Social Media Is The Responsibility Of Public Relations
Social Media Is The Responsibility Of Public Relations
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A question I’m asked with increasing frequency at various meetings, conferences and gatherings is, “Where exactly should social media fall in the organizational structure?” It’s not an easy question to answer as different organizations have different strengths, weaknesses and established silos of discipline. The answer becomes even harder when my own honest answer is somewhat contradicted by my own agency’s architecture, with social media standing as it’s own department and almost stand-alone component of the marketing mix.

[flickr style=”float: right”]photo:2466860959[/flickr]My honest answer is that social media should be the responsibility of public relations. Or at least that is how I see social media’s evolution.

The reason is simple.

Social media is a method of communications. Social media tools facilitate these communications. To be effective in social media, whether as a marketer or just an ordinary participant, you must, first and foremost, communicate well.

Yes, social media tools are mostly driven by technology. But they are driven by technology to deliver a message or messages. You don’t trust your IT department to layout your print ad. Why would you trust them to run your blog?

As I’ve said before, we are in an era of technology transition. Communications professionals are learning quickly that to be relevant and effective in the age of social computing, there’s more to competency than communication skills. Technology has become a requirement of the skill set. Yet, so many communications professionals – from public relations to customer service staff and from copywriters to journalists – are horribly deficient in average computer understanding, much less that of web-based technologies and tools.

Therefore, I would not plant social media efforts totally on the shoulders of the public relations staff today, unless of course your PR department can exhibit the kind of tech-savviness required to accept the responsibility. I would, instead, employ a specialist in social media (or hire an agency with one … have no idea who I’d recommend though … heh) who reports to the same person or department as the public relations director with both instructed to work hand-in-hand on social media projects.

What is most telling in your social media efforts is the message. And that is most likely already being supplied by your public relations or communications arm. If you see social media as technology-driven, you probably have your website run by the IT department when it often is, first and foremost, a marketing mechanism.

As soon as three to five years from now, I see social media marketing as an almost exclusive domain of public relations professionals, so long as we get our collective heads out of our asses and learn how to do it. Some of us are there. Many of us are not. Too many of us think social media is newspapers in Eastern Europe.

In my mind, social media is essentially public relations in the online world. Divide the category up by component — blogs, social networks, microblogging, podcasts/Web TV, wikis/collaborative software — they each ladder in some way to a component of public relations — writing, corporate communications, community relations, media relations, event management.

PR as social media owner in many ways also addresses the concern of the online community that marketers don’t belong. Assuming we can trim away the corporate speak and manage transparent communications efforts in years to come, public relations representatives are the least likely to sell and most capable of speaking as humans to humans, rather than up-selling hucksters to “consumers.”

Where should social media fall in the corporate structure? Right now, it depends. Tomorrow? Social media will evolve into components of a sophisticated public relations effort. The only question in my mind is, will public relations evolve to embrace it?

Image:Responsibility” by Nosha on Flickr.

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  • Lise Raev

    I agree heartily. Social media is the province of PR experts and advertisers, not of the IT guys. Social media development is really an interesting subject. It’s interesting to see how marketing has already evolved, and I don’t think we’ve witnessed the end of the revolution yet.

  • Lise Raev

    I agree heartily. Social media is the province of PR experts and advertisers, not of the IT guys. Social media development is really an interesting subject. It’s interesting to see how marketing has already evolved, and I don’t think we’ve witnessed the end of the revolution yet.

  • Lise Raev

    I agree heartily. Social media is the province of PR experts and advertisers, not of the IT guys. Social media development is really an interesting subject. It’s interesting to see how marketing has already evolved, and I don’t think we’ve witnessed the end of the revolution yet.

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  • Heaton_kristina

    It is a great idea for different organizations to use social media. The use of social media can provide way more people with knowledge on a specific organization and can lead to greater success for that organization. However, organizations should be well aware that keeping up with the company’s social networking sites will take a lot of time and hard work. It is important that a specific plan is put in place and that a team of people are hired by the company who specialize in social networking.

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  • What's important is to allow some gurus to do there thing! It's a craft & it takes forward thinking. People need to realize social media is a campaign & needs long term goal setting.

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  • It would seem the current and future impact of Social Media is not being felt or understood throughout organizations quite yet. If it were, the preponderance of blog posts and questions being asked at Social Media panels wouldn't be framed in the context of marketing.

  • It would seem the current and future impact of Social Media is not being felt or understood throughout organizations quite yet. If it were, the preponderance of blog posts and questions being asked at Social Media panels wouldn't be framed in the context of marketing.

  • Wow Jason, You are great. What a way to describe social media regarding PR. I have learned and illustrates just how important social media is and will be to the world of public relations.

