Let me start this post off with a reminder that this blog is simply a repository of my own personal, random thoughts. That said, here goes.
The social media press release is out of control. In the hands of public relations practitioners (and agencies that cater to them) who do not really understand online communication, much less the new social media elements of it, it’s like a first-year college student on spring break – engaging in excess with no real direction in life.
Sprung up out of the churn behind Tom Foremski’s “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” diatribe back in February of 2006, it has morphed two years later into a full-blown product microsite aimed more at the masses than at mainstream news media or even the bloggers it was intended to embrace. There’s nothing wrong with microsites, we’ve been using them for years to market products or provide an online presence to a particular issue or campaign. However, they are not press releases and they don’t serve the same purpose.
Don’t get me wrong here. If you know me, you know I’m absolutely a fangirl of social media and I champion its use in online communication. I agree with people like Brian Solis that social media is vital for the marketing, communications and public relations professions. I thank pioneers in the field such as Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz (fellow ABCs) for introducing me to much of it. I want more of my colleagues to embrace the new tools, but to not lose their ultimate goal in all the sexiness of them.
However, I believe that rather than asking for more flair or pizzazz in a press release, the heart of what Foremski was asking for was simplification. Take off the spin and the fluff and give journalists and bloggers easy access to the facts and multimedia elements they need to craft their own stories. I think IABC does a good job of sticking with Todd Defren’s original focus with their SMPRs and am proud to see them taking a leadership position on the topic.
Equally as upsetting as the SMPR gone wild is the other side of this “if I call it a social media press release then it is one” thought process that I’ve witnessed. In this case, PR pros equate a social media press release to a less important press release – it’s not big news, but they want to say something about it, so they use a wire service’s “enhanced” distribution channel but incorporate no social-media-friendly elements in it. No photos. No videos. No blog or podcast links.
I can cut these people some slack because I know where they’re coming from. When we attended school, most likely earning journalism or similar liberal arts degrees, there was no YouTube or Flickr. The words blog and podcast didn’t even exist in our vernacular. The Internet itself was still not available to the general public and the first web browser didn’t even exist when I graduated in 1992!
However, it’s not that hard to learn. Plenty of groups like IABC and PRSA are working hard to educate their members. There is a wealth of good information online such as PBS’ Mark Glaser’s Media Shift blog. And, the real way to learn is to just dive in first-hand. It’s the same advice I give groups when I am introducing them to virtual worlds for the first time – get in there yourself and learn about it before you try to apply it to your organization.
I think there is certainly a place for the content coming out in these new sites companies are building that integrate social media elements. And there’s also still a place for the ultra simple press release to announce news. But, please, don’t call either of them a social media press release.
And maybe there is the root of the issue, really. Simple semantics.
“What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare