Why PR Firms Should Be The Ones To Handle Social Media

PRWeek Recent Posted An Article Entitled “Report: Social Media Falls Mostly To PR” – You Need a Subscription to Read It…Sorta, A Quick Google Search Will Get You The Article For Free, But For You Lazy Folks, I’ve Included It Below (I Don’t Subscribe Either, Don’t Worry)

Anyway, It’s a great read and something I discussed in a recent post of mine on the topic of People Relations

Here are my Top Reasons Why PR Firms Should Be The Ones To Handle Social Media

1. PR has always been about communicating. That’s been accomplished through traditional media, through events and stunts. Social media is all about communication and conversation – exactly what PR people have been doing all along. Social Platforms are just another means for PR professionals to do the job they’re best at.

2. Look at the alternative – advertising, marketing, sales – people don’t want their social spaces invaded by brands trying to sell them products. If a brand is going to be active on sites like Twitter – it can’t be about marketing or advertising, it has to be about initiating or participating in a conversation and providing new information – adding value – to interested parties – again, something PR has been doing via traditional media outlets all along.

3. Traditional Media Relations – Despite what people are saying, print and broadcast are still far from dead. Many journalists and media outlets have taken to using Twitter and social media as a way to promote their content – turning these sites into glorified News Channels – the environment PR professional are more familiar with than their counterparts at Marketing or Advertising agencies.

4. Blogger Relations – Reaching out to bloggers is an integral part of any modern PR and Media Relations Strategy. These are the individuals most active in the social space and forming relationships with them is no different than building one with an editor or reporter at a newspaper. There are trendsetters and influencers who impact what content will circulate in these social channels. Identifying these individuals and cultivating relationships with them; understanding their interests and providing them with information to share; this is where PR professional excel and have the most experience.

And For Those Of You Without a PRWeek Subscription, Here’s The Article:

Report: Social media falls mostly to PR

Kimberly Maul

August 11, 2009

LOS ANGELES: PR leads digital communications at 51% of organizations, while marketing leads 40.5% of the time, according to the 2009 Digital Readiness Report from iPressroom, Korn/Ferry International, and PRSA.

The study found that PR generally leads several aspects of digital communications, including blogging, where PR leads at 49% of organizations, compared to 22% for marketing. PR also leads microblogging (52% to marketing’s 22%), and social networking (48% to 27%). Marketing usually leads e-mail marketing and SEO aspects of digital communications.

“Social media puts the consumer in control, and PR professionals have always interacted with customers who are in control, also managing the brand reputation and relationship with them,” said Barbara McDonald, VP of marketing for PRSA. “It really is almost a no-brainer that PR would be taking the lead in the social media environment.”

Several industry professionals commented to PRWeek separately that they have seen these findings play out within their work.

“The findings are in line with not only what we expect, but what we’re experiencing,” said Corey duBrowa, president of account services for Waggener Edstrom. “Our industry is utilizing, and in some ways even pioneering the use of, these tools.”

“The way we look at it, social media is a subset of word-of-mouth in many ways, so for us, it’s a natural extension of some of the things we’re already doing on the PR side,” said Greg Zimprich, director of brand PR for General Mills. But, he added, the company works to teach the entire company best practices and benchmarking, saying, “We see social media as a competency that really will reach across the organization.”

Jonathan Kopp, the global director of Ketchum Digital, suggested that PR will continue to lead the way in digital, because “the speed of engagement is changing in the digital space and PR moves faster than advertising and marketing, so it gives them an opportunity.”

He also explained that PR agencies are working with clients to set up social media policies, train employees in social media, and create social media divisions within organizations, cementing their position as digital leaders.

The report also found that social networking skills are increasingly important for PR job candidates. Eighty percent of respondents said knowledge of social networking is either important or very important for a job candidate, compared to 82% saying traditional media relations was important or very important.

The 2009 Digital Readiness Report surveyed 278 PR, marketing, and HR professionals over six weeks in this past spring.

So What Do You Think? Who Should Handle Social Media for Brands? PR Pros? Marketers? Ad Shops? All of the Above? Specialized Social Media Agencies?

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  1. Heather Dueitt says:

    Amazing points David. Keep up the thoughtful posts.

