Social Media Jobs: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t, Now You Do

On October 1, an article by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on Fortune’s website proclaimed “The social media manager is dead. Long live social media.

Just two days later, PR News’ blog was sharing an infographic about “The Rise of the Social Profession.”

Infographic: The Rise of the Social Profession

So which is it? Are social media jobs increasing or decreasing?

As with any set of numbers and statistics, it’s all in how you look at it.

With the infographic, data was collected from LinkedIn over several years. Based on that, social media positions have increased on the network by 1,357 percent since 2010.

Holmes’ piece referenced a Quartz story from September 12, which notes job postings that mention social media in their description on the site Indeed gained 89 percent since 2012. While that’s not as much growth and a shorter span of time, both the Indeed data and the LinkedIn data seem to agree that job postings mentioning social media are growing.

So why did Holmes’ proclaim the social media manager dead? Because while social media continues to grow as a desired skill in job postings, it’s not only for postings that have social media in their title. Shel Holtz noted on his Facebook page that several articles have been written over the last couple of months about the decline in social media manager job postings, but that organizations still need someone to coordinate things like tools and governance. This led to a lot of great discussion amongst several “heavy hitters” in the social arena.

I’ve been inclined myself to lean in the same direction as Shel. While I think integration of social media into many different jobs at different levels of an organization is ideal, I’ve also felt that there needed to be some strong leadership – especially in a very large and disperse organization. If everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge.

But, maybe I’m looking at this too hierarchically. Have my many years within the corporate world where, despite goals of meritocracy, titles still carry weight, led me to confuse leadership with organization? Are leaderless teams chaos or true democracy? Does a social media leader within an organization need the title of social media manager to lead?

Some of this line of thinking was spurred by an article in Harvard Business Review titled “When No One’s in Charge,” and the comments on it such as this:

“BUT, of course, leaderless does not mean there is no leadership… rather it means that leadership is distributed or devolved …decades ago i convinced my prime minister to run a leaderless cabinet office… it was a theoretical master-piece for a full 6 months..everyone love it…it worked a treat, well almost…it was fine internally but it was a disaster externally… all the departments around it, which depended on it for direction and control, were hierarchical bureaucracies and they could not work with a free-wheeling policy unit at the core of the government…it was disbanded before it celebrated its first birthday…as with many great ideas it is ‘the unintended consequences’ that accompany their implementation that restricts their success….leaderless entities will become more common in our digital global economy but they will have to be a good fit with their purpose and their environs if they are to survive….”

One line of thinking is that social media is a tool that everyone will use and it will become as ubiquitous as email. I said myself upon my last job change: “Social media won’t be my job title, but it will certainly remain a part of the way I do my job. And that’s exactly the way I think it should be.”

But… even if it is as basic a tool as email or the telephone, within an organization there still remain today departments with people who are responsible for making sure that email and telephones work. Sure every manager must play a role in hiring, managing and sometimes firing employees, but most do so with the guidance of a Human Resources professional.

So while the title of social media manager may be dwindling, and true leaders in social media don’t necessarily have to carry such a title to lead, someone still needs to be tasked with managing the infrastructure.

I wonder what their title will be?

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Exploring God Through Old Media, Social Media and Content Marketing

Questions about the impact of social media on religion are as old as social media — although certainly not as old as religion.

Many other bloggers and journalists have opined on the topic, books have been written about it, and a Google Scholar search turns up more than a million results.

There are the major players like the Pope who’s “Selfie Blows Up Twitter,” the grassroots themes of sunrises and sunsets inspiring digital adoration of God as artist, and even the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced that missionaries will do less door-to-door proselytizing, and instead, use the Internet to recruit new church members.a billboard in Austin, TX, with #ExploreGod on it

But much closer to my home, I’ve been watching with great interest as billboards began popping up all over Austin with simply “#ExploreGod” on them. I only wondered a short time what it was all about before I heard at my church that we were joining more than 300 other churches in Central Texas, from at least 12 different denominations, in a four-month campaign to invite people to investigate questions about God in a non-threatening way.

