PR Wins Social Media ... Only to Likely Lose it in 2011

Last week, USC released it's latest Communications and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) report on public relations/communications and the future. For the 6th report, they broke it down somewhat and one of the more interesting (well, blogged about and Tweeted) part is about social media. Shel Holtz wrote a great piece on it - check it out here.

The big release is that "PR/Communication, not marketing, is in control of digital/social media" ... which is nice. The subhed, in an interesting twist, also alludes to why I think PR will lose social media to other practices in marketing - if not marketing itself: many practitioners missing the boat, re: evaluation. (Here's the full press release, if you so desire).

Years ago, I wrote that public relations will lose social media to advertising. I wrote because of sex (yay SEO futzing), but it is because advertising knows that sex sells, and sells it better than public relations. It's not that social media is about sex, but it IS sexy to corporations right now, and advertising has the whole "we've been doing your online advertising for so long, and this is an extension of an online presence ... give us $100K to launch a YouTube channel" and companies will jump.

This is still true. Understand this, and realize it: public relations and communications will lose social media. Likely in 2011.

Why do I believe this?
  1. Public Relations and Communications rarely have a seat at the executive table. PR tends to report into marketing, and marketing reports into the CEO. Many companies have CMOs, but not many have CCOs.
  2. Twitter is moving away from two-way communications into a customer service role (for better or worse). Twitter is the start of the SCRM (social customer relationship management) movement, and with the push for SCRM and CRM, that takes social media out of PR's hands. Even the top social media monitoring tools aren't getting that right yet, and don't have a good plug-in for a CRM tool set.
  3. Advertising and marketing sell better than PR. They get the bigger budgets, clients understand them better than PR. Money goes to what's easily understood, and how many people can really explain PR to their parents, let alone to an executive? And, while PR might be the bigger profit center for the large conglomerates, the divisions still report into various advertising functions.
  4. PR doesn't have measurement down in a standardized format for PR itself, let alone social media. Corporations like tools that evaluate and measure, and advertising makes those numbers up better than PR and more believable. It's the earned versus unearned media, the paid versus unpaid. Corporations understand those sticks, and we don't have them.
Now, do I think this is right? Do I think that marketing and advertising should be in charge of social media? Not at all. Look at any case study of an advertising or marketing person doing social media, and you'll notice the one-way, heavy handed marketing speak that doesn't resonate with the public. PR has been doing communications since it began: media relations, community relations, investor relations, analyst relations. We wear these different hats and are able to speak and listen and hear different communities and respond accordingly.

Advertising and marketing, though, see the landscape changing and see where the money is going ... and are faster land grabbers than PR. They get the budget, they'll get social media. It's about money, and PR doesn't do it as well as others.

In all honesty, I hope I'm wrong. I hope that PR holds on, gets measurement and evaluation down, and has a good case of why social media should be in the PR realm. Yes, it's about ownership, as we should own the two-way conversations and the dialogue.

Only time will tell, though. But, at least our ace in the hole is that we have schools and professors embracing social media and teaching it to the next generation of PR practitioners (such as UGA, Auburn, Pepperdine and others).



  1. You are so right on so many levels here, Jeremy.

    PR/communications is s 2-way street. One of dialogue. And that's been one of my favorite aspects of social media to date. Our audience is even larger and more relevant.

    I see the same thing you're seeing. Many companies think SM is the next band-aid for their marketing ails and that these networks are just an easy acquisition channel and an audience for pushing sales messages.

    Unless the C suite (with the help of PR, of course) changes its position on what SM is and means to the company overall, PR will lose it.

    What a shame. Not just for PR, but for business.

  2. Jeremy, not sure I agree. Amy Hoover in "Work in Progress" (Adweek, May 16, 2010) said "According to my own monitoring, more than 50 percent of PR jobs now have a social media element, and this is only trending up. These roles will likely be the Wild West of the job market. They'll lack clearly defined titles and descriptions, and salaries with social media in the title will range from $10 an hour to $80,000 annually to run the entire social media strategy division at holding company agencies. If it hasn't seeped into your job function yet, be prepared. It's coming."

    Of course, PR needs to stay ahead of the curve and own it!

  3. I agree with Jennifer. While social media is critically important to the PR function, many companies fail to see it than more than a vehicle to more sales. Those who realize social media's value in measurement, perception, communication, and relations with all their publics - media, customers, investors, government and more -- will benefit from a PR perspective rather than straight promotional.

    The C-suite that recognizes the importance and role of public relations will also see the need for their involvement in this two-way communication tool. PR should work in tandem with advertising/marketing to develop a well-rounded effort.

  4. I think we need to redefine what PR is and what PR does...

  5. I'm getting a little bit perturbed by the pull between PR and Marketing for Social Media supremacy. I get it, it's a new and growing market and the agencies want to claim it for good reason. But the fact is social media tools are simply, communication tools.

    The argument for who should control them are like arguing over who should control the use of telephones or email.

    There are PR uses for social media and advertising and marketing uses. Just as a PR campaign would buy advertising for certain purposes (see recent apology from BP CEO) and marketing/advertising campaigns will use special events to sell a product. The tools don't fall into a single practice or category, it's how you use them.

    PR/marketing/advertising...the practices are starting to blur and social media tools are expediating the trend.

  6. I think it will depend on small business. Although this presumption places social media squarely in the hands of marketers because many small scale shops do not have room for PR in their financials.

    This theory is based off of labor movement; most entry level employees start in smaller businesses. Because of this the next generation of Social Media experts will be marketing oriented becasue at their first jobs they couldn't afford not to be. And with job movement accelerating (more people have several occupations throughout their career), these professionals are going to be the feed that corporate business acquires their talent from.

    Great Post! - Jason Keller

  7. Why should the choice for SM be only between PR and advertising? And why should one win over the other.
    IMHO SM will always be a catalyst to 6 functions: 5 pre-sales, sales, Marcom, PR, advertising, & customer service. Done right, it helps each of these functions increase and improve on their goals and ROI. We can possibly add more to this list. Like a true catalyst, it takes on the size , shape and form of the function it is helping. Without SM, the function would not be able to perform to its best.
    The more relevant question and discussion is: would SM be a stand alone media or would it always be a catalyst media to other functions. Thoughts?

  8. Since I come from a traditional marketing AND PR background, I keep trying to fit social media and Internet Marketing into one of those 2 traditional buckets. But what I see of successful social media use doesn't fall neatly into either, so I'm not sure it's going to be "won" by either of the 2, as you claim. I think the customer service aspect of social media is huge and also the fact that lots of non-marketers are doing it, and doing it well. I think social media is evolving into more of a corporate communications function, and advertising departments will only "win" if they can stretch beyond the "money buys all" mentality.

  9. thats good article, very nice

    hi from mas raden

  10. Here is another video of poor public relations.

  11. Buh-rilliant! Excellent post sir. Now if you could just get rid of all these "barners" that are following you there's a chance you could move up to a "Championship" level of class...much like the class that exists in Tuscaloosa. ROLL TIDE!!!!

  12. Wow. This is very true. Social Media has become the celebrity of the Internet. Public relations and communications professionals have definitely taken the responsibility of social media among many other tasks. Sadly, I also believe the job of social media will be in the hands of the advertiser within the next year.

    In my opinion, social media is a job of the advertiser, marketer, and the public relations professional. I think this is where the business is mistaken. Company's do not treat each division separately. Although they each go hand in hand, the departments of communications should be treated as there own entity. This will create the division on social media, and no one department will be responsible for the company's representation on the Internet.

  13. This is media relations 101. As PR practitioners, we should give the media what they want, not what WE want.Is it not our job to establish good working relations with the media?