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  • aleach2

    See my post about “truths” in using Social Media. http://blog.definition6.com/blog/definition-6/0….

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  • Wow Jason, you are the first peron I have heard put social media in the terms of PR. I appreciate that perspective. I have always had a fascination for public relations, networking and forming relationships. Social media gives those of us who are naturals an opportunity to shine. If your good at it in person, you'll be great at it on the web. The important thing is to allow the experts to do their thing! It's a craft & it takes forward thinking. People need to realize social media is a campaign & needs long term goal setting. I started a company called http://www.SocialZipper.com, a Social Media & Networking Agency with two others. What I'm excited about is being able to guide other businesses into this new realm that grows deeper and deeper on a daily basis. Thank you again for sharing yoru information!
    Dayle Hoffmann
    http://www.SocialZipper.com

    • Thanks Dayle. I'll check the Zipper out soon!

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  • Jaclyn Bryan

    I am a public relations student on the cusp of graduation. Before I am through with college I must secure a public relations internship. That said, I have noticed that social networking is now a preffered skill set. However, I do not think that most students know more about the infrastructure and marketing tools of social media (myself included). Sure, most people have “knowledge” about social networks and blog's, but that's all. I think messages sent via Facebook, MySpace etc… are similar to newsletters. It sends a message to the people who sign up for it and they MIGHT pay attention. Although, newsletters can fall on blind eyes. The traditional press kit and print ads will continue to be the most effective. Social media will be affected. It is only a matter of time until similar to MySpace, a new network will be frequented. You had suggested a pr social media specialist, no doubt such an employee will need to know more than “Well, I have a facebook.” That is my current challenge as I make the transition to the “real world.”
    p.s. I am educating myself about the importance to social media as it it applies to pr.

    • Thanks Jaclyn. I think you'll find each medium is more and less
      effective depending upon the client, product, message, audience,
      market and more. No one or two tools are always go-to. It depends on a
      variety of factors. Social media is becoming an important part of the
      overall communications channel for companies and PR professionals are,
      in my opinion, best suited to carry that responsibility.
      Unfortunately, we're far from the “suited” part being “capable.”
      Hopefully your generation of PR professionals can change that.

      Thanks for chiming in.

  • Elizabeth Groen

    As a public relations student learning about the benefits of social media, your article shines the light on what I have learned and illustrates just how important social media is and will be to the world of public relations. In journalism school today, students are learning more and more about web-based technologies and tools. This should be encouraging after your frustration with public relations practitioners deficiency of knowledge on these topics.

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  • susang

    Couldn't agree with you more. I think in a few years, we will look back on this and laugh about how we thought social media was such a “separate” thing. It will be completely integrated into our profession.

    Social media, however, is different from any one tactic because it is a game changer for marketing and customer service. I think in the future, it may not be such a stretch to see the marketing, public relations and customer service areas merge. The question is…who will the leaders to lead this new age? It will be the people who understand all the functions and how they interconnect. The ones who understand traditional and new media. It may very well be the chance we p.r. people have been waiting for to “get to the table,” and stop being the corporate butlers serving up warmed over mass messages. Personally, I think it's the best thing that's ever happened to our industry. Let's make the most of it.

  • I think, Jason, that where social media belongs definitely depends on who you have working for you. Take me, for example. I work for a non-profit that finds, trains and supports foster parents.

    I may be the marketing manager, but I have as long of a background in social media and even SEO as I do in marketing & advertising. By that same stroke, I also have experience in PR. The PR manager, on the other hand, has no experience outside PR. Yet, she insists, with each error–even egregious ones–that she should be in charge of social media and be instructing me how to do it. She is 54. I am 24.

    As a marketer, I know it is my job to sell. But being in a people-driven industry, I find that my marketing efforts are best served by listening to our “customers” and creating a basis for communication with potential foster parents. I have found that social media is my best marketing tool because I can talk directly to the people that matter instead of throwing a billboard at them while they're driving 75 miles per hour.

    So, what would you suggest in our case? Do I hand the reins over to PR? Or do I stand my ground and say, “this one belongs to marketing”.

  • I think, Jason, that where social media belongs definitely depends on who you have working for you. Take me, for example. I work for a non-profit that finds, trains and supports foster parents.

    I may be the marketing manager, but I have as long of a background in social media and even SEO as I do in marketing & advertising. By that same stroke, I also have experience in PR. The PR manager, on the other hand, has no experience outside PR. Yet, she insists, with each error–even egregious ones–that she should be in charge of social media and be instructing me how to do it. She is 54. I am 24.

    As a marketer, I know it is my job to sell. But being in a people-driven industry, I find that my marketing efforts are best served by listening to our “customers” and creating a basis for communication with potential foster parents. I have found that social media is my best marketing tool because I can talk directly to the people that matter instead of throwing a billboard at them while they're driving 75 miles per hour.