It was evident that social media was part of this campaign when billboards sporting hashtags popped up, but ExploreGod pulled off a truly integrated marketing campaign with their website, out of home advertising, online video, DVDs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, livestreaming broadcasts of Q&A forums, daily messages that could be delivered to your inbox or cell phone, and… of course, the powerful word of mouth from the pulpit with a sermon series on seven common questions about God and faith. Talk about your content creation!

My own weekly Bible study group made up of members from two different non-denominational Christian churches, and one mostly agnostic skeptic that likes to play devil’s advocate, has been using the DVDs and study guide.  Last week’s question of “Is Christianity Too Narrow?” was one of my favorites so far.

The well-produced videos have sparked good conversation, although our agnostic hasn’t really changed his stance. But, I don’t think the goal was really conversion, so much as encouraging conversation.

Too many people proclaiming their Christianity today are doing a lot of talking about what they think God wants people to do and believe, but they’re doing little listening and showing little grace, and this creates an environment where other Christians fear conversation about their beliefs will alienate or offend. So ExploreGod says, “If our work here can start a good conversation and give you something valuable to think about in your own life, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”

For that I applaud them. And as a communicator, I admire them for their ability to create such expansive content, leveraging just about every modern marketing tool plus the old reliable ones, and to bring together hundreds of different congregations in support of it.

Surprisingly, the church with the Instagraming Pontiff was not one of them.

Hashtags: Out at Pinterest, (Likely) In at Facebook

Geek Flashing Hashtag HandsignYou see them in tweets, you see them in print ads, you see them in television commercials. Last month, desperately-trying-to-stay-relevant Disney star Demi Lovato released a music video chock full of them.

I’m talking about the humble hashtag that started life as a simple tweet asking “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” according to “The Short and Illustrious History of Twitter #Hashtags,” in GigaOm.

A user-led invention from the pre-search days of Twitter, what hashtags do is create a way to find information based on keywords or topics. They’re especially useful for events, even if sometimes confusing (should I be using #sxsw or #sxswi or the session-specific tag?).

And they’re not just for Twitter. That same hashtag works the same way on Tumblr, Instagram or Google+. But, that sort of cross-platform functionality seems to have recently taken one step forward and one step back.

Most of the attention paid to Pinterest’s recent redesign has been on the visual elements, but along with those they removed the functionality of hashtags. While touting “More Ways to Discover What You Love,” Pinterest actually took away the most egalitarian of ways to do that. The Verge feels that with this sort of backend change — and a much-anticipated API — it could set the stage for big changes in the months to come. The changes noted here certainly seem to indicate Pinterest is trying to take more control:

Features lost in the most recent Pinterest redesign

On the other side of the issue, the Wall Street Journal noted that Facebook was working on incorporating the hashtag into their platform, although, “the feature isn’t likely to be introduced imminently.” Presumably, doing so would allow Facebook users to filter updates around a topic of theme – if Facebook really does adopt the hashtag. They’re not officially commenting on it.

A Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed the very “idea of Facebook adding hashtags incites uproar,” based on a few users they interviewed that didn’t want Facebook to be more Twitter-like. Ironically enough, these users evidently took to Twitter to express their unhappiness.

Hashtags on Facebook have the potential to be useful to community managers who could gain another outlet for organic visibility for their page updates. And, ClickZ reports that “Marketers [are] Eager for Facebook Hashtags,” because, as one commented: “Visibility is the name of the game on social media and hashtags are going to increase that.”

But, a New York Times social media editor says in a Neiman Lab post that hashtags don’t attract an audience and are aesthetically damaging:

“I’ve heard before: What’s the harm? Why not at least try to include #SuperBowl if every little bit helps? Somewhat of a fair point. Using a hashtag does no harm in the same way wood paneling does no harm to your station wagon, or a misspelled tattoo does no harm to your bicep.”

