Social Media Press Releases

Doing some weekend reading, I saw lively discussions that were picked up again as the topic of social media press releases took center stage at a Third Thursday meeting in San Francisco last week. Shel Holtz posted a podcast of the whole discussion.

Stowe Boyd and Robert Scoble both recommend killing the social media press release. I don’t agree, but more on that later. Beyond this, Robert asks why companies don’t use blogs as the sole vehicle to distribute news. A few reasons:

  • As widespread as they are, blogs are far from mainstream. This is especially true with corporate blogs. In October last year, SocialText said, only about 8% of Fortune 500 companies are blogging.  Even in high tech, only about a third of Fortune 500 companies have blogs. More important than the number of blogs is blog readership. While Direct2Dell is on track to hit over 1.5 million page views for January, it’s still only reaching a small fraction of our customers.

  • In the blog-only model, it quickly becomes difficult to distinguish what’s official news.

  • Some news (like financial data) are governed by laws. Those laws often dictate both the level of information and the timing on when that news has to be shared. Even if the blog-only method was accepted, it would be difficult to coordinate the distribution of information. Jonathan Schwartz has talked about Reg FD barriers in this regard.

Just because Dell is part of the roughly 8 percent of Fortune 500 companies that blog doesn’t mean that Dell departments are all in agreement on the value of blogging. Part of the challenge of running a corporate blog becomes educating folks in various organizations across the company (like PR, Marketing, Legal etc.) and showing them that we’re doing the right thing by embarking down the social media path. My point is that there’s a steep learning curve for many in the corporate ranks, and I think that explains some of the resistance to change.

Who’s right? In my view, it’s simply too early to tell, but I think Jeremy Toeman has the right idea—that a combination of blogging and a variation of the traditional press release makes sense. If you look at the extreme positions on either side—the old media view that the press release/newswire/wire service distribution process doesn’t need fixing or the new media view that blogs/RSS readers should be the vehicle for distributing news—seems most likely that the traditional press release and the social media press release (along with other options that haven’t appeared yet) will coexist indefinitely.

So what’s the value of social media press releases? They bridge the gap between where we’ve been and where things are heading. Back in November, we did a trial release using BusinessWire’s EON (Enhanced Online News) service, and saw promising results. Will something else come along and be more effective than social media press releases?  Probably. The constantly evolving nature of social media stuff is what makes it so exciting.

From Dell’s perspective, we’re exploring things. Traditional press releases are still far and away the norm. In some cases, we’ll blog about new product introductions or other news to augment announcements. Like we did with the battery recall, we’ll continue to look for ways to use Direct2Dell as a primary vehicle to keep customers informed. Ultimately, there may be some instances where we’ll use Direct2Dell as the only method of distributing news… we’re still figuring out the scenarios where this might make sense.

There’s no question that a blog can be a very effective way to share news and information. The first six months into it have been an incredible experience for lots of us. Granted, I have a vested interest, I certainly hope more customers read Direct2Dell. More importantly though, our focus should be on providing customers several ways to learn about and to interact with Dell, and let them decide what’s most useful. Some things that we try will work, some won’t. Adapting quickly to the changes ahead seems to be the key.

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca