Should PR Own Social Media?

On the 19th of February I have the pleasure of chairing a session organised by the PRII Entitled Should PR Own Social Media?

Normally these type sessions can tend to a self supporting and predictable with little dissent.  However this one is comprised of seasoned representatives from the other organisations competing/operating in this space including:

  • Christian Hughes, Communities Manager with Irish International,
  • Colm Ó’Riagáin, Digital Account Director with WHPR,
  • Eoin O’Suilleabháin, Social Media and Digital Marketing Manager with Bord Gáis Energy,
  • John Ring, Managing Director of internet marketing company RingJohn

As I was researching and gathering my thoughts I stumbled upon an old piece from 2010 in the Irish Marketing Journal that I had contributed to and had forgotten about.  A lot of the contributions in the article are as true now as then so I will try not to repeat the same points.

The PR industry naturally responds that it is best positioned as it has the broadest view with tentacles in all corners of the business (especially inhouse), is used to dealing with outreach and engagement, understands current cultural and environmental factors, are guardians of the organisations message, can rapidly generate crisp and clean content – the list goes how.

However the social media scene is also littered with poor examples of PR executives engaging in social media outreach – from treating bloggers like media and bccing them on general and untargeted press releases (not best media practice either) to editing of client Wikipedia pages scandals.

Social outreach means researching and building relationships with a new set of influencers with different agendas and needs than traditional media.  PR has the skill set but all this entails more time and in an industry driven by charging for time this is a problem unless the client is willing to pay.

David Murdico executive creative director and managing partner at Supercool Creative does a good job of detailing where PR can take a lead role beginning with strategy development.

However following the line of who has the best skills never really answers the question.

Christopher Penn from Shift Communications makes some very sensible points on the topic rephrasing the question to

Who should own a hammer?” is the wrong question. “Who has a use for a hammer, and can they wield it skillfully?

He rightly points out that for some organisations social media is a customer relations tool and the PR team is probably not crucial.

Like every other industry PR is not homogeneous and not all executives are equal in their abilities and understanding.  Penns final line captures this nicely

“Who should own social media? Whoever can use it to help build your business, that’s who.”

Sophie Daranyi, CEO at marketing agency Haygarth reflects what most considered articles on the topic say which is that the best results are achieved by taking an integrated approach with agencies working collaboratively and leveraging their core strengths.

Some of the advance tweets and Facebook posts on this event have brought out divergent views with some comments  saying that PR should have very little input unless it a crisis communications situation.

Some of my own views are:

  • PR has lots to contribute as do the others chasing this arena.
  • New skill sets from content creation in different media to technical skills are needed.
  • SEO will start to offer traditional PR to supplement SEO PR services.
  • SEO and PR will form closer unions in very short period of time.
  • PR’s core domain in media relations will come under threat from savvy social media users engaging with journalist online.
  • PR executives need to move from “getting” social media to time consuming greater content creation and community engagement.
  • Budgeting power for social media will continue to migrate to media buying agencies.
  • Marketing managers are starting to appreciate that social media is not free.
  • Those able to mine social data and interpret it will rise in importance.

I am putting together some questions for the speakers and would be delighted to include suggestions from any comments below.  Also my view is only one view and what better way to frame the introduction than crowd sourced from the community.


Comments appreciated.

2 Comments. Leave new

Brian McCarthy
March 23, 2013 11:41 am

Hi Eoin,

Interesting post. I think Social Media represents a great opportunity for PR if used intelligently and where it is appropriate. The key lies in creating a strategy before acting and evaluating what mediums (if any) are best suited to the specific campaign / target market – before investing resources.

Keep up the posts!


Brian McCarthy

Agree Brian. Alot of time and effort is wasted by rushing in without taking a more strategic approach. Real divergence of skills in the PR market – some exceptionally gifted and some poor – like every sector of the market I suppose. Thanks for the comment.

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