Who does social media best – marketers or PRs?

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  • October 6, 2009

Marketers and PRs have always enjoyed a fairly uneasy co-existence. Often based on mutual misunderstanding that unease has only grown in recent times as both come to terms with the power of online advertising and PR and the growth of  social networking sites.

Traditionally the ones with the bigger budgets, ad agencies have been staking their claim and winning some high profile social media accounts. Invariably when an ad agency muscles in PR execs claim they’ll lack the ‘right tone of voice’ and the ability to ‘position’ brands. They also suggest that the PR skill set is a better fit for social media.

While marketing agencies can comfortably integrate social media into their campaigns (they already often have responsibility for online advertising, email marketing and to a lesser extent SEO) the main criticism levelled by PRs remains their inability to handle the mysterious duo of tone of voice and positioning.

So what the hell do they both mean? And is that the only difference between PRs and marketers when it comes to carving up the social media cake?

What you say

Ultimately this is what tone of voice means. It is the simple realisation that the same way of communicating a brand to consumers or businesses can no longer be used across different media. It used to be the case that marketing involved two types of copy –  creative words for advertising and editorial words for PR.

The world is a different place now – what you say and the way you say it can differ widely from Facebook to Linked-in and a corporate blog to Twitter. They all offer different audiences which are receptive to different approaches.

I would suggest that one of the major differences is that PR has been a little quicker out the of the starting blocks. Sensing the demise of traditional media and the continual squeeze for column inches, PR agencies rapidly embraced the opportunities available online  to their clients, including blogging and podcasts. Used to adapting their writing for different audiences while keeping a brand’s identity and key messages intact, PR agencies were well placed to take on social media responsibilities.

The charge often levelled at marketers is that they don’t do this very well and instead focus on the mediums they have complete control over – such as banner ads and PPC -  which allow them to focus on selling rather than fostering conversations.

Where you say it

The positioning bit is even less complicated. Online it amounts to effective blogger outreach and the ability to identify and nurture advocates on social networks. Again it comes down to strong writing and that much hated phrase – ‘people skills.’

PRs have been doing this for some time in a different form. Media relations does differ from blogger relations but many PRs have the right mix of skills to engage bloggers, learned from their experiences courting journalists. They also have the research skills to identify and target publications or blogs that are best suited to their story.  

SEO catches a steal on both

The SEO industry has quietly gone about doing what is does best, while ignoring both marketing and PR agencies clamoring for the role as guardian of the social media landscape.

SEO uses whatever tactics it can to build links and improve SERPS. It has a separate - but not incompatible - set of concerns to marketing and PR and has seen the benefits of forging good relationships with bloggers, as well as the benefits of using social media and social bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit – all with the aim of producing high quality links to sites.

The activities of SEO closely align with online PR and if done correctly PR can prove hugely beneficial to SEO in a way that other digital marketing techniques can’t.

PR doesn’t do itself any favours

Good PR practitioners draw out and tell stories, enhancing or protecting their client’s reputation – all the while ensuring they fit within target media by providing the right tone of voice and positioning (oh yes, they’re back!). None of this is an easy mix to get your head around and does take experience.

At the best of times people struggle to understand traditional, offline PR and now agencies are faced with also explaining what they do online. I would suggest that PR doesn’t do itself any favours in this respect and can also fail to highlight the SEO benefits of good online PR.

PR agencies need to explain their place within the digital marketing mix more assertively and ensure monitoring online is as rigorous as it is offline.

And the winner is…

Some would say this whole debate is futile as PR is a subset of marketing. In part they would be right, but it does matter in the sense that both marketing and PR agencies are struggling to find new identities during the current media revolution.

In contrast SEO has never known anything but change – the goalposts are constantly shifting as new ideas take hold and the mysteries of Google’s constantly evolving algorithms are unlocked.

At this time anyone can lay claim to expertise  (just look at this SERP) but it will be those who react quickest to the shifting sands of social media and remain flexible and open-minded who will claim the business. In this respect both marketing and PR practitioners could do with taking a leaf out of SEO’s book.

Joel Turner

About Joel Turner

  • http://ixod.com ixodcom

    PR is a subset of marketing. In part they would be right, but it does matter in the sense that both marketing and PR agencies are struggling to find new identities during the current media revolution.

  • http://www.tag44.com tag44

    Thanks for the post and for writing the resourceful content on social media marketing. The post and information is really awesome.

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  • http://www.hrocsearch.co.uk mark

    My company has the PR team and the SEO team working hand in hand, if everyone pulls in the right direction, you can build great links and improve brand awareness. I feel its the way the business should move.

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