I guess I fall in with the “what can it hurt” crowd. I love the grassroots origin of the hashtag as something users themselves wanted and didn’t wait for platforms to create for us. I think that more cross-platform usage of it broadens its acceptance and makes it that much more of a beneficial tool for users.

What about you? Are hashtags useful for organizing and discovery of content, or are they just visual trash taking up valuable characters?

Hashtag hand sign image via Creative Commons by Kenneth McFarland

Real-Time Marketing and Facebook Drama Has Given Me Social Media Fatigue

I need to start this post with an apology to Ramon Ray, and a disclaimer that my penchant for being an early adopter may have led to, actually, a late adoption of the social media fatigue Gartner saw back at the beginning of 2011.

You see, Ramon was nice enough to send me an advance copy of his new book “The Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing” so that I could review it. I’ve been reading it off & on for the past couple of weeks and I think it’s a terrific reference for small businesses. He’s got lots of great illustrations, tips and quotes from business owners who’ve been there themselves.

But, I’ve had the hardest time finishing it and writing a true review. Luckily for Ramon, others I know, like Gene Marks and Anita Campbell, have carried the ball I dropped. My slacking is no reflection on the quality of the writing or the content. It’s just that the girl who used these slides in 2010 to make my case for launching the Dell for Business Facebook page and who still manages content on the five-year-old Social Media for Business – Powered by Dell page is disillusioned with the platform.

I’m not saying I don’t think businesses should be there. I still think it can be a valuable part of your marketing mix. It’s just that after the EdgeRank algorithm change that reduced post reach, brought cries of extortion and even prompted Mark Cuban to tweet that he’d be moving his business to tumblr or MySpace back in September, was… followed up by adamant declarations that the launch of Promoted Posts had no impact on the news feed reach of the average Page and that poor reach was simply the fault of Page owners putting out poor content, Facebook now… makes a much less-hyped admission that a bug in Page Insights actually was responsible for a real change in reach, well… they’ve just lost credibility with me.

Like Cuban clarifying his statements, I’m not saying pull out of Facebook completely. I’m just saying it wouldn’t be top of my list of budget items. I have no trust that an investment in content creation and engagement will really show a return equal to the creative and human resources that takes. For a small, local business with a much closer customer base, there might still be opportunity and for them I would definitely recommend Ramon’s book. But, does it still make sense for large brands to invest in building up a fan base only to have to continue paying for sponsored posts to reach them post-acquisition?

Maybe that’s why Twitter is the new darling for them and the real-time marketing movement that leads me to my next jaded commentary.

As usually is the case, when something good happens, everyone wants to duplicate it. When your sports team wins a championship, you want them to keep winning. When I got FastCompany coverage for a lesser-known unit of my employer’s organization, managers of other teams immediately wanted me to do the same for them. When OREOS reached millions beyond their initial Twitter followers with funny images during the Super Bowl blackout, every other big brand wanted to do the same at the next big event.

And this brings us to the Academy Awards ceremony.

Tweet from @Owyang about Oscar Real Time Marketing

There were a lot of companies trying really hard to re-create a magic moment and a lot of marketing/advertising people debating the tactic in the same real-time it was being leveraged. AdWeek called it a “fingernails-on-the-chalkboard crescendo.” I mostly tuned it out.

Between my husband’s complaints about me watching the Super Bowl with Twitter rather than with him when he was in the room with me, and the excessive snarkiness in tweets about what people were wearing or saying (yes, I know we all do it, but some seemed really bad – although not all as bad as The Onion), I mostly kept my Twitter-addicted hands off my smartphone during the ceremony.

In his post titled “The Content Crash,” Mitch Joel asked what I think is a very prescient question: At what point do consumers push back, unfriend, unfollow, unplus and whatever else? Surely I’m not alone in feeling like I don’t really want to get tweets from the snacks I’m eating while watching an event.

Maybe I’m just part of the “Angry Mob Fun Run” pictured on this post about “Why the Content Marketing Backlash is Getting it Wrong.” The whole concept of – or maybe the hype of the concept of – content marketing just makes me tired. I have to wonder, then, if it’s true disenchantment or just temporary burnout that can be cured by a good vacation.

