This post has been created to make you aware that, yes, press releases ARE social media and ARE definitely viral. I'm not a publicist by schooling but I have had years of experience using press releases in the pre- and post-Web 2.0 world. Something I noticed about a year ago was how the press release outlets, including the majors such as BusinessWire, started Web 2.0-enabling their releases. The following is an example of the social media functionality added to press releases to enable their VIRAL distribution.
As you can see under the "Sharing" section on the left side of the page, the press release outlet (in this case BusinessWire) added a series of common social media platforms with which this press release could very easily be shared. This is only one outlet, but I've seen most outlets incorporate this "viral accelerator" to their pages.
As a result of a recent press release, I achieved immediate and broad distribution on Twitter illustrated by the sampling below:
As you can see, just on Twitter alone there were nearly 100 retweets of the press release. Multiply that number by the number of followers that read each retweet and you can see how a traditional press release can achieve viral distribution.
Now consider how these traditional press releases are distributed to hundreds of online media outlets by the wire services, resulting in greater viral potential. Below is a snapshot of a small number of the media outlets that received the press release from the wire service and began serving up copies of the press release - again, each with a similar "sharing" feature.
Now, keep in mind that simply having a "viral accelerator" does not mean a press relaese will achieve viral results. The material has to possess certain qualities. Press releases in of themselves are not great for creating viral buzz. But press releases tied to good viral content will do the job. I recommend reading the chapter of Viral Marketing in The Community Banker's Guide to Social Network Marketing for more details.
In any case, to answer the question posed by the tweet mentioned above, the fact that press releases have Web 2.0 funtionality means that, YES, press releases ARE about viral distribution.