Mediaphyter – A Communications Cocktail

Social Media Release: Crutch for the Weak?

I’ve been speaking up on Twitter about my concerns around Social Media Releases (SMRs). I’ve apparently been flapping my gums enough to get the attention of PR Newswire, a representative of which called me yesterday to find out why I’ve been so negative. I know that social media expands far beyond marketing but in this blog I’m focusing on my concerns with SMRs further enabling sub-par PR skills.

Over at Social Media Release, Chris Heuer gives a quick overview of the purported magic of the SMR:

“The Social Media Release is intended to make it easier on people to identify and share the most important pieces of information with others around the globe while adding their own valuable perspective and/or editorial. It also takes full advantage of HTML, multimedia and the network effects enabled by the Internet by using structured data via the Microformat, which ultimately increases its findability by interested parties – which is ultimately the driving purpose of public relations and the press release specifically.”

Let’s hone in on the implication that ruffles my former PR girl feathers the most: Increasing the findability of press releases is the ultimate purpose of PR. I could’ve sworn the ultimate driving purpose of PR was to fuel company visibility and credibility with support of third-party validation, which in turn drives revenue.

Press releases, SMRs or otherwise, are sales tools and information vehicles for customers, partners and shareholders. They are not a primary driver for bringing news to the media and achieving balanced coverage. If an SMR is discovered out on the Web, even if it includes comments from third-party sources or trackbacks to blogs that support it, it is still covered in marketing slime. Can it really be any more of a trusted resource than a regular old press release?

Heuer, Jeremy Pepper, Shel Holtz and Todd Defren (the credited developer of the first SMR) had a large Twitter discussion a while back on where the SMR fits in the PR landscape. I agreed most strongly with Pepper on what is also my biggest concern: there is no substitute for good relationship building and written communications. I don’t care if the medium is an SMR or an email or a carrier pigeon or some futuristic Jetson-esque device. What helps drive good news is a) solid content and b) trusted relationships and there is no “tool” that replaces it — my friend and well-known tech journalist Ryan Naraine agrees. He’s said before that he does not care how the news is delivered, just give him good content and don’t waste his time.

The proponents of the SMR say that they never intended it to be a replacement for good PR skills and I trust them on that one. These are seasoned guys. I worry more about the less-than-stellar or junior PR folks using it as yet another cop-out for poor writing or lackluster communication skills. And if their perception might be that the sole objective of PR is to increase “findability” of marketing collateral, we’ve got problems.

Less dangerous to me is the social media newsroom, which I believe was also fathered by SHIFT Communications. I tend to like the simple and clean approach that Fathom SEO is using (the company recently released a WordPress template for such). The social media newsroom seems to accomplish what I think most companies who have a broad blogosphere presence would want, from linking to multimedia and social networking pages to integrating commentary. But if you have a fully functional social media newsroom, and a handle on truly top notch PR strategy, do you need the SMR?

In the end, regardless of what I blather here, I’m still trying to find the answer to one simple question: “Does anyone have any metrics to suggest the proven success of an SMR in *any* arena?” Especially considering their cost. I’ve asked this on Twitter on and off for about a month now and no one has yet to provide a case study.

Can you?

17 Comments so far
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Hi Jennifer,

From what I can tell, your main concern with the SMR is inexperienced people thinking the tool is a silver-bullet solution to their problems. That’s not a reason to dismiss the tactic out-of-hand – it’s a reason to educate people on the tool.

I agree with most of what you say here, yet I end up on the other side of the fence, thinking that the SMR can be a useful tool. The biggest thing for me is that it’s an additional tool – it doesn’t replace relationships, but then neither does the traditional news release and you’re not attacking that.

Still, I too would like to see some stats on successes.

Comment by davefleet

I appreciate the insight, Dave. I agree that we shouldn’t dismiss it outright, but there are a lot of questions that continue to remain unanswered in terms of the SMR. I didn’t mean for it to come across as an attack on the SMR in general (I did say that SMRs are just like regular releases in that they are merely sales tools). I wanted it to be more of a call to action to try and get some of these questions addressed and find some stats. If I somehow can accomplish that with my messy blog, I’ll be quite happy to admit my error. :)

Comment by Jennifer Leggio

Thanks for your post. Certainly, metrics to support the impact of a SMR will help to solidfy its status as a valuable sales tool. And while increasing the findability of a company is not the only benefit of a SMR, it certainly helps what you accurately noted is the goal of PR–to drive revenue. The metric question is one the industry as a whole needs to get better at answering, not something specific to the SMR.

— Chris

Comment by Chris Iafolla

Chris, appreciate your feedback and I agree overall re: the metrics. It’s much bigger than just the SMR question. With any “new” idea there is going to be dissent and questions before it is widely adopted. I think there is a lot of hope for it but I think it needs to be further differentiated beyond a PR tool before it can be truly successful.

Comment by Jennifer Leggio

Thanks Jennifer and agreed.

To clarify my first comment, I meant to say a valuable PR tool, not sales tool–got a bit ahead of myself!

Comment by Chris Iafolla

I have read a bunch of articles on this topic and the concensus seems to be the same. As long as junior associates don’t use it as their sole means of communication and as long as senior associates use it under appropriate circumstances, SMR’s are fine. That said, my pr days are long over but I can still appreciate a solid bit of news reported properly.

Comment by Jill

Rather than providing quantitative data, I’d like to point you to an excellent qualitative study from Steve Kayser via Brain Solis’ blog:

The SMR is just the next step in the evolution of ye olde press release. The issues of bias that exist with traditional releases don’t go away. The problems of poor writing aren’t magically removed. A release by any other name is still a release.

