Does PR “Own” Social Media?

Is social media a function of public relations? Or something else?

This week for class, we reviewed two articles—The Impact of Social Media on PR and Analyzing the Impact of Social Media.

Our first article examines the role of social media in public relations. Several agencies were interviewed about their opinions about the state of social media in relation to public relations, and whether or not they believed that the “tools” in the PR toolbox lend themselves well to handling social media.

How has social media changed PR?

Nigel Ferrier of Optimise PR reiterates in the article the fact that social media allows businesses to connect more directly with consumers. While this is great on one hand, it also opens up a new can of worms in that businesses are now open to 24/7 scrutiny. His suggestion is being strategic about how to position the company and to consider social media as part of a larger campaign strategy.

Tom Malcolm of Diffusion mentions how social media can now force your company into the spotlight quickly (such as with a thread on a consumer forum), and how reputation management now includes both online and offline components. Content now needs to be dynamic and engaging in order to drive traffic to websites—which, he argues, is where PR has now risen to fill in the gaps with engaging campaigns to create conversations. I find it interesting that he compares this role of PR to creative and ad agencies, as PR professionals are now allowed more flexibility in posts, etc.  It seems as if companies truly are looking more for talented writers, who can not only create some of the more ”dry” copy but also think outside of the box.

Andy Heaps of Epiphany takes this one step further and says that social media is just part of the digital marketing mix. Some PR agencies offer SEO tactics and strategic search objectives to “drive online visibility and build brand engagement” through social media. By adding engaging content, PR professionals are now driving traffic to businesses’ websites and increasing their “digital footprint.” So, SEO strategy and online traffic are also becoming a larger part of PR efforts.

Pete Goold of Punch Communications listed that social media forces PR to become more accountable and transparent. That means reaching across departments and teams in order to integrate and show the public that a company is a cohesive unit. It also forces companies to care about the consumer and their needs.  This is important to note; transparency also means that consumers are immediately aware when there is a lack of communication within an organization.

But is social media synonymous with PR?

This is where the agency representatives disagree. Malcolm says the two have become integrated but not synonymous, and that agency work is “fragmented” with social media work. Goold agrees that social media lends itself well to the function of PR (basically, relationship building) but that it can be managed by a separate creative media group. Ferrier states that they “should be,” because reputation management is–and always has been–largely a PR function and has become increasingly important. Therefore, social media is usually a part of public relations campaigns.

…Should it be?

Leading off Ferrier’s view, if PR isn’t necessarily synonymous with social media should it be? Ferrier says PR is primarily about engagement, which is social media in a nutshell. He insists, however, that PR needs to use updated technological tools in order to effectively monitor and engage with consumers.  Malcom argues that the days of traditional agencies are dead, and that many of the “tools” that PR practitioners bring to the table are also utilized outside of PR. Therefore, agencies of all types can compete in a fair, equal and open environment.

Adam Lewis mentions in the article that PR people are story tellers, and social media is a perfect platform for that. Like Ferrier, he insists that some of the tools PR people use are outdated, and warns that other practices are bounding ahead with software that measures not only engagement but value and sentiment. Gone are the days of clippings and “traditional” PR measurement! Goold agrees that the narrative storytelling is imperative with social media, which would work well with social media campaign management since PR focuses on strategy and measurement in addition.

Our other article (a Vocus whitepaper) explains how PR practitioners must now utilize these social media tools in evaluation and measurement. The article suggests that focus is now on multiple stakeholders, with PR “front and center” in an organization.

According to the article, evaluation of reaching goals and objectives need to be weighted differently, just as it would in a traditional campaign. Vocus lists several “Indicators of Impact,” including:

  • Reach Further: Using multiple networks to spread the message
  • Generate Sales Leads: Using social media to entice customers
  • Gauge Customer Satisfaction: Leverage brand reputation through social media
  • Increase Brand Recognition: Getting in front of consumers online and comparing to competitors

Vocus lists a few indicators of success as well, such as whether or not the message was shared, whether it was more popular than a competitor (as a benchmark), whether or not it worked and whether or not successes have been shared as well. All of these are contributing factors to the success or failure of a message or campaign.

Social media has obviously had not only an impact on the public at large, but public relations as a profession. Clearly, however, there is still some argument as to who “owns” social media and what tools are required—or, even preferred—in execution.

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