The Social Media Release is the Methadone of Online Marketing

In my speaking and consulting work, I frequently hear from marketers who speak triumphantly about creating their latest social media release. For the uninitiated, here’s a little description from Brian Solis:

A Social Media Release should contain everything necessary to share and discover a story in a way that is complementary to your original intent; but, the difference is, how they find it and the tools they use to share and broadcast.

They’re basically standard media releases, but augmented by audio, video, photos, social bookmarking links and other social web widgets. Here are a couple of randomly selected examples:

Social media releases are a crutch for old school marketers. They’re a familiar lens through which communicators can examine this new social web. All they’re really doing is putting some chrome and new mag wheels on a bog-standard media release. And that clearly isn’t good enough.

The social media release encourages marketers to pretty up their traditional releases and check the ‘social meda’ box as done. It’s methadone to the traditional release’s heroin. A little healthier, but still not a good idea.

Besides, let’s go back and look at the definition of a social media release. An announcement or story, augmented by rich media and conversational tools. That sounds like a blog post, doesn’t it?

Disenchanting Wire Services

My skepticism about the social media release isn’t helped by my general disenchantment with wire services. We don’t write releases often, and it’s even rarer than we put them on wire services. In the past five years, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve gotten quality feature articles strictly out of a release ‘on the wire’. Crafting a personalized pitch and targeting specific journalists has much, much better results.

Yes, there are some minor SEO benefits from posting releases, but I’ve never found them overwhelming. For one client (at their behest) we’ve put 10 old-school releases on PRWeb over the last two years, using a paid level of service. Collectively, those releases have driven all of 343 visitors to the client’s site. That represents 0.04% of all the visitors to that site. They cost an average of US $100 each to distribute, so that’s a rather dear $3 per visitor. Add in the time we spent writing, editing and preparing them for distribution, and that expense gets considerably greater. Maybe we’re doing it wrong, but those releases would have to perform at least 10 times better to be worthwhile efforts.

Of course, the wire services are all over this social media release business. They’ve been marketing them aggressively over in the past couple of years. Such releases cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to build and distribute.

Do these newfangled releases actually reflect the new more conversational, genuine ethos of the web in 2009? To put it simply, do they reduce the bollocks factor? For an answer, check out Marketwire’s 2008 social media release about their social media release offering:

Marketwire Unveils Social Media 2.0: Industry’s Most Authentic Social Media Product

Marketwire, a full-service newswire and communications workflow solutions provider, today introduces Social Media 2.0, the industry’s most authentic and comprehensive social media newswire product. Social Media 2.0 advances today’s press release format, offers public relations professionals a multitude of content options, and distributes news in a variety of mediums to distribution channels beyond traditional media distribution networks.

The title says it all, doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t, that first paragraph feels pretty old-school.

Any remotely capable marketer ought to be able to build a web page or blog post instead. They just embed some video from YouTube, photos from Flickr and some sharing widgets and they’re good to go. Cost? Zero dollars.

The gesture behind the social media release–to be more conversational, to eschew the corporate language of the traditional release, to use rich media more effectively–is right-minded. Unfortunately, the resulting releases often call to mind lipstick and a pig.


  1. While I agree with you that the social media release is a bit of an elementary tool for PR and marketing practitioners, I do believe it has its place as an added tool for companies using a wide range of tools to disseminate info. A short release can be combined with other forms of publicity to maximize exposure or draw readers to where the writer wants them to go (website, blog, etc…).

    As well, not all companies know how to craft a sophisticated media relations program, especially small business. They also might not have the time, so the Social Media News Release gives them added tools that traditional releases don’t.

    While it’s not a tool for everyone, I think it has its place, if used wisely and sparingly.

    By the way, I have gotten some great coverage from the use of news wires. Just remember the personal contact follow-up.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You said:

      “By the way, I have gotten some great coverage from the use of news wires. Just remember the personal contact follow-up.”

      Absolutely–we get 90% of the coverage we get for clients through personal relationships with journalists/bloggers et al. Though if I’m going to personally follow up, I might as well just send the initial news in a personalized email, too.

  2. Darren,
    I guess I can see both sides on this one. First, I can honestly say that the response we’ve gotten on a B2B level from simple one paragraph comments on sites like LinkedIn has been huge and took little time and certainly no money to prepare. However, knowing more traditional especially local press as I do, I can imagine a scenario in which a press kit-style release might get more attention (say as something to link to in a series of e-mails?) This said, when I started blogging I was very trad. press oriented always looking for the original release to link to instead of the comments of a bunch of fellow bloggers when reporting news. It didn’t take me long to realize that press releases don’t link back and can’t get trackbacks. (They also don’t really feel like the kind of insider information beyond the official story that bloggers seem to prize.)

  3. Darren:

    Did you see the new Terminator Movie yet? If so, did you enjoy it?

    Thanks in advance,

  4. Yap, SMR gives better benefit then other marketing process. But when we write SMR we should analyze who is going to read our release

  5. When i started blogging I was very trad. press oriented always looking for the original release to link to instead of the comments of a bunch of fellow bloggers when reporting news.

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