PR Web Takes The ‘Social’ Out Of Social Media

In the lead-up to PodCamp Toronto 2008, we’re issuing a news release with details of the event. Given that it’s a social media event, we decided to issue a social media news release.For those of you who may not be familiar with the basics of social media releases, we intended our release would differ from a traditional release in several ways:

  • Bullet point-style news that cut to the point rather than wordy, spin-filled paragraphs
  • Content divided into distinct sections: news, quotes, quick facts, learn more
  • Multiple links to useful information like the location, registration form, speakers, etc
  • Embedded social media tools – tagging, del.icio.us links
  • Limited embedded multimedia content – graphics and audio
  • Ability to share the release through social media tools like Digg, StumbleUpon or similar

(This is a gross over-simplification of the format, but for the purpose of this post it suffices)

With these requirements, PR Web was a logical choice. The company’s services seemed to match our needs perfectly:

PR Web Service Options

PR Web LogoWe plumped for the third option, “SEO Visibility” – the level above “Social Media Visibility.”

Registration for the site was quick, easy and painless. The problems began when I uploaded our release.

Within an hour, I received an email from PR Web, conversationally titled “Editorial Hold Advisory from PRWeb – Please Do Not Respond to this E-Mail”:

Our editors have determined that a few changes need to be made to your press release in order to effectively distribute it on PRWeb. Your press release has been placed on editorial hold status in order to allow you the opportunity to make the required reviews and edits to your press release.

Please review the following editorial explanation describing why your press release was put on editorial hold:

  • PRWeb no longer distributes news releases with an excessive amount of links. Please limit your link count to 1 per 100 words. This policy is in place to protect the value of the links that you include in your release and the value of links within the PRWeb network.

The reviewing editor has also made these additional comments:

  • Your release also lacks an introductory paragraph in the body text that clearly outlines your news. Please insert one. Thanks!

Yes, you read it right:

  • Our “social media news release” had too many links
  • We had to drop the to-the-point, bullet-focused approach and lead with a regular paragraph.

Not very encouraging. Too many links? I have more links in my email signature. PR Web clearly doesn’t understand the concept of the social media news release.

PodCamp Toronto 2008 is only two weeks away so time is tight. We’re debating what to do at the moment. I’ve already contacted the company. What do you think? Should we:

  1. Re-structure the release into a traditional format?
  2. Negotiate with PR Web?
  3. Ask for a refund and use another company?

Let me know what you think.

Update (Feb 7): Jiyan Wei, Online Product Manager for PR Web, contacted me this morning to discuss this situation.

Firstly, thanks to Jiyan for getting involved, both via the comments here and with me directly.

Jiyan explained PR Web’s rationale for the links rule – while Google loves links, Google News apparently doesn’t. If a news release has too many links in it, Google News may decide it’s spam. He also informed me they’re willing to be flexible on it with our release, and that they’re considering whether to make the ‘rule’ more of a ‘guideline’ for users in the future.

Their second original request, about an introductory paragraph, also relates to Google News. As I understand it, the service won’t pick up releases that don’t fit their idea of what a news release should be. Bullet points don’t fit that idea.

All in all, a productive discussion.

In the meantime, several other newswire services contacted me. I’m very impressed that they’re paying attention – thanks to them, too.

Update (Feb 8): We released our release on PRWeb this morning – we went with a more traditional format in the end.

In an interesting twist, CNW stepped up to the plate and offered to let us try their service. Our SMNR-style release is now live on their site.

This was a fascinating experience. It’s great to know that the news wire services are listening. PRWeb handled the issue very well – they joined the conversation early, listened to my concerns and were flexible. Marketwire, webitpr and CNW all noticed and contacted me too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take advantage of all their offers without spamming media outlets with multiple copies of the same release.

This is a great example of why companies should get involved in conversations like these. I think it worked out well for everyone.

36 comments
jan
jan

I hate to say it, but PRWeb is completely correct on limiting the links. We are lucky that they have not been forced by Google to add no-follows to all the links as well. I was at an SEO convention where the founder of PRWeb was instructed to instigate this limit by the Google reps that were at the conference.

