Social Media and PR: Are the “blurred lines” an opportunity or a threat?

Sarah Thomas posted today on the Wallblog about the blurring lines between social media and PR.  She’s right in raising the fact that this is creating a tangible shift in the PR industry, which can present either a huge threat or a massive opportunity, depending on how you look at it.

I’ve weighed in with my view, excerpt here:

It’s a given that now PR agencies should now be equipped to embrace social media as a channel, for the good of their clients – but by equipped, I don’t mean simply a team who know lots about Facebook. I mean that they should demonstrate an all-encompassing understanding of not just how social media works (in conjunction with and in relation to other channels) but also what it means to the business world. It’s about having a social mindset: understanding what a social consumer wants, does, needs and how that impacts the world, then applying that in the most meaningful and effective way possible.

Sadly that’s not always the case now, hence the huge opportunity for social media pure play agencies, social media consultants and specialists. Perhaps the old style of marketing of the last 20 years was too hung up about individual channels – social media is certainly forcing us to re-examine that. Hence the blurry boundaries between PR and social media, social media and advertising, advertising and entertainment… A channel does not look quite like the channels we learned about at CIM any more.

So in general, PR agencies need to up their game – or partner seamlessly with those who have that specialism – but either way, they need a social mindset, to be of strategic value to their clients and to hold their own against growing competition elsewhere.

Read more:

What do you think?  Can PR handle the task of social media adequately? Or only a part of it? Should PR agencies even get involved?  And in terms of cutting the pie, who’s best placed to manage what (when you think about SM pure play agencies, social PR agencies, digital comms etc)? What is the agency of the future like?

Kate Spiers is director at Wisdom London, an integrated communications agency with a pragmatic approach to social media. Also a great believer in the social mindset.

If you’d like to talk more about the social mindset, or how social media is best integrated into your communications planning, get in touch here!


8 Responses to “Social Media and PR: Are the “blurred lines” an opportunity or a threat?”

  1. Marti Konstant Says:

    Good PR professionals understand the magic role of content. Content is the currency of social media, including repurposing of content, retweeting, etc. PR professionals are uniquely qualified to optimize the channels. There is a blurring of talents in the marketing realm – the reality is that all types of marketers are becoming experts in social media. What I have discovered is that a good PR person is ususally a talented writer and idea person for content. The real question is what type of PR firm do you work with – practitioners or idea people. I choose idea people every time. It is then incumbent upon me and my corporate marketing department to help deploy the program.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kate Spiers, marti konstant, book fair vans, Sarah Goodall, Kate Spiers and others. Kate Spiers said: Social Media and PR: Are the "blurred lines" an opportunity or a threat?: […]

  3. This is a timely topic and a thought provoking post.

    Too often I come across PR agencies who claim to ‘do’ social media, and in actual fact this tends to manifest itself as sporadically manning a Facebook page and sending a standard (i.e. offline) press release to bloggers or journalists via Twitter. Which inevitably, is not well received, rightly being perceived as laziness.

    Theoretically, the social mindset is synonymous with PR, it’s just about translating those principles employed offline to such that they work online. In my experience, what holds people back is their inability to move away from the predetermined silos. As you say, the CIM effect.

    Ultimately, the agency of the future for me, is the ideas agency (as Marti says), that is where agencies add real value, insight and strategic direction. I’m less concerned about whether you call yourself a PR agency, a social media agency or a digital agency, in actual fact I question whether agencies confined to a particular expertise are viable. When media and messages are increasingly more fragmented, I fear this boxes off our communications and engagement even further.

    The PR agencies don’t have a choice, to continue to be relevant they must handle social media effectively.

    • Laura your final point about the agency if the future is closely aligned with my view (and better articulated!) – first of all, to embrace social as a set of technologies and a way of being is to accept that it has a strategic role in an organisation. The problem is, however, that PR has for too long been viewed as tactical – it can hard as a PR practitioner to bridge that gap and move the agenda further up the strategic pipe.

      This, for me, strengthens the view that, no matter how a PR agency defines itself, at its core should be a social mindset, an understanding of the way we now communicate and how that affects our expectations and behaviours (as businesspeople, consumers and citizens) and this how to apply this to the core discipline (ie PR). We’re not there yet – very few are – but it most certainly represents an opportunity to add value in a more meaningful, strategic and insightful way.

      Thanks for commenting. Hope we’ll have a chance to discuss IRL one day! 🙂

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, Kate. The points you make are very relevant to businesses universally; social isn’t just a thing that you ‘do’ like marketing days of yore. Press campaign, outdoor ads, radio and so on. It’s a culture shift, and whether you’re agency or client side, your business will suffer if you can’t/won’t make that leap…of faith in many cases. But that is worthy of another post in itself!

    Up until now, agencies could operate in isolation of other disciplines. As a client it’s not unusual to be managing several different agencies. Social changes everything, if you’ll pardon the obvious statement, it makes everything more social! In my opinion you simply cannot effectively plan any communications without social being at the heart of what you do. I think any credible PR professional can add genuine value in social media, but the thinking needs to be broader, away from the detail of the tactical, more holistic, putting people at the centre of everything. A psychology qualification is not going to do anyone any harm. It is certainly an interesting time to be in the industry!

    I’ve heard of real life, it would be a joy to cross paths in it! 🙂

  5. I thought of many ways, (and even spent time drafting them), to phrase my comments on this subject but simply put:
    PR is a monologue whereas, at least as far as I’m concerned, ‘Social’ should be, (authentic), dialogue. The mindset of these two processes are polar opposite and in truth I feel that the industrial mindset of PR will struggle to adapt and evolve fast enough to a landscape that has already changed.
    PR is information based whereas ‘Social’ has moved into the knowledge arena.

    • It’s an interesting take. I view PR as being a relationships business too…thus a dialogue. That said, I think that there is a distinct PR mindset (also pointed out by Laura in earlier comments) that is struggling to adapt. But given the existing discipline and industry traction, if this social evolution can take place, surely PR agencies getting it right could find themselves in a very strong position to add strategic value? More, dare I say it, than pure play social agencies?

  6. Marti Konstant Says:

    Social media tactics cut across all marketing initiatives, and thus the thought of a pure play social agency is opportunistic; a play for trend optimizers rather than communication strategists. Excellent communicators and smart communication strategists will win. Some PR groups will be great at social media programs, but not all PR teams. As Musicologist indicates, some PR groups still think that communication is a monologue and is about getting the message out in a controlled way; they are not rapid response motivated.

    In other cases interactive agencies are clever commuincators in the social realm. And some independent marketing or PR consultants will deliver value. Yes, this is a great opportunity for PR professionals – it is in their DNA. But I would also argue that excellent communicators work in all areas of PR and Marketing.

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