Is Social Media Beyond A Public Relations Professional’s Skill Set?

Posted on October 21, 2009

Who You Gonna Call?

Who You Gonna Call?

Is Social Media Beyond A Public Relations Professional’s Skill Set?

By Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology)

Howard Sewell is hardcore. He knows demand generation and lead management like nobody’s business. What I find amazing about him, and why I have hired and recommended him, is that the latest shiny object never distracts him. While other marketers are casting about for some questionable flash in the pan strategy with a cool buzzwordy name, Howard is laser focused on getting results, and knows what works to connect businesses directly with their target markets.

Which is why I was cheesed-off at Howard when he posted “Is Social Media Wasted on PR Agencies?” on his blog. Having a background working in PR, worked at an agency, and now fully engaged in social media, I felt a bit defensive when I read that headline.

Then I read the post. I could not have agreed more with his insight. He was right again.

Luke Warm Social Media Goals

He relates that a client shared with him a social media plan developed by their public relations agency. Their goals were:

  • Increase awareness amongst bloggers, influencers and prospects
  • Enhance company’s image by delivering insight to key online communities
  • Promote company’s approach to their technology and product category

Not terribly visionary, but the stated goals would look okay on any traditional PR plan, but this was for social media. In this environment the goals were seriously wanting.

Howard took the PR agency that wrote them to task and noted what achievable social media goals were missing.

  • Drive search-generated traffic and net new sales leads
  • Use targeted, insightful content to attract and engage with qualified prospects
  • Expand company’s leads database and community of followers
  • Educate, cultivate, and nurture existing customers and prospects

The thing that strikes me about Howard’s goals is that most of them should have been in any meaningful PR plan to begin with. The leads capture being the one element that would be problematic in many cases for PR, but not all. An opt-in component is definitely not a problem with social media.

An Understandable Blind Spot

However, having been a PR practitioner in the past, I do understand why a PR person just getting to know social media might have a limited scope, and why they lack the intuition to embrace the potential of social media. A traditional PR agency is not familiar with developing leads as a direct responsibility, and this creates a blind spot for them.

I think PR’s traditional foundation and dynamic is what has put blinders on some very smart PR folks, like in the case with Howard’s client. When working with editors you have to walk the fine line between helping them develop an interesting, but balanced story while getting your client’s message through. There is no delusion by the editor about the PR pro’s motivation, but there is no quicker way to turn an interested editor cold than sound too self-promotional.

This sensitivity is a healthy talent for the PR professional, but an over sensitivity, or disregard for lead generation, is a significant obstacle when working closer to the customer as in social media. When a potential customers raise their hand to your product they are asking to engage. (I hope it goes without saying, he said, that a company’s response must be appropriate, respectful, and welcomed by the recipient.)

An Easy Fix For PR Pros And Agencies

Some Of The Best Social Media People I Know Are Current Or Former PR Pros.

Yes, that statement is self-serving. However, myself aside, I’ have in mind a whole army of stellar social media professionals I know who have easily made the transformation to next generation communications practitioner.

The key, assuming that you are already deeply engaged with social media, is to ask what strategy you would use to achieve Howard’s suggested goals. If you are unsure how to do this, I would start with Howard’s blog and the resources  his website. He shares a ton of information on there. Also, I would create a Google Alert and BlogPulse search on the search string: “Demand Generation” OR “Lead Generation” OR “Direct Marketing”

If you are seeking a PR agency’s paid advice on social media, I would turn Howard’s goals into questions and ask how they would achieve those goals. Also, I want to see their track record. Many have some background. Surprisingly, most are just now starting to take social media seriously.

I think the best way to evaluate them is to ask how they are going to measure your stated goals. If they suggest vague or unquantifiable metrics, I would look for advice elsewhere. They just don’t get social media’s potential.

Dave Fleet has a post that readers might find helpful: 8 Questions to Ask Your “Social Media Expert”.