Some 18 months ago, Tom Foremski called for the death of the traditional press release. Not long after, PRs such as Todd Defren and Brian Solis thought the response should be what they called the social-media news release. Then people started arguing the toss about how social a press release can be. They are still talking about it.
Various people have come up with their own interpretations only to have Defren and Solis swing by to declare that it's a "good effort" but not a social-media news release. For them, unless it has support for comments and trackbacks, it ain't social. Like it matters.
The problem is, in the last 18 months, no-one has really taken a good look at how people use press releases of any sort. If they did that, they might stand a chance of producing something that works. Instead, they've been wiffling on about "conversation", "sharing" and "influence".
So, let's take a look at the effectiveness of so-called social media newsrooms. Defren and Solis have been quick to point to releases that did not qualify, in their eyes, for social-media brownie points. However, GM and Palm have implemented, as far as I can tell, pretty much all the recommendations they made. Both have comments and trackbacks active. They have links to del.icio.us and the like. Palm has gone with the bullet points; GM hasn't bothered. But I can't see how that makes much of a difference.
With all that social support, we should be seeing conversation erupt from the page. Surely, these sites are hotbeds of company-customer interaction that demonstrate the pent-up demand for people to talk back to press releases. But it's oh so quiet. The odd bit of poker or slots comment spam has drifted in on the wind, plus a comment or two on the company's adoption of this social stuff. Not all that much about the thing that was launched.
Similarly, backlinks to other near-social releases reveal a lot of PR chatter about release formats but very little about the content of the releases themselves. Now consider the highly unsocial release from Apple about the launch of Leopard. No social widgets at Apple's PR site: just plan old HTML text. As Techmeme demonstrated, a lot of bloggers quite happily linked to it while they chatted away. How so? Without any of that shiny social-media news release stuff, surely it should have remained ignored. How come it worked? It gave them something to write about.
OK, that maybe wasn't an entirely fair comparison. The technology blogs take notice of Apple's every word. Palm is not in the same position. So, let's take the Centro launch. Bloggers had the option of two press releases to link as well as the phone's product page at Palm's site. As far as I can tell, they chose the latter. What gives? How could they pass on the distinctly social release and go for the comment-free product page? I guess because it made sense to them. I didn't see anybody flailing around wondering where the canned quote from some marketing veep was hidden.
Which brings the whole thing full circle. The whole social-media news release bandwagon kicked off with Foremski's complaint. It's 18 months on and a whole lot of chat later, with practically no positive effect from any of it. If I wanted an example of how parts of PR are making themselves irrelevant to the world, I'd have to hunt around for a while for a better one.