Well, I’ll be testing that out soon as I am getting ready to leave Austin at the exact time each spring when everyone else it seems comes to town. For the first time since 2007, I will not be attending SXSW Interactive. I will instead be trading the crowded panels and parties for long Spring Break lines at Disney World.

In the past, SXSW was actually the place to learn about those new technologies I crave, meet interesting people doing creative, crazy things and get inspired to apply the tech and the ideas to my work. But, I didn’t leave with that feeling last year, so I’m not terribly sad to miss it this year. And, there are only so many years left when my girl will actually be asking to take a family vacation.

So, SXSW will go on without me and we’ll just have to wait and see if that means I miss that next big thing that will take me from jaded to fresh, energized and enthusiastic.

Oh the Drama That is Girl Scout Cookie Time

National Girl Scout Cookie Day - February 8, 2012I don’t know why I’m feeling compelled today to defend something that I’m not unhappy to hear my daughter doesn’t want to do next year, but here I am about to do it.

A blog post came across my radar today about a Girl Scout, who after participating in a tweetchat to promote a website she’d created to raise funds to donate cookies to U.S. military troops, was told she couldn’t collect those donations through PayPal.

Using language like “@GirlScouts Crush [my emphasis] a Girl’s Social Good” and describing the Girl Scouts has having “utter ignorance to social media,” the post weaves a tale of overinvolved parents, jealousy, double-standards and backstabbing that could fit easily into a TV drama series.

Now, as I stated in my own comment on that post – one of more than 80 comments so far – I’m not going to say the whole Girl Scout cookie sales process is perfect. I’ve joked to friends that the mafia could probably learn a thing or two from Girl Scouts when it comes to controlling territory as tightly as booth locations and staffing are managed. And, there’s been drama aplenty in our own little troop when parents take it too much upon themselves to help their daughters succeed.

But, I feel compelled to come to the organization’s defense regarding their knowledge of social media. And, to point out that there are two different issues at play in this situation: online payments and competitive parents.  The first might be changing for the better and the second appears to be changing for the worse.

According to a Seattle Times story, while there have always been hard-to-please parents, some experts say parental micromanagement has gone mainstream: “Overinvolved parents and overscheduled children are the recommended ways to raise children these days,” said Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, co-author of ‘The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.’ “And it’s really not to anyone’s good.”

“Some parents have a terrible fear that they won’t turn out to be good parents so they overcompensate by trying too hard. Some might be filling their own need to be as perfect in parenting as they are in other areas of their lives. These parents often find themselves competing with other parents out of a fear that their children will be less advanced than their peers, or even left behind, socially or academically,” said Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Institute at the NYU Child Study Center.

This type of competition can drive parents to get into fist fights at sporting events or to go overboard trying to make sure their daughter is the top cookie seller. This type of behavior is actively discouraged by the Girl Scout organization, though. When I witnessed it first-hand, I didn’t blame the Scouts, I blamed the parent.

Now the other issue involved in the story of the girl who couldn’t use PayPal is leveraging social media and new technologies. The blog author said “I for one will not support an organization that sells a product using methods that are so clearly out of date that it is in no way preparing their children members for the realities of the world today.”

I believe this statement itself is not made with a full picture of what Girl Scouts is doing to leverage technology, and more specifically, social media. You can find the Girl Scouts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr and their own blog. Just today my local Council sent out a link through Facebook to new cover photo images that moms like me could add to their Facebook profiles to let our friends know we can connect them to a “cookie professional.”

Yes, there’s room for improvement because these were targeted primarily at moms while there are cookie dads out there, too; but, maybe some involved dads will point this out to them and they’ll add more. People may wonder if that conflicts with discouraging parents from selling and whether that illustrates that they aren’t encouraging the girls themselves to use social media. Well… if they’re under 13 years of age they’re not supposed to have a Facebook profile per the site’s Terms of Service. The reality is a much smaller percentage of girls stay in Girl Scouts as teenagers. And, there is one image that they could use because it doesn’t mention being a mom.