  2. This is a great discussion that every PR company needs to have.

    In the PR world, we are used to having our messages filtered by the media. With social media, we remove the filter to a large extent. However, unlike a magazine ad or a radio spot, I don’t think the general public sees social media as being direct messaging to the same degree. If an “outlet” is perceived as being credible by it’s readers, doesn’t that give it credibility?

    In some ways, adding social media to a integrated marketing campaign is like handing a PR pro the keys to the kingdom!

  3. If we do our jobs right? Social media will no longer exist. It will simply be known as PR (and live within that category). The concept of social media belongs to outreach, engagement and corporate communications strategy.

    The tactical parts? Can be handled by customer service/community managers. The overarching control should go to PR though.

    • Aerocles says:

      Agreed. The Decisions and Strategy Needs to be outlined by the PR Team, The Execution – Customer Service, Tech Support, Promotions, Those are the things that can be handled internally.

  4. Amanda says:

    This has certainly been a hot button topic as of late. 🙂 I agree that PR should lead social media for countless reasons, but still believe it’s important to point out that we shouldn’t necessarily do it alone (from an agency perspective). Social media, in my opinion, should be an integrated effort managed by PR, not solely handled by PR. After all, yes PR is best equipped to lead these initiatives given our skill set in CRM, media relations, issues management, crisis (hopefully you don’t have to put those skills to use in social media, but still), ability to easily interact with people and relate to others, among other reasons. But I also believe that while PR should be in front, we should still seek input from creative, interactive and other departments to help convey the brand visually and functionally. Interaction and messaging, of course, are handled by PR.

    So yes, PR leads “the conversation” but we bring the rest of the shop along for the ride as well.

    And I agree with some of what Stuart conveyed above, what about changing the term “social media?” 😉 But that could be its own debate.

  5. I have to agree with Stuart on this one. While PR is most likely best suited to handle the overarching control of a social media strategy for a brand or organization, coming from working in an corporate PR setting, one has to remember that within a company, things are much different than within a PR agency. Control of information, of tactics, strategies, campaigns, etc., is very tightly held, and frankly, I don’t blame companies for not wanting to let go of that control. After all, they know their business, their industry and their target audience best, so to them, controlling how those interactions take place, where they take place, when and the tone is a big issue.

    David, you bring up a really good point that people don’t want their social spaces invaded by brands trying to sell them products. But at the same time, do people want their social spaces invaded by a PR or social media agency trying to act on behalf of a company? I’m not so sure. See, that is far different than a PR agency setting up an interview with a blogger for a client. There, the client is still speaking on his or her own behalf – the agency certainly has influence in developing the idea for the piece and how it is frame, but still, the client is the one doing the talking. Same thing for social media. People in the world of social media want genuine, true interaction and engagement with brands and companies.

    While PR should certainly counsel clients on the strategy behind their social media efforts, the tactical nature of making everything work and be successful and then the measurement of those successes, I really don’t think PR should be handling every aspect of social media for a client. Again, we are merely a conduit between a brand and its target audience/constituents.

    Keith Trivitt (@KeithTrivitt)

  6. Len Kendall says:

    Among agencies I do believe that PR has a major advantage in the social space. That being said, I think ultimately the brand needs to lead efforts while getting support from the agency in terms of metrics, strategy, and supporting media.

  7. @jeffscott says:

    great stuff all around – thanks so much!

    @KeithTrivitt and others make the very real point that social media may be seen as the beginning of the end of control for some organizations. with the principles of transparency and honesty at the core of social media, the question of how to help clients be authentic begs the question of training: if key individuals are trained to use social media well, shouldn’t they be able to handle the basics themselves? in my fantasy world, agencies would remain relevant beyond training for issues of strategy and execution for larger projects, but the fear – on one side of losing control and on the other of losing business – seems something of a red herring to me.


  8. It should always be the same people that handle marketing because that is all that Social Media is. It is not some mystical magical thing that needs special handling. Granted you need someone who understands the landscape – but that is no different than any other medium.

    If the PR area handles the marketing then by means – jump on the SM also.

  9. […] 12, 2009 at 10:57 am · Filed under Uncategorized Here’s another perspective on disciplinary responsibility for social media (via @TDefren via @Aerocles on Twitter).  There’s a four-point argument for social media […]

  10. I blogged about this awhile ago – and I’m in the mindset that Social Media should fall to the person that understands your brand the best. Might not be your PR person. Should it? Yes. But if I don’t understand the brand and how to engage, I shouldn’t touch SM channels. I’m with Stu on this one – SM will cease to exist and be called PR. SM strategists aren’t always PR people.

