Blogs vs. email

I’ve touched on this before, talking about people liking email more than things on the web because they see email as work and the web as messing around, having fun. It’s interesting because while on the one hand people are always saying that email is ‘broken’, or that there is too much of it; they are also saying that it is still the internet’s killer app, and the best way to build and develop online communities. Which is it?

One rather surprising development in this area happened over the weekend, when Jason Calacanis, the chap who has done as much as anyone else to promote the blog as a communications medium, with his foundation of Weblogs Inc (now owned by AOL), announced he was quitting his blog. What’s more, he was launching an email list that he would use to publish the stuff he would normally blog. He says:

Starting today all of my thoughts will be reserved for a new medium. Something smaller, something more intimate, and something very personal: an email list. Today the email list has about 600 members, I’m going to cut it off when it reaches 750. Frankly, that’s enough more than enough people to have a conversation with. I’m going to try and build a deeper relationship with fewer people–try to get back to my roots.

Now, we should probably not read too much into what a blatent self-publicist like Calacanis gets up to, but this really is an unusual step – not least because it would appear from my short membership of his mailing list that it is a really one-way affair – I can reply to Jason, but not to the whole list. So this really is a Web 1.0 style push medium. It isn’t open or transparent, for you have to be a member to see the archives – i.e. you can’t dip your toe in to see if you would be interested, and there doesn’t seem to be a way for conversations to flow between readers, just between the author and readers.

In a sense, the subscribers to Jason’s list are his audience – and I really thought we had moved on beyond that.

This debate brings to mind a comment Tom Steinberg posted to the UK & Ireland eDemocracy list a little while back when we were discussing the Stratford Council Twitter feed. Tom asked:

As for Straford’s site – it lets people visiting the homepage find out about twitter, but doesn’t have a top-central-located box for gathering email addresses to turn into email updates more akin to the 50,000 leaflets mentioned above. As far as me and my cynical troupe are concerned, that’s an inexcusable prioritsation of buzz word compliance over tried and tested approaches that have far more user recognition. Barack Obama doesn’t do this – why should Stratford?

In other words, everyone – well, except for John McCain – uses email, so that should be the first port of call for online communications. He’s probably right – hence why in my wiki guidance and elsewhere I stress that it’s important to allow people to contribute using whatever method they are comfortable with, even if it is something as uncool as email.

But I would argue that Jason Calacanis is wrong, and that he will soon find his personal mailing list an echo chamber that doesn’t provide the richness of interaction that he had before with his blog.

On the Social Media Release

One of the many areas of communications which can be improved by using social media services is the press release. Indeed, there are a number of sites dedicated to creating a ‘social media release’, including a group blog and a wiki.

Brian Solis recently put together a really useful post: “The Definitive Guide to Social Media Releases” which contains tonnes of information about the whys and wherefores of this development of a traditional communication tool.

Obviously a Social Media Release needs to feature Social Media ingredients, which includes links to bookmarking networks, contextual tags, the ability to track and host conversations, and also discover them within social networks. The inclusion of new features to simply make a fancy, shiny, new whiz bang press release doesn’t necessarily cut it.

So, what socializes a release?

A Social Media Release should contain everything necessary to share and discover a story in a way that is complementary to your original intent; but, the difference is, how they find it and the tools they use to share and broadcast.

This begs the question: what is a social media release? Well, it is an online interactive document that puts out a message in such a way that it is conversational, using online tools to enable people to add to the discussion as well as just read the message.

Todd Defren has identified four key features of what a social media release does that a traditional one doesn’t:

  1. Ensure accuracy
  2. Embrace context
  3. Build community
  4. Be findable

In other words, a social media release puts you in control of what’s being said about your release by ensuring your content is a part of the conversation around it.

How can this be achieved? By putting together an electronic press release that incorporates social media services which can have a useful and viral effect on the story you are telling. So, photos on the release are posted and linked back to Flickr, you can embed videos hosted at YouTube, related stories can be saved on del.icio.us – and all of these linked together through a common tag. This tag can then be used to locate and present feedback on the release, so people can find out what is being said without having to look for it. Use links to enable people to share the release on Digg, Reddit , StumbleUpon and other sites to help spread the word.

What does one look like? Try this example from Ford, thy are using Flickr, YouTube, a growing list of related blog posts and the ubiquitous buttons to share the release on various social bookmarking sites. Or there is Cisco’s effort, which includes a YouTube group, del.icio.us and Digg and even Second Life (thanks to Shel Holtz for both of these examples). Shift Communications have a PDF template that you can adapt.

One point that is worth making is that (for now at least) the social media release does not replace the traditional press release. Instead, it offers an alternative for those that are actively engaged in this space. It also provides a richer experience for those that use it, and so in time people will begin to prefer it as they see its advantages. So, it offers an additional service rather than a replacement, and given the low costs and barriers to entry when it comes to this stuff, it really won’t cost you a great deal more to do – and if it engages just a few more people with your message, then surely it’s worth it?