It’s been nearly four years since the birth of the social media release, and the terminology and abilities of this tool are evolving alongside social media itself.

This fast-paced evolution means many communicators are finding it tough to choose which tool best fits their needs. Sometimes, this wealth of options can lead PR pros to stick with the classic news release, while others advocate for more direct or social ways of distributing news. Others are simply refashioning news releases into so-called “social” products. It seems there’s still work to be done in making the social media release a new standard in public relations.

Below is a look at the current state of the social media release, and a special audio report that discusses its place in the PR universe.

Where did it all start?

As MediaShift’s Mark Glaser reported in 2008, influential Silicon Valley journalist and blogger Tom Foremski’s now famous blog post was the spark that led to the creation of the social media release.

His post certainly hit a nerve, likely because he didn’t simply trash the age old press release. He deconstructed it and suggested a reconstruction that would work for his sensibilities.

At the time, in 2006, the basic structure and intent of a media release hadn’t really changed since Ivy Lee penned the first press release for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1906. Foremski’s post was the “shot heard around the wire-service industry,” as one distribution insider described it (after requesting anonymity). It certainly resonated with Tod Defren, who cites the Foremski screed as his inspiration for creating the template for the “social media release.”

Choosing the right Social Media Release

Defren is a PR veteran and new communications trailblazer. A principal at Shift Communications, whose portfolio of clients includes Club Med, Quiznos, Yelp, Novell and Wells Fargo, he is cited regularly as the “creator” of the social media release. Some have suggested this innovation heralds the end of the traditional release.

“Honestly, most PR pros despise press releases — they tend to be overwritten, overwrought and rarely as newsworthy as the name implies,” Defren wrote in an email. “I saw Tom’s post as an opportunity to re-invent the format, at a time when social media was looking likely to upset many other media apple carts.”

A social media release can be broadly defined as a single page of web content designed to enable the content to be removed and used on blogs, wikis and other social channels. In practice, social media releases (SMRs) feature multiple embedded links (a YouTube video, Flickr slideshow, SlideShare presentation etc.) and blocks of text similar to those found in traditional releases (spokesperson quotes, boilerplate and contact information). Here are a few examples of social media release services:

i-e98fa32cedaef5642b683dde0a64a3b2-Social_Media_Release_Example.jpg

Martin Waxman said that when new clients come to him looking for traditional media releases, he steers them in an another direction.

“[If] all they want us to do is issue a release — and usually the word ‘buzz’ is also mentioned — we ask them what their objectives are and often suggest other communications options, including social media,” said Waxman, president of Palette Public Relations, a boutique Canadian agency serving clients such as Yuk Yuk’s, Tide, Olay and Head & Shoulders.

“I think that smart communicators will look at their objectives and consider all the tools — traditional and social — when they’re developing a PR plan, and then strategically select the ones that are most appropriate for the audience you’re trying to engage,” Waxman said. “One of the most exciting things about PR is that we now have many more channels in which to tell our stories. But we need to listen and get to know the influencers, customize our approach, talk in plain English and build relationships. That’s the key.”

Social Media Newsroom

Waxman is keen on the social media release, as well as its close cousin, the “social media newsroom.”

“I do think that social media releases are the heir apparent to the traditional news release, if I can throw in a monarchy metaphor,” he said. “Personally, I like to go one step further and encourage organizations to create a social media newsroom with all the information, visuals, video, background materials, story ideas and contact easily accessible and searchable.”

Defren agreed with Waxman’s assessment, citing a follow-up post written a few months after the introduction of the social media release, he calls the “social media newsroom” his “true and lasting innovation.” Here’s what he outlined via email:

I put the cart before the horse. Within a social media newsroom, the company can house all the multimedia assets, including pointers to external sites, in one easy-to-find place. The problem with outsourcing all of that content to third party sites is that you lose the thread of conversation that rightfully belongs on the corporate site. Why should you, as a marketer, surrender all the SEO benefits of having most of your content on your own website, for people to visit and link back to?

Social media newsrooms are more comprehensive than their cousin, the social media release. They allow an organization to host all of their social media releases, contact

i-5852ae339f1334cc144fb10bac150c58-pe-logo-new-trans.png

information and links to social channels in one place. This in turn allows the organization to leverage the search engine optimization value of the news being released. Defren’s company created the first ever social media newsroom, which can be found here. Others quickly followed suit.

PitchEngine.com, a social media release provider, recently lowered their agency pricing on their social media newsroom product to encourage more brands and groups to adopt their system.

Go In-Depth on Social Media Releases

To get more in-depth about the social media release, I conducted a special audio interview with Fleishman-Hillard senior vice president David Bradfield and Mark Blevis, an associate vice president at the same firm. You can listen to our discussion below:

We spoke about how communicators can choose a the right tools for the job, and how best to approach social media releases with clients. We also talked about the three major choices in social media release distribution: Using a web application or service, paying a wire service, or creating a self-hosted “social media newsroom.”

When asked the ubiquitous question “Is the media press release dead?” Waxman summed it up best.

“If you read Clay Shirky’s book ‘Here Comes Everybody,’ it’s clear we’re in the midst of a communications revolution and no one really knows how it will turn out,” he said. “That’s a long way of saying I don’t think the news release is dead. It’s still a useful communications tool. But that’s what it is: A device that helps tell a story. Will releases evolve? Absolutely. And hopefully social media will help rid them of corporate-speak and just plain bad writing.”

Ian Capstick is a progressive media consultant. He worked for a decade in Canadian politics supporting some of Canada’s most charismatic leaders. He is passionate about creating social change through communications. Ian appears weekly on CBC TV’s Power & Politics, weekly radio panels, and is regularly quoted online and off about the evolution of public relations in a connected world. He describes his small communications firm, MediaStyle.ca, as a blog with a consulting arm.

Related