I’ve long held the belief that public relations, as a discipline and department, should own the responsibility for social media across the spectrum of enterprise and corporations. Mind you, I don’t think social media should be crammed into a silo with PR and forgotten about, but rather, employed across the organization with PR owning the responsibility of managing its implementation and internal education.

According to a study released today by Eric Schwartzman’s iPressroom, in collaboration with TrendStream, Korn/Ferry International and PRSA, that belief is a general reality. The report, titled, “2009 Digital Readiness Report: Essential Online Public Relations and Marketing Skills,” shows that public relations owns the responsibility for web strategy relative to blogging, podcasting or RSS; social search; social networking; microblogging and, to a lesser extent, web content management. PR prevails in comparison to marketing, IT, HR and Executive Management.

Email marketing and search engine optimization are owned by marketing, but SEO only slightly so. The organizations interviewed for the study include corporations (22%), PR/marketing agencies (44%), non-profits/associations (14%), government agencies (6%), academic institutions (7%) and those classified as “other” (6%). The respondents were 278 public relations, marketing and human resource professionals chosen to identify trends regarding their approach to social media.

The overall conclusion of the study was that public relations and marketing professionals had better be equipped to handle social media if they hope to get a job in the industry. The study includes some fantastic insights and is, perhaps, the first in-depth look at social media and new media marketing needs in the public relations industry.

Schwartzman’s opening letter for the report says, “In addition to providing the first social media and new media channel rankings by adoption rate, importance and type of organization, the study also indicates the broader trends concerning which branch of the organization is winning the right to lead in the use of digital communications in the workplace.”

Winning, yes. Doing it right? Still up for debate.

The problem with the statistics, that indicate my desire for PR to manage social media for organizations is coming to fruition, is that, in my opinion, public relations professionals, by and far, are still ill-prepared to do so. PR has taken on an entirely new role in the organization over the last 2-3 years. It’s the most dramatic shift in the industry since the invention of email, but is happening faster and more dramatically.

College programs are still teaching media relations classes with no regard for bloggers, new media or even the Internet. Press releases, though still a needed skill set, are still being upheld as the industry’s standard fare of everyday productivity.

But, according to the study, PR professionals are now being placed in charge of website content (a little intimidating for most PR folks), blogging/podcasting/RSS (moreso), social networking (frightening) and are a close second in being responsible for SEO (are you kidding me?).

My point, besides directing your attentions to some fascinating information about the changing face of the public relations industry, is to say that public relations professionals, but more importantly, public relations educators, need to quickly recognize that what we’re teaching those new to the profession had better not be what we were taught.

The industry has changed. Now more than ever it is imperative to know we are digital. We are connected. We are charged with managing technology, interconnectivity among organizations and individuals, Sure, we need to understand media relations, crisis communications, event management and all the other sub-topics of PR. But all of them have taken on different environs in today’s world.

Public relations professionals need to make sure we’re teaching what is necessary for younger PR folks to succeed in today’s professional landscape, not wander about it confused and wondering why no one picks up our stories.

Please go read the study, download the PDF and think through the insights it gives. Make sure your bosses, agencies, firms, professors and alma maters are recognizing the world for PR has changed. Without a concentrated effort to do so, our jobs are only going to become more difficult.

And please, share your reactions to the study’s insights in the comments. What I saw is only a fraction of what is there. Discuss!

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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