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Is social media a requirement for PR pros?

Last week, Rachel Kay tweeted that she felt every PR professional should be on Twitter and LinkedIn. I found this statement to be bold and assumptive that social media is the Holy Grail for the PR profession. Social media isn't for everyone. Yes, it's a great way to connect with other PR professionals and more journalists are going online. Yes, the way we communicate and reach our community is changing. I understand all of this, but these aren't reasons for every PR professional to go out and create a Twitter account or LinkedIn profile. After all, what good are these tools if you don't know how to use them?

Let me get a few things out there before I dig into why I disagree with Rachel. First, I am an avid fan of the social space. Not only do I spend a lot of time online, I make my living helping brands understand the online space. I'm a firm believer that any young PR pro should have an understanding of social platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. By all means, why wouldn't you want to know and understand new communication tools? That being said, I think there is a big difference between being aware of a space and being active on that space. We all have our areas of experience and certain industries we practice in — I'd be lost if I had to work with a healthcare client. Social media is no different. I understand that social isn't a separate piece of the PR pie — it should be fully integrated — however, not every PR pro should be advising their clients about social strategy.

  • It's not about the what, it's about the how — Twitter and LinkedIn don't make up for a lack of relationship and not knowing how to pitch.
  • Just as social media isn't for every client, it's not for every journalist & PR pro — There are thousands of PR professionals that who don't actively engage on Twitter and LinkedIn that who still can produce high quality results
  • You need a reason to be on Twitter — If you're your only reason to be on Twitter is to pitch, not only will you annoy journalists, you're likely to annoy other PR professionals as well.

Let's not assume everyone works at an agency. My last employer was a large U.S. financial institution. We were extremely conservative (partially due to the financial crisis) and we were more reactive than proactive (whether or not this is the right approach is a different story). Being a large bank, we already had established relationships with reporters at the major financial media outlets. We also had an assigned local reporter that covered the financial space. Other than that, a lot of our PR was niche magazines and trade publications. So for us, there wasn't much need to be proactive when the reporters and stories came to us. If you're a PR pro at an organization like this, you really don't need to engage on Twitter.

Granted, this is an exception to the rule and what if said PR person left for another organization, the point is there are a lot of companies and organizations that don't require you to be versed in social media to a) find success personally or b) find success for your company.

Again, yes I think it's foolish for you not to be familiar with Twitter and/or LinkedIn. But is it a necessity to find success in PR? Not at this time. I'm not advocating that you should ignore social media (come on, I'm a social goon) but I also don't believe you're doomed for failure if you don't engage yourself.

Rachel's Response

I'm surprised that Kasey and I disagree on this topic, because I connected with Kasey in the first place because I was incredibly impressed with his insightful commentary on topics that are important to the communication profession. While I relish this chance to go head-to-head with a pro who I greatly respect, I also respectfully think Kasey is totally wrong here. :) I'd like to point out that Kasey is saying two different things — that not all PR pros should be using social media, and that not all PR pros should be advising on social media. I'll try to address both.

To clarify, it isn't Twitter or Linkedin that I intended to point out as critical tools for a PR pros to invest time in — that relegates my argument to a purely tactical point-of-view, and my thought process is anything but. To put it simply, social media is sort of a big deal right now. To truly understand how it operates, evolves, and affects our clients or companies, it's critical to experiment with how it influences our own relationships. We aren't just publicists, we are strategic communicators, and social media is a form of communication. I certainly never argued that you should have a profile if you don't know how to use it — the idea is to learn how to use it.

It's just like anything else that takes experience. I can read a cookbook and understand that to cook pork tenderloin you want to season it, turn the oven on to 350 and cook it for an hour and a half. That doesn't mean I can make the perfect pork tenderloin. I'll try it a couple of times, changing the amount of salt, adding some lemon zest, cooking it an extra 5 minutes, until I've perfected the recipe that makes sense for my tastes and those I'm cooking for. Same goes for social media. I've learned through experimentation what elements in a blog post encourage conversation or what to tweet that makes others want to share it. I learn more every day, and I share that with my clients to help them understand how social media can help them build their businesses.