But the SMR is an improvement over the traditional format. The SMR contains links, embedded multimedia, and often includes comments. The SMR is a press release, upgraded for an online world. And it’s not just for the press. Releases today are available to anyone, whether they be IT Managers, bloggers, or Mainstream Media.

With the SMR:

* All of the links are in a release, and you don’t have to hunt them down on a company website.

* The images are part of the release, you don’t have to go elsewhere to download them.

* Badges for social services such as digg and delicious are in the release, making it easier to share the information with your colleagues.

* The writing should be stripped down to remove B.S. and provide only the facts.

Some of the issues you’ve raised in this post are aimed at releases in general. Are releases still relevant? Do people really use them? Should they? Excellent questions, but perhaps those questions transcend the SMR debate.

When comparing traditional releases to an SMR, I can’t help but ask, “Why wouldn’t you use the SMR?” Would you create a plain-text website? Of course not. Your announcement of information (sometimes known as news) should be just as eye-appealing as any other property on the web. We’d like to think that journalists are human too, and just like everyone else, they would like things on the web to capture their attention. If we can do that, and provide them with easier ways to conduct further research, why wouldn’t you create an SMR?

Comment by Shannon Whitley

“Why wouldn’t you use SMR?” I believe the cost of an SMR is much greater than that of a regular release. Some wire services already offer SEO or Technorati tagging or embedded links without doing an SMR. I can see it being worth the spend for larger companies who have the PR dollars to burn, but for midsize to smaller companies I can’t see their willingness to pay sometimes 3x the amount of a regular release when their end game is really to attract that third-party coverage.

Comment by Jennifer Leggio

I want to clarify that I am not anti-SMR in general. Perhaps part of my issue is how its been marketed in some ways. I believe the antiquated press release needs to be improved upon, but as a former PR professional I stopped seeing press releases as a priority for driving news years ago. They are a broader communications vehicle. Reporters I’ve asked about SMRs (in addition to Ryan) have said “just give me the bare bones, don’t give me all of the other noise.” So perhaps there’s a healthy compromise that the SMR can achieve in its next iteration that regular press releases are failing to meet now.

Comment by Jennifer Leggio

It took me a while to decide what I wanted to say about this. I don’t have any skin in the game, because I’m not a PR guy. But I am a blogger, and when people send me something that’s really easy to use as an informational storehouse from which I can build a story, I’m at least a little more likely to write something up. Why? Ease of use.

My blog post today about’s new Publisher tool was a hybrid. I’ve tried the tool. I know Steve Rosenbaum. I know Brian Solis. So I was receptive to hearing about it, and talking about it.

But they gave me a SMR and it made it SUPER easy to write the post.

Does it replace traditional? I dunno. I haven’t heard what the benefits of staying traditional are. It’s just a new version of an old tool. ONLY use releases of any kind, and you’re a turdy PR person. Right?

Comment by chrisbrogan

Good point, Chris. If’s SMR truly provided clear and concise information and it allowed you to more easily write your blog, then there is something to be said for the SMR. Perhaps the foundation of the issue here is really the “turdy” (nice word, btw!) PR folks who are going to rely solely on SMRs as they tried to rely on traditional releases. Or maybe some of the templates need to be made a bit more simple. I do think it’s heading in the right direction.

Comment by Jennifer Leggio

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for you insights and your opinions in regards to the SMR. I agree with you 100% that if the content of a news release is not good content – it doesn’t matter how many cool social media buttons, videos, widgets, SEO, etc….you throw at it, bad content won’t generate much conversation or news….in most cases (unless the folks at the Bad Pitch Blog want to write about how much it stinks). This is something that I talk about all the time when I speak to audiences and PR Newswire clients.

At the same point, there are benefits that an SMR can bring to a story. Additional pieces to a well constructed story can benefit the journalist, the blogger, and provide good results with the search engine. When PR Newswire first distributed our first Multimedia News Release (MNR) for a client back in 2001 for the movie Pearl Harbor (

We recognized that people were going to looking for new ways to distribute photos and videos with releases. The MNR has now morphed into a whole lot more. Metrics play a large role in this. If the metrics weren’t there to support the product then we probably wouldn’t be distributing many of these. Is every MNR we put out for a client a huge success…I think the answer is really up to how that particular client defines the ROI for themselves. Is that a cop out to your answer…maybe, I will admit that. However, I’ve seen some MNR’s get incredible coverage from large companies like Disney to small companies like Brusters’s Ice Cream.

You make some great points. I’m glad we can have this conversation.

Michael Pranikoff
Director, Emerging Media
PR Newswire

Comment by Michael Pranikoff

I am sorry I am late to this party. Been on airplanes. Lots of airplanes. Anyway, the dialogue here is awesome and I literally have nothing to add to what Dave, Chris I and Chris Brogan had to say!

Comment by Todd Defren

I posted this on the wrong entry, but here goes: Thanks for mentioning our WordPress theme. The entire social media newsroom and release topic fascinates me, and one that I hope to add some substance to.

Thanks again.

Comment by Dominic J. Litten

[…] A culture of testing and experimentation: the world of web analytics lives by tests and experiments. The world changes so quickly that you have to test and learn on a daily basis. Again, how many PR companies have an ingrained culture of testing and experiment? While debates rage about the social media press release template, why not just get on with it and test different types of approach and see what works and what doesn’t. Why are we getting hung up about the need for a template when all we should bother about is whether something works for the people it is aimed at (and why the case studies for SMRs are thin on the ground). […]

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[…] I have been skeptical in the past regarding SMRs as I worried that, if mishandled, they would further the divide between media and PR […]

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