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Aug 4
Examining The Social Media Press Release -- Part II: Paradigm Shift Or Incremental Change?
This article is second in a three-part series focusing on SHIFT Communications' introduction of the social media press release.

In part one, I focused on my experiences with the template and speculated about what will be required to make it ready for prime time. 

Part two features exclusive commentary from the following individuals:

- Todd Defren, Principal, 
SHIFT Communications

- David McInnis, Founder & CEO, PRWeb

- Mark Nowlan, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications, PR Newswire

See below for more. To gain insight on the current and future status of the social media press release, I decided to go to the source.  Leadership at SHIFT Communications, PRWeb and PR Newswire were kind enough to answer questions I submitted via e-mail about the social media press release effort.  Their commentary is below.

Commentary:  Todd Defren, Principal, 
SHIFT Communications

Q: How has the social media press release evolved since SHIFT Communications released the template?

A: Much of the evolution of the social media press release is currently happening behind the scenes at places like this Google group, as well as our own efforts at SHIFT Communications.  These evolutionary changes will be unveiled in the weeks and months ahead.  Meanwhile, we expect other PR pros to come up with and debut their own ideas.  Much of what we [at SHIFT Communications] are focused on is making the social media release easier to create and disseminate. 
Q: What has been the general reaction from the public relations community?

A: Overall, it’s been very positive.  This page has a number of links to commentary by public relations pros. 
Q: What changes (if any) is SHIFT Communications planning on making to the press release template based on current feedback?

A: As noted above, the changes we are working on will make it much easier for any PR pro, of any ability or knowledge level, to take advantage of social media tools and thinking. 

Q: Currently, those wishing to issue a social media press release via the newswires must change the format to accommodate the wires' distribution infrastructure.  Is SHIFT planning on making changes to the template to account for the realities of distribution?

A: Yes.  We are in deep talks with C-level executives from PR Newswire and BusinessWire.  We are well aware of the issues involved in distributing social media releases via the major services and have been encouraged by these companies’ responses to date.  Stay tuned!

Q: What industries do you believe the social media press release is best suited for?

A: For now we feel the release is most appropriate for the technology industry.  But, we do not think that the social media release is as different from traditional releases as people like to think.  At the end of the day it’s about communicating information of value to constituencies who (might) care about the content, in a format that makes this content both easier to find and to (re)use.

Commentary: David McInnis, CEO, PRWeb

Q: What is PRWeb's opinion of the social media press release development effort?

A: I am excited that the PR community is finally putting together a framework for discussion around what PRWeb has been promoting for the past 3 or 4 years.  We have called it Direct-to-Consumer release distribution and built a platform that supports all of the proposed social media elements currently being discussed plus some important ones that have been left out. 

I do not necessarily think there needs to be broad-based support for a specific format.  For example [PRWeb’s] layout differs somewhat from the SHIFT template.  That said we have had all of the [social media] elements available to our users for close to half a decade now.  We rounded out our implementation with a few additions earlier this year namely, PRWeb Podcast and trackbacks.  Currently PRWeb is the only distribution platform capable of harnessing any value to be extracted from the social media format.  Our implementation is not a retrofit.  We built a lot of this in from the beginning.

Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of this new format for the media and the public?

A: The general public may have a hard time understanding the flow of the social media release if they stumble upon it.  It is basically built for the use of the blogosphere; to make it easy for bloggers to grab and incorporate content in their work.  This is why we do not require our users to use the template exactly as it is being proposed.  We offer a lot of flexibility so that the company can format the news to the news for their customers.

Basically, the public benefits from the social release in ways that it cannot benefit from mainstream media.  Think about the current model.  A company puts a press release out and the media decides what is news.  Somewhere along the line we made the mainstream media (MSM) the arbiters of what is true and newsworthy? 

The social media release is one of the most democratizing things to happen to PR in a century.  Now the public gets to weigh in on what is newsworthy and participate in the discussion.  The exposure is about the same for the company distributing the release but the response is much more authentic given the participatory nature of social media.  Now PR messages that would have been discarded by the MSM are receiving attention. 

[However a] release that is full of fluff will not resonate any better in the social media context than it did with a journalist; in fact it could be worse.  I think the net affect is a much better experience for the public.

Q: What changes (if any) is PRWeb suggesting be made to the current template, which is posted on SHIFT Communications' Web site?

A: First, the format of the release is useless without a distribution platform that supports it.  Basically you can go through the process of formatting the release but end up with just a nice document if you do not have a distribution platform that can handle the format.  Luckily, PRWeb has that platform. 

