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It’s Time to End the Social Media Ownership Battles

Once again, public relations professionals are seeing another example of what goes around comes around. More than a decade ago, a battle raged over who “controlled” an organization’s Web presence

Today, the turf in question is social media. Advertising. Marketing. Public relations. We all work in communications disciplines and, accordingly, we each are seeking to lay claim to the new promised land of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media.

Unlike the question of ownership over the wild, wild west of the WWW and, perhaps, the result of past sibling rivalry, greater thought is being given to the social media space. eMarketer added clarity to this growing debate when it reported on a recent study conducted by the Transworld Advertising Agency Network and Worldcom Public Relations Group that surveyed the principals of 25 ad agencies and 25 PR shops on which discipline was best equipped to harness the opportunities and power of social media.

The findings? Principals from both the paid and earned side of communications believe that PR is more effective when it comes to strategically applying social media. A significant majority of respondents — 84 percent of public relations agency principals and 67 percent of ad agency leaders — said that public relations brings innovation to social media, keeping the medium in pace with the times.

This keenly contrasts with responses of the same two groups as to the role of advertising in setting social media trends, with 68 percent of public relations leaders and 52 percent of ad agency principals saying the same about leadership of the advertising industry in social media — an average of 15.5 percentage points lower among the two professions.

On the surface, this could be readily dismissed as another random block of professional opinion from two different communications camps, with the findings not presenting much of a surprise. However, the findings of the study speak volumes to the core of public relations’ value.

Beyond typical, esoteric discussions of the technical and logistical aspects of various social-media platforms, the real essence of public relations leadership in social media strategy and tactics comes from the very nature of social media … and, our profession. At the end of the day, social media is about creating and sustaining conversations; likely, one of the most significant features of public relations.

While much of our daily focus as public relations professionals is on developing strategies, implementing programs and creating content that compel people and organizations to a particular outcome or behavior, we really are about nurturing and advancing communities centered on common opportunities or challenges. We translate and convey business or organizational decisions into relevant information for key audiences and, in turn, gather and interpret audience interests back to the leaders with whom we work. In the process, we facilitate conversations — both literal and virtual — among people and groups to enhance common good.

Public relations has its roots in building consensus, operating in two-way communications modes, rather than in a one-way broadcast fashion.

Rather than spend time moaning or gloating over the role various respective communications disciplines have in shaping and guiding social media within our larger worlds, this is a good time for the various communications professions represented in employer or client settings to collaborate and integrate message strategy to accomplish the results that are needed in challenging socioeconomic times.

That’s what our employers, colleagues and clients need and, selfishly, it’s what ensures public relations’ enduring value to the business community.

About the author

Blake Lewis, APR, Fellow PRSA


  • seriously.. what does PR know about search? nothing.. an SEO must be involved in Social Media.. yes PR sets tone.. message.. advertising agency does collateral, but SEO/Social Media speciailists know what all the implications.. PR agencies don’t. Yes I worked at one for 6 years.

  • I enjoyed reading your article.
    ·         My friend works for a leading UK retailer and yes they use social media extremely well as a marketing tool. They also use it as a recruitment tool. Not content with the interview, team building exercise and presentation processes they view the candidate’s social media profiles prior to making their final decision. They have said since using this indicator both their labour turnover and absence stats have dramatically improved.

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