PR and Social Media: The Question Is Not If PR Should Be Involved, but What Role it Should Play

The blogosphere is alive with debate about whether PR should drive social media campaigns, or should this job reside with another marketing function or with a specialized social media group.  

PR blogger Elisabeth Sosnow provides 13 reasons why PR should run the show, but social media guru Gary Vaynerchuck has argued the other way in his book The Thank You Economy, stating that when he sees a bad social media campaign “95 percent of the time” it’s led by the PR team.

From our perspective working with B2B technology companies, the real question is not should PR be involved in social media, but what role should it play.  PR has the core skill set for social media (including content, connecting and community).  

Not involving PR means paying to build and train a duplicate organization with these same skills.  This is wasteful and can lead to embarrassing disconnects.

Blogging is a good example of a content-focused program where PR should play a leadership role.  We think in terms of building editorial calendars, writing (and editing) content and building audiences. 

Contrast that with a Facebook campaign with a heavy emphasis on graphics, video and contests, where the marketing team might be better suited to be in the leadership role.  Yet even here, the PR team should be involved in the promotional aspects and in content.

Still, the fluid nature of social media means other groups can lead the effort as well.  We conceived a crowdsourced “living” whitepaper project for a client that involved an online survey where the results were put into a whitepaper.  

The target was higher education IT staff who depended on peer input for making IT security decisions, but didn’t have a good mechanism for getting that data.  Our survey created living best practice benchmarks, and survey participants could come back at any time and see how the data changed with new input.  At any time they could download a whitepaper with updated information.  

DJA conceived the project, promoted it to users and wrote the whitepaper, but we had to take a backseat to the web development team who programmed the survey and the response mechanism and defined just how much of the vision we could realistically implement.

Instead of trying to answer the question of which group is best suited to lead social media, the emphasis should be on how PR, marketing, web development and other teams can collaborate to keep pace with the rapidly evolving nature of social media.  This puts the emphasis on coming up with the best ideas to connect with customers and the public while making the most of an organization’s internal resources.