    So, what would you suggest in our case? Do I hand the reins over to PR? Or do I stand my ground and say, “this one belongs to marketing”.

    • Great point, Amy. I think while my overall feeling here is clear, that some common sense needs to be incorporated depending upon the organization. It sounds like you have more background in social media than your PR counterpoint which might lend itself to you being more of an overseer. But there also exists internal politics, sensitivities, etc. First, I would completely dismiss age as a factor. You aren't qualified as a social media person because you're under 30 any more than she is more qualified in general because she's over 30 or 40. Still, since she is your elder, and that does carry weight in many organizations, perhaps you approach it with a partnership approach. “Let's work together to develop policies and programs that make sense for our organization and departments.”

      Two cents from someone who doesn't know your organization. For what that's worth. Thanks for the comment and input. Great example of why one way isn't the only way.

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  • I agree that Social Media has a lot to do with your PR!

    Increasing your presence on the web is everything.

    Ali Magnano
    http://www.whywebpr.com

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  • Social media is important for a lot of companies. Braem uses a lot of social media sites for getting involved with her customers. Do you need second-hand spare parts ? Braem is famous for its used truck parts. Ask here for availability and our best prices .
    http://www.braem.be/onderdelen/en/motor.asp

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  • Most of the major online communities I work in, the customer engagement is the responsibility of customer service. I’ve never yet seen marketing or PR answer questions to customers online about products and resolve technical issues. Customers don’t want to be marketed to, or press released to, they want their individual questions answered, and gripes responded to.

    “What is most telling in your social media efforts is the message.” nah, it’s how you listen. And Marketing and PR push out (talk) while Customer Service listen. Hiding to nowhere if you try to get PR people to do customer service job…

    Because the day to day management is with Customer Service, PR and Marketing (and advertising and sales) work with CS to mobilize the community.

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  • Hey Lindsey,

    Thanks for the input.

    Tell your professor I disagree a bit … public relations is the execution (not management function) of communications strategy which connects an organization with its end consumer or core audience. Your professor’s definitions sounds more like corporate communications or public affairs to me.

    But thanks for the academic slant.

  • Lindsey R.

    My Public Relations Professor wanted us to read ANY article about Public Relations and then send the author his definition of Public relations… so here it is.

    Public Relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest , and plans, executes and evaluates a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

    Thanks so much!

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  • But let’s get to reality: everyone wants a piece of SM. And without strategy, there is lots of overlapping. While it’s not a bad thing to have SM spread throughout an organization, for it to be effective, it really has to be strategic… which means it needs to be driven – so it’s important to talk about and define whose role that is. Just like you said – to educate and train and build strategy. And it’s not an easy task: there are lots of challenges in integrating the efforts of multiple arms/departments.

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  • Since I do Comm/PR in the corporate world, I think about this question a lot. I agree with your overall sentiment that because messages are so important to social media, it logically falls into the skill set of the PR people…

    But what about relationships? I think that’s another compelling argument as to why SM is a PR function – fundamentally, conceptually, isn’t PR about building relationships with publics (of course, with messages being a primary tactic)? Marketing has a different role – not to build relationships, but to enhance sales.

    The interesting thing is, SM tends to become inauthentic when its sole motivation is the sale. I think that this fundamental difference between the disciplines is where the true answer lies as to why PR should do SM. You can’t rely purely on the argument that PR are the message people, because marketers and advertisers can do messages too. Perhaps not as effectively, but still.

    It’s the builds mutually beneficial relationships function of PR that rings truest with the SM world. Because it’s more honest and transparent that way. And everyone is not an expert at that.

    Now, as to the ROI argument, we have to be honest that PR people simply aren’t as savvy at this as marketers – the why is directly tied into the fundamental functions of the disciplines. If your goal is to sell more, you can measure that fairly easily. If your job is to build relationships, traditionally, that’s been harder to manage.

    But with SM, the thing I wish PR people would grasp is that measuring relationships is easier than ever before – and this opportunity is something that we can’t lose hold of, even if it means we have to admit that we need to learn to be better at measuring now that we have better opportunities and tools.

    But let’s get to reality: everyone wants a piece of SM. And without strategy, there is lots of overlapping. While it’s not a bad thing to have SM spread throughout an organization, for it to be effective, it really has to be strategic… which means it needs to be driven – so it’s important to talk about and define whose role that is. Just like you said – to educate and train and build strategy. And it’s not an easy task: there are lots of challenges in integrating the efforts of multiple arms/departments.

    So thanks for sparking this conversation.

  • I think social media is responsibility of anyone who can think a little differently about the relationship.