I also disagree that in the communication and PR worlds, that social media isn't for everyone. If that's really the case, it's going to change pretty fast. I have trouble believing that there are industries that can't benefit from engaging with constituents through the social Web. Using the bank example, while financial reporters are obviously a key tool to reaching target audiences, there are many ways to use social media to reach them as well. My guess is irate customers were sharing horror stories with others on social networks and forums. Why not offer support, answer questions and correct inaccuracies rather than sit on the sidelines? What about creating a blog advising investors on tips to protect their assets and provide a one-stop resource for breaking financial news? Maybe a series of YouTube videos of the bank president providing updates on how the bank is reacting to the financial crisis? These ideas may or may not be appropriate, but it's meant to show the breadth of social media beyond just a Twitter profile. The question to ask is whether or not your target audience is online. With regards to banking customers, I wager they are.

It's also important to keep in mind that PR isn't just media relations, which Kasey focuses on in his post. PR involves creating and understanding overarching communication strategies, so you have to know what the latest tools are even if you don't choose to use them now. The landscape is evolving too fast to rule anything out. I'd have a difficult time trusting someone's advice on social media who wasn't using it.

In addition to understanding how social media affects the way we share messages, why wouldn't a PR person WANT to be engaging through social networks and blogs? I'm at the forefront of breaking news. I get to connect with other PR pros to share best practices. I've won several clients through LinkedIn and Twitter. My blog has been recognized and I've been recognized on other blogs, helping me position myself as an expert. I get to interact with influencers I'd never have direct access to otherwise. Prospective employers are using social media to find talent. Yikes! I'm having trouble finding one good reason NOT to be online!

To conclude, I'll address Kasey's bullets:

  • Knowing how to use Twitter, LinkedIn, or other tools don't make up for lack of relationships, but I'd argue they help us build them. My argument was never that they made up for not knowing how to pitch media. Just because you use social media, doesn't make you a PR practitioner.
  • Not using social media certainly doesn't prohibit your chances at nabbing a CNN hit. It does, however, significantly reduce your ability to advise your client on how to use it for a larger communication strategy beyond media relations. If you think you can read a couple blog posts about it and know everything there is to know, you're wrong. Sorry. In regards to results, again, you are talking tactics, and results don't always equal media coverage in our industry.
  • If your only reason to be on Twitter is to pitch, you definitely need to spend more time on social media so you'll learn that's the wrong way to use it. Case closed.

So what do you think? Is being well-versed with social critical for PR pros?

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Join The Conversation

  • LaurelPapworth's picture
    Apr 24 Posted 6 years ago LaurelPapworth Replace 2010 "every PR person should be on LinkedIn and Twitter" with 1997 "every PR person should be on email" and the same arguments hold true. Some PR people suck at emailing out press releases in appropriate ways! But not being on email is going to damage you sooner or later. So is not being engaged on relevant social media sites.
    Sorry, I have to disagree with your disagreement, which wasn't actually a disagreement :P 
  • FrankStrong's picture
    Apr 22 Posted 6 years ago FrankStrong I'm with you Rachel!  
  • kmskala's picture
    Apr 22 Posted 6 years ago kmskala

    Marc - If you want to get technical, I guess you could work without the "traditional" tools you mention. With Skype, I don't need a phone. With my computer or iPad, I don't need a notebook or pen/pencil. Yes, it's an extreme, but with advancements, we can work in ways we couldn't before.

    Anthony/Julie - My concern with your statements is that it appears you feel everyone who's in PR should be advising on social strategy. If you're part of a large agency that has a department that handles social, why can't you bring them in and have them handle social strategy? Again, you should be aware of it and understand it's importance for your clients, but not every PR person is pitching social strategy.

    My argument isn't that you should be oblivious to social media, it's that you don't need to be active to find success in PR. Each person and position is different, if you're a solo or small shop, you might be called upon to pitch. If you work for a large agency, maybe you have other co-workers who focus on social and digital.

    If you're new or a younger PR pro, I would absolutely suggest you familiarize yourself with social, but what about those folks with 15-20 years in the biz? I personally know a number of senior PR folks who aren't on Facebook and Twitter, or they are on but aren't active, and they can still provide valuable services to their clients.

    Thanks for the discussion/comments. It's an interesting topic.

