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Should PR Own Social Media?

The rise of social media has been a boon to many communicators, from public relations professionals, to digital marketers, to SEO specialists. It’s also spawned countless land grabs and turf battles, since we all want a piece of the pie.

Successful social media campaigns can puff up reputations and fatten our bottom lines. But budget grabs and salesmanship aside, should PR own social? Should advertising? The debate continues.

The truth is, social media is a tool that works best being integrated across marketing communications and customer service lines, so technically, no entity should stake a proprietary claim. But a gatekeeper is necessary.

There are the ways in which PR professionals are best qualified to influence and manage social media.

Here’s the case for PRs:

PR pros are content creators. Storytelling is in our DNA. Most, if not all, PRs know instinctively how to craft a story or message so that it’s a conversation, not a one-way commercial pitch.

We listen. Every good PR program starts with monitoring. It’s the foundation of a social media outreach as well.

We’re relationship builders. This one has been given too much weight in recent conversations, but it holds true that relationship-building, traditionally with journalists and influencers, is a core PR skill. Translating this to direct customer/follower contact can be tricky, but many of the same principles apply.

PR owns reputation management. Clearly, social media crosses over from brand engagement to reputation, and not just when things go wrong.

Yet there are ways in which the typical PR practitioner’s skills and experience can fall short:

Direct customer contact.  We’re accustomed to communicating through the intermediaries of media or even bloggers. Crisis chops aside, direct contact is NOT familiar and may even be distasteful or overwhelming to many with traditional PR background.

Media production. Though there is wide variability among firms, many PR agencies lack direct experience in critical aspects of content development for social platforms, including video, images, and other content for sharing and syndication. Yet, most, if not all, is easily outsourced.

Measurement. This is typically the biggest weakness of our industry, and the only true concern that clients should have. But it’s a big one. To realize the power of social media, a full grasp of analytics and success metrics, and how they’re linked to specific campaign goals, is critical, and most PR pros haven’t “grown up” with the measurement sensibility.

We’re not there yet, but as a recent CARMA survey shows, we’re on the way. Our slice is getting larger, so save room for dessert.


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