Link spam is a huge business now, particularly with 3rd world country "seo" companies. Think how the news services would be stuffed full of fake press releases that were slathered with links for Viagra and porn if they were allowed to do that. They could post a $200 press release and charge 20 customers $100 each for the links, and would do it enmasse if it were allowed.

In my opinion, news and press releases are not the place for email-blast types of advertisements. It's hard enough to make agencies like CNN and ABC take an online press release seriously. There has to be some rules in effect, and one link per 100 words is very fair. Unfortunately we are all affected by link spam and the black-hat SEO industry.

jan
jan

I hate to say it, but PRWeb is completely correct on limiting the links. We are lucky that they have not been forced by Google to add no-follows to all the links as well. I was at an SEO convention where the founder of PRWeb was instructed to instigate this limit by the Google reps that were at the conference. Link spam is a huge business now, particularly with 3rd world country "seo" companies. Think how the news services would be stuffed full of fake press releases that were slathered with links for Viagra and porn if they were allowed to do that. They could post a $200 press release and charge 20 customers $100 each for the links, and would do it enmasse if it were allowed. In my opinion, news and press releases are not the place for email-blast types of advertisements. It's hard enough to make agencies like CNN and ABC take an online press release seriously. There has to be some rules in effect, and one link per 100 words is very fair. Unfortunately we are all affected by link spam and the black-hat SEO industry.

Paolina Milana
Paolina Milana

Hi Dave:

Great conversation! To add to it, I thought I'd share with you and your readers a great objective viewpoint on social media that also identifies the differences between it and traditional media releases:
http://www.briansolis.com/2008/02/definitive-guide-to-social-media.html.

Before I continue (similar to what Michael posted above) let me fully disclose: I'm a former journalist who jumped the fence to PR, and who has worked for PR Newswire and who now works as VP of Marketing for Marketwire. So while it may be considered biased, I have "been around" in this industry on both sides of the fence for longer than I care to admit! And when I look at what's out there, well, all bias aside, even a quick glance at Marketwire's Social Media 2.0 versus others' immediately illustrates the differences:

http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release.do?id=821317

http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/February2008/08/c8273.html

A great many news distribution services talk about their social media press release offerings...it's easy to socialize a release. But to offer a true social media press release...one that allows for in-release two-way communication...? Only Marketwire's Social Media 2.0 can do it.

I hope you give us a test-drive, Dave (not to mention everyone else who posted here); as you found out with PRWeb, the only way to really know what works best is to try it first-hand.

Paolina Milana
Paolina Milana

Hi Dave: Great conversation! To add to it, I thought I'd share with you and your readers a great objective viewpoint on social media that also identifies the differences between it and traditional media releases: http://www.briansolis.com/2008/02/definitive-guide-to-social-media.html. Before I continue (similar to what Michael posted above) let me fully disclose: I'm a former journalist who jumped the fence to PR, and who has worked for PR Newswire and who now works as VP of Marketing for Marketwire. So while it may be considered biased, I have "been around" in this industry on both sides of the fence for longer than I care to admit! And when I look at what's out there, well, all bias aside, even a quick glance at Marketwire's Social Media 2.0 versus others' immediately illustrates the differences: http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release.do?id=821317 http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/February2008/08/c8273.html A great many news distribution services talk about their social media press release offerings...it's easy to socialize a release. But to offer a true social media press release...one that allows for in-release two-way communication...? Only Marketwire's Social Media 2.0 can do it. I hope you give us a test-drive, Dave (not to mention everyone else who posted here); as you found out with PRWeb, the only way to really know what works best is to try it first-hand.

