There’s a difference between Marketing & PR. Leave Social Media out of it.

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Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Horn Group in San Francisco which featured some interesting folks on the dais. The topic of the discussion: “Is Social Media Killing PR?”. I don’t think that it is and simply because social media along with the other interactive media are merely tools designed to support the execution of a policy or campaign. From my impression, it seemed that the panelists somewhat agreed with that point of view that public relations isn’t being destroyed by social media, but rather other factors.

Just who were the panelists that offered their insights? Why, there was Susan Ettinger (Horn Group), Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research), and Kara Swisher (Wall Street Journal/All Things Digital). Moderated by Sam Whitmore, it was rather fitting that there were representatives from different industries talking: one from a PR agency, another from the industry point of view, but seemed to be specifically on marketing, and another into media.

But what was interesting about this discussion was that people seem to think that PR is being destroyed by social media. My response to that is: no, it’s not…social media is NOT a competitor to public relations. Rather, it’s an enhancement, a tool, a means to an end, and more of a supporting character that helps public relations get its job done. A lot of the arguments that I have heard results in folks complaining about how consumers should be talked to and it boils down to whether it’s Marketing or Public Relations that has it better. But let’s not take out our frustration on social media or anything interactive, for that matter.

Why shouldn’t we focus our efforts on online media to help sustain a profession and means of promotion?

Observation #1:
It seems that business strategists are thinking that their livelihood is being taken away by bloggers and folks using interactive means of communication to interact more with people than agencies – thus reducing the demand & need of an agency.

This seems to be a lot of crying over spilled milk, in my opinion. Why would you not embrace the interactive? It’s just a digital means of “word of mouth” and you can definitely join the conversation. Just because you have Joe the Plumber blogging about the latest craze in toilet repair technology does not mean you don’t have a job. In fact, you should ENGAGE him in conversation and help reinforce the evangelical spirit in his promotion. There are obviously folks that he/she will not be able to reach and based on specific audience, you can focus your efforts in a concentrated manner.

Observation #2:
Marketers and PR folks seem to be worried about their effort of work when they don’t rake in the huge publicity and promotion for a client or their product.

With interactive media, you are able to create a more viral approach. Here’s another example of how this form of media is not working against public relations or marketing, but rather with it. The agency can create the promotion and awareness, but then by creating a “community” of supporters and product ambassadors and even evangelicals, you will be able to get your news out faster and to a larger audience. Why waste your time focusing on how online media is destroying your livelihood when you can embrace it and use it to your advantage. Without online media, it’s back to traditional media…print, television and radio. How boring…no one pays attention to that now.

According to Wikipedia, public relations is defined as:

…the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.

So how is social media, email marketing, online advertising, and websites managing the flow of information? As I said earlier, it’s all a means to an end. The tools you use online are the mechanisms that will help you control the flow of information and allow you to engage in the conversation.

You can view some of the video from the panel discussion here and here. There are some interesting points that people blogged about here as well: