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Why Social Media Marketing Is More Effective Than PR

social media marketingI'm probably not going to make friends in the public relations or journalism communities with this article, but here goes. I recently attended an event titled "Meet The Press" in which 5 local business journalists shared their thoughts on how businesses should approach them in order to get press coverage. I was struck by the journalists' imperious attitude.  They covered things like how to email them, how often you need to follow up with them and generally how you can kiss their rings to potentially get press coverage. At a certain point, I heard Charlie Brown's mother's voice, but instead of "whah, whah, whah" I was hearing "me, me, me, me." What these journalists don't seem to realize is that they are being disrupted. Let me explain.

Americans don't trust journalists.

A September 2011 poll conducted by Gallup found that 55% of Americans have little or no trust in journalists. I posed a question at the event to the journalists about how this fact would change the way they do their jobs. All five journalists had basically the same response: that lack of trust is towards the mainstream media, not them. The second part of my question had to do with how social media and the ability for thought leaders to self-publish would change their jobs. As an example, I said that I would rather read Rand Fishkin talk about SEO than a journalist. None of the 5 journalists knew who Rand Fishkin was. With all due respect, if you're a business journalist in 2013, you should know who Rand Fishkin is.

Business journalists rarely write about SMB companies.

When the journalists gave example of stories and work that they have done, they invariably pointed to Fortune 100 companies. I run a small business and the only way any of these journalists would ever write about me would be if I commited a heinous crime or was involved in a salacious scandal. If you're a small or mid-sized business trying to position yourself as a thought leader, why waste time trying to get traditional media coverage? You're far better off writing relevant, provocative articles targeted to your ideal customer and promoting them through social media. Even better, work on getting an industry thought leader or a satisfied customer to share your content through their social media channels.

It's difficult/impossible to measure the results of traditional media coverage.

One of the best things about inbound marketing and social media marketing is that you can measure everything. I use HubSpot's all-in-one internet marketing software and I know how many leads and customers I get from LinkedIn, how many from organic search results, etc. Can any PR people share with me how they connect real business results to media coverage? By promoting your own content through social media and inbound marketing, you can narrowcast your content to your ideal customer - those that are most likely to buy what you sell and become profitable customers.

You can control your message with social media marketing.

Earning a reputation as a thought leader in your industry isn't easy. Even if you have a wealth of experience and knowledge about your industry, you have to be able to communicate your thoughts in a way that resonates with your target audience. You also need to regularly produce content, most likely in the form of blog articles. Have you ever gone to a company blog to find that the last blog article was written 3 years ago? Would you think of that company as a thought leader? If you want to be perceived as a thought leader, you need to regularly produce blog articles that interest your target audience. We recommend that you blog no less frequently than weekly.

Social media can provide social proof.

Social proof is the concept that people are more likely to take action when they see others taking the same action. The classic example of social proof: There are 2 ice cream parlors on the same block. One has a line coming out the front door, the other is totally empty. Most people would choose the crowded ice cream parlor. The long line is social proof that they have better ice cream.

With respect to social media and traditional media, which of the following scenarios do you think carries more weight?:

  1. A journalist (in whom 55% of Americans have little or no trust) writes about your company.
  2. A satisfied customer shares his success story with your company on social media.

I would choose the second any day of the week.


Social media and the technology that drives it is disrupting traditional media. Yet traditional media haven't really changed the way they do business. For SMB companies, you're far better off investing time and resources in social media marketing than in traditional PR. So get started today - start writing about your experiences and how you help your ideal customers solve problems. Promote your content through social media. Seek out thought leaders, customers, partners and vendors to share your content. Most importantly, make sure to reciprocate the favors they do for you. The game is changing and the power is in our hands.