  11. Aaron says:

    I think Stuart Foster’s comment sums this up pretty well, as far as outreach, campaign, communications, and interaction go. The monitoring side is missing, though, and (though I’m biased for sure) I think PR is to outreach as market research is to monitoring.

    Both PR and MR should be part of a well-rounded marketing strategy.

  12. interesting post, thanks

  13. Aerocles says:

    Wow…Amazing Comments. I definitely with most of you – stuart, lauren, keith, that the term social media may eventually cease to exist and be fully integrated into PR, but I also foresee another possible future – An integrated Social Media Agency. Meaning, an agency with PR, Marketing, Advertising, Web & Graphic Designers, all working together, in the same shop.

  14. Joe Vasquez says:

    succinct is a word to describe this post. i like posts that are short & sweet. you captured everything you have to say in four points. i just hope PRWeek doesn’t send you an invoice. 🙂

  15. Marcie Casas says:

    Echoing what is already being said. Much as I would love to say PR should own it – Social Media should be an integrated effort within an agency with PR, Creative, and Marketing all having a seat at the table. It should be a part of a bigger strategy.

    BUT – PR naturally should take a lead in the areas (blogger relations; traditional media now online) that align with the skills we pros already have. This is especially true when it comes to online crisis communications.


  16. Danny Brown says:

    I’d say it should be part of your Communications Team. Have a cross-section of marketing, PR, advertising, legal, customer relations, etc, and work to the best approach for a particular strategy or campaign. PR isn’t always the best to handle something, just like marketing isn’t, just like customer relations isn’t. Set yourself up to be adaptable and not hemmed in by one facet of your company or brand, and communicate that way.

  17. Kate Ottavio says:

    Social Media has created a beautiful avenue for companies to directly interact with clients. As a Toyota owner, if I post on Twitter that I’m angry I was charged $200 at the dealership for a serpentine belt, and I get a response from their PR person (or marketing, sales, or ads)…I’ll get even angrier. I do not need a rehearsed message point served to me.

    Let us train, inform, educate our clients about social media, set up what would be best for them (Twitter account, blog, etc.) and slowly release the grip to where they can handle it themselves. I’ll point out Keith’s thoughts: “While PR should certainly counsel clients on the strategy behind their social media efforts, the tactical nature of making everything work and be successful and then the measurement of those successes, I really don’t think PR should be handling every aspect of social media for a client.” And Lauren’s: “Social Media should fall to the person that understands your brand the best.” Lauren

    My chief reason for believing PR pros should not be the ones to handle social media is less concrete…more of an emotion or belief. I’m such an advocate for organic Tweeting. I have actually declined a client’s request to ghost tweet for them because of the belief tweets should come directly from the company, from someone with real company and product knowledge. Call me transparent.

    Great discussion here. Thanks for the blog post!

  18. I agree with most of the comments above. While PR may play an instrumental role in social media, execution cannot be ‘owned’ by any one group – it needs to be a team effort backed by seamless collaboration and communication.

    After my recent experience working on large-scale SM initiative, I saw firsthand how well teams of people can (and must) come together to drive a campaign through to completion. While members of the team each took responsibility for areas that were traditionally in their realm (e.g. branding, web design, legal, etc), PR was there to support the initiative by reaching out to MSM to drive traditional coverage around the campaign as well as to engage with bloggers and SM influencers. But the work being done on the PR end, wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for all the other elements that other folks put in place.

  19. I’m sorry, but I feel that this post is incredibly shortsighted. There was social media and social media campaigns before PR firms figured it out late last year. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the post entirely, dealing in absolutes (i.e. PR and no one else) is the quickest way to get people to tune out your message.

    Secondly, using PRWeek’s percentages from a study sponsored by PRSA is dubious at best and irresponsible at worst. Even all of the quotes were from PR people, not one non-PR person was even interviewed.

    Finally, as I said in my tweets, the goals (and how you track those goals) should determine what departments drive your efforts. For example, if I am trying to utilize social media to help with a reputation management issue within Google SERPs (which is just as valid as any goal), why on earth would I contact my PR team first?

    If this comes across as overly harsh, I apologize. As someone who went to school for PR and was a practitioner for some time before moving into more online marketing endeavors, it’s a little embarrassing to see some PR practitioners subscribing to this theory.

