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PR is part of the product design: Ford's social media news release

I know this blog is about design and innovation but let's talk about PR for a minute. Why? Because the way you talk about your product should be part of how you design your product.


I know this blog is about product design and innovation but let's talk about PR for a minute. Why? Because the way you talk about your product should be part of your design process. The product design ought to incorporate the product story you want to tell. Sometimes, the story even becomes the product. Moreover, some may think PR is immune to innovation, but is in fact a field that is currently going through a series of pretty radical disruptions. The rise of social media has challenged the old way of promoting messages, and today's PR practitioners face the daunting challenge of doing effective public relations when it's more and more the public itself that does all of the relating for you.

Enter the social media news release (SMNR), originally conceived by SHIFT Communications, a viable new format to spark and cultivate online conversations about a product. Todd Defren, Shel Holtz, Chris Heuer, and other bloggers have been on the soapbox preaching about SMNRs for almost a year now. The list of companies that have used the SMNR includes Coca-Cola, BEA, SAP, Novell, and Belkin, among many other smaller companies.

And now--hat tip to Geoff Livingston--Ford has released an especially glowing example of a SMNR for its new 2008 Focus. It's quite a production and includes a vast array of social media elements. Flickr-sized Images, RSS feeds, suggested meta-tags, YouTube videos, PDF fact sheets, bulleted facts, and a variety of executive quotes make this release eye and conversation candy--lavish yet informative.

Livingston writes: "This new social media news release takes the emerging form to a new level, and demonstrates that companies can reinvigorate, static and boring parenthetical form with dynamic content. The result: a virtual work sheet that any blogger, journalist or analyst can use as starting point for a story."

It is definitely a step in the right direction even though the release is not yet fully social media-enabled: it lacks broader social bookmarking capabilities, and it also does not allow the recipients to comment on the release itself and pick up the conversation right there. I also doubt that Ford has put their release out over the traditional news wires, as they still seem to lack the ability to handle this kind of rich multimedia package.

Questions for the Social Media Group, the PR firm that crafted the release for Ford (and is probably tracking this conversation): How do you measure its effectiveness? What would make it a successful release for you?