    As a copywriter in an agency, I know that if advertising people engage in social media, they are going to have to be patient. Stop always asking for the order, and start to engage. That has some serious ramifications (metrics, billing, titles, etc).

    And if PR people engage in it, they’ll have to do the same. Be more passive.

    My personal opinion is that social media is merely a tool in the marketers toolbox. It could be part of ANY marketing plan, assuming that the goals fit what social media can do.

    Anyway, some nice points in this conversation.

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  • Wow, great conversation, Jason!

    I wouldn’t like to see social media “owned” by PR. As many of the commenters note, social media really has cross-line of business / multi-disciplinary appeal. But for big brands and big companies there does need to be some oversight. Perhaps a “Brand Community” steering committee made up of the most interested parties?

  • Glad to see this discussion continue past the weekend – great topic. I’m in the camp that believes we’re in a period where PR must evolve or die. PR as we know it (with its primary focus on media relations) is losing steam. As a result, we PR pros need to break free of our controlling instincts and embrace the new opportunities of social media – not just porting the old ways to this new platform. I believe those nimble enough to successfully adapt will alleviate some of the concerns expressed here, and will be in a position to lead the charge.

    To me it seems similar to the advent of the Web. Who was the driver in actually bringing companies online? It differed from company to company. But once the Web sites were up, PR played a key role – as an arm of the overall IMC function – in crafting and maintaining the site’s message, with the support of a whole host of others in the organization who are involved and take leadership. I think this could be the future of social media – PR not as the “owner” per se, but as the shepherds of the overall public-facing effort.

  • After taking some time to think this debate over, I am ready to chime in with my own two cents.

    To a degree Brian is correct when he says:

    “Truth is that Social Media is the responsibility of the champions that demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the brand.”

    However, to look at this from an agency perspective I have major concerns with putting social media in the hands of public relations. Jason, you are correct when you say that social media is about communicating and not technology, but the flip side of that is that we do need technology to communicate in the social media world.

    It is my concern that if social media was the responsibility of public relations that the focus would be much more on blogger relations and corporate transparency, both of which are very important. Conversely I feel like SEO, SEM, and other components and benefits of social media marketing would be forgotten.

    The solution I believe is the situation, that you have a Doe. Social media in an agency needs to be handled by a stand alone group that brings knowledge of public relations and communications strategy together with back end development and design staff to solve the communications problems between clients and brand advocates.

    Kipp Bodnar

    P.S. Jason, you really need to get video commenting added to your blog, this would have been a good conversation for video comments.

  • “Truth is that Social Media is the responsibility of the champions that demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the brand.”

    Brian nailed it, we can all go home now. BTW Jason GREAT discussion here!

  • Can’t tell each of you how thrilled I am at this discussion. Thank you for chiming in.

    Mark – Interesting. Keep tabs and let us know who has 15 years experience in social media. Actually, I think a lot of us do, we just don’t have 15 years experience using social media tools. And here’s another illustration of my point — what discipline has been practicing the components of social media (mechanisms, communications, dialog, etc.) for 15 years? Public Relations, provided it’s been done correctly.

    Brian – You’re missing the point that the technology isn’t the keystone of good social media. Communications strategy is. The technology needs to be understood and utilized better, yes, but it’s the strategy behind its use that makes it effective.

    Brian Solis – Always honored to have you here, sir. And as usual, you sum it up much more excellently than I. I agree with you points, all.

    Beth – TOTALLY MY BAD! I went to college with a Bret Harte (female) and just got confused. Sorry.

    If your PR folks didn’t understand the market or consumer and missed the mark, then they weren’t as good as you might think. Understanding the audience is the first rule of communications, much like understanding your consumer or target should be (but often isn’t) first rule of marketing. Most good public relations pros do have that understanding of business and marketing and use their expertise in communications to reach targets/audiences with the appropriate messaging.

    You’re right that the responsibility should probably vary by industry and business (illustrated in the post). My argument is that PR is the most appropriate unit to champion social media. The post is more of a plea to PR folks to take the reigns and run with them rather than a “We know it better than everyone else.” That frankly isn’t true in most cases.

    The PR vs. Marketing thing — An age old debate that gets a rise out of many. Bill Sledzik at Kent State (and Tough Sledding, a fantastic PR blog) is well worth engaging on that subject. I’ve always seen PR and Marketing as equal brethren in the overall communications effort, one isn’t subservient to another. The hierarchy of experience at most companies dictates whether someone with a marketing background supervises the PR person or vice-versa. I’ve seen it work both ways.

    And a fair point on the marketers don’t listen misnomer. I would say, however, that marketers listen only to find more effective ways to shout one-way messages, whereas public relations (and community relations as a component of good PR) is more about a dialog with an audience rather than market research.