    I guess we agree to disagree.

    • Paul says:

      @Dominic, you’ve also captured my reaction very well.

      I think I could pick a random department and construct an equally spurious argument for why that department should be the one to handle social media.

      It is a little disgusting to see everyone jostling for “control”, a bit like a bunch of 3 year olds fighting over a new toy at kindergarden. Especially when you consider that the idea of central control is antithetical to what many believe is the essence of the new media.

      i.e. if you argue you should be in control of it, you clearly don’t get it, therefore you are not qualified to control it;-)

      A more mature approach is to recognise that social media is necessarily a “whole-of-company” affair (or it will fail), and thus it falls on everyone to consider what they can bring to the table and the most appropriate role for them to play.

      Not just PR, not just Marketing.

      In fact, if the PRWeek stats can be believed, it is a little scary that over 91% of “digital communications” are lead by PR or Marketing.

      That stat strikes me as only good in an “old media” sense: when the majority of communications are with media outlets, partner/alliance networks, and industry forums.

      However with new media, you are just as likely to be talking to – well, someone like me. If I’m into what your company sells, I would like to engage with the real people clustered around the product: other customers and users, the engineers, support staff, even sales/presales (if they know their stuff). I do not look forward to PR or Marketing inserting themselves in my conversations, or lording over 91% of my “digital communications”.

      PR or Marketing professionals are generally blessed with great communication and persuasion skills. This is a double-edged sword. Be careful what you wish (or argue) for:

      You could probably convince your CEO that PR should “lead”. But is it the right role? It makes sense with old media (who else wants to deal with them?!), but question whether the right role for social media is actually more one of strategic advice, planning and enablement.

      You could probably forcibly insert yourself into all your company’s digital communications. Again, is that right? If you are talking to old media outlets, sure. But social media? Does Jane, the new proud owner of an Acme 2000 really want to engage with PR? Or does she want to connect with other proud owners, and build up some friendships with helpful people (incl Acme employees who are product experts paid to support or evangelise).

  20. Glad to hear the study has kicked off a lively discussion. If you’d like actually read our findings, instead of relying on the overview in the PR Week story, you can access it here:


  21. […] Why PR Pros Should Be The Ones To Handle Social Media « Legends of … […]

  22. Ellen Rossano says:

    Hi David,

    Great post! After reading through the comments, I think there is a piece missing – who is the designated “listener?” It may be the PR firm or it may be the company, but that needs to be determined as the campaign in planned.

    Social media platforms are great new tools in the over-all strategy, but if companies/PR firms are going to be fully invested in them, they need to put a concerted effort into monitoring the conversation and responding to the community. This is true for the positive comments as well as any negative ones, and it has to be done in live time – you can’t check Twitter once a week and expect to be relevant.

    I heard a story at Pod Camp Boston (#pcb4) about a consultant presenting a proposal to add a social media component to traditional marketing/PR. The company wasn’t really getting it, so he showed them what their #1 competitor was doing in SM – basically leaving the skeptical company in the dust! (hope he gets the contract!!:))

    Social Media platforms are tools that can be intergrated into an overall PR/marketing strategies depending on the goals and objectives organizations are attempting to achieve. PR pros will know whether these tools are the best ones to use and will know how to guide the client in using these tools to their best advantage.

  23. […] 13 by Lauren Fernandez Ever since I posted about it a few months ago and my good friend David posted about it yesterday, I’ve been thinking: I really don’t know if PR agencies should be executing […]

  24. Should PR Pros be the ones to handle social media? Yes. Is social media the exclusive domain of the PR pro, or should it be? No.

    I do not think it is required that an outside firm handles social media initiatives; not all companies can afford both, often have to staff things out to get the job done. What matters is that right professionals are doing the job, developing the strategies, working with leadership to deliver brand messages be they internal employees or part of an outside team.

    Yet I agree with Dominic and Paul that SM is not the sole province of the PR either. That stance seems a little contradictory with the whole “transparency” mantra: if all the strategy and tactical development and messaging was developed by a PR Pro and SM training, is it really genuine communication on the part of the company exec or employee who just blogs what the PR manager told or trained them to?

    You’re right: “PR has always been about communicating,” so yes SM is for the PR Pro, but we should share with the other kids.