But, back to the blogger’s contention that Girl Scouts methods of selling are out-of-date because they don’t allow for individual girls to set up PayPal accounts to accept funds. While online payments are not currently allowed (and we’re all told this up front), Girl Scouts are now making credit card transactions possible through the use of smartphone technology. Some Councils are using Sage and seeing great results, while ours has leveraged North American Bancard to provide me with a “swiper” we can use whenever someone doesn’t have cash, or just prefers the convenience.

I don’t have all the inside information into why online payments aren’t currently allowed, but I can think of a couple of things to be considered before the organization goes there.

One is the fact that approximately 70 percent of cookie proceeds stay in the local Girl Scout council and with individual troops to provide a portion of the resources needed to support Girl Scouting in that area. The balance goes to the baker to pay for the cookies. Girl Scout councils do not provide any portion of their cookie revenue to Girl Scouts of the USA. While, yes, my daughter can sell cookies to my family in another state, if she were to open an online shop, it takes the out-of-region selling to a whole new level.

Another consideration is the girls’ own safety. Girl Scouts going online and potentially giving out personally identifying information such as full names, location, school name, troop number, etc., goes against the basics of online safety for kids. Something awareness of was trying to be increased by yesterday’s Safer Internet Day.

I sure hope the 11-year-old participating in that tweetchat had read Girl Scouts Tips for Girls for Social Media before going online, and perhaps had taken their Online Etiquette quiz, and signed the Girl Scout Internet Safety Pledge. And, hopefully her parents read Girl Scouts Tips for Parents for Social Media before letting her open a Twitter account – something that is also against Twitter’s Terms of Service.

And, if you want any more proof that Girl Scouts embrace social media and other modern marketing methods, just see what The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal shared about National Cookie Day activity in The Big Apple.

So, while one blog writer and a few of his commenters will be boycotting Girl Scouts and their cookie selling, I hope others will not follow suit. Not because my daughter wants to win an iPad for selling 1,000 cookies, or whatever; but, rather so she will continue to build her business skills and her troop will be able to enjoy an educational – and, yes, fun – overnight camp-out at Sea World.

Please download the Official Girl Scout Cookie Finder app (iOS or Android) and support your local “cookie professional’ this Friday on National Girl Scout Cookie Day and every other day!

Was the Super Bowl a Twitter Win or a Facebook Loss?

FootballI got a lot of retweets this morning when I tweeted a link to a Marketing Land article titled “Game Over: Twitter Mentioned in 50% Of Super Bowl Commercials, Facebook Only 8%, Google+ Shut Out.” The fact that these statistics are so different from last year’s, when Twitter and Facebook both tied with only eight mentions is, I think, why it grabbed so many people’s attention.

With 24.1 million tweets about the game and halftime show, and probably at least as many if not more about the advertisements, it’s easy to say Twitter won the game.

Then there’s also the fact that brand usage of Twitter beyond putting hashtags into commercials is getting a lot of attention. Like the way names such as OREO and Tide quickly moved to capitalize on the loss of power in the Superdome by tweeting witty commentary and images that joined the thousands of other jokes being made at the time. Or the fact that it only took four minutes into the blackout for names like Bud Light and Speed Stick to bid on ads for search terms such as “power outage.”

What it got me to wondering, though, is could the brand love for Twitter be a backlash to the EdgeRank changes at Facebook? As much as Facebook has denied holding page owner’s updates ransom for ad dollars, the fact remains that pages are still not reaching as many fans as they used to reach. I see this first-hand on the Social Media for Business page I manage where the reach to our 55,000+ fans certainly fluctuates, but with much lower lows and lower highs than it did back in September 2012. And I hear about it from small business owners like the one who recently reached out to me for advice because she noticed her status updates weren’t getting to her followers and she wondered what she might be doing wrong.

