Is the Social Media Press Release a Meatball Sundae?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the “social media press release” alias “social media news release” alias “social media release” is unfortunately a meatball sundae.

Since social media press releases are relatively new, and cooking up meatball sundaes only recently became a crime, I will begin by defining two key terms:

    • Social media release (SMR) – SHIFT Communications, a mid-sized independent PR agency, offered the first social media press release template on May 23, 2006. Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, introduced StoryCrafter, a web-based tool for creating social media news releases, on Dec. 5, 2006. Both are social media releases.
    • Meatball sundae – Seth Godin, the author of “Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?,” says, “A meatball sundae is the unfortunate result of mixing two good ideas.” In this case, the meatballs are the press releases and the sundae toppings are the Technorati tags, Digg buttons, bookmarks and other Web 2.0 features.

The prosecution will present four pieces of empirical evidence that will prove social media press releases are the unfortunate result of mixing two good ideas:

Exhibit A – On October 17, 2007, Todd Defren, a principal of SHIFT Communications, and Brian Solis, a principal of FutureWorks, posted a jointly developed item entitled, “The Future of the Social Media Release is in Your Hands.” They confessed that “traditional & multimedia releases – which would include most of the SMRs released to-date – are not readily discoverable by ‘social’ search engines like Technorati, not even if you use Technorati tags.” In other words, adding Technorati tags to your social media releases doesn’t get them into Technorati, which is currently tracking 112.8 million blogs.

Exhibit B – On April 30, 2007, Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing and publisher of the Online Marketing Blog, posted an item entitled, “Five Blunders with Social News and Bookmarking.” He said submitting press releases to social news sites like Digg is “social media suicide” because Digg users are 99 times more likely to Bury social media news releases than to Digg them. Instead, he recommended “getting a popular blogger to write about your news” and then voting for “the blogger’s coverage of your news via social news and bookmark sites.”

Exhibit C – On May 24, 2006, Teresa Valdez Klein, the director of Web operations for Blog Business Summit’s consulting arm Parnassus Ventures, posted an item entitled, “A Press Release for Social Media? I Think Not.” She observed, “A jazzy new format that features bullet points and links isn’t going to make (bloggers) care about your product any more than sending a love letter to a guy who doesn’t know you exist is going to make him fall in love with you.” Instead, she recommended a starting a blogger outreach or blogger relations program.

Exhibit D – Edelman’s social media news release introducing StoryCraftergenerated over 90 unmoderated comments. But, more than 65 of these comments are similar to the one below from Anna593, posted on November 10, 2007, which reads, “You have a very nice site. Other interesting resources cheap generic viagra.” Comment spam isn’t what Rick Murray, president of Edelman’s me2revolution team, had in mind when he said, “Just as brands are beginning to cede control to consumers, so too must PR practitioners start ceding control of messages and stories to both mainstream and citizen journalists.”

Social Media Press Release

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there is empirical evidence that social media releases are meatball sundaes. But, what were the motives that drove a couple of independent public relations firms to cook up this unfortunate mix?

In a post on May 23, 2006, entitled, “The ‘Social Media Press Release’ Debuts – Download the Template Today,” Defren confessed, “This newfangled press release format has been baking since late February, thanks to the rantings of Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher.” He was referring to a Foremski post from February 27, 2006, entitled, “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!

From this link, the prosecution concludes that one of the motives for baking up this newfangled press release format was wrath.

To support this conclusion, we will call Brian Oberkirch, who consults on marketing, social media and web development projects, as a prosecution witness. In a post entitled, “The Social Media News Release Doesn’t Matter, Either,” Oberkirch wrote on December 6, 2006, “The social media news release is an attempt by communication firms to ward off strategy decay…Two of their biggest deliverables (creating media materials and managing press relations) are eroding as social media gain traction.” He concluded that the social media release was a wrathful attempt to professionalize what should be organic by-products of organizational communication.

But, wrath wasn’t the only motive for committing this unfortunate crime. The other was envy.

To support this conclusion, we will call Amanda Chapel, the managing editor of Strumpette, to testify. Appearing below the announcement of StoryCrafter is this comment by the Strumpette on December 6, 2006: “What’s new here? Looks like you’ve taken the hard work of others and just put your logo on it.” On December 7, 2006, she posted this satirical commentary on her own naked journal of PR: “Mega PR Firm Releases StoryMakerUpper 1.0.” Among her sarcastic “core news facts” was this one: “The StoryMakerUpper is almost identical to Shift Communications” social media news release template.”

Now, as anyone who has ever used Wikipedia can tell you, wrath (Ira) and envy (Invidia) are two of the seven deadly sins. To let the punishment fit the crime, the prosecution will recommend the following sentences – if you, the jury, finds these public relations firms guilty of cooking up meatball sundaes:

        • For serving up the first social media press release template, we recommend that SHIFT Communications be required to complete a blogger relations program before beginning 18 months of community service as grief counselors to victims of Digg’s “bury brigade.”
        • For Edelman, this will be a second offense. A year ago, the world’s largest independent public relations firm was rebuked by a jury of its peers at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association for creating fake blogs, or flogs, on behalf of Wal-Mart Stores. So, for cooking up a web-based tool for creating social media releases, the prosecution will recommend three to five years of hard labor, removing comment spam from blogs, wikis, guestbooks or other publicly accessible online discussion boards.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is not cruel and unusual punishment. This is what these PR firms deserve for cooking up meatball sundaes.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He is also the news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog.

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