Social media battlefield: Marketing versus PR

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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.

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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.



John McCory
John McCory January 5, 2012 at 5:24 PM

Like the Blind Men and the Elephant, perception of Social Media's value is in the eye of the beholder.
Let's not forget the Customer Service Elephant in the room also.

Soubhik M
Soubhik M January 5, 2012 at 10:41 AM

PR vs Brand debate, vis a vis control of social media footprints, is a tricky one! While the communication going out needs to be chiseled by seasonal communication experts, answering questions about working of a product [in say a niche market like engineering products] need to be answered by a subject matter expert! The presence of people who know what they're talking about, as well as, what needs to be said is what it is all about. Maintaining this balance on a host of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, ApnaCircle, LinkedIn etc is the 'ideal' scenario.


Augustine Joseph
Augustine Joseph January 5, 2012 at 4:21 AM

Wow........ a nice battle has begin ....... I think social media should be used correctly by both PR & Marketing..... only then it will be a healthy battle........

Bensie Dorien,,

Laurel Papworth
Laurel Papworth January 5, 2012 at 3:44 AM

Neither - in 20 years of virtual community management, I've never yet met a marketer or PR person who "got" social networking. I've always worked for Customer Service. Customers don't know and don't care what PR OR Marketing do. They just want to talk to the person who can talk to them one-on-one, personal service. Marketing and PR do broadcast, one-to-many communications and should stay well away from anything social until they figure out that "engagement" doesn't mean "talking up our campaigns". In other words, imagine a customer physically walking into the marketing department, the PR department or the customer service department - which one do you think will be "most engaged" with him or her?
Please take with a sack of salt :)