    And you’re welcome to be a comment hog. I like them in as many ways or frequencies as I can get them.

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  • I had to come back for seconds because 1. You got my name wrong (Bret?!), 2. I think you missed my point (or maybe I wasn’t clear in making my point), 3. I am a PR practitioner too, and 4. I love this debate, it’s great stuff!

    For the record, I have never worked with *bad* PR folks, never—they’ve always been stellar [I only hire great agencies, BTW… ;-)]. My point was they ‘missed the mark’ because they didn’t understand the market/customer and they got the tactics wrong. When I say tactics, I mean pitch or PR ‘stunts.’ (I hate that word, but don’t know what else to call it). In my experience it’s because most PR folks come from Journalism, English, or Communication backgrounds…not business/marketing backgrounds.

    That said I would really like to know what industries your readers are in because ultimately I think that determines the view on who should handle social media. A friend and I were discussing your post this weekend (darn you! I thought about your post all weekend!) and she works in B2C marketing and said that PR & Marketing are never combined and there is always tension between the two. I’ve been in tech marketing for over 14 years and PR always was part of the marcom department, which reported to the CMO/SVP/VP of Marketing. So, I guess that taints my view.

    The other misnomer is that marketers *don’t listen* (as compared to PR folks). I disagree. Long before social media existed it was the marketers that set up (at least in the tech industry) customer demo labs, events, roundtables, meetings, forums, councils, etc. Why? To solicit and *listen* to customer feedback, which was then, in most cases, implemented to make better products/services.

    I think before we use a broad-sweeping brush to determine who should handle SM, we need to consider the industry and the dynamics of the company. Like Brian Solis commented, social media is “the responsibility of the champions that demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the brand.” Agreed!

    Apologies for being a comment hog!
    -Beth Harte

  • Jason, you stirred it up my man. Great work.

    Truth is that Social Media is the responsibility of the champions that demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the brand.

    PR is only part of the equation. In other cases, it’s the service organization, search, advertising, etc. Depending on the company, it’s different across the board. What’s constant however, is that once social is implemented, it quickly becomes the responsibility of and inspiration for all disciplines.

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  • There is too much technical trenchwork that needs to take place to house Social Media there.

    When I think of PR, I do not think of savvy technological individuals, no offense.

  • Jason,

    I could agree no more with your post. And here’s a little tidbit for you: last month, I was contacted by probably the #1 or #2 executive recruitment firm in the nation who was looking for an SVP of Communications for a Fortune 50 company. It was an honor to even be considered. But here’s the point at which I knew that this would be a non-starter:

    According to the job description, they wanted someone with 12-15 experience in external comms, internal comms and SOCIAL MEDIA. I politely explained to the recruiter that the job description was fundamentally flawed because no one in the nation would meet this description, the last part being the hold up.

    The recruiter actually agreed, and I think if this company does it well (which I hope they do), they will hire an SVP, but backfill the job with competent individual with the other skills sets, most likely the social media part.

    My two cents…

    Mark

  • Wow — Keep ’em coming folks.

    Robin – Starting with PR, or having PR own the responsibility of training, facilitating and developing strategies for a method of communications doesn’t stifle anything. I’m not trying to say that PR should be the only discipline allowed to participate, only that they should own the formal responsibility to manage, report, etc. The post was/is intended to inspire PR pros to claim responsibility for it because those most appropriately trained in communications are those I believe most appropriately suited to answer for them.

    David – Agreed and thanks for the discussion on Tom’s entry.

    Vince – Certainly Zappos is a groundbreaking company and example for others to follow. While their culture and employee profile lends itself well to opening the doors to a social media free-for-all, not all companies can afford to just let every employee run free with communications. Even at Zappos, someone has to monitor, measure, address mistakes, etc. My argument is that responsibility lies with professional communicators not with marketers, customer service, etc.

    Justin – Good points as always. For now, I echo your sentiment that if PR can’t understand the technology, they shouldn’t be responsible. I hope, though, that PR professionals see the natural fit of social media in their discipline and pick up what they need to know soon.

    Richie – Thanks for the pointer to the post. I’m off to read it now.

  • Jason, excellent post, even better conversation through comments. I fall in the ‘agree with you’ group. As a communications/PR professional my statement to other professionals is simply this: Keep up or get left behind – http://nextcommunications.blogspot.com/2008/07/changed-landscape-of-public-relations.html

  • JDustinMoody

    Nice post, Jason. In my opinion, it seems like the outputs of social media are best aligned with the function of PR, though the internal position of the “social media guy” could take various forms depending on the message, audience and inteded results, lying somewhere between PR and Marketing. As such, and to echo one of the earlier posts, an Integrated Marketing Communications approach that satisfies both sides of the dialogue is probably the best answer, though rather difficult to implement internally (speaking from experience). I don’t see technology or the IT department as anything more than a support function, and certainly not the only party capable of tackling social media. If PR pros can’t work with the emerging and changing social media technology, perhaps that isn’t their area of expertise.