She isn’t doing anything wrong. She’s doing many things right. And while I can give her advice such as encouraging users to request notifications from her page, or giving more calls to action, the even the stock market analysts at Seeking Alpha were calling out what’s happening as recently as January 23:

“…revenues grew on the back of Facebook page owners having to pay twice to show their fans page content. After Facebook altered their algorithm for Fan page posts appearing in users’ news feeds, back in the last quarter of 2012, fan page administrators could not reach all of their acquired users with just a simple post. In order to reach their existing fans, brands had to pay for promoted posts in order to see more ‘viral’ reach. This also gave Facebook a boost in revenues.”

And this, I think, is one of the reasons Twitter won the Super Bowl. I think Facebook page owners from small mom & pop stores to large corporations are getting frustrated with Facebook’s still-mysterious-after-all-those-explanations algorithm for reaching the people who have obviously indicated they want their information by “liking” their page. Twitter feels so much more unfiltered.

Add to that the speed and agility of the platform – five minutes after the lights went out, the @superbowllights parody account was already up and tweeting – and Twitter becomes the place to be for events.

Image via Creative Commons courtesy Rosh Sillars.

Lies, Damned Lies and Twitter Shopping Statistics

According to a Twitter Advertising Blog post published just prior to the start of the busy holiday shopping season, a recent study found that people who see tweets from retailers are more likely to visit retail websites and make online purchases.

In fact, both the retail-tweet-exposed and the control group in this study were observed to visit retail websites at a higher rate than general Internet users – seeming to imply that Twitter users account for more traffic to online retail than non-Twitter users.
Bar Chart of Twitter Users who Visited a Retail Industry Web Site

This could be viewed with a healthy dose of skeptisim just because the study [full PDF here] was conducted by Compete in partnership with Twitter. But, when a report on Black Friday online sales by IBM comes out saying that commerce site traffic from Twitter accounted for exactly 0.00 percent of Black Friday traffic, well then you really have to wonder.

How could the two be so far apart?

The IBM report was strictly looking at one day’s stats – a day, specifically, when most people are expected to be making in-store purchases instead of online ones. And, IBM says while the average Black Friday online shopper bought 5.6 items per order, that was actually down 40 percent from just a week earlier – indicating less-than-average online shopping on Black Friday than any other day.

For Twitter’s study, Compete used a U.S. internet panel 100 percent comprised of desktop internet users of Twitter.com. These 2,600 panelists were exposed to at least one tweet – organic or promoted – posted by a company in the retail vertical such as Apple, Amazon, Groupon, Pottery Barn and Walmart during the time period of August 1st through October 14th, 2012.

No Twitter third-party applications or mobile phone or tablet users were part of the study, which I think says something about the audience right there. It may be a leap of faith, or my personal predisposition, but I think that desktop internet users are the demographic most likely to be camping out for crazy Black Friday in-store deals instead of shopping online. There is, after all, some research to indicate that smartphone ownership tends to be especially uncommon for less-educated and less-affluent older Americans.

So, perhaps that could explain it.

What do you think? Is it as as Business Insider writes: “Twitter’s impact on ecommerce, it seems, is zero.” Or, is it just a Black Friday anomaly?

Get To Know Generation Edge

Effective communication is always about understanding your audience. In an attempt to do that, somewhere around the early 1900s we Americans began naming groups of people based on when they were born.

For example, I’m a part of what was termed Generation X. We’re known for being individualistic, flexible and tech savvy; and, according to Kristine Simpson on the blog Running a PR life communicators “shouldn’t try and fit the GenXers in a box and assume they all want the same thing.”

After my generation came The Millenials – well-documented by the Pew Research Center – who are often called entitled, selfish, impulsive and highly indulged.

And now, The Sound Research may have won what USA Today called a “frantic race to name the next generation of American consumers” with their new video about Generation Edge:

Ian Pierpoint, global president of The Sound Research told Marketing Daily:

“Where Millennials were idealistic, Gen Edge is realistic. Things are going to have to be more grounded and more realistic. It’s going to be much harder for brands to appear to align with social causes while not really doing that much. Where Millennials were willing to talk the talk, these guys are walking the walk a bit more.”

