Marketing and public relations professionals have long prided themselves on being expert gatekeepers of communication. Yet social media has brought about two substantial changes that have blurred the lines of brand voice ownership.
We live in a multi-touch brand environment
Social networking has morphed old ways of communicating into a new electronic format. Conversations that used to be private now happen openly online in front of hundreds, or thousands, of other people. In order to be a part of the conversation, brands must utilize digital platforms in addition to more traditional media such as print, radio, and television.
Conversation is the cost of doing business
In less than a decade, more than half of U.S. internet users have adopted social networking, according to eMarketer, and no one can deny that these users are talking about -- and with -- brands. Customers expect brands to not only be present in the social realm, but to also readily engage in interactive dialogue. Social media is no longer an optional budget line item for brands that want to stay competitive and front-of-mind with their customers.
Let the battle begin
Given the overlap that social media has created in marketing and communication channels, advertising and public relations professionals are evolving to meet the needs of the 21st century brand. To help diffuse the differences and close the gap between marketing and public relations, Jennifer Mitchell and Melonie Gallegos provide their perspectives from both ends of the spectrum. Gallegos is a social media veteran whose career is rooted in digital marketing. Jennifer Mitchell is a social media director from an East Coast public relations agency with years of experience in traditional public relations.
Who should own a brand's social media?
Jennifer Mitchell (PR): Generally speaking, the public relations agency should own the creation of messaging and inclusion of pre-planned broadcasting-type content, and the brand should own the authentic day-to-day conversation. It is important that brands understand what social media is and how it works to play an active role in the communication. I think marketing, specifically, should own SEO, digital advertising, and, in some cases, should even be part of the Facebook and Twitter strategies. Marketing agencies and brands should work together and stay aligned on the overall communications strategy.
We really need to learn to share and let the most skilled people do what they are best at. When we get into land-grabs for social networks, we lose the idea of collaboration and the possible success of a strategy is compromised.
But let's be honest: It's the consumer who owns social media. If individuals have an issue with a product or offering and share that issue publicly, it will be their voices driving a brand's response. (See: Chapstick, Gap, Bank of America, Netflix, etc.)
Melonie Gallegos (digital marketing): My quick answer, with a caveat, is the brand itself. The brand is closest to the company, product, and support services, and therefore provides the most value to the end audience. Here is the exception: A company should not manage its own social media if it does not have the trained resources and commitment to do it well or consistently. If resources are an issue, as is often the case, outsource it to someone smarter than you until the company can take it on internally.
How can brands use social media most effectively?
Mitchell: Have you watched "Fight Club"? The first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club. If you've seen the movie, you know that lots of people join Fight Club. It's the same for brands: Brands that only talk about themselves are boring. People want to be engaged and entertained, period. At the same time, brands need to call people to some kind of action that benefits the brand. The action could be to leave a comment, check out a coupon, go to a certain website, etc. Whatever the call to action, it needs to provide value or solve a problem for the target audience.
Gallegos: I love Jen's Fight Club rule. Here's another perspective: Social marketing can be best leveraged with two long term goals in mind, no matter what you're doing:
First, use it to build an audience: Collect subscriptions to your social channels (e.g. Facebook page 'likes") and other communication channels (like an email opt-in list) as a goal in everything you do. By continuing long-term communications consistently through these channels, you will create efficiency in your cost of advertising over time. And, your customers will love you.
Secondly, use it to benefit your business: As a company's social media efforts evolve, stakeholders will want to dig below the surface to understand how it impacts the way they do business. From product innovation to solving small-to large-scale business problems, social media and its host of brand fans will become an important part of the solution.
What is the worst thing a brand can do with social media?
Mitchell: The worst thing a brand can do is to try to control the corporate message and deny consumers the right to share their opinion. Consumers influence the corporate message no matter what a brand thinks. Consumers leave negative comments online because they care enough to have their problem resolved. Social media is a great tool for companies to create loyal fans and to make positive product and service changes! When a company ignores consumer feedback, or deletes negative comments, it is telling end-users that it doesn't care about their issues. It gets even worse when a company deletes comments or commits any other mistake, and then lies about it.
Gallegos: Failing at execution. This means poor communication or bad technology implementation that falls flat. Social media is a unique animal: Just as a phone conversation carries a separate set of mores than email, so do individual social networks. Putting an untrained person on the front line to represent the brand and communicate directly with its audience is risky and ineffective. A common practice is to throw social media to an administrator or intern who happens to know how to use Facebook. If they don't happen to know Facebook for business or marketing, it's a recipe for disaster. Have a social strategy paired with the right technology and the right people to carry it out.
If there were only one thing you would recommend a brand do with social media, what would it be?
Mitchell: Listen to customers and incorporate feedback into both your products and your communications. Brands can do this even if they don't create a public-facing social media strategy.
Gallegos: With listening being a given, one thing every single marketer can do right now without even having to participate in social media is to create good content and make it easy to share.
What advice would you give to a company hiring a social media pro?
