Social Media News Releases Are Absolutely Worthless

by Steve Kayser 

This question came to me from an Expert Access reader.

Question: We're a medium-size American company with limited resources. Because of that, we have to be economically creative to get our news and information out. Been hearing a lot about a new type of press release that uses social media to share news and information. Do you have any experiences, experts or resources that can help us learn more about it?

Answer: Yes, to all three. But it’s not exactly a "press release." It’s a news release that incorporates social and multimedia elements to help a company communicate its story. It's not a press release because it's not strictly for the press. It's also for prospective buyers, customers, investors, analysts and others that may have an interest in your company's offerings or the topic being discussed. And, It's absolutely worthless. I'll tell you why...

Ask the Experimenter

Some context first. This is more of an "Ask the Experimenter" answer than an "Ask the Expert."

It's a fairly new, gradually changing concept. Anyone claiming to be an expert about this type of news release is probably stretching it a bit. Why? Most of the buzz about it is based on theory.

How it should be. How it could be. Not a lot lot of measurement or results yet of how it actually is... or works.

Our company has experimented with them and gotten results - good and bad. We'll share some experiences plus point you to other people working with them. At the end of this article is a list of additional tools, templates, examples and research for you to also check out.

Social Media News Release

What you're talking about is most widely known as a social media news release or SMNR. I'm not fond of that acronym because it sounds too close to an STD… which some journalists, marketing and PR professionals think it closely resembles.

Some think it's absolutely worthless.

I agree. But only if you suffer from Idiopathic Obstupefacio Gluteus Maximus. I'll explain...

 

 

What Is an SMNR?

The SMNR (M & M news release is probably a better term - A.K.A. multimedia new release) can be an exceptional way to create, communicate, distribute and make available valuable news and related information – in whatever delivery format that best fits the information needs of the reader. It includes text, video, audio, photos, social network sharing and feedback mechanisms that, if written correctly with key terms and phrases included, can increase your "findability," on the web.

How's it Different?

It's dynamic. Interactive. People can comment, view video, photo galleries, listen to audio sound bites and download related documents.

NaaS - News as a Service

Making your news and information freely available to all, encouraging sharing via social bookmarks, image and video-sharing mechanisms, provides multiple options for meeting the information needs of readers. It's your news "service."

The SMNR concept is relatively new and evolving. Because of that there's a lot of skepticism (some well-deserved) and reluctance to adapt it. Marty Feldman, the eloquent visionary in Mel Brook's "Young Frankenstein" probably summed it up best.


"Master ... it looks dangerous.

You go first."


But... the SMNR can effectively communicate a company's story – in ways and places that readers are increasingly looking (and expecting) to find answers to their problems.

No Panacea

The SMNR is not a panacea. Not an end-all be-all. Nor is it a silver bullet for PR, marketing or company communicators. Nothing like that. It's simply an evolving communication tool that you can use to better tell your story.

STOP READING HERE!

Here's the most important point if you don't want to be bothered by the details of the SMNR.

The SMNR is Absolutely Worthless

The SMNR is absolutely worthless and could quickly cause damage to you or your company if you use the typical corporate gobbleydegook (A.K.A. BS) strategy and tactics.

An SMNR (as all news releases should be) has to be useful, accurate, honest, well-written and GOD FORBID - occasionally humorous if you can pull it off in context.

A Bad Word?

Some call this transparency. I don't like that word. It's a bad word.

Why?

Because you don't want anyone to look through you.

Y
ou want them to look right at you. Dead in the eyes. And engage.

Warts and all.

But be prepared. If you do. They will.

I've received a lot of skeptical (negative) inquiries, mostly from marketing and product managers in the U.S. (some from Europe) questioning the SMNR concept. Questions like:

"Is this what journalists and bloggers want - or need?"

My answer? I care – but not too much.

Why?

A couple reasons.

The first is the type of business environment you're in. If you deal in a “complex sale” environment, like my company does, a high-dollar product or solution sale (usually over $150,000) requiring buyer evaluation committees, made up of 10-21 people of different functional business groups, it’s more important to make sure your news and content is “findable” for the people on the buying committees when they begin their search.

