Who "Owns" Social Media?

The Internet really upended the corporate communications industry. Though PR professionals used to jeer at advertising pros for being message control freaks, and marketers used to impress boardrooms with fancypants charts and graphs and make the creatives and spindoctors look as if they failed high school algebra, at the end of the day, everyone got along. Everyone knew their job.

Now, that once playfully competitive scene is a battle taking place over a new landscape we call social media. Who owns it? Who controls it? Who deserves it? You’ll get a different answer from every industry you ask. After majoring in public relations, studying some marketing, and landing a job with an advertising firm, I’ve gained some insight on this issue.

PR’s role in social media

PR professionals are the mavens of conversation. And conversation is a huge component of social media. Daily monitoring and damage control on social media should fall into the hands of the PR firm or department. Brands without a human element are just slogans, and PR professionals are the best for the job when it comes to humanizing brands in the social space. Some brands are using social media for customer relationship management and customer service. I would argue that those practices, in the social space, are operating under a PR umbrella.

Advertisers’ role in social media

Yeah, yeah, conversation is great, but the best social media case studies are showing that brands need to create something remarkable to justify conversation. No traditional PR firm or marketing guru could have pulled off what advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy did with the Old Spice YouTube responses. That’s because advertising agencies, unlike PR or marketing firms, have the necessary resources to create professional video content on a personalized level, which is what is needed to fuel conversation and record view-counts. Many ad firms are equipped with the physical resources that take social media beyond conversation and metrics. If a brand wants to build something with the foursquare API for example, they will likely turn to their advertising firm of record for the job. Traditionally, PR firms and marketers simply did not have the interactive design or software engineer resources for that kind of endeavor.

Marketers’ role in social media

The most beautiful thing about social media for brands is that it’s very measurable. Facebook pages provide statistics. Google Analytics can show how many site visitors are coming from social media sites. There are a lot of online tools that help measure Twitter activity and, if you haven’t yet, check out Awareness Inc’s foursquare Perpectives tool. In B2C businesses, these tools are extremely valuable for marketers. I would also say that the practice of branding takes place in the marketing department. Advertising helps to actualize a brand, and PR maintains that brand with conversation, but the creation and discovery of what makes a brand lies with marketers.

The reality

The fact is that these three practices are converging like never before. These industries will move forward in the digital space and continue to battle over control of social media. However, that is not because any one practice owns social media. It’s because the skills that go along with these practices are breaking through old borders. Marketing tactics are happening in advertising firms. Conversation skills normally reserved for PR departments are being used by marketers. PR departments are reporting charts and graphs on social media now!

If you’re looking for a career in one of these industries, understand your skill set will need to include a mesh of these practices. If you’re a business looking to get into social media, look for the resources and skills, not the industry label on the company history page. There are also digital and interactive design firms setting a different standard for how these practices intertwine, but that’s a topic for another article.

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