By Darren Gilbert
Essentially, she is asking whether PR is necessary when social media appears to give anyone the chance to share the story. It’s an intriguing question considering the widely held view that with social media, brands are now owned by the consumer and the path between a company and its customer is direct. PR agencies have needed to adapt their approach to business in order to stay relevant in a digital world. Most of them have. With that being said, is the question about whether social media is replacing the need for PR a valid one?
It’s tempting to say that it’s not a valid question but that would be dismissing any possibility, however obscure, that it could be. If you speak to Lange 360 account director, Ella Smook, it really depends. “Of course there are times when it would be absolutely fine for a company to post a notice on a social media platform, but often they are ‘preaching to the choir’ by ‘talking’ to targets who have already ‘liked’ or followed the company or brand.” And then there is the fact that while this ‘posting’ is sharing a story and generating engagement, it isn’t really PR.
Smook continues, “Successful strategic communications ensures that a message does not go out unless it has been interrogated in terms of audience, reach and desired impact.” Social media, as Smook points out, isn’t about simply logging in and posting something. The same can be said for PR – instead of sending out a message and hoping that people listen and react to it, it’s about cultivating “mutually beneficial relationships with information sources” as Schratz says in her article, In Defence of PR
It also leads to the question of whether any ‘posting’ is viewed as credible. “Just because your message is out there, doesn’t mean it is credible,” says Smook. “Just because you have a thousand employees representing your brand on social media doesn’t mean your brand is well represented.” The opposite could be true. As she continues, social media networks can be brutal places. One only has to look at the past mistakes on Twitter
by Durex and more recently, the SA Presidency. Such examples point clearly to the fact that social media won’t replace the need for PR. In fact, it might be even more important to use PR than before.
BlissPR managing director, Elizabeth Sosnow thinks the same. “There are lots of people who want a slice of the social media pie. PR leaders are being asked to defend their marketing credentials to folks who may not even understand what public relations professionals do each day.” She goes on to say that while those in sales, advertising, customer service and HR want control, they are not as well equipped to head the effort as someone within PR. Sosnow also has a list
of reasons why PR needs to lead social media efforts.
For Smook, one of the main reasons is that PR professionals know what they are doing. “We know how to spot and vanquish the spin which brands would often like to share, but which could in fact open them up to negative responses.” While social media is a different media channel and it needs to be approached as such, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy or simple or that anyone can do it. “Each message [still] needs to be approached … as professionally as a full-on press statement.”
In a world where social media has redefined the way companies do business, PR is still certainly needed. “To think it’s only a question of ‘logging on and posting’ can turn into a very expensive mistake, and can undo the gains of years of brand building, concludes Smook.
What do you think? Is social media replacing the need for PR?