Join The Conversation

  • May 5 Posted 4 years ago Alex Singleton "Business journalists rarely write about SMB companies." Well, certainly business journalists on a national or big-name city newspaper are interested principally in companies that readers can invest their pensions in or are likely to be customers of. Should SMBs be trying, regularly, to get *business* stories in major newspapers? Would they not be better off taking a more concentrated approach - pitching stories to specialist magazines and trade journals? (If they are selling fast-moving consumer goods, they'd be better off pitching to other parts of newspapers.) Secondly, PR and marketing campaigns have ask if the target market is "everyone"? That's the market the major newspapers are going after. But for SMBs, targeting "everyone" is going to be a marketing headache, whatever sort of outreach they are doing (print media, social media, advertising). That is, unless they have a few million in the bank. Often, businesses who think they need mass marketing actually have a target audience that's concentrated in in a niche - say, 20,000 people in a specific market, for which there is a magazine. SMBs are getting coverage in newsstand and major trade publications all the time. Mostly, they have the PR support which can develop creative story ideas and which targets appropriate publications. Finally, it's all very well to be critical of the role journalists have as gatekeepers, but if a marketeer isn't able to make a press release interesting enough to get published in the conventional, their social media efforts are likely to flop too. Social media doesn't give carte blanche to be boring.
  • Apr 21 Posted 4 years ago ltenney1

    Did you intend to use PR derogatorily, or do you otherwise have some disdain for the field of PR?  My take on your article suggests you’re saying, “PR isn’t all that!”  You're right!  It's more.

    Your narrow definition of "Public Relations" is really what others might define as "Media Relations," or the work exclusively of publicists!

    Following your lead, are we to assume that social media means singularly Facebook?  We both know better than that.

    To suggest PR is nothing more than media relations is misinformed! Or simply a failure to communicate.

    PR is the art and science of influencing public opinion and behavior through communications.

    Authors of these numerous text books would suggest that social media falls, in fact, under the PR umbrella.

    You might want to check these definitions before you decide to use “Public Relations” so narrowly again: WikipediaCIPR and 31 Other Definitions of PR

    PR is a lot more than media relations!

  • JohnMBeveridge's picture
    Apr 19 Posted 4 years ago John_at_Rapidan

    David - again great points. If you look at the Google Zero Moment of Truth study, the 2 types of research that buyers more than any others were search engine queries and referrals/reviews from trused people like friends and relatives. The second is the same as it always has been - relationship-based.  In my business, I try to hit both by maintaining on- and offline relationships. Imagine running into one of your college friends 20 years from now in a business context. Can you think of anything better?

  • David Mitchel's picture
    Apr 19 Posted 4 years ago David Mitchel

    A lot of media coverage comes as a result of pre-existing relationships.

    If one starts from a base of 0 today in terms of pre-existing media relationships, it would take quite a while to get the right relationships cultivated. Most likely, not in time to get the ROI for the next month, quarter or year. 

    I think it is one of those things that is really important to do in college. Building the right relationships during the college years can really pay off down the road. College is a time where you're not worried about next month or quarter's company financials (worrying about class performance vs. work performance is not in the same ballpark) and it is a time to build the right personal & business relationships down the road to make things easier in forthcoming years. Some people see that then & there, some do not and it increases challenges post college.

  • JohnMBeveridge's picture
    Apr 19 Posted 4 years ago John_at_Rapidan

    David - good point. I heard a start-up founder last night talking about how important getting positive coverage on TechCrunch, Mashable, etc. was to him. He was an ex-AOL guy, so he had some pre-existing relationships that eased the way for him.

  • David Mitchel's picture
    Apr 19 Posted 4 years ago David Mitchel

    I would agree that the highest level business journalists are not writing about SMBs in general, but SMB's can some media coverage. The ROI on efforts spent with cultivating media relationships may not make sense for a lot of SMBs, but it could in the case where someone in an SMB was college roommates with a big shot producer at a major news network.

    I like your thoughts on social proof as well. I think at some point the smaller ice cream shop would get some spillover business if lines got too long at the other place and could capitalize if the experience was comparable. In general, social proof is something important & should be a focal point.

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