Chris Marritt
Chris Marritt

Hi Dave, I just thought I'd pop back after (eventually) listening to Neville's take on this on FIR.
Like Neville, and many of the others above, I'd obviously give credit to PRWeb for getting involved in the conversation.
BUT
While I appreciate that the SMNR is something they care about, and that they are sincerely working to resolve the issues they have, I can't ignore the fact that they brand one level of service as being targeted at the blogosphere - and charge for it - even though they don't really have a product that fits the bill. That, I feel, really shows where their short-term priorities lie.
Maybe I'm being harsh and I'll calm down in a while, but to my mind, no amount of conversation justifies the fact they advertise and charge for a service which they ultimately can't deliver.
It's great that they're listening, and working on a solution, as that bodes well for the future. And reading about your experience certainly wouldn't put me off coming back to them to see if they've solved the problem if and when I ever need such a service.
I just wish you'd been able to find an alternative which could do the job without you having to compromise your release - though I'm sure the finished product was just as effective :)

Chris Marritt
Chris Marritt

Hi Dave, I just thought I'd pop back after (eventually) listening to Neville's take on this on FIR. Like Neville, and many of the others above, I'd obviously give credit to PRWeb for getting involved in the conversation. BUT While I appreciate that the SMNR is something they care about, and that they are sincerely working to resolve the issues they have, I can't ignore the fact that they brand one level of service as being targeted at the blogosphere - and charge for it - even though they don't really have a product that fits the bill. That, I feel, really shows where their short-term priorities lie. Maybe I'm being harsh and I'll calm down in a while, but to my mind, no amount of conversation justifies the fact they advertise and charge for a service which they ultimately can't deliver. It's great that they're listening, and working on a solution, as that bodes well for the future. And reading about your experience certainly wouldn't put me off coming back to them to see if they've solved the problem if and when I ever need such a service. I just wish you'd been able to find an alternative which could do the job without you having to compromise your release - though I'm sure the finished product was just as effective :)

Li Evans
Li Evans

Great post Dave, thanks for sharing your experience.

We're starting something in the "search" end of the industry and are tagging it with Podcamp Philly, this definitely gives us some ideas of what to expect when dealing with doing the publicity.

Thanks for sharing!

Li Evans
Li Evans

Great post Dave, thanks for sharing your experience. We're starting something in the "search" end of the industry and are tagging it with Podcamp Philly, this definitely gives us some ideas of what to expect when dealing with doing the publicity. Thanks for sharing!

Doug Haslam
Doug Haslam

Hi Dave,

I did press releases for PodCamp Boston II, and am very interested in the outcomes here.

I did not come up against your "paragraph" problem as I did not dive whole hog into the SMR formatting. I tend to favor a hybrid approach. I did, however, use multimedia where I had it (like video and audio for the musicians, etc.) and made sure tagging was available.

We also came up against link limitations-- though MarketWire (who sponsored PodCamp Boston by donating their release services) did not count spelled-out URLS in the hyperlink limit. Is that the case with PRWeb?

Anyway, keeping an eye on this for my several levels of interest. And good on PRWeb for jumping onto the conversation!

Doug Haslam
Doug Haslam

Hi Dave, I did press releases for PodCamp Boston II, and am very interested in the outcomes here. I did not come up against your "paragraph" problem as I did not dive whole hog into the SMR formatting. I tend to favor a hybrid approach. I did, however, use multimedia where I had it (like video and audio for the musicians, etc.) and made sure tagging was available. We also came up against link limitations-- though MarketWire (who sponsored PodCamp Boston by donating their release services) did not count spelled-out URLS in the hyperlink limit. Is that the case with PRWeb? Anyway, keeping an eye on this for my several levels of interest. And good on PRWeb for jumping onto the conversation!

Mario Bonilla
Mario Bonilla

Dave, as the PRWeb platform trainer I thank you for the opportunity to interact with you. There truly can be a civil and enlightening conversations online, Bravo! to those that choose to be part of it.

Mario Bonilla
Mario Bonilla

Dave, as the PRWeb platform trainer I thank you for the opportunity to interact with you. There truly can be a civil and enlightening conversations online, Bravo! to those that choose to be part of it.

Peter West
Peter West

Oh David! Yes this is the price of being a pioneer. And, isn't it great that PRWeb got back to you! Good move on their part. Nevertheless, while you're breaking new ground and educating the web service providers would it not make sense to issue a standard release via the old fashion wire services. BTW how about a copy of the release. Love to see it and looking forward to meeting you at Pod Camp 2008.

