That's Jeremy Pepper writing on the undedifying spectacle of a bunch of people arguing about whether press releases should come pre-equipped with Del.icio.us tags. Yes, I know those people refer to it as the Social Media Press Release, but the former just seems a better explanation given that a group of PRs and non-PRs can't actually define what is meant to go into the new-format release without falling out.
After Jeremiah Owyang and Stowe Boyd - who you might regard as being at the happy-clappy end of the social-media revolution - wrote about how they could not understand why PRs were trying to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the resolutely Media 1.0 press release, the PRs rounded on them with rebuttals along the lines of: "You silly boys, you just don't understand how PR works." I've never been under impression they want to know how PR works - and a lot of people like it that way.
I think I'm going over old ground here, but the whole idea of the Social Media Press Release is pointless. It's solving a problem that doesn't exist without actually addressing problems that do. For the last few years, I've been saying to PRs that their contact with the press, particularly those in trade media, is going to go away. They need to go direct to the user. And the press release is a piss-poor way of selling things direct.
Why is that the case? Because the press release was never designed to be consumed unadulterated. It was, and still is, a relatively efficient way of getting an announcement to 10, 20 or more people. You don't have to call each of them up individually, you just send the release using the fastest means available. If they want to know more, they call you (or they call other people). Those people were, and are, journalists.
That "PR people can't write for shit" doesn't matter all that much in the traditional environment. The stuff will get translated - it better had or it will be ignored by the reader.
Now, the people behind the Social Media Press Release understand one thing - that the message is going direct, around the filtering process put in place by the traditional media. What they don't seem to understand is that a lot of people reading those releases are not much interested in 'remixing' the content or 'engaging in the conversation'. I have no interest in conversing with Reckitt Benckiser over their latest floor cleaner. I'd like to know what it does if I'm standing in a supermarket looking for floor cleaner - and in words I can understand without a barrelful of quotes from enthusiastic veeps of marketing and analysts. But I'm not subscribing to RSS feeds to find out about floor cleaners.
Maybe if I feel strongly enough as a consumer to start arguing the toss over the launch on a blog, I will start looking further. Clarins' launch of a cream that magically blocks 'artificial' electromagnetic waves (presumably allowing the natural ones through) would drive me to a comment or two, beyond what reporters such as Alok Jha have already written, but I don't think that was the sort of commentary the social-media PR brethren had in mind. However, a few Del.icio.us tags at the end is not going to make a difference to that. I'm even a little wary of using features that amount to putting a tracker signal on the material that companies send out. The core of the issue is the content of the release or whatever you want to call a corporate announcement, not its fancypants XML wrapping.
The tracker is the only thing that makes sense to me about the whole initiative in that it has an objective - it goes back to an earlier effort by PRs to standardise on a new-technology press release using XML a few years back. It had nothing to do with providing more succinct or readable information - it's sole feature was to track coverage assuming that hacks played ball and kept the tags in place through four or five editing processes. It didn't work then. It won't work now, not least because the end user is no more mindful of what PRs want than journalists are right now.