Is Social Media Good for PR?

Recently, the case was made (by me) that social media may be bad for PR (agencies). The premise – which I still stand by as valid – was that social media would be run in-house and that would lead to more companies moving their entire communications’ departments (including PR) in-house.

But, because I don’t even agree with me all the time, here is an alternative look at the impact of social media on public relations.

Premise: As social media becomes more important to business communications, organizations will turn to professional communicators to navigate this rapidly evolving channel. The professionals most applicable to handle the task may just be PR agencies.

Is social media important to business communications? Yes, of course, and its impact and importance are growing everyday. Even for B2B technology companies – by many accounts the late adopters of social media – having a strong social presence is akin to having a website in circa 2000. If all your competitors are doing it, and your customers expect it, then adopt or be left behind.

Who will ‘Own’ social media? I will. You will. Your customers will and your employees will. Despite all the debate regarding ownership, the truth of the matter is that it can’t be completely owned or controlled by one person or existing communications department. Yes, as a business communications function, the responsibility can and will eventually fall under someone’s jurisdiction on an org chart, but social media has opened up the communications landscape and its reach is at a point where it can’t just be an additional responsibility. It requires specialized expertise. Not in the form of a guru, but as an integrated part of the existing process.

Should organizations outsource social media? Well, the case can be made that the need for authenticity requires an in-house voice, but managing social media is about lots more than just the company voice. The fact of the matter is that social media is an ever-changing channel that requires guidance, ongoing education, training and direction of professional communicators. In my 15+ years in high tech public relations, I’ve worked with a number of great professionals, but very few that would be capable of running an internal corporate communications department, oversee public relations and be responsible for social media – without the help of outside assistance. Social media in particular requires ongoing learning and experimentation that the other disciplines do not, which makes adding this to the plate of an internal staffer (or normal size department) impractical.

Story time: Interviewing for a job several years ago, I positioned myself as a communications professional with admittedly little to no specific background in my perspective employer’s industry. As I was about to close the deal with the company’s CEO, he told me that he needed to ask me one last question and that my answer may make or break the deal.

The question was – what would I as the PR manager spend the majority of my time doing for the first few months. I thought for a couple of seconds, flashed a wry smile and confidently replied, that when he came by my office the CEO should expect to see me with my feet up on my desk reading or chatting with coworkers. The CEO, looking amused, asked for some clarification. I continued that I already know how to run a public relations campaign, so what I need to educate myself on was the company’s product and industry.

First, yes, I got the job. But, that was almost 10 years ago. Today, if I were to interview for the same in-house position, but now with added social media responsibilities, my answer would be that I’d spend the majority of my time learning the industry AND constantly updating my core communications skills and knowledge.

Moral of the story: Where it was possible 10 years ago to know all there was to know about public relations, today, social media tools and techniques are changing so fast that a communications professional looking to stay current (and employed), better plan to spend lots of time researching, experimenting and learning about the evolving communications industry.

So, where does this leave us? Social media is adding another layer of complexity to the communications toolbox. This provides a tremendous opportunity for PR agencies to provide a more valuable service. With increasingly integrated communications programs, companies are smart to outsource MORE of its communications – not less.

I’m in public relations, I believe in social media and I approve this message.

Photo by Gregory Szarkiewicz

  1. August 5, 2011 at 7:17 am

    If you don’t have an company-intern expert for Social Media, I would outsource this in 100% of all cases. Social Media are really effective marketing tools and can generate a lot of new customers as well as strenghten the brand image, but if you do it wrong, you can also totally fail.

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