Peter West
Peter West

Oh David! Yes this is the price of being a pioneer. And, isn't it great that PRWeb got back to you! Good move on their part. Nevertheless, while you're breaking new ground and educating the web service providers would it not make sense to issue a standard release via the old fashion wire services. BTW how about a copy of the release. Love to see it and looking forward to meeting you at Pod Camp 2008.

Alfonso Guerra
Alfonso Guerra

Go with options 1 and 4 (except for the refund). They call themselves *PR Web* for a reason, and as long as people who work for companies like Target insist on burying their heads in the sand and ignoring market realities you'll need some channel through which to reach them. Don't be like the insecure nerds who insist speech must be proper when they're addressed. Be condescending, but not belittling. Reach out to those still in the mainstream media mindset. Hopefully they'll gain a better understanding of what you're trying to accomplish by attending.

Alfonso Guerra
Alfonso Guerra

Go with options 1 and 4 (except for the refund). They call themselves *PR Web* for a reason, and as long as people who work for companies like Target insist on burying their heads in the sand and ignoring market realities you'll need some channel through which to reach them.

Don't be like the insecure nerds who insist speech must be proper when they're addressed. Be condescending, but not belittling. Reach out to those still in the mainstream media mindset. Hopefully they'll gain a better understanding of what you're trying to accomplish by attending.

Jiyan Wei
Jiyan Wei

PS - How can I get a hold of you?

Jiyan Wei
Jiyan Wei

PS - How can I get a hold of you?

Jiyan Wei
Jiyan Wei

Hi Dave,

I actually addressed your concerns on New Influencer but figured it would be worth chipping in with my two cents here as well.

Let me preface this by saying I'm the product manager for PRWeb.

With more customers adopting the SMR format we have been working to address a number of challenges:

First, we have retooled our editorial guidelines to accommodate this new format. That was the easy part. Our editorial approach has always been customer-centric. Our editors spend hours each day on the phone with thousands of customers trying to figure out how best to work with them. So I would opt for option 2 ;)

The second challenge involves a bit of background on how online news distribution works. Essentially, you post your release to your newswire of choice. Then, it gets distributed through a variety of channels. That is the basic initial flow of content.

For the SMR, that first part is easy – we simply make some back-end changes to accommodate the SMR format. Our releases come with comments, trackbacks, social bookmark links - all the SM goodies...

It is that second part where things get a little bit sticky - distributing to other channels.

One of the main reasons people use online newswires is because their news gets into Google News. Well, did you know that according to Google, “If the article body appears not to contain punctuated sequences of contiguous words, we won't be able to include it in Google News. Make sure that the text of your articles is made up of sentences, and that you don't use frequent tags within your paragraphs.” To get a complete list of Google's standards, visit http://www.google.com/support/news_pub/bin/answer.py?answer=70871&topic=11669

Additionally, Peter hit the nail on the head by saying our link limitations are put into place for the benefit of our customers (and I see that you have posted our response).

Now, we could publish your SMR in whatever format you like with however many links you like – but that would decrease its likelihood of getting picked-up in Google News and other places online.

I could go on about this forever but to make a long story short, we put these standards in place because our mantra has always been “online visibility.” We want to make sure that your news moves far and wide online. Sometimes that means placing limitations on the format of the release.

I can assure however that the SMR is something that we care about – that I personally care about – and we are working tirelessly to figure out how to make sure it gets the same visibility as a standard news release.

Also, I'm planning to contact you to see what we can to to address this particular situation.

So with all due respect to KD Paine, we value your time and effort and we'd love to keep working with you.