The people on these committees typically range from The "‘user”, the “IT person” the “business manager,” “the business decision-maker,” legal, human resources, and others. All have their own unique and specific information needs, which by default, includes specific language and terms they use to search (keywords, key phrases, etc.) to find information they need to solve their problem.

Sure we want journalists and bloggers to have whatever information they need from us to research and write their story. And, yes, we want to be a trusted and valued source of information to journalists, bloggers and analysts.

No Begging - No Buying

But ... no begging or buying is going to happen by us for them to write about us. No time for that. The communication hierarchy has changed for us, and probably most small-to-medium sized businesses (that's approximately 25 million businesses in the US). The focus now, in order, is:

1. Buyer information needs first – then the

2. Media

3. Industry analysts

4. Bloggers (Note: Numbers 2-3-4 are interchangeable.)

Why?

To stay competitive in the B2B industry, and some would argue in any business today, you have to be:

• Findable

Believable

• Accurate - then you have to make them care enough to take action and let your sales team

Prove Value - just to get into consideration for the complex sale buying process.

Once you’re findable, believable, accurate, then you have to prove value – quickly. The SMNR is a tool, and JUST A TOOL, to promote those goals.

What do you mean by ...

Findable?


Most buying committees have their researchers start the search for solutions to their business problems on the web. Our research shows most of our prospective buyers do it that way.

According to Enquiro Research, the top three sites "Influencers" on these buyer committees visit when beginning their search are vendor websites, search engines, industry information websites.

But -- "Steve, you sound like you're in sales."

I am.

So are you.

Everyone that's effective and productive at your company probably is too - or should be. Without sales a serious ailment occurs and it's first symptom is ...

Idiopathic Obstupefacio Gluteus Maximus

For example, I attended a Media Relations conference several weeks ago with 600 PR professionals. Major event. One speaker asked 'Should PR people be concerned about sales?'

About 30% of the audience thought not.

That's right. The opinion was that PR professionals should not sully themselves with anything related to sales or marketing. They referred to themselves as 'PR purists.' PR should rise above things such as sales and marketing.

That's a symptom of Idiopathic Obstupefacio Gluteus Maximus.

Stupid for short.

 

Sales is Not a Bad Word

Do I even have to say this?

Without sales, there is no PR. No company. No jobs. No pay. No health care. No future. Everyone at a company is in sales - whether they think it or not. From the B-level (basement) to the C-level.

Also, feeling deep empathy for the media, you need to understand what's changed in their world. This web2.0 thingy is sucking the revenue and resources right out of their organizations. They're under siege. Journalists are asked to do three times more with six times less.

They're bombarded daily with PR pitches via phone and email. One journalist of a major news publication I met says she gets between 300-600 email pitches a day. She deletes 98% of them without ever reading them.

 

Why?

Either they're not relevant to her or her publication, or she's working on a different story at the time - it doesn't fit her information needs.

How does she find info for stories? How do other journalists find background information for their stories? Just like the the buyer committees. they start with a web search, using key words or phrases about the topic.

Think about it.

They're both looking for the same thing - information about a topic or problem they're trying to solve.

 

 

EXAMPLE?

"As a contributing editor of E-Content Magazine and Pragmatic Marketing Magazine as well as being an author, I have received over 25,000 email story pitches over the last two years. Products. Solutions. Tech innovations, etc. How many resulted in stories? None. I go to the web and search for information on the topic I want to do a story on.” - David Meerman Scott, #1 Best-Selling author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR."
The SMNR can help you be more findable. And, if you're believable and accurate, good things might happen. If you're not, good things won't happen. Quickly.

Believable

The SMNR, as all news releases should, still needs to be well-written.

A finely crafted, easy-to-understand SMNR can help you be believable.

Sounds easy.

It's not.

See --

It's Complex to Write Simple - but Hemingway's Four Rules of Writing Can Still Work


 

 

Without the Word-Fornification

I won't go into the history and evolution of the SMNR, (it's been katzenjammered enough) but I believe it was spawned out of utter disgust. Disdain at the ongoing daemon seed of word-fornification. Too many press releases pork-barrel full of superlative hyperbole, punctuated with Frankenquoted buffoon-a-puffery.