  • Holy comments, Batman. Thanks to all of you for responding. This will be more brief than normal because of the sheer volume, but thank you so much for the conversations here:

    Jason Kintzler – Totally agree and that is why much of my work for Blog World Expo will be media-centric. We should team up at some point and do a seminar for a journalism group.

    Dave Weiner – I can’t believe you came to my blog. Big fan. Thanks for coming. ROI always been strong with marketing and advertising. It has always been a gray area in PR. Social media ROI is a big gray area. Unless or until someone changes that, it only helps my argument that social media belongs with PR. If you give marketers gray area ROI numbers, they won’t know what to do with them.

    Lauren – We’re on the same page. We (PR) need to take responsibility for it. Bravo on the comment!

    David – Honored to have you back, sir. And if I haven’t told you, it was so much fun getting to know you at Blogger Social. You said it perfectly — “I don’t think it should be the exclusive domain of either, but more of a collaboration, with PR doing the bulk of the driving.” Amen to that.

    Joe – Couldn’t agree with your comment more. Social media specialists, regardless of background, have a golden opportunity to unite normally disparate arms of a communications effort. They should take the reigns and do just that.

    Webconomist – Great points. Just hope Bill Sledzik doesn’t come by and see them. He’d have some strong opinions to the contrary on PR being part of the marketing function.

    Heidi – Nice post. Thanks for the pointer. See my previous comment to Dave as well.

    Chris – Amen. I’m just trying to not shock PR into crawling into a hole on the timing thing.

    Ed – Good points. As I’ve indicated above in a couple of spots, I believe PR should own responsibility overall, but everyone should be integrated into action.

    Bret – I hear ya and understand. I do think, however, that you’re probably tainted by dealing with bad PR. Ideally, the PR people responsible for social media will be good ones, meaning they get it, they listen and they dialog well.

    Jim – Commented at length on your post. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    Tom – Disagree back. PR isn’t a broadcast function. Media relations, which is a part of PR is. PR is inclusive of event management, community relations (inclusive of listening), crisis communications, internal communications and much more. PR, when done well and handled by smart PR practicioners, is also more ideally suited (my opinion) to handle customer service. The key is that the PR professional is (generically speaking) the trained communications professional in the operation. No, not all current ones exhibit the kind of behavior expected from one, but we’re talking generically here. That person, department and discipline should spearhead all aspects of communications, in my opinion. Social media being primarily a communications function, falls under that umbrella.

    Again, thanks to all of you for chiming in. What a great discussion. Invite your friends over to chime in as well. Learning from each of you is fun.

  • Where does a company like Zappos come into play when Social Media is ingrained throughout the company? http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/zappos_twitter.php It’s out of the hands of PR altogether, but as has been pointed out – effective from the genuine nature of having employees who are “in the thick of things” using social media platforms, such as Twitter, to promote their company (brand). Should they be the “model” for how to handle social media within a company?

  • Tom – by whose definition is PR a broadcast function? PR is what you make it.

    I’m a “no silo” guy as well – social media is relationship-based and it should be run wherever those relationships are. In my organization we try to manage it based on a client’s needs. We have a situation where someone in our HR department actually has the relationships that matter to a client, so that person may do more outreach.

    If you run a social media campaign like any other advertising campaign and the people you’re trying to reach don’t respond to advertising, you’re toast. If you run it like a marketing campaign and the people you’re trying to reach don’t respond well to marketing tactics, you’re toast. If you send generic press releases out to a blogger like an old-school PR flack, you’re toast.

    I like this post very much, and it reminds me that in social media we sometimes trip over nomenclature, wherever it is. I think Jason is defining PR more broadly than Tom is. I’m not about to let a client suffer because the relationship that matters most to her or him is owned by someone who isn’t in PR. That’s not to say that Tom is wrong – he’s just defining it differently.

  • Hi Jason,

    From the perspective of social media marketing, you could have a point, but otherwise I have to disagree. PR is more naturally suited to controlled communications, and frankly that’s how many in PR are trained. But, social media’s beauty, as a communications tool is the fact that it is cross-functional, democratic and relatively uncontrolled. Having participants on the personal and corporate level just means that companies are going to have to become more comfortable with employee involvement. All across an organization, employees and management can gain a lot from different aspects (listening, commenting, creating content, being part of conversations, etc.)Why stifle that by starting at the PR department?

