Don’t Believe the Hype: Social Media’s Just a Type of PR

By Josh Cline

Over the past five years, many public-relations professionals (some have called them publicists) became “social-media gurus” overnight, writing books and helping to spin what social-media marketing and SEO allegedly really are. Then, they became “digital-marketing specialists” or gave themselves other titles. Eventually, many woke up and realized again that, in the end, they are still marketing and communication specialists. Several have written three or more books since 2007 to regain their places as true marketing professionals.

In many ways over the past five years, I have felt that I been fighting a battle on my own to make people understand that social media and parts of SEO are only channels of public relations just like traditional media relations, blogger relations, and interactions with influencers – the differences are primarily in the specific tactics and mediums, not in the overall strategies and goals.  A marketing expert and a person I think very highly of, Geoff Livingston, got lost in the difference. Geoff’s book “Now Is Gone: A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs,” which he co-authored with Brian Solis, was the first time I thought I was missing something (or maybe they were). I kept my head down and waited for people to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Geoff’s book was among hundreds with the same perspective.

Geoff is a friend who I met in 2001 or 2002 when he was pitching me new business. I was pleased to see his new book out, “Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era.” Look for a future blog post regarding the key points in this book.

I was lucky enough to have a mentor who taught me a holistic approach to marketing – how all the traditional channels of public relations work with marketing and how it is all for one thing and one thing only: to reach the business and sales goals.

So, how do social media and SEO fit into public relations, and how do digital and traditional channels map to a marketing plan that is aligned with one’s business objectives? Let’s start with SEO’s links to public relations, marketing, and sales.

SEO and Public Relations

As my colleague Samuel J. Scott wrote in a prior post, the research, identification, and usage of targeted keywords is the backbone of any search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy. However, the decision of which search terms to target has public-relations implications as well.

In a nutshell, the initial SEO process answers this question: For which keywords do we want to rank highly in Google? The choice usually involves determining which specific search terms are being researched by those people most likely to “convert.” (Obviously, if your company website sells “sales software,” you would want to rank highly for terms related to that specific keyword and not “accounting software.”)

Still, the choice of keywords will also affect your company’s image. The tactics that a search-marketing strategy will implement will brand your firm – and your products or services – in a very specific way. Here are just a few reasons:

  • The keywords that you target will be used in most, if not all, of the page titles, text, and articles on your website
  • The blog posts and other content that you publish will be focused on the themes contained in the targeted keywords
  • The influencers with whom you interact in efforts to gain links will also be associated with the specific topics of the desired search terms

Take the stated example of “sales software.” You may also want to consider dozens of related search terms based on the themes of “marketing software” and “conversion software.” But this is important: Is your PR and branding strategy to be known as a company that provides quality “sales software,” “marketing software,” or “conversion software”? The differences are subtle but important, and the implications are obvious for any company in any sector.

It may be easier to rank highly in Google for one batch of keywords, but your branding goals may necessitate a different set. (Sometimes – but not always – a choice between these options needs to be made.) Since SEO is often a part of public relations, you need to incorporate both aspects into your inbound-marketing strategy.

Public Relations and Social Media

After Facebook’s lackluster IPO, the company is under enormous pressure to maximize advertising revenue – and that means fostering many more “likes,” “shares,” and other forms of engagement. So, it is no surprise that the social-media network mandated the new Timeline layout on Facebook profiles and pages.

The new design places a much-greater emphasis on photos and videos – the items that, as Jonha Revesencio notes on research compiled by M Booth and Simply Measured into an infographic, encourage the most interaction:

  • On Facebook, videos are shared 12X more than links and text posts combined.
  • On Facebook, photos are liked 2X more than text updates.
  • 42% of all Tumblr posts are photos. On YouTube, 100 million users are taking a social action on videos every week. Photo and video posts on Pinterest are referring more traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Posting on Facebook is now just more than sharing articles – it is about branding your company and interacting with customers, fans, and influencers in a way that is aligned with your PR goals. When you create photos, videos, infographics, and other content to share on social media, you need to address these questions: What message do you want to convey, and what subconscious impressions and qualities do you want to associate with your firm? The answers to these questions, among others, will determine how you will interact on social media.

A related aspect of PR is also true for Twitter. The nature of the social-media network allows you to communicate with customers and users concisely and quickly – and a simple search can be created to let you know every time someone mentions you, your company, or any other term. In addition, you can interact with targeted media and influencers – journalists, bloggers, and more – just as easily.

LinkedIn is also about branding and not just “social-media marketing.” Specifically, it is about branding yourself and not your company since only individuals, not businesses themselves, can interact on LinkedIn. The branding and relationship-building comes through activities including answering LinkedIn Questions and participating in groups that are relevant to your sector and industry. The image that you want to build will depend on your public-relations goals. And the same is true in online forums and related locations: you want to brand yourself as a helpful, knowledgeable expert (and not just someone who is selling something).

Holistic Marketing Based on PR

Just a few years ago, companies could afford to treat inbound marketing like a buffet: one might pick and choose between SEO, online advertising, social media, or public relations (among other tactics) – or some combination of two or more these strategies.

These tactics were viewed as isolated practices essentially occurring in a vacuum, but as Internet and inbound marketing become increasingly holistic, the paradigm has shifted back to the beginning: comprehensive marketing and communications in different contexts and under the umbrella of public relations. Today, the point is to adapt PR to new contexts and mediums – from SEO to social media to elsewhere.

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2 comments on “Don’t Believe the Hype: Social Media’s Just a Type of PR
  1. Hmmm, not so sure I would agree, but it’s a common perspective in the sector. You forget that the best social media campaigns don’t take off without advertising support, plus there’s customer service, plus intelligence for product marketing on and on. You just can’t put it in a singular box, IMO.

  2. Josh Cline says:

    Geoff, if i had time to write a book, I would. You make some good points with which I do not disagree, but every sector and company has to have a social-media strategy that maps to its marketing and business goals or objectives. How a B2B company uses social and integrates it with sales and lead generation is different from a hotel, who needs someone overseeing social 24/7. My point is that social is only a new channel that has to map to the overall marketing strategy, which maps to a company’s business goals.

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "Don’t Believe the Hype: Social Media’s Just a Type of PR"
  1. […] as the “king.” (For all of you “social media marketers”: I’m sorry to tell you this, but social media is only a part of PR–  PR a part of marketing, and marketing a part of the overall business […]

  2. […] from it. For example, social media is a form of public relations and not some heaven-sent technology that has changed everything, and as such, it and other […]

  3. […] from it. For example, social media is a form of public relations and not some heaven-sent technology that has changed everything, and as such, it and other […]

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