As those of us in America prepare to celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday with family, it might be a good time to do a little field research of our own. Observe your relatives born after 1995 and see if you think The Sound Research have nailed their generation.

And, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

The Press Release: Just Walk Away PR

The press release won’t die.

When asked if it will, Wendy Artman of GroundFloor Media says, “I will always respond by saying absolutely not! When pitching reporters, more often than not they ask for a release.”

But, the press release’s audience has really become anyone on the internet. One idea to take it forward is to trade it for a blog post.

Jeremy Porter, co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a blog about public relations and journalism topics thinks, as I do, that there is little return on the investment in creating and distributing a press release. “The results tend to be pretty lackluster, even from those fancy multimedia or social news releases. There has to be a better way, and I think that way is a news blog,” he says.

I agree – with the caveat that the blog can’t just be filled with typical press release jargon.
Most Overused Jargon in Press Releases
Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

One UK brand makes no bones about using press releases on their blog, creatively titled: “Masteel Corporate Blog: Latest News, Press Releases & Announcements” But, they’re not alone. A Google search of “corporate blog press release” will turn up many that openly state their intention to post press releases on their blog.

I tend to side with people like Mindy Withrow, a content strategist at Hanson, who suggested the difference between a press release and a blog post is that the first makes an announcement while the second initiates a conversation (at least that’s the hope of those of us who do blog). A good example from Mindy of how a blog post should be different from a press release is that of a product launch. She says, “Leave the SKUs for the press release but interview the inventor on the blog about what inspired the product.”

Getting beyond the press release as blog post is a conversation Dell’s Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca and I certainly had back in the early days when we were launching Direct2Dell and it remains part of his tips for business blogging: “Provide an inside look. Content should complement, but also offer a different view than corporate website content, press releases, and other brand communications.”

This doesn’t mean it simply becomes the dumping ground for anything not deemed “press release worthy.”

While PRNewswire might posit that press releases are “authoritative statements” to which blogs are more supplement, if blogs are really going to replace the press release they must become the primary means of news distribution rather than the supplement.

So where does this leave us today and where can we take it tomorrow? Here’s my two cents.

Just Because It Won’t Die, You Don’t Have to Feed It

Public relations professionals should just walk away from the press release. It’s a zombie that will only eat our brains. It doesn’t reach our intended audience and therefore provides little return on the investment in time and wire distribution services. For those that can’t go cold turkey, at least consider a “press release diet.”
Do Not Feed the Zombie
Instead of spending time killing yourself a little every day trying to get non-jargon-y content and interesting quotes through of a committee of sales, marketing and legal teams, spend that time getting to know the journalists and bloggers that are interested in what your business does. And those who aren’t, but you truly believe their readers are – which is even harder. Follow them on social media, engage in conversation without a motive, be helpful even when it isn’t going to gain column inches.

Zombies are very trendy these days, though, and there is return on a press release in regards to the creation of online content that improves SEO and provides collateral for sales teams. Therefore, the press release as a tool should move to the domain of marketing. No more arguing about whether a topic is worthy of a press release or not – if marketing wants to pay for the distribution, let them do it. PR teams can reinvest that budget into things like training on how to write for blogs, or online newsrooms, if you will, so that they become the go-to source for information.

Oh Brothers and Sisters Where Art Thou?

And now I’ve spoken my piece and I’ve counted to three. (for those who don’t get that reference)

If only it were that cut and dry. Just because this is what I believe, that doesn’t mean you won’t see my name as the contact on a release coming across the wire in the future. I’m but one person with an idea. If you agree or disagree with the idea, let me know. Perhaps we can’t change today, but we can set the stage for change tomorrow.

Zombie image via Creative Commons by patricneckman

Chart from Ragan’s PR Daily, February 2012

The Press Release: Public Relations Marketing Tool

So, to quickly recap yesterday’s post, the press release did not die, but was also not resuscitated by a new social media version. It remains an undead communication tool that its original target – journalists – has no interest in receiving via a typical wire distribution.

