If social media most resembles PR; why don’t we own it? Because PR isn’t moving fast enough

I was honored to be asked by Adam Broitman to participate in an article he wrote on social media for the marketing community, IMedia Connection. Adam asks the question, “Social media: Whose job is it anyway?”

Adam compiled a focused panel of varied experts to discuss this question for his piece. Of course, the answers varied and some were even self-promotional, but a few things stood out to me as they relate to the PR industry:

And herein lies the problem – where are the PR agencies? This isn’t the only article talking about social media and who should own it and whether or not PR should be a part of it… but with no definitive examples of campaigns from such agencies. I think there are a few reasons why:

1) Social media is undefined - just read the varied definition in this IMedia article. (hmmm, seems eerily like PR’s PR problem of “what is PR, exactly?”)

2) Brands are unsure - and thus, agency clients are slow to adopt full campaigns but rather, are adopting social media in piece meal. Some brands, like Ford, are undertaking campaigns as major one-off projects with new media companies, not necessarily their PR agencies.

3) PR agencies aren’t moving fast enough when it comes to the adoption of social media. Adam mentions in his article that social media is about immediacy. And he’s right – immediacy not only in the way you participate, but in how fast you jump into this big, brave world. Too many PR agencies have waited and are now figuring out social media at the same time their clients are. That’s not good. We’re supposed to lead, innovate and advise – how can we do that if we aren’t exploring and learning long before our clients?

Here’s an example – a few years ago we (PerkettPR) held our first Twitter training for a client. At the time, they looked at us as though we had three heads. They were (understandably) unsure that this relatively unknown medium would become a major conduit of their customer communications. But they trusted and listened to us and as such, embraced Twitter as a major part of their customer care long before any of their competitors.

Another example – in a recent new business pitch, after seeing some of our video and digital content case studies, the prospect kept asking us “So you produce this all in-house? You don’t outsource? Really – all in-house?” The answer is  yes, yes we do! We do such much more than call the media! PR has changed – we get to be publishers, too! Social media is a part of that change and it’s thrilling! Social media is another way for us to share messages and engage with key audiences: customers, prospects, employees, VCs and more.

And this is why the PR industry needs to not only be a part of social media but make it a part of their own business – and fast! Stop wondering if it’s necessary (it is!), stop analyzing (you must move faster – but still intelligently) and stop wondering whether or not it’s going to kill PR (it isn’t – but it is changing it, as I’ve said before). Innovative agencies knew years ago that this new way of communicating should be embraced, learned, navigated and understood, so that we can help companies and brands as the communications experts that we are. As Shel said, it comes back to “public relations” – what’s so hard about that?

  • http://@dmpatten DM Patten

    Thanks for a great post that raises some very good points. I think many people/companies share a similar outlook on what social media is and may even admit that they need to be in this space, however a greater number (especially non participants) don’t seem to have the foggiest idea as to how to integrate it into a larger plan let alone target and track the relevant metrics it can produce. You put it best when you said that this “new way of communicating should be embraced, learned, navigated and understood”. After all, social media is just another form of communication. How many years away are we from viewing social media in the same way we view the telephone, fax or email? Smart agencies (like Perkett) embrace these technologies and evolve while others just go the way of the dinosaurs…..

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  • http://www.kellystrategiccounsel.com Marsha Kelly

    I agree totally that PR agencies (including my own) have been slow to move to Twitter and other social media. Some, like me, have had an inherent distrust of online communication and social media as largely uncontrollable and unmanageable (the “Wild West” syndrome). There’s also a power issue: we have relished our roles as “retail” gatekeepers to the traditional MSM, and are perhaps reluctant to see those roles diminished in favor of broadbased “wholesale” social media. I got serious about incorporating social media into my clients’ PR programs earlier this year, and I am now an active participant on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Hopefully these new capabilities will benefit my clients down the road, and their success will benefit me as well.

  • http://www.perkettpr.com Christine Perkett

    Douglas – thanks for reading and commenting (and for the nice comment on PPR). I don’t think we’re many (if any) years away – even Twitter is now as common as a website, IMHO.

    Marsha – I appreciate your comments and your insight into how you approached embracing social media. I think it’s very true about the “Wild West” syndrome. But as we tell clients – you don’t have control anyway, people are talking about you and your brand whether you like it or not. One of my favorite quotes is from Charlene Li regarding word of mouth: she said you can’t control it but you can influence it. Social media helps!

    Best of luck with your campaigns and I am sure you’ll do a great job helping your clients as well as your own firm.

    Thanks so much for reading.

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  • http://amediacirc.us Adam Broitman

    Great post–it was a pleasure working with you!

    In my experiences at Morpheus Media, crayon and now my new venture, Circ.us; PR agencies I have dealt with have largely not been prepared for the challenge of handling this new space.

    To your point, “relating” to the consumer public is a tremendous piece of the puzzle, but in order to relate, you have to speak the language; and technology is language. Therefore, if you do not know the technology, it is hard to speak the language or, as you say, “relate”.

    Right now it seems to be a fly ball. The best ideas will win. Hopefully in the near future, social media will become an implicit part of all media and public relations.

  • DM Patten

    Thanks for a great post that raises some very good points. I think many people/companies share a similar outlook on what social media is and may even admit that they need to be in this space, however a greater number (especially non participants) don’t seem to have the foggiest idea as to how to integrate it into a larger plan let alone target and track the relevant metrics it can produce. You put it best when you said that this “new way of communicating should be embraced, learned, navigated and understood”. After all, social media is just another form of communication. How many years away are we from viewing social media in the same way we view the telephone, fax or email? Smart agencies (like Perkett) embrace these technologies and evolve while others just go the way of the dinosaurs…..