Frankenquoted Buffoon-a-Puffery?

Useless quotes from company officials that hardly anyone will ever read - except the Frankenquotee.
Example? — just insert your company or executive’s name with the text below.We’re Great!

“We’re great.” “Our company is great.” “Our customers love us.” “The industry analysts love us.” "We're SO EXCITED to be working with them." Sound familiar?

Meanwhile -- Back On The SMNR LOVE STORY RANCH

It finally got to be too much for one journalist, Tom Foremski, who penned a soft , heartfelt, 'can't we all just get along,' blog post titled, "Die Press Release Die!"

His frustrated journalistic rebel yell for authenticity, simplicity, clarity, utility and believability led to a rethinking of the press release format.

One PR professional listened (yes one person listening can make a difference) and did something about it. Thus arrived the first Social Media News Release template created by Todd Defren at SHIFT Communications. Enough said on that topic. On to ...

Accurate

Accurate in this sense means honest. Mistakes happen. Errors of omission can happen - but just make sure they're errors or accidental omissions. In this whirling dervish of social media communications people by and large are very forgiving of mistakes. But not so forgiving of boneheads trying to game the system.

SMNR Examples

We've been testing and experimenting with the SMNR at our company, trying to figure out how best to use them. Or, if to use them at all.

Little Background

We're a software technology company. Been around 40 years. Issue approximately 100 news releases per year worldwide. Keep this in mind though, as you check the examples out. What is news to us, or what is news to you or your business, may be real sleep-inducers to the rest of world. However, a prospective buyer or customer might find a new product update or announcement scintillating, useful and buzzworthy - while the rest of us moan, groan and yawn before we fall over asleep and push aside the media and industry analysts who are already... snoring on the floor.

 

Newswires

Currently we use Marketwire for US distribution of company news, WebitPr.com for European distribution, and Business Wire for Greater Asia distribution. We have also used PRNewswire, PRWeb
and PRX Builder.com.

So ... we have done a fair bit of testing.

Below are some SMNR's we experimented with. At the end of this article we'll provide examples (23) from other companies - some much better than ours. If you're going to try a SMNR it's probably best to review multiple examples from companies that have actually done it.

We're Not Great

None of the SMNR's below are great. No literary masterpieces in any stretch of the imagination.

But they're functional. And were good test projects. We especially pushed the SMNR envelope concept on the first two releases below as far as the multimedia components. Mainly because of the type event it happened to be.

It was an MBA business plan competition (similar to the NCAA Basketball tourney) called 'The Spirit of Enterprise" with 16 colleges competing. Lots of images, video, people involved. More multi-media assets than we'd normally have available -- or would probably ever really use. But, very interesting and useful for tests and experimenting around the edges.

Check out the examples below- you'll see notable visual differences.

 Why Do They Look So Different?

Good question. Downstream news distribution (to other news sites) display is archaic and mostly text-based.

You lose (or get garbled) formatting (Bold and bullet points for example).

It's discussed more in-depth later in this article.

 

 

SMNR Challenges?

Costs. My view (from the U.S.) is that costs for SMNR’s are relatively high. Especially for small-to-medium sized businesses (SMB'S). Enough to make you run for the hills.

I've had estimates from some wire services of between $500-$15,000 -- per release of a fully loaded and produced SMNR. That's a non-starter. Fiscally irresponsible to consider because of all the other options - including doing nothing. Even if you're an employee of a billion dollar behemoth of a public company it'd be hard to see how you would cost-justify it.

Multimedia Assets:

Having video/audio assets available for SMNR’s could be a challenge for a lot organizations. Your marketing and product managers almost have to be evangelists/zealots and do a lot of the video and photos themselves. In my experience some are hip to it. Others resist it like the plague. And, the more video, images, multimedia you do use - the more the cost to distribute can go up.

Multimedia assets were an issue for us. Our videos were rudimentary. But we're getting a handle on it now. A couple of different ways to do that.