Jiyan Wei
Jiyan Wei

Hi Dave, I actually addressed your concerns on New Influencer but figured it would be worth chipping in with my two cents here as well. Let me preface this by saying I'm the product manager for PRWeb. With more customers adopting the SMR format we have been working to address a number of challenges: First, we have retooled our editorial guidelines to accommodate this new format. That was the easy part. Our editorial approach has always been customer-centric. Our editors spend hours each day on the phone with thousands of customers trying to figure out how best to work with them. So I would opt for option 2 ;) The second challenge involves a bit of background on how online news distribution works. Essentially, you post your release to your newswire of choice. Then, it gets distributed through a variety of channels. That is the basic initial flow of content. For the SMR, that first part is easy – we simply make some back-end changes to accommodate the SMR format. Our releases come with comments, trackbacks, social bookmark links - all the SM goodies... It is that second part where things get a little bit sticky - distributing to other channels. One of the main reasons people use online newswires is because their news gets into Google News. Well, did you know that according to Google, “If the article body appears not to contain punctuated sequences of contiguous words, we won't be able to include it in Google News. Make sure that the text of your articles is made up of sentences, and that you don't use frequent tags within your paragraphs.” To get a complete list of Google's standards, visit http://www.google.com/support/news_pub/bin/answer.py?answer=70871&topic=11669 Additionally, Peter hit the nail on the head by saying our link limitations are put into place for the benefit of our customers (and I see that you have posted our response). Now, we could publish your SMR in whatever format you like with however many links you like – but that would decrease its likelihood of getting picked-up in Google News and other places online. I could go on about this forever but to make a long story short, we put these standards in place because our mantra has always been “online visibility.” We want to make sure that your news moves far and wide online. Sometimes that means placing limitations on the format of the release. I can assure however that the SMR is something that we care about – that I personally care about – and we are working tirelessly to figure out how to make sure it gets the same visibility as a standard news release. Also, I'm planning to contact you to see what we can to to address this particular situation. So with all due respect to KD Paine, we value your time and effort and we'd love to keep working with you.

Jen Zingsheim
Jen Zingsheim

I'm curious about "If your press release contains too many links, it has a higher likelihood of being seen as link spam and could be rejected from certain places online." What places? Do they have any detail on this? Those (obviously) would be areas where *any* SMNR would be rejected. It would be a public service to all to know who does this.

Jen Zingsheim
Jen Zingsheim

I'm curious about "If your press release contains too many links, it has a higher likelihood of being seen as link spam and could be rejected from certain places online." What places? Do they have any detail on this? Those (obviously) would be areas where *any* SMNR would be rejected. It would be a public service to all to know who does this.

KD Paine
KD Paine

I'd get your money back and go with a company that gets it. Let me know when you find one.

KD Paine
KD Paine

I'd get your money back and go with a company that gets it. Let me know when you find one.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

I received a reply from PR Web. I'm impressed by their response time, but saddened by their lack of flexibility.

Here's their email:

Hello Dave,

While it is short, I believe that the introductory sentence in the body of your press release [PodCamp Toronto 2008 is taking place February 23-24, 2008 at the Rogers Communication Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto.] is sufficient in describing the news angle. However, it would be best if you removed the "News" subhead from above the sentence, that way the news of your release falls right after the dateline.

PRWeb has a link count policy in order to protect the value of the links in your release and the value of links within the PRWeb network. If your press release contains too many links, it has a higher likelihood of being seen as link spam and could be rejected from certain places online. For this reason, we will require that you stay within a link count of 1 link per 100 words. The current length of your press release is 329, so you should have no more than three links in place.

I hope this answers your question. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

PRWeb - Press Release Newswire

I can see their rationale, but here's the thing: a well-written, concise release will generally be no more than 300-400 words max. That means 3-4 links in their books.

After one link to the PodCamp Toronto 2008 wiki and one to the blog, that leaves one link for context.

If we want more links than that, I guess they want us to write badly.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

I received a reply from PR Web. I'm impressed by their response time, but saddened by their lack of flexibility. Here's their email: Hello Dave, While it is short, I believe that the introductory sentence in the body of your press release [PodCamp Toronto 2008 is taking place February 23-24, 2008 at the Rogers Communication Centre at Ryerson University in Toronto.] is sufficient in describing the news angle. However, it would be best if you removed the "News" subhead from above the sentence, that way the news of your release falls right after the dateline. PRWeb has a link count policy in order to protect the value of the links in your release and the value of links within the PRWeb network. If your press release contains too many links, it has a higher likelihood of being seen as link spam and could be rejected from certain places online. For this reason, we will require that you stay within a link count of 1 link per 100 words. The current length of your press release is 329, so you should have no more than three links in place. I hope this answers your question. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. PRWeb - Press Release Newswire I can see their rationale, but here's the thing: a well-written, concise release will generally be no more than 300-400 words max. That means 3-4 links in their books. After one link to the PodCamp Toronto 2008 wiki and one to the blog, that leaves one link for context. If we want more links than that, I guess they want us to write badly.