  25. Lloyd Gofton says:

    Thanks for pointing me towards this article David,

    As i’m based in the UK i wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. My main problem with this type of article, based on research though it maybe, is it’s missing the point. Trying to position PR as the lead in social media, or owning social media is simply not relevant. Sure, PRs have some very relevant skills that must be part of a social media campaign to be a success, and David overviews some of these in his post, but are we really that arrogant to think these skills can’t be passed on or learnt by marketing communications/digital marketing professionals with other specialisms?

    My argument is that no one sector can own social media, and trying to do so really is a pointless exercise. The smart people/agencies/brands are learning a blend of skills – PR, content development, search, creative and a whole host of digital marketing skills – that allow them to be more useful and relevant in a social media environment.

    I’ve written a post on the issue here: http://www.liberatemedia.com/blog/who-owns-social-mediawho-cares/

  26. Steve Wright says:

    Great points all (esp @keithtrivitt). I run the Marketing and Sales Dept at a Ski Resort here in Vermont and sm is a big element of our overall brand strategy. I manage the voice across sm and have several others, from several other Departments, that participate as well. I think that, while it’s important to have a consistent tone across multiple voice-channels, letting your staff breathe life into our brand through these networks is a more authentic approach to communicating than having PR run everything through the same lens. That being said, if your PR pro (or Agency) understands the brand in a complete fashion, they should have a voice across the platform, somewhere, as well. Someone mentioned that, if PR is doing its job, Social Media will cease to be relevant (most likely I’m poorly paraphrasing here). I think just the opposite may be true. Once Social Media becomes a more widespread element of the overall Marketing fabric, the notion of PR will be integrated into anyone that uses the channel to represent the brand.

    Thanks for the thoughtful conversation.


  27. The fact of the matter is that PR is about relationships. This is a new way to create, develop, and foster relationships. The people that push Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or YouTube as social media (instead of the tools) are the ones that won’t be successful using the new medium.

    Social media is about relationships and using the available technology to make that more efficient and more personal. This is the crux of PR…and always has been. It’s time for professionals in our field to figure this out…and quickly!

  28. […] a blog post last week, David Teicher (@Aerocles) presented his opinions on a report released by Eric Schwartzman’s ipressroom titled, 2009 Digital Readiness Report:  […]

  29. […] blog post by one PR professional also provides rationale why PR is ideally positioned to drive social media marketing. Others, […]

  30. […] is why some of the best in the business come out of the public relations world, this is why we should be handling social […]

  31. amy trottier says:

    I’m torn on this one. Initially pr people (and I am one) should initiate the social media policy, train staff and implement a strategy, but I don’t think they should control the flow of information and ideas. I think the best part about social media is its unfiltered quality and that is eaxctly what attracts its users. If you take that quality away, it’s just another PR campaign.

    I’m the social media coordinator for a non-profit arts org. and some of the very best ideas I’ve implemented have come from outside the PR/marketing department. Our organisation has a voice now and that would not have been possible if I had micromanaged the information.

  32. […] since I posted about it a few months ago and my good friend David posted about it yesterday, I’ve been thinking: I really don’t know if PR agencies should be executing social […]

  33. […] media, tone | Subscribe Ever since I posted about it a few months ago and my good friend David posted about it yesterday, I’ve been thinking: I really don’t know if PR agencies should be executing […]

  34. ckarol10 says:

    PR has a natural advantage online. It is all about stratergy and combination of media. THe biggest change is is obviously time. So in this fast environment PR needs to adapt too.


  35. […] Why PR Pros Should Be The Ones to Handle Social Media (Legends of Aerocles) – Aerocles (whoever he is) shares his reasons why PR professionals should handle social media.  It backs up a recent article from PRWeek showcasing a recent report that indicates PR people generally handle digital communications. […]

  36. […] been peripherally aware of the war over which department should be in charge of social media, PR or marketing. And in my naive devil-may-care fashion, I always thought it didn’t […]

  37. […] is why some of the best in the business come out of the public relations world, this is why we should be handling social […]

  38. you have an excellent website!

  39. […] is to engage people in conversation – a key function of social media. Take a look at ‘Legends of Aerocles” (2009) blog post on why PR should handle social media… it’s definitely worth a […]

  40. Althiser says:

    You are definitely accurate with what you said. I cannot agree with you more! Good post!

  41. Thanks for an awsome article. You’re blog really rocks!

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