1.) Hire a professional videographer. Or, there are some incredible companies popping up right now like Snippies, which taps a global network of video journalists that will come to your site and work with you. We've used them. They're fast, professional, flexible and reasonable. Plus, they have the added benefit of thinking like journalists.

2.) Experiment with some of the new presentation applications out there and see what you can do yourself. You could take a series of pictures (think storyboard here), animate them and create a movie-like trailer (I use www.Animoto.com), create a media file, then upload it to YouTube, or embed directly in your SMNR. You can do that all for free. Here's an example where it was created on Picasa, uploaded to Animoto, saved as an Mp.4 file, then uploaded to Veoh and YouTube. Don't mind the title - "How's Your Ass?" It doesn't mean what you think.

Tracking

Tracking is an issue. Not because you can't do it. But because you can. And it's different from what you would normally track. Depending on the SMNR, we ranged from between 6,300-19,000 links as tracked in the Marketwire PRstats™ - which is described as “the current number of locations this press release listed in."

Moving the Value Needle

Question is, what value do you attribute to that number of links? How do you get your arms around it to measure, analyze and make sense of? To help your company?

It's impressive looking. No doubt. And it's dynamic. Changes every hour. But eventually you need to translate that into some trackable action that moves the value needle for your company. Something that positively contributes to the bottom line in whatever way your company measures it. Calls, leads, media inquiries, immediate sales, whatever. In the B2B complex sales arena that means it needs to move the buyer committees, media and/or industry analysts to some type of measurable action.

Downstream Distribution Display

One of the major challenges of the SMNR is downstream distribution. That means how the SMNR’s are rendered and displayed (as shown above) in the different portals and venues after being distributed. Right now they’re ripped up and displayed in a gazillion different ways.

Almost every news site displays the SMNR differently. Each typically has text formatting limitations. Simple things like bold formatting or bullet points render incorrectly. The text doesn't display well. This can distract from the original content of the story. Particularly if you use sluglines or a web chunk writing style.

Get it Right Where You Can

The best you can hope for right now is to get it right where you have control – on your own website. Or your news distribution vendor website. Though seemingly a small issue, I guarantee you the "display" of the SMNR will come up when cost-justifying to internal budget committees. “Why do it if it doesn’t display right? If all your multimedia assets are buried at the bottom? Isn’t that a waste of money?”

Get it right where you can. Your own website or blog news site. Hopefully the big news wires will eventually catch up.

Bullet Point Beginnings

 

The Shift SMNR template is constructed so that the news release starts with a list of bullet pointed facts. Most, if not all, of the established thought leaders and experts agree with that concept.

I don't.

Don't like it.

Reads like a boring-arse technical datasheet. But I understand why they advocate it.

I think the "core facts" bullet point structure at the start of an SMNR is the result of corporate gobbledygook writing. The readers were, and are, frustrated with having to wade through meaningless words and undecipherable acronyms. The bullet-point start is simply an effort to get to the meat of the story quickly but ....

Let Me Make My Bullet Point Clear

  • From what I've seen
  • It's being abused and misused.
  • What's happening now
  • Is that news releases are written
  • Like they've always been
  • Full of taradiddle-twaddle, jib-jab, flim-flam flummery
  • But now, each sentence
  • Or sentence fragment,
  • Is bullet pointed.
The challenge here?

Writing. Simple writing. Writing so people can read and understand without having to wrap duct tape around their heads to keep from exploding.

OPEN TO CRITICISM?


One thing I really like about SMNR is the comments section. It has a lot of value and can be eye-opening. Comments on a press release valuable?

Yes.

Several of the comments I received had in-depth insights and suggestions. Others related past experiences with the company and products.
Had probably 20 emails questioning the SMNR format in itself, which which was an interesting aside. We had absolutely “0” negative comments or flames – but the SMNR has capabilities that allow you to moderate comments, which would enable you to handle any inappropriate comments.

And you will get negative comments. If you have thin skin the SMNR is probably not right for you or your company. But, if you're open to criticism, can deal with honest, constructive feedback and the occasional uncivil ranting fool, you and your company will end up better for it.

Media Coverage?

