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.