards something that I can use?
Newsrooms around the world are decimated, there are ever fewer journalists because journalism needs to find a new source of revenues. It is cheaper and more effective to sell products next to a search box than next to journalism.
Or, as I sometimes stress my point, you can sell shampoo next to a search box but not next to a news story about beheadings in Iraq.
This is an extreme example, but the fact is that journalism is not the best way to sell products and services compared with online marketing around a search box. It is cheaper to advertise next to a search box because you don't have to pay for the journalism.
When I worked for a newspaper, the Financial Times, my employer sold products and services to pay for the journalism. The reason Google et al can sell advertising cheaper than newspapers is that they don't have to pay for the journalism. Yet journalism provides a social benefit that Google et al, do not...
So who will pay for the journalism? That is what is decimating newsrooms and that is what is making it difficult to report on the news and to provide that independent analysis/comment that independent media provide society.
This is the reason why I'm advocating change. The future is about professional media and professional communicators (PR firms, corporate communications groups) becoming partners in telling truthful, honest stories.
The future for journalism and PR is about helping communities, companies, people, tell their stories. And the best stories are compelling stories. And the most compelling stories are truthful stories.
Yes!!! Put-this-in-your-pipe all you "Die! Press Release Die! Die! Die!" reactionaries...
This just in from Todd Defren over at Shift Communications' PR Squared blog.
I received a note from the "rising star" staffer who's in the graduate PR program at Boston University, in response to the latest series of posts.
She wanted me to know that our "Press Release of the Future" (and Tom Foremski's inspirational rant) had been passed around and discussed in class, and that the professor recently informed his students that their Final Exam would include questions on this "PR 2.0" topic.