Yes, we received coverage. Nothing overwhelming. But decent. Remember, these were tests for us to push the envelope, feel around the edges, work out the kinks. The SMNR's raised many questions about usefulness, utility, display, distribution, results and overall value. But, the possibilities and promise are too great not to move forward with them.

Want to Try?

Anyone wanting to experiment with creating and distributing an SMNR should try PRX Builder. It keeps the original formatting (BOLD and Bullet points). It’s simple, easy-to-use and you can be up and running in a few minutes with it. Walks you step-by-step through the SMNR creation and distribution process.

SMNR Takeaways?
  • B2B Outreach: Makes it easier for buyers and buying committees to find and share the information they need - in the format that best fits their needs
  • Media Outreach: Makes it easier for the media, bloggers and analysts to find and write about you - multimedia elements should make it more useful and appealing
  • Direct to Consumers: Enable readers (whomever they are) to get a more in-depth understanding of your story - save it, share and communicate directly with you
  • Sales Outreach: Leverages yours brand, publicity and marketing efforts to help sales - if you keep it accurate and clean
The Social Media News Release is Absolutely Worthless
  • If you don't provide accurate, objective and useful information to help people solve their business problems
  • If you're thin-skinned and not open to criticism
  • If you spread the dreaded corporate gobbledygook (CG) disease - publishing content that is pork-barrel full of superlative hyperbole, punctuated with Frankenquoted buffoon-a-puffery
  • If you suffer from Idiopathic Obstupefacio Gluteus Maximus
End:

Below are additional resources if you want to further investigate the topic. They're not exhaustive - but will give you a decent snapshot.

Noteworthy Note First

For an industry (PR) that is supposedly full of a bunch of puerile, solipsistic,
flack-spinning imbecilic hucksters trying to infect the world with corporate gobbledygook, the people I've dealt with in this industry, and especially the people mentioned below, are exceptional. They are courteous, honest, professional, gracious in the sharing of their time, expertise and information. They're a lot of hard-working, well-intentioned people struggling with and trying to figure out how best to use social media and the SMNR.

Additional resources below include:
SMNR Thought Leaders - Pro & Con

I'm sure I missed some folks. Some accidentally on purpose. However, if you have any additions or suggestions, just let me know at skayser@cincom.com.

Todd Defren: The originator of the Social Media News Release. Exceptional at creating, engaging and wading through the buzz with courtesy and aplomb. Handles "Richard Craniums" well. Very rarely have I seen a reference to his SMNR, positive or negative, not being followed up with a comment by himself. Provides a lot of thought leadership articles and shares them freely. Check out his templates and articles below

Brian Solis:
No one, in my opinion, has been out in front more on this topic. Takes his shots. Brushes them off and keeps at it. Breaks through the clutter. Prolific writer - freely shares a lot of useful and unique information. Checkout his articles below.

Shannon Whitley: Shannon created
PRX Builder. It's a simple wizard that walks you through each step in creating an SMNR. Write your content, insert links, add images and video. PRXbuilder is an innovative and useful SMNR tool and service, depending on your distribution needs. Shannon is wonderful to work with. On top of it. Responds to customer questions all times of the night - always helpful.

Adam Parker: CEO of Webitpr.com, a UK company. Their offering is unique. An aggressive young company making waves.

Michael Pranikoff: PR Newswire, Director of Emerging Media. Michael is knowledgeable, helpful, courteous and exceptionally contagious about PR & Social Media. Deep source of knowledge and shares it graciously. A credit to PR Newswire.

Brian Pittman: Brian is the editor of the Journalists Speak Out e-newsletter and Director of Content for PR University. He's the PR and Media Relations version of Charlie Rose. Always interesting and interested. Brian digs and delves into both sides of topics that help PR professionals do their jobs better - in many ways. Objective and skilled at boiling long-winded oratory's into concise, compact and useful information. Check out his weekly column at the Bulldog Reporter.

The people below are a mixture of pro & con on the SMNR. Good information and thinking on all sides of the SMNR concept. Don't reinvent the wheel. Check them out. Their posts might help you consider things that could save you time, money, embarrassment or your job.
Social Media News Release Articles
SMNR Tools, Templates & Resources
SMNR Informational Video Resources