A guide to building your own social media press release distribution system

Every industry is different, and every agency or in-house department has their own way of doing PR. It isn’t easy for agencies to choose the right tools to fit with their approach of distributing press releases. Do they build a custom solution from scratch or do they buy an existing solution that other agencies use? In this blog post we’ll outline how to build your own social media press release toolset. We’ve been there ourselves.

Update: we wrote an overview of the pitfalls of creating your own CRM for PR.

Obviously we’ll conclude with telling you that it’s smarter to buy a solution, not to build one yourself. The hard numbers: it will take several months and at least 55.000 $ to build a first version. That figure is for the initial build, not covering maintenance, hosting, or any other running costs. Read on to see the steps that you can take to build your own custom press release solution.

An overview of the process

Most web projects follow a typical step by step approach. Once one step is completed and agreed upon, you move to the next step.

Web development flow

Deciding what to build

What does a social media press release approach consist of? The schematic below pictures the main functionality: a dedicated press room that contains press releases which you can email to your contact database. Press releases can contain multimedia assets, and you need some kind of reporting/analytics to discover how you are doing.

Total cost of ownership of building a social media press release system
These elements are the essentials of a social media press release solution. There are many more features that you might want to add. Do you want to send e-mails under embargo? Do you want to track the buzz on Twitter about your releases? Do you want to be able to style the different press rooms that you might have? As you review your current processes and tools, and take a look at existing solutions you will end up with a list of features, preferably prioritized.

Finding a web agency to build it

It’s a highly technical solution requires a dedicated web developer team. If you are a PR agency,  you might not have that in-house expertise. Use your network to come up with a shortlist of nearby web builders with a strong reputation. Send them requests for proposal based on your features list.

Just a few weeks in, after numerous calls and emails exploring the scope you’ll receive proposals from the available web builders that want to take on your project. They’ll tell you about their approach, timing and budget.

Reviewing the project scope 

The proposals might be more expensive than you had estimated. They usually are. Try to reduce the scope by marking some items as “nice-to-haves”. Obvious things to leave out are an integrated contact management system. Your Excel or FileMaker lists might suffice for now. The price can also be lowered by by not integrating e-mail distribution and reports. You can go to MailChimp or CampaignMonitor to send the e-mails.

Cut down the scope, set priorities and negotiate about new timings and budgets.

Planning what to build

You have chosen a partner and there is an agreement. Now the project begins. The web agency will start with creating a battle plan. They’ll write functional and technical specifications and design wireframes.

The specification documents will contain a thorough plan describing every step of the project. For example it can describe how your assets get hosted on the servers on Amazon S3 or Cloudfront, or how to integrate with the Mailchimp e-mail distribution service.

The wireframes are blueprints of the website, sketches of the included functionality. You’ll see an example below. Typically it could take about two weeks to get a first version of the spec and wireframes. The information architect will research industry best practices and create an impressive slide deck of  wireframes. You’ll peruse the 20+ pages in the wireframe and iterate on these documents until everything feels logical.

Wireframe example

Adding a layer of visual design

Journalists and your clients will want your press rooms and e-mails to look pristine. And you will want your management system to be intuitive, user-friendly and look good. Your employees will use this tool on a daily base. It needs to feel good.

These are a lot of screens to be designed. You might want to get two designers to speed up the process: one to do the e-mails, press releases and rooms, and another to layout the content management system.

Brief the web designers with a list of examples that you like. Have a meeting to explain why you like certain examples and what your general feeling is. It’s dangerous to let the designers run off and design everything immediately. Reduce risk by getting a feel for the visual approach with styletiles. It are a form of moodboards that help you evaluate the design direction. Based on the proposed styletiles you can chose a final design direction and the designers can start with designing the e-mails, your press room and releases and the management system. Typically it takes 2 revisions and as many weeks to get layouts that you’re happy with.

Coding the backend and frontend

In parallel with the design, the backend developers can start coding. It can take him a few days to do the general system set up and maybe 8 weeks of hardcore coding to build all the functionality. The frontend developer starts after the visual designs are approved. She might need about 4 weeks to make sure that everything matches the approved designs and works well on all web browsers. Don’t forget it needs to work on mobile phones and tablets, that’s really important these days.

Reviewing the system 

Great. You now have your own social media press release distribution system. Everything described in the spec and wireframes is built and now you’ll get your logins and can start using the system. Most web agencies offer a bugfix/warranty period of in between 2 and 4 weeks which you can use to review the system.

Using the system and coping with changes 

You figured the project would be done by now, but it isn’t. Generally we only really understand what we need when we start using the system.

For example: after logging in and starting assembling your first press release you could discover you can only upload a maximum of 4 visuals per press release. Next to that the contact database could only allow you to assign your bloggers/influencers to a single category, whereas you might need the ability to assign individuals to different groups and segments.

This is were things can turn ugly. Have internal meetings to asses the changes and to prioritize them. The development partner will have built the solution according to the approved specifications and wireframes. The updates you want will be billed as “change requests”. Your development partner will create an estimate and send you a timing and budget. While you thought the development of your system was expensive, you’ll start realizing that maintaining is the larger cost.

How much does it cost to build your own basic social media press release distribution system?

  • Functional analysis 5 days
  • Information architecture 10 days
  • Visual design 15 days
  • Backend development 35 days
  • Frontend development 15 days
  • Change requests 10 days
  • Quality Assurance 5 days

Which comes to a total of 95 days. We still need to add project management which is usually accounted for 20%. It’ll take about 110 days for your web development partner to finish a first version. Not taking into account your own time.

Total of 55.000 $ / € / £ (depending on your market at a rate of 500 / day).

At Prezly we’ve been through a similar approach. During the past 3 years our designer and developers have teamed up with several agencies to understand what makes a rock solid social media press release tool. Together we’ve been through this ‘plan – build – learn cycle’ a few times, and constantly with new client feedback the system gets improved. The press rooms are at their third version, the e-mail system has been updated a ginormous amount of times, the backend has almost been completely rewritten from the initial version and currently the system talks with more than 10 external services and sub-systems.


Make vs Buy is often a hard nut to crack. Think hard if it’s worth the money to invent and build a custom solution. Looking at the customer feedback and traction we’re confident that we have an excellent alternative to building your own solution: Prezly comes at 200 dollar per month. With constant innovation.