“Who ‘owns’ Social Media?” This question spawned a fascinating debate over at Jason Falls’s Social Media Explorer blog last week. Jason posited that the PR group is best positioned to take the lead on a corporation’s Social Media outreach:
“…Social media is essentially public relations in the online world. Divide the category up by component — blogs, social networks, microblogging, podcasts, Web TV, wikis … — they each ladder in some way to a component of public relations — writing, corporate communications, community relations, media relations, event management.”
While I don’t think Jason’s thought process precludes the participation of other corporate insiders, such as customer service reps, HR supervisors, tech geeks, legal eagles, etc., he does rightly note that these folks will need to be both tech savvy, and, literate communicators (and will likely need simple guidelines from the PR team).
Regardless of whether “PR takes the lead” or not, it is an unescapable conclusion that these employees will find creative outlets. If blogging is too much of a time sink, there’s Twitter, Utterz, Seesmic, YouTube. Mostly, this will be awesome. It will truly humanize the faceless corporation.
But every now and then, one of these employee content creators will screw up: they’ll pass on a corporate secret; or post a libelous comment to a blogger’s harsh expose of their company; or they’ll TwitPic a latter-day Xerox-style photo of their butt-cheeks. And they’ll get fired and/or the Corporate Clamp-Down will occur, chilling the air for all employee content creators, for a bit.
There are purists who suggest, however, that these antics are the essence of The New Way of Doing Things. To them, any and all “Marketing/PR” programs are, by their nature, false and doomed to fail in the Social Media era. They only want to see blog posts, tweets, etc. from those “regular” employees. They want the marketers to tag-out of The Conversation all together. These purists want all news to be blogged – without further outreach – and expect that the relevant representatives of mainstream and amateur media will find their way to the newsworthy items, buoyed by the wisdom-of-crowds.
Stuck in the middle (literally) are Advertising and PR firms, along with new specialist agencies like The Conversation Group, crayon, and Social Media Group (the latter now bolstered by the mad skillz of Geoff Livingston). These latter don’t aspire to be “PR agencies” yet don’t shy from the suggestion that they help companies “influence the influencers.”
TCG says they “help brands listen to and engage with influencers and customers in traditional and non-traditional ways.” SMG suggests that its “team of Blogger Relations Specialists have the skills and experience to identify and engage with the online influencers that have the greatest reach and impact…” That’s fine, and they’re better at it than most traditional PR agencies, I’d warrant – but that doesn’t mean it’s not Public Relations.
As for the “traditional” PR firms (and in-house PR folks) – they are just now beginning to figure out that “social media is essentially public relations in the online world.” The good firms are realizing that it’s not enough to hire a few (newly-graduated) bloggers and check-off the “Yea, we do Social Media” box. Following this realization (and diligent action), the combination of traditional mainstream media savvy with newfound blogger etiquette skills is formidable.
Granted, this process has taken too long and is still far from complete. We’re turning battleships here, folks. PR has always been about inspiring relationships between brands and consumers, but until recently did not have the tools to do so: mass communications required mass media. It was an imperfect if unavoidable model that caused the industry to lose its way. We’re groping for the right trail again.
Meanwhile, while many have bemoaned the travails of Advertising types who thrived on “interruption marketing,” my gut tells me (and others) that these very creative people will figure out how to play in this sandbox.
Where am I taking you on this ramble?
To the place where we all acknowledge we don’t know what the hell is gonna happen. And that’s okay. We can’t make rules about the unknown. We’ll just have to figure it out as we go.
”My definition of an expert in any field is a person who knows enough about what’s really going on to be scared.” (P.J. Plauger, Computer Language, 1983)
Posted on: July 21, 2008 at 6:56 pm By Todd Defren