Home > PR Agency, Public Relations Strategy > Is Social Media Bad for PR?

Is Social Media Bad for PR?

Most of the space on this blog has been taken up defending old-school public relations. I’ve argued against those that declared the death of the press release and the demise of public relations, (although I have admitted that I’m no longer in public relations) but there is a current trend that has me wondering if we are nearing the beginning of the decline – not of public relations, but of – outsourced public relations.

Now, I’m not smart enough or connected enough to the PR agency business leaders to have the insight to present credible data or point to the industry trend lines, but you’ve come this far, so stick with this premise for a few minutes (and questions) and tell me if you think I’m off base.

Premise: Social media is important to business communications and as organizations build their communications department to adapt to the need for integrated communications, we will see a shift toward more in-house public relations.

Is social media important to business communications? While everyday there are new articles, blogs and stats about the ROI of social media, the larger question has been answered. Sure, social media engagements and strategy is still in its infancy stage for many organizations, but the bottom line is that it is too powerful and ubiquitous to ignore. Answer: Yes, social media is important to business.

Who should ‘Own’ social media? PR folks jumped at the opportunity to ‘own’ the process for organizations and for good reason. The skill set is similar – writing, 360 degree communications, crises communications, etc. all position PR as the best suited for social media. But, despite the strong case put forth by the PR community, in many organizations human resources, and marketing were emerging as the leaders. The HR piece is probably just an early adopter trend, but marketing and PR can expect to be splitting the duties for years to come. Answer: Yes, I get the reluctance to claim ownership of social media, but from a realistic corporate communications perspective, eventually, it will be owned by a corporate communications function with responsibility over or in partnership with PR, marketing and HR.

Should organizations outsource social media? This debate rages on currently, but there is little doubt that the case for internal ownership of social media is too strong to deny. In the same way that organizations are seeing the light regarding outsourcing ghost blogging, social media should be more authentic and internally developed. Answer: No. The future of social media will not be outsourced. Sorry, it is as simple as that. And, this goes double (or hell no) regarding hiring a social media guru, ninja or maven.

So, where does this leave us? Organizations should have an internal owner of social media that can cross all communications disciplines (HR, PR, marketing, executive comms, crises communications etc.). By the way, that person, should be able to (if applicable) become the organizations’ public social media face, be able to not only create content, but also create an atmosphere that encourages social media. Answer:  While Social Media Manager is an emerging title, in my opinion the trend lines are clear that Director of Corporate Communications / Vice President of Communications, External Comms Executive… whatever the title, the future, for corporate social media will be an internal person – most likely with a public relations background – tasked with oversight of all communications. 

So, taking this a bit further and fast forwarding (just a) couple of years, if organizations realize the benefits of having an in-house communications resource running social media as a key element of its communications strategy, isn’t bringing its entire communications (yes, public relations) in-house the next logical step?

Do you think I’m off-base? Well if so, keep reading.

A couple of articles / blogs recently reinforced this opinion. My friend Tony Loftis  sent me the NYTimes article – Account Executive Is Antiquated. Consider Yourself a Catalyst – about a leading public relations agency reorganizing its operations. This piece highlights that PR agencies are trying to stay relevant by incorporating social media.

And then Bob Geller  tweeted an article from the BaltimoreSun – Help wanted: Looking for a few good social media pros. Companies increasingly seek social media expertise, fueling expansion of PR, marketing jobs – that discusses what sounds like good news for the PR industry, but in looking closer the growth for the PR industry seems to actually be for corporate-side positions.

The articles mentions that these social media jobs – “…often straddle public relations, advertising, marketing and customer service.” Hmm, that doesn’t sound like an agency job. Does it?

The final quote from a non-agency hiring manager says “The person that we’re hiring needs to be able to write, has experience with PR and is able to represent our brand,” said Nicole Hayes of Mile One Automotive.

My advice is that if you are a PR / communications professional looking for a job in the Baltimore area, you should call Nicole Hayes, because it may have a better future than an agency gig.

If you think still I’m off-base please tell me why.  

Photo by Gregory Szarkiewicz

  1. July 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I agree with your conclusions, but would like to suggest that you modify “own” to “lead.”

    “Lead” is a much more inclusive and robust word. It’s not as all-or-nothing like “own” comes across.

    • July 22, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Thanks for the comment Judy. Sorry for the delay in my reply. I appreciate your thoughts. I actually struggled with that phrase myself, but choose ‘own’ specifically because that is they way I’m hearing most people discuss social media responsibility and I wanted to be consistent with the way I’m hearing the discussion. But, your point is a good one.

  2. July 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Hmmm, it’s hard to disagree with you completely on this, but having worked at an agency previously, I can see how it would upset some folks. And the issue of owning or housing social media within one department, be it PR, Marketing, or Corporate Communications, will vary from organization to organization.

    In a perfect organization, there would be one person or one department in charge of social components. But, as I’ve learned since working in a University, that’s not humanly possible because it would encompass too many schools and departments. In my case, each school and department is responsible to adhering to consistent style guidelines and figure out the resource issue on their own.

    Then again, that’s just my recent experience dealing with social media issues within my current position. It’ll be interesting to see if the trend actually follows what people are predicting for PR and social media in the future.

  3. July 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks for you comment Krista. Honestly, I hope that I am adding one plus one and getting three in this case. Your experience is interesting and probably similar to many others.

    It was my hope that this post would lead to similar examples. Where I struggle is in the role of agencies in this whole process. I see the tends lines toward internal social media, but without a doubt the professional communicators (PR agencies) can and should have a role to play here.

    I always appreciate your insight.
    Thanks again.

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