Chris Marritt
Chris Marritt

Going by your Tweets as well, Dave, it looks to me like you've already tried Option 2 - or at least tried to get in touch with them. Engaging is always the ideal answer, but I'm guessing that in this case, Option 3 is rapidly becoming your only option. Oh, and once you find a successful alternative, I'd blog about them too. It would be a recommendation to the community...

Chris Marritt
Chris Marritt

Going by your Tweets as well, Dave, it looks to me like you've already tried Option 2 - or at least tried to get in touch with them. Engaging is always the ideal answer, but I'm guessing that in this case, Option 3 is rapidly becoming your only option.
Oh, and once you find a successful alternative, I'd blog about them too. It would be a recommendation to the community...

jason ryan
jason ryan

The price of early adoption is being misunderstood or, worse, ignored. Not sure which is the lesser evil.
I would definitely engage with the company and try and help them see the unfortunate irony of the situation — but if that fails, option 3 looks promising...

jason ryan
jason ryan

The price of early adoption is being misunderstood or, worse, ignored. Not sure which is the lesser evil. I would definitely engage with the company and try and help them see the unfortunate irony of the situation — but if that fails, option 3 looks promising...

Colleen Coplick
Colleen Coplick

I don't know what i'd do. I don't agree with PRWeb refusing to send your release, but on the other hand, i don't know how many journalists are using the SMNR yet. I think that the current ones are *too* much, and if it were me using them, I would tone them down a bit. Make my release be a combination of a traditional release and an SMNR.

Colleen Coplick
Colleen Coplick

I don't know what i'd do. I don't agree with PRWeb refusing to send your release, but on the other hand, i don't know how many journalists are using the SMNR yet. I think that the current ones are *too* much, and if it were me using them, I would tone them down a bit. Make my release be a combination of a traditional release and an SMNR.

Michael
Michael

Dave, I'm completely biased here, but I think you should go with option three: get your money back and work with CNW Group.

Full disclaimer: they're a client, so I'm naturally inclined to say nice things about them - but in my research prior to starting to work with them, and since, I haven't found a single other wire service company that is working as hard to understand and integrate social media into their business as these guys.

All the wire services are making noises about this stuff, but there's a lot of bandwagon-jumping fluff, and precious little real thinking going on.

Talk to CNW - they don't have all the answers, but they're smart, flexible, and have about 67% share of the market for all sorts of good reasons.

All IMHO, of course.

Michael
Michael

Dave, I'm completely biased here, but I think you should go with option three: get your money back and work with CNW Group. Full disclaimer: they're a client, so I'm naturally inclined to say nice things about them - but in my research prior to starting to work with them, and since, I haven't found a single other wire service company that is working as hard to understand and integrate social media into their business as these guys. All the wire services are making noises about this stuff, but there's a lot of bandwagon-jumping fluff, and precious little real thinking going on. Talk to CNW - they don't have all the answers, but they're smart, flexible, and have about 67% share of the market for all sorts of good reasons. All IMHO, of course.

Peter
Peter

I would negotiate with them. They need to be educated about social media news releases.

My bet is that they are worrying about getting identified as a link farm and want to help raise the importance of your links.

They have probably been spammed before (pretty expensive spamming) and have set up some computer controls to stop that.

I have used them before, only once to try them out, and they were quite responsive. I am surprised you haven't heard anything back from a person. I think they are still based in the Seattle area.

Peter
Peter

I would negotiate with them. They need to be educated about social media news releases. My bet is that they are worrying about getting identified as a link farm and want to help raise the importance of your links. They have probably been spammed before (pretty expensive spamming) and have set up some computer controls to stop that. I have used them before, only once to try them out, and they were quite responsive. I am surprised you haven't heard anything back from a person. I think they are still based in the Seattle area.

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