Whither the Social Media Release?

The splendid Todd Defren makes an excellent point, here, about the right way to look at the Social Media Releases as a communications vehicle.

Thought I'd cross-post and expand on my comment to Todd's post here...

Through my firm's relationship with CNW Group, I've had the benefit of an extraordinary education in the inside workings of a major international wire service. In addition, given the amount of work we do at Thornley Fallis in the social media universe, I've looked at countless examples of Social Media Releases, and worked on more than a handful myself.

From this perspective, it strikes me that Todd's observations are absolutely right.

In summary, Todd contends that communicators should not be issuing Social Media Releases over the wires. He says:

While I sincerely applaud how far the wire services have progressed in all-things-social, I am unconvinced that “distribution” is the Big Issue for Social Media Release adoption. It’s not about distribution, it’s about empowerment and conversation.

Amen. There's nothing particularly social about the act of distribution - no matter how one chooses to tweak it. Making a news release more social doesn't mean spamming it out to more people via wire, via email distribution, or via ads in RSS feeds.

It means opening up the format to encourage more interactivity, engagement, creative repurposing (or what one might call "coverage") and, yes, conversation.

Hence, hosting SMRs on the firm's own social media newsroom is precisely the right thing to do.

If a well-crafted SMR can be considered an "opening statement" or conversation catalyst, you want to set yourselves up as a magnetic centre for that conversation, and encourage the juice to flow around your conversation starter as people add to, comment on, applaud, detract, or otherwise embellish and extend your statements.

At the same time, much of this stuff is still terra nova for professional communicators and their clients and employers alike. There's a lot of cautious exploration and experimentation, lots of hedging of bets while people watch to see which way the various standardisation initiatives are going to go. Things will settle down somewhat within the next year, as the IABC Working Group on the Social Media Release (of which I'm a member) gets its collective teeth sunk into the issue and comes out with some solid recommendations.

For now, Todd's point about issuing a traditional release that links off to a more social artifact makes awfully good sense. That's certainly what we've been advising clients to do. At the same time, however, I think the wire-based SMR will still play a role for many clients, as a good middle ground - and it will evolve into more than that over time.

One of the challenges faced by many of the clients I’ve been dealing with is the extant gap between their Web operations and their communications function. The corporate and agency PR folk, quite often, just don’t have any sway over what happens to their Web newsroom, or much of the rest of their online activities for that matter.

Yes, we all know that’s broken and wrong, but it is still very often the case. The frustrating reality is that they may not have the budget or ability to quickly change their existing newsroom into something more social. One of my favourite clients, as an example, is still fighting with their corporate Web marketing department to stop them posting news releases as PDFs (ack).

Setting up a standalone, blog-based social media newsroom that links back to the corporate site is a great interim option, for sure, but it’s far from ideal. To accrue the maximum benefit from any conversational karma and Googlejuice created, that newsroom really ought to be a core part of the main site. If your website isn't social enough, don't fix it by slapping up a lean-to social site next door: build a better darn site.

This can be a frustrating discussion to have. With any reasonably large corporation, there’s a good chance that the newsroom will be one of the most frequently-updated, content rich, and search engine-friendly parts of the site. Any right-thinking webmaster would surely want to look at the newsroom as a great engine for driving link traffic and organic search results. Sadly, the discussion doesn’t always go that way.

So for firms who don’t have social media newsrooms or who lack the budget or ability to change their existing newsroom in the short term – the wire-hosted SMR still makes good interim sense, as long as there are a lot of links to drive clickjuice back to the main corporate site.

Meanwhile, comparison Todd (and Jeremiah Owyang before him) draws between the function of an SMR and FriendFeed is a good one, and I wholeheartedly agree with his point that its "Social Media aggregation and engagement prowess" is something any SMR provider should hope to emulate. I think Todd and I are also in agreement that Jeremiah's prediction ("...the Social Media Press Release, will reincarnate as Friendfeed") is a bit of a stretch. The two things may achieve similar goals, but they start from entirely different points of origin.

One last, quick, fairly obvious observation – when we’re all talking about "wire distribution" here, we are, of course, really talking about online "distribution" (i.e. posting) on the newswire service’s Web site. There ain’t an actual wire in the world that can handle much more than standard ANPA-formatted ASCII text right now, although things are certainly evolving apace in that world too.

This seems like a pedantic distinction, perhaps, but I often find myself having to point out the difference between what an actual wire service does and what email/downstream Web distribution models are all about. One of these things is not like the other, but all of them will end up being entirely different from the way they are now - and increasingly similar, no doubt. That's a good thing, I think.