Marketing and PR – two views on social media

SimonGeneral4 Comments

Last week’s UK Marketing Week magazine marked a moment of truth for me about how the marketing and PR professions each view social media.

The magazine’s cover story, titled “Bubble and strife?” focusses whether the internet industry is heading for another downturn, in the same vein as the dotcom bubble which burst so spectacularly in the 1990s.

The interesting thing for me is that the article’s main discussion is about advertising and converting clickthroughs to sales. The editorial by Dominic Dudley in the Marketing Week Interactive supplement continues along the same theme – the value of social media sites to marketers is in the large traffic volumes they attract rather than the opportunity to engage with users.

There’s been much discussion in the PR community, particularly among Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) members, about what PR professionals need to do to position social media as a tool for public relations.

I’ve always believed that public relations professionals can become the respected experts in the use of social media in communications. And having read Marketing Week last week I’m even clearer about this.

I’m going to generalise now, but my impression is that the marketing community sees social media websites as being an important place to advertise, because of the large volumes of users who see the adverts, particularly among the hard-to-reach young audiences.

From what I see happening, and the coverage in the marketing press in the UK, this is about as much as the marketing community gets involved with social media. Of course there are companies or organisations where the marketing people are employing social media tools (blogs, podcasts, social networking etc), but more often than not the apparent value to the marketer of doing this is in advertising clicks or data collection.

Marketers don’t appear to place much value on the relationships that are inherent in social media, and the communication networks that form so effectively.

In contrast public relations professionals place value of the relationships that social media can propagate, and are less concerned about the absolute numbers of users. Indeed PR professionals often suggest that with social media it’s not about the number of readers or viewers you have, it’s about who they are – a quantity versus quality trade-off.

One of the core competencies of public relations is being able to build relationships with discrete audiences, and use these relationships to shift perceptions. I can’t see any other profession having a better claim on social media – the challenge now is for PR professionals who are using social media to push adoption beyond the community’s early adopters.

4 Comments on “Marketing and PR – two views on social media”

  1. Michael Brito

    Hey Simon,

    Great insight. I would just say, from a marketers perspective here in the US, is that social media is more than just advertising on social media websites like Myspace, Digg, Hi5, etc. It’s also about offering rich, creative, valuable content on the web so that consumers will naturally spread the word via the same sites. I make an important distinction between Social Media Marketing and Social Media Optimization in one of my latest blog entries; would appreciate your input.

    http://www.britopian.com/blog/2006/10/02/social-media-optimization-and-social-media-marketing/

  2. David Phillips

    To the point as we are comming to expect.

    The idea that Social Media is only about communications channels is the shift in thinking that has to be made.

    Being involved means we have to create the opportunity for our clients to be invited into the Social Media group of friends. This group is formed round a nexus of values held by the individual and is powerful when the individual has Social Media friends with closely allied values.

    Every thing else is scream marketing.

  3. Heather Yaxley

    Whilst recognising the skills match between PR and social media, it is important to recognise that marketing money has been important economically for social media and in ensuring corporate recognition of its value. PR shouldn’t make the mistake of showing itself to be the “free” option once again – as without financial input, the benefits of social media may not be sustainable long-term and bursting the 2.0 bubble. We need money to fund PR’s engagement in social media, but also to invest in the continuation of this valuable new means of engaging our publics. We also need to ensure we demonstrate the strategic value of our actions and not present PR as the cheap alternative to pop-ups or other advertising techniques.

  4. David Phillips

    Heather has a good point. Engagement in Social Media is not cheap. Strategies are expensive and execution many time more then your average pop-up campaign.

    I am not so sure that ‘marketing is/has funded social media. The advertising blast has made a big contribution because marketers knew of no other formula to generate enquiries.

    Now we will see a different model that will support social media, the licence to opperate is expensive but very well worth while.

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