  • Jason:

    I strongly disagree.

    PR is by definition a broadcast function. Social media crosses marketing, PR, Customer Service and Product support & innovation. PR is a small part of it.

    But a great conversation starter!

    TO’B

  • Jason,

    I hear what you’re saying, but disagree. That’s why I wrote:
    http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/why-social-media-leadership-wont-come-from-public-relations-teams/

    Beyond that, I think we’re talking about social media marketing here. Because social media can be used for customer service, HR, etc. etc… Nobody will own it…

    ~Jim

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  • Jason, food for thought, thank you! With all due respect, I disagree with David. I am not sure I am convinced that PR is the “group that understands the landscape.” Maybe I am jaded (have been practicing marketing/PR for over 14 years), but I have had PR folks miss the mark several times because they didn’t deeply understand the product/service and the target audience/community. At least from a B2B perspective, I think you need to truly listen to and engaged with customers & prospects to understand *their* landscape and where *they* are implementing changes within the market. And the PR folks just aren’t out there.
    Back in the day IMC helped to merge the two disciplines because both groups were disseminating mixed/different messages and consumers/customers were getting confused, which ultimately caused brand dilution. It would be a shame to see that happen again.
    Ultimately, I think depending on your background, discipline, job function, etc. you *hear* different things based on your perspective. I think that makes it very important that all groups (including HR, engineering, customer services, etc.) adapt and adjust to the new landscape and work together to be successful at implementing social media. And that’s a major business and culture shift that could take years.
    I don’t think there’s one right, at least for today.

  • To me, I feel that the evolution of social media to create and engage conversations is not necessarily a decision between PR and marketing. Rather, I see it as more of a choice between communication from internal sources or from external sources.

    As the other comments have said, one of the most important aspects of communicating via online social networks is authenticity. Now gage for me who will be more authentic? An external PR company, or someone within an organization (PR, marketing, HR, customer service or otherwise) who is fully engaged in the company? Chances are, the person that is right there, in the thick of things internally.

    Does that mean that there is no place for external PR in the world of online social media? Absolutely not. However, the need for the “online communications liaison” to be FULLY engaged in the company is becoming much more important. Simply being the connector between a company and a potential media outlet is not enough.

  • Great article. I could not agree more, although I think the time frame for Social Media/PR integration is 6-12 months, not 3-5 years. We, as an industry, cannot wait that long to address these issues. While my agency is an integrated communications agency, we believe that the PR team should be the thought leaders and evangelists for Social Media within the agency. The issue is how to get the rest of the disciplines within the agency to drink the “Kool_aid.”

  • Heidi Sullivan

    Great post – it’s exciting to read both sides of the coin in the comments!

    In response to Dave Weiner’s comment on ROI – absolutely! That’s one of the most difficult challenges for PR people to “sell” the need to work with social media.

    Check out the latest Cision release that Jay and I worked on… one benefit beyond general impressions, bookmarks, visitors, etc. is the increasing influence bloggers have on traditional media:

    http://tinyurl.com/5zt9wl

  • I happen to agree with Jason.
    Social media outlets are on the most basic level a communications tool, and should be within the hierarchy of marketing and PR whether or not a PR person does the actual SM management.
    Technological limitations should not be an issue. If PR people aren’t tech savvy enough to start and keep a blog, GET TRAINING. We have professional development training for every other element of business. Why should this be different? When the graphic design world switched from exacto-knives and spray glue, those who learned how to work a Mac, stayed in the field. This transition should be no different.

    To another degree, beyond developing the organizational online communications, it’s up to the PR people to dive into the world of social media as they work with traditional media by learning bloggers beats and productively pitching to the new media as they would traditional media. Jason opened my eyes about how to pitch to social media outlets.
    Point in case: http://secretlifeofgirlgamers.blogspot.com/
    It took a long time to find them, but once I did, the pitch was easy. They had a great experience, and I have a podcast without needing the equipment to create a podcast. Thank you Jason.

  • Excellent article!

    Perhaps the bigger question is: Given that Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a highly successful model – is PR becoming more and more a function of marketing?

    I think it is. It’s just a different channel strategy – then Social Media falls between Marketing and PR, but more marketing. Like Product Management sitting between production and marketing.

    But it has elements of HR and Investor Relations too…perhaps it’s own department as part of Business Intelligence? Great discussion topic!

  • So I think it might be a mistake to force the role of Social Media Strategy into any existing corp structure like PR, Marketing, etc. I think that might be part of the problem with corp “getting it”.

    Trying to interject new roles into a very traditional role of PR or Marketer is very difficult to do and grows exponentially harder the larger the corp entity. I know I’m preaching to the choir here…

    More than anything finding the right person(s) to lead the Social Media effort is key. I think they need to know and directly work with the PR, Marketing, IT groups very well in order for it to be successful.