In addition, there is a hole in the Technorati tagging that PRWeb has plugged.  Technorati tags are pretty useless unless your document is pinged into the Technorati platform.  The [SHIFT] template does not allow for the inclusion of tag clouds.  Finally there is no mention [in the SHIFT release] of trackbacks; a key element to effective social media interaction.  PRWeb's platform provides for these improvements to the proposed template under its patent pending process.

Q: Is PRWeb planning on changing its press release template to match the one developed by SHIFT?

A: If you are referring to our press release upload process than no, not at this time.  PRWeb's platform is flexible enough to allow users to format their release however they like.  We do not want to limit the ability of people to use the more time-tested press release formats.   If you are referring to the way that the elements are organized on the page; again I would have to say no.  The current PRWeb page and its features are patent pending and contain features unique to our process. 

The important thing here is to understand that our system has allowed for nearly all of the elements of the SHIFT proposal for many years now.  This is really not new stuff.  Quite honestly we are working on our next generation PR service that we have dubbed PAPR(tm).  More to come on that later.

Q: Is PRWeb seeing increasing numbers of people using the social media template format?  (I.e., what percentage of press releases being submitted to PRWeb are in the social media format?)

A: 100 percent of our press releases on the front page of PRWeb on any given day have the [social media] functionality built in by default.  Some users turn of certain features or do not take advantage of other features like image uploads etc.  But these tools are available to all users at PRWeb.

Commentary: Mark Nowlan, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications, PR Newswire

What is PR Newswire's opinion of the social media press release effort? 
A: The social media press release effort is terrific.  We completely agree the traditional press release has tremendous untapped potential to find and engage web audiences, and it’s a welcome development that others are now beating the drum, too.  Take for example nearly every press release that's part of a formal PR campaign.  There are typically multimedia assets, experts, backgrounders, companion websites, fact sheets, and so on associated with that campaign that often never get mentioned in the news release. With thousands of placements around the net, that's a tremendous untapped opportunity to engage readers, consumers and others.  It doesn't have to be that way.  There are millions online who want that additional information.  So we're very happy to see the growing interest in evolving the release into a richer information source.
Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of this new format for the media and the public? 
A: The benefits are many, but chief among them is the ability to engage the reader - whomever that may be - with information they are looking for.   Following that is the opportunity for the reader to take action right then and there, whether that is to reach out for more information, enter into a transaction, or to pass it on to a friend.  For the media, the more assets available to them to help them write their story, the better.   That's a reason we add links to expert sources in releases sent by our ProfNet members (our expert source service).
Q. What changes (if any) is PR Newswire suggesting be made to the current template, which is posted on SHIFT Communications' Web site? 
A: I think it's too early to say what should be changed.  The web and media audiences should provide a wealth of feedback and that, in turn, will shape the direction of its development. We should expect to see many formats introduced by communicators, which will be modified over time. In the meantime, PR Newswire will strive to support them with the broadest -- and most targeted -- distribution channels available.  (At the end of the day, it's still essential to get the releases to all the right audiences if they are to, in turn, create even larger audiences among their own networks.)
Q: Is PR Newswire planning on developing a series of social media templates for users seeking different levels of functionality/distribution?
A: Now, and for several years, we've been making available new press release formats (called the Multimedia News Release or MNR) that include images, video, audio, links to additional content, and more recently, links to podcasts as well.  You can see a number of samples here, and live  examples on our website at  I'm happy to say SHIFT PR's Todd Defren used an MNR to tell the world about his social media press release template. 
Our team is working hard to tap further into the social networks for our customers. We've seen links to PR Newswire from blogs grow substantially -- over 30,000 links according to Technorati -- since we began to view them as unique members of the media in their own right.   And, we look forward to working with all our individual and agency partners to help them put all their assets to use in many different formats and ways.
Years ago, PR Newswire put a link on every release that led readers back to an interactive survey or opportunity to buy a product.   It was ahead of its time then, but we learned a tremendous amount that we've since put to good use.   In 2004 we began to optimize news releases for search engines and in 2005, we added that feature to every nationally-distributed release. 

SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) has put releases into the hands of untold numbers of consumers and others that are actively searching for the information, and the keyword reporting SEO generates gives communicators critical information about how their audiences are actually thinking about their content, services, or whatever. 

Since then, we've added links from releases to expert profiles, to company backgrounders and Websites.  Most recently, functionality now appears on every release we send, letting readers of our members' releases instantly tag them, drawing them further into the conversation among niche audience members.

Next Up: The social media press release and healthcare public relations.

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