Wednesday, August 12

Owning Social: Digital Readiness Report

According to the the 2009 Digital Readiness Report, public relations leads marketing in the management of social media communications channels whereas marketing leads in managing e-mail marketing and SEO. While the sampling size is relatively thin, it does track a greater trend in communication. People are wondering who owns social media.

According to the report, it says that public relations has taken the lead in 51 percent of all organizations compared to 40.5 percent where marketing leads. The balance belongs to a mix of executive management, IT, and other departments.

Other Highlights Related To 'Owning' Social.

• Public relations is responsible for blogging at 49 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for blogging at
22% of all organizations.

• Public relations is responsible for social networking at 48 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for social networking at 27 percent of all organizations.

• Public relations is responsible for micro-blogging (which can be best defined as message services) at 52 percent of all organizations; marketing is responsible for microblogging at 22 percent of all organizations.

Why Would Public Relations Want To Own Social?

As traditional media continues to die or shift toward digital convergence, what has become a priority function of public relations professionals — securing editorial space — is slipping away. Never mind that public relations ought to be something else, the impression measures have changed as editorial space and circulation have shrunk.

While it's almost odd to think that communication professionals who would sometimes snub bloggers seeking content just a few years ago would suddenly make a play for the space out of necessity, the profession is seeking new revenue streams. For some, it's not just about online space; it's about everything they consider "below the line," which includes marketing functions that also garner media attention.

If there is any truth to this trend, public relations professionals are trending toward communication generalists: professionals who always had to look at the big picture. Since there is some evidence to support that it is happening, the real question to start asking is whether or not most public relations professionals are ready. Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer says no.

If There Is Confusion, It's Because Nobody Owns Social.

Although every spring and a few other times a year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I make the case that public relations professionals need to learn social media skill sets with increasing frequency and veracity to such a degree that class has evolved well beyond any textbook available, the truth is that nobody owns social media. Simply put, if there was ever a communication channel that required integration, this is it.

Tomorrow's communication professional needs skill sets that are not being taught as part of the curriculum because communication has largely become as departmentalized at universities as it has within many major corporations. Marketing emphasizes the classic strategies that businesses understand; advertising focuses on the creative properties of communication; public relations teaches how to reach the media (and hopefully other publics beyond that).

Meanwhile, most major companies then begin to split it up further, delegating some to IT, human resources, corporate communication, government affairs, investor relations, community relations, social media, front line sales, customer service, and so on and so forth. (Never mind that content development requires some strong editorial skills too.) And, often times, all of these departments work in specialized silos where the objective sometimes becomes dominating other departments instead of, you know, working to meet the objectives of the company.

So is there any wonder why companies are confused about social media?

Social media touches, crosses into, influences, and impacts all of these areas. And the percentage of professionals who understand this represent about a fraction of one percent (written for effect, and not a currently proven statistical truism). Worse, some relations professionals, at least in this market, are taking their social media training from some "social media experts" who have managed to make a splash online for themselves despite having no experience in communication.

There are, generally, people who say things like never mind conversations, jump in anyway. The result? We all have a better chance of reaching other communication-related professionals on Twitter than we ever have of reaching everyday consumers because the conversation is dominated by people in the field. (Don't get me wrong. I like Twitter, but it is not representative of an entire population of people who might care about every product.) That works for why I use Twitter. It does not nor will it work for some of our clients.

More importantly, platform training does not equal social media skill sets. Social media or social marketing or social networking or any of it is much more situational in setting objectives, developing content, and implementing strategies.

Until companies, and perhaps public relations professionals or whomever operates within the space understand this, executives will continue to be surprised to watch their stock fall away because the intern charged with making friends on the Internet entered a forum discussion about how many cell phones were being returned because they failed to meet expectations.

That's right. It doesn't matter how big your public relations firm is when that happens. Just saying. It happens. And it will continue to happen until communication becomes integrated.


Julie Turner on 8/13/09, 7:52 AM said...

Great points. I think social has mainly fallen on PR because they get the real-time and must be fresh aspects of social. Whoever wades in and figures it out (or tries to) often becomes the manager of it. But woe to he or she or it that wades in and sinks instead of swims. You gotta get it to do it.

Rich on 8/13/09, 10:07 AM said...


Thanks so much for your comment.

I would agree with that you most public relations professionals, provided they have experience, have a leg up on situational communication.

I also agree that the current path to entry is whomever dives in first. I'm not always sure that is the most prudent course, but it is indeed what is happening. But your concluding point is right on.

All my best,


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