    The right Social Media Strategist has to know PR and Marketing anyway; so why not let them ride the fence and show the traditional folks the ropes. I think over time they will see the opportunities and adopt some of those new ways.

  • Jason — a good post and great discussion.

    I agree with you that, although social media is technology-driven, it is still the content that matters most. SM is another way to communicate with an organization’s publics.

    At some companies, the product management people will keep SM close to the vest. Others will lay it off totally onto the PR department or agency. I don’t think it should be the exclusive domain of either, but more of a collaboration, with PR doing the bulk of the driving.

    I am really amazed at how many agency PR people seem to know very little about social media. I suppose as more young people come into PR and begin moving up, SM will become something that is more familiar. But in so many cases so far, beyond paying lip service to it, many in PR are not at all conversant…yet.

    It’s a shame — we should be the ones leading the charge in this new form of communications.

    David Reich “my 2 cents”

  • The public relations industry has missed a golden opportunity to be an essential part of social media development and we (I am PR) should be ashamed. There are a lot of great pr bloggers and strategists doing brilliant work and understand no-control, but we have let the majority of industry be tinted by bad apples. I understand the points of Rachel and Chris, but being familiar with Jason’s tone, I think what is being said is the buck needs to stop somewhere and there needs to be a centralized location for the the fostering of relationships. Who better than pr? Isn’t that our mission?

  • PR is the discipline that has proven to be the group that understands the landscape best. PR is the group that is tasked with having conversations on a brand’s behalf… those conversations can exist anywhere.

    The problem with the fight over SM is in ROI. Marketing and Advertising firms have long been providing our clients with much larger numbers in Return. We will have to play the game on their turf as it relates to impressions and ROI.

    Great post…

    DW

  • Great post Jason, I completely agree with you. It’s also our responsibility to PR It Forward: http://tinyurl.com/5zqrvp and and bring traditional, mainstream journalists into the fold. It will succeed if we do.

  • All – Good points, certainly. I’m a no silo guy, so my point is not to say social media goes in this bucket, but to emphasize the point that public relations professionals, who are horribly behind and deficient in their social media understanding, need to own this. If not from an assignment standpoint, from a personal responsibility expectation.

    Ike – Agree with your points and in ideal organizations, right and left hands work together. Sure, that doesn’t always happen, but ideally, all communications run through the same channels. In terms of ROI, however, social media will always have the same problem public relations has – ROI is a reverse long tail effect. Mindshare and relevant conversation about a brand may lead to purchase, but not as immediately as ad campaigns. Great PR and social media over time show value in ways that don’t have a black, white or red value on the bottom line. This is yet another reason why the marketing team probably shouldn’t try to grab it. They won’t know what to do with gray area ROI.

    Rachel and Chris – Front line or product-close employees performing social media I agree with. Who will train them, be responsible for them and guide their questions, etc? My position is that public relations is the most appropriately suited of the old siloed disciplines to handle this. I’m not for a siloed approach and would never say that social media should only be performed by PR, but that PR should be responsible for strategy, facilitation and training.

  • Jason, what happened?

    Social Media isn’t something that can be controlled or managed like old media. Please reread the Cluetrain Manifesto http://www.cluetrain.com/ to refamiliarize yourself with this concept.

    I see the future of Social Media management within a corporation as moving into the HR, and Training departments. Employees will be educated on how to respond to issues they encounter online.

    Yes important bloggers, and online entities will still be handled by Marketing/PR but the duties of marketing and PR will merge. But the main substance of SM will be in the hands of the front line employees- just as it is today for offline SM.

    Stop with the old school who is going to manage it stuff. You can’t.

    Chris

  • Jason, with all due respect, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    At my employer, the primary drivers of social media tools are either the product teams or other people whose job it is to be engaged with the community (such as developer relations).

    One of the hallmarks of using social media for communication is authenticity. Why add a filter by forcing the PR team to try to be authentic when people much closer to the product are there already?

    PR or Marketing can assist, train, and facilitate, but siloing social media off is an error.

  • Ike

    There will be problems.

    First, the Marketing people are tied to a more readily-understandable ROI. Their “proof of performance” is measured faster, which means that coming out of the gate they have an easier time establishing ownership within a corporation.

    Second, the big corporations with large and separate PR and Marketing arms may in fact engage in left-hand/right-hand behavior, where one side seeks one-sided communication while the other seeks dialogue. That will greatly impact authenticity when the behaviors don’t match up.

    Realistically, Social Media gets owned by whomever plants to bug in the ear of the CEO/COO, and is willing to assume responsibility for the risks of failure.