There’s been a lot of discussion recently about where social media should reside within the marketing world. And because it’s the hot topic that so many corporate marketing divisions and clients are buzzing about, everyone is vying for a spot at the head of the table. Is it advertising, PR, direct, customer service – or a totally separate form of marketing that needs to be off on its own, while coordinating with other more traditional avenues?
Creating a separate social media “division” is a bit out of touch with reality – not only when it comes to the best ways to approach it, but also with what most companies can afford to do. For one, these tools will soon not be new anymore – they simply make up the world we live in and are part of a company’s overall communications strategy. Because of that, isolating social media as its own area of expertise isn’t a sustainable long-term approach.
To maximize social media, it’s obvious that it must be driven by smart strategy, be well-managed and implemented, and live in tandem with other disciplines, as it touches many different areas. But first and foremost, it needs to be spearheaded by a fundamental sense of community, information sharing and the desire to foster long-term, ongoing relationships, directly with the public (which applies whether you’re talking B2C or B2B).
I’m a PR person, so my viewpoint is admittedly pretty biased, but I think there are some very good reasons why social media needs to be steeped in a solid public relations perspective:
- Most importantly, the objective and strategy must be the priority (before leaping straight to tools). Following the latest, shiny new tool is distracting. The PR discipline has always emphasized setting strategy and measurable goals before delving into tactics.
- The emphasis is on audience-centric content that attracts and compels, not pushes. In PR, if you don’t have something of importance to offer to the public or the press, you’re dead.
- There is a fundamental need to build leadership, credibility and reputation in order to maximize exposure. As it has been since the beginning, reputation management is core to PR discipline.
- Social media allows you to “become the media” for your audiences. It’s about great content, and essentials of journalism apply. The best PR practitioners are trained as journalists as well as marketers, and have a nose for news. In fact, many are former reporters.
- The basic PR practice of community relations – how to interact, conduct yourself, deliver on-point messages, and relate to publics at deeper, more meaningful levels – is paramount.
- Like any solid PR initiative, social media takes time, effort, planning and commitment to gain momentum and traction. It is not a flash in the pan approach.
- Generating goodwill and influence means listening to input and becoming a credible, responsive and reliable source of information.
- Proactively monitoring, spotting and responding to issues before they turn into crises is essential in PR, as it is in social media.
Now, I know a lot of people will say PR has no business in social media, as it’s about anti-spin and authenticity. But keep in mind that social media is a very self-policing form of communication. Similar to traditional PR practices, the bad apples will quickly get weeded out if they use these channels to be sneaky, self-serving or aggressive, put themselves and their own company’s interests before the public and the community, or behave unethically. Those kinds of practices are and always have been shunned by the best in the profession. That said, smart PR practices: solid community relations abilities, corporate social responsibility sensibilities, and an eye for issues management and crisis communications as well as journalistic ethics and integrity are very much at home in social media.