  • Apr 22 Posted 6 years ago JulieBonnHeath Boy, Kasey. No offense but I disagree with you. I believe that social media is quickly becoming essential in most industries. And I agree with Rachel that we must not only be familiar with it but be actively practicing it, in order to provide the best integrated and successful social media marketing for our clients.

    You mentioned that you would have no clue on what to do with a healthcare account. But social media is now reaching the majority of industries. Chances are, 90+% of your accounts would benefit from social media marketing. And as the leaders in the communication plan, we need to be on board with this. As leaders in the communication plan, I believe that we are providing a disservice to our clients if we are not practicing this medium which has now reached so many industries.


    Does that mean that we need to be experts? YES, if our clients or our client's consumers are requesting social marketing or connect via the sites. To provide the best services in this area, we should be well-versed. 


    The "traditional" PR firms who have contacted me about helping to integrate their social marketing have seen a big revenue dip because they have not yet hopped aboard the social train. Some refuse to. Others are still learning the value of it. Still others (I suspect) still hope it will go away. But most of them (with revenue losses of  up to 40%) have finally come to a realization that if they don't adapt, they will die.







  • Apr 22 Posted 6 years ago AnthonyWhyms
    Kasey & Rachel,

    I think you may have not only hit a nerve with your "open disagreement", but opened the door to another reason why social media is necessary for business professionals:  

    It employs open, honest discussion of both sides of an argument and allows for audience feedback.

    Without putting too fine a point on this issue, there are too many people using social media only to get sales results while not engaging the community they serve with serious discussion of products, services and issues affecting their market or niche.

    That being said, one way to accomplish this is by arranging a "pro & con" discussion of an issue that allows both sides to air their views, while encouraging the reader/user to add his or her two cents to the fray.

    Many online posts today lend themselves to a "Jerry Springer-style", flame fest, muddling the question raised and diverting the readership's attention away from an in-depth analysis of how to resolve the issue at hand...  

    This is a phenomenally waste of time (in my humble opinion).

    By the two of you sharing the writing of this post and reviewing whether PR professionals should or should not add social media to their quiver, in support of their clients, you've opened up a novel way to discuss opposing points of view intelligently and with much aplomb.

    Bravo!  I look forward to reading more posts like this.

    Anthony Whyms
    Moving4ward Marketing
  • Apr 22 Posted 6 years ago MarcRoss Do you consider a telephone a requirement for PR pros? What about a copier? What about pen and paper?

    Of course social media is a required tool - just like a telephone, a copier, a pen and paper. All tools that allow one to communicate and engage are essential tools for any serious PR pro.
  • kmskala's picture
    Apr 20 Posted 6 years ago kmskala Thanks for the comments and feedback. All have excellent points. It was hard for me to disagree with Rachel since I spend my time in the space. I definitely see where she is coming from and I would highly suggest any new PR pro coming into the space to familiarize themselves with social.

    It's an interesting topic of discussion. Again, you'd be a fool not to be involved, but I don't see it as a requirement for success.

  • Apr 19 Posted 6 years ago KatFriedmann Very interesting post and good points all around.  As a young graduate student in PR, we are learning the ins and outs of social media.  One thing that I must argue though is that with so many competitve young PR professionals, it's not enough anymore to demonstrate that you understand social media.  In my opinion, it's all about knowing how to execute strategy.  Having clear goals and objectives for social media along with knowing how to measure those successes and using unique strategies is what is going to separate the PR pros from the PR hoes in the next few years.
  • Apr 19 Posted 6 years ago MackenzieKay I really enjoyed this post and will also agree with Rachel. I have just started a PR business and am young compared to my competition. I like to think that where I lack in experience, I make up for in skills and a comprehensive understanding to new communication tools. I agree that social media is not the "be all, end all" to any PR plan, but it is an important tool, that if used right, can be very successful.
  • Apr 19 Posted 6 years ago BretSimmons I am with Rachel. Her response shows that she "gets it." I see a lot of PR folks peddling a solution they themselves don't practice. If you don't practice it (e.g. blogging, twitter), you can never really understand the value, and if you don't understand the value, you can't properly advise your customers. You can't keep social media at arms length and understand it. You are either a digital citizen or a tourist (Halligan and Shah). You have to DO it yourself to understand the ethics and operating principles. Rachel is right, and in her words, case closed. 

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