Social media and the job of PR

I have to admit that my gut reaction to PR on twitter is a sinking one. It makes me wonder if the party’s over — if the spamification of twitter is just around the corner, and it’s time to migrate once again. Foolish thoughts, or not. All new media mainstream at some point during their lifecycle. And yes, early adopters and core users often flee in droves for smaller and as yet undiscovered niche services. But I digress.

Twitter would seem a perfect tool for Public Relations. It’s a posting service. Links can be embedded, and tracked. It is conversational but it’s not immersive like IM or chat. And it’s essentially opt in, insofar as users elect to follow you.

But social media PR folks like to recommend to their clients that they adopt micro media and conversational tools. “Join the conversation!” was the refrain we heard most over the past year. So where does public relations then rest? With the PR firm or with the company itself?

Sabrina Horn, head of the Horn Group, is quoted in a piece by Tom Foremski on social media adoption:

“”Eventually social media will replace a lot of traditional PR but there will still be room for both,” says Ms. Horn. And companies need to understand the best combination for their business. She says some clients want to rush into “social media” without considering what it means and the commitment that has to be made.”


Every company is a media company . . .


I’ve often spoken about how every company is now a media company and needs to master the new media technologies at our disposal, such as RSS, blogging, Twitter, social media, etc. But being a media company requires a commitment, it is not a “campaign” that runs for a few months and finishes–it is a long term commitment and not everyone understands this aspect and what that means.”

True indeed, and I fully agree that social media use should be mutually-engaging. Company and customer. Reciprocity is essential for trust, and is a core value principle in social media generally speaking.

One of the key benefits of social media engagement, however, is supposed to be what can take place when companies embrace transparency and open-ness. Communication with customers is supposed to result in opportunities for co-collaboration (around products, services, customer service, and so on).

So my question for PR firms, then, is: who handles the social media campaign? PR or client? If the PR agency handles it, is it incented to be honest with its client about user feedback, commentary, and sentiment? If the client uses it, can it handle itself as well as the PR agency — does the client risk damaging PR campaigns if it gets involved directly? Just who is the best person, and in which organization, to serve as “spokesperson” in social media?

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  • Sabrina Horn

    Sorry for the delay in response. I have an information overload problem and I like to sleep at night.
    I think you pose very good questions, and the answer is probably that it will be different for each company and their agency. The CMO of one company may be a perfect blogger on certain visionary topics, whereas in another company perhaps that is better served by a CTO. At the end of the day, the client should “own” the campaign, and the agency supports it, guides it, helps to shape it.
    People and companies make mistakes, they always have and they always will, so one just needs to be prepared in the event… It is a team effort clearly, and some companies new to blogging may rely more heavily on agency counsel. That is ok, as long as everyone is being true and authentic.
    Sabrina