But, there is someone who loves the zombie press release – marketing.

Before I get into why they still desire it, I want to take a look at what has historically differentiated marketing from public relations.

Blurred Lines Between Marketing and Public Relations

Whether it has to do with writing styles or social media responsibilities, marketing and public relations have often butted heads. In some organizations, they are separate departments, while in others one falls under the other. Historically, they do have differences.

Public relations as we know it today traces its origin back Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays, although its roots go back even deeper into military propaganda. But, it is all about communicating to publics – the members of the public may or may not be potential customers of the company for which public relations professionals work. In my current public relations role, I like to describe what I do as a liaison. My company has a story they want to tell, so I build relationships with people who can hopefully help me tell it. And, those people often have their own stories to tell, so I help get them the information they need from my company to help tell it.

Marketing is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1 – a: the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market, b: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” So, the main difference is that marketing communications is intended to sell a product, while PR-led communications may or may not. The other big difference I’ve encountered working both sides is that marketing most often means spending money for placement. That could be placement in a snail mail box, an email inbox, on a web site, in a print publication, on a broadcast channel or in social media.

While the two have often clashed over lines of responsibility that occasionally blur, social media has only served to make it worse. Should PR and Marketing be lumped together? Or should they be treated as separate endeavors? That question was put to Kent State University PR professors Bill Sledzik and Dr. Bob Batchelor and their answers are well worth the six minutes to watch:

Back to the more specific topic of the press release, though, and how Marketing and PR often clash over it. While not limited in supply like Elaine’s contraception, the most common disagreement I’ve experienced centers around whether something is “press release worthy” or not. PR professionals worry that too many releases simply become noise to be ignored and that scarcity will create more interest when they do distribute one (although the journalist survey noted in yesterday’s post would seem to make that argument moot).

Marketing looks at every release as an opportunity to get the word out about their company’s products and services, and in this online-always age where news aggregator sites suck up any and all release that cross the wire, they’re right. The release is no longer restricted to a media audience that then chooses what they feel will be of interest to their readers. It’s now in almost every potential customers view when they visit their Google or Yahoo! homepage or their favorite news web site.

Enter SEO

And then there are the search engines! Now every press release must be search-engine optimized so that it will surface if someone is researching your company, product or service. That someone might be a journalist or blogger, so this becomes not only a marketing need, but also a public relations need. The smaller the company, the more important this becomes, too.

While having one of those “news release worthy” discussions not too long ago, someone made the case for a release for SEO purposes, and I countered with a question about Google’s Penguin update and its penalties for duplicate content. Wouldn’t a press release on the wire that shows up on hundreds of web sites word-for-word actually work against us under the update?

It turns out, as best I could find, the answer is no. (My attempt at playing an SEO card thus reminding me the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) Even though BusinessWire came out with a “Penguin-proof Your Press Release” webinar, Google itself explains that:

“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

Since Google knows that news aggregator sites have a legitimate purpose to pulling in press releases, they’re not going to be seen as using the duplicate content to deceive the search engine. So, press releases can remain a way to create that content that is ever more important for marketing today.

Thus, a release becomes yet another piece of marketing collateral. It’s something that sales representatives can point customers to, although whether or not it still carries third-party validation in their eyes when it shows up on MarketWatch or not is another debate for another post.

Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

But, if the goal of marketing professionals is to create content through press releases, increase SEO and give sales teams collateral, why not simply turn to blogging and keep that wire distribution noise to a lower level?

This past summer, I compared two announcements my group made near the same time – one as a press release and one as a blog post. In my opinion, they were about equal on the “press release worthy” scale. What I found was that the press release garnered four unique articles, while the blog post received nine unique placements. Granted three of the nine were in the UK, where there was additional outreach via a “media alert” email to key media, but still, a blog post was obviously just as – if not more – effective than a press release.

But, is it good for a blog to be the equivalent of a press release? I’ll save that for the next post, along with my final thoughts on the subject of the press release.