Mitchell: A social media strategist is definitely a senior role. Whomever you hire should be passionate about social media personally and have traditional public relations or marketing roots professionally. This should be a person you trust communicating the brand's messaging and values. Your social media strategist should think strategically, know how to integrate PR and digital into campaigns, and have the ability to build and manage teams.
If you hire someone junior, make sure that they are personally passionate about social media, are excited about learning, and are supervised by someone with extensive marketing or PR experience.
Gallegos: Like any other job, hire for experience. Unlike any other job, hire for savvy. A legit social media pro is technology savvy, a good communicator, and understands the medium personally as well as how to use it for business. I do not tend to hire companies with horrible websites because it shows lacks of credibility, and social networking is no different. If the individual or company you're considering has a poor social media presence, it's a red flag you've been caught in the wave of self-proclaimed experts. Recently I've seen instances of companies hiring social media candidates based on their Klout score. I don't know if I'd take it that far, but it's a trend to watch. Another trend -- companies are cropping up who specialize specifically in social marketing. With this specialization they can act as an outsourced department or help companies hire the right "social" talent because they're so well networked.
How has social media changed your industry?
Mitchell: I don't think social media has changed the public relations industry. Instead, I think social media has reminded us what our work used to be about. Social media has forced us to go back to the old ways (with a new twist, of course), and this is good. Before there were fax machines, public relations pros would pick up the phone, take clients to lunch, and get to know reporters on a personal level. It was about networking and relationships. A few years into my career, PR became a numbers game for a good part of the industry: "Send X number of pre-drafted emails using Y automated software system and get Z number of stories published on average." If I were a reporter, that method would have annoyed the heck out of me, too. From a reporter's perspective, more emails aren't better -- more relevant, targeted, and personalized emails are better. I feel the same way about coverage as a PR person. Success shouldn't be about tallying often-irrelevant clips; success should be about landing great articles that a lot of people read.
Gallegos: Whatever industry you're in, consider it changed. The way business was done in the past has evolved. If a company is puttering along doing the same things the same way, year after year, it's in big trouble. In advertising, this means that an ad isn't good enough anymore: Providing an "experience" is today's advertisement. As a result, marketing plans are becoming more integrative. And in an agency it has impacted the type of talent we hire. Today's marketing requires a dynamic skill set with staff that is tech savvy, understands the psychology of people -- not only brand guidelines -- and that can execute concepts across multiple brand touch points. These touch points include when a person hears about a product through an ad or social sharing, researches the product via search and ratings/reviews, interacts with the brand through social media, and purchases the product or service either online or in-store. You have to connect the dots by driving innovation, creating brand experiences, and hiring the right talent.
What has your industry done well in social media?
Mitchell: First, I think the PR world admitted they had a problem: Too many spam emails were being sent and too few personalized pitches and stories were being shared. I think in many ways that we got what we deserved from Chris Anderson's blacklist and The Bad Pitch Blogs of the world. But there have always been great PR people even in the worst phases.
I think most PR people today understand that before pitching a journalist or a blogger you should first be familiar with his or her content specialty and have a relevant story to contribute. Bloggers are surprisingly interested in what brands are doing: Sixty five percent of bloggers use social media to follow brands according to Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2011. Custom pitches are well received by relevant bloggers.
The PR industry has evolved to integrate traditional activities with today's online needs including social messaging (bearing in mind the community opinion), relationship building with bloggers, content development, reputation management, and more. In addition, PR pros are also mindful of inbound marketing more than ever before. For example, bloggers that haven't been pitched often approach brands directly. I think the PR industry has done a good job adapting to and leveraging new channels of communication. As individual public relations practitioners, we've done a good job improving public perception of what we do as a whole.
Gallegos: Social media, in its purest form, is about relationship building, providing value, and not being self-promotional. Rainbows and unicorns are nice, but a business exists to sell stuff. Where PR traditionally tends to focus on communication, marketing provides business value through offers and creativity: There is balance in the blending of the two. The advertising industry, or more specifically the digital advertising industry, has turned static broadcasting into engagement by leveraging wonderful new tactics like Facebook ads and social media contests, as well as creating displays of brand machismo with Ad Age worthy campaigns. Many of these campaigns have surprised us and stretched our boundaries, to the point that we can't stop talking about them (Old Spice, I will say no more.) Marketers have a unique opportunity to let an audience have fun with the brand. They are typically the risk takers in an organization.
What does the future of social media look like to you?
Mitchell: I think social media will be completely integrated into the overall public relations and marketing efforts of every company. Strategists will still have a place in a communications team, but it will look different than it does today. Social is here to stay.
Gallegos: It has been said that social media has become "business as usual." I think this is the case for a large group of consumers and a small group of high profile brands such as Ford. The majority of marketers have a long road ahead of them. Social media will become just another mode of communication, like email, as it permeates everything people do. Society will also become more open with what it wants to share with the world as it participates in a global economy. And we can't forget our youth. Kids in developed countries are growing up "plugged in" and their generation will bring with it new expectations. Brace yourself, the world is changing fast!