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You Can't Own Social Media

Ok.  This is a tired discussion, I admit.

But yesterday, I came across an article by Shel Holtz which stated, “PR trumps marketing when it comes to controlling the social media budget and strategy.”  The statement originated from new findings released by the Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) Study, a study released every other year by the Strategic and Public Relations Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Read Shel's post for the full breakdown (or better yet, read the full study), but boiled down, organizations are mostly turning over strategic control and oversight of social media initiatives to traditional PR departments and agencies.

This tends to happen for two major reasons:

  1. The close alignment of many social media objectives with those of PR.
  2. PR professionals are generally more skilled at measuring social objectives.

I've said for awhile now that I thought public relations was the natural home for social media services, at least in the agency world.  Many of the goals of a social campaign do align with services already offered by PR firms.

I do think that public relations agencies have the edge when it comes to measurement.  Social media measurement, without the right tools at hand, can wind up a messy slush of educated guesses and incorrect data.

But I believe that no single marketing practice can truly own social media, and that we'd be doing the field a disservice if we allowed public relations (or advertising) firms to take over the bulk of social responsibilities.

In the three years that I've been engaged in the social media community, I've learned that social media is a very nuanced tool that can be used to solve or improve many different types of business problems.  You can use it for lead gen, reputation management, direct sales, SEO, customer service, product research, and more.

This is why social media requires agencies and departments that look at social media from more than just the public relations angle.  Social media is not a pure form of marketing, it's a hybrid approach that blends together the best of many different marketing activities and that can be applied in many creative ways.

This is why I suspect that as the social sphere evolves, we'll see migration from social as a PR tool and begin to see more dedicated social agencies like Powered and New Marketing Labs, or, dedicated digital teams of large full-service agencies like Fleishman-Hillard and Edelman Digital.

How do you see social media fitting into the agency spectrum in the future?  Is it destined to become another service offering for public relations